Jeff Green | Jan 25, 2007
February 1, 2007
Ontario Promises Improved Enforcement of Human Rights
You have rights. Your rights to equal treatment and opportunity with respect to services, goods and facilities, housing, contracts, employment, and membership in any vocational association are guaranteed under the Ontario Human Rights Code.
The Code provides a statutory remedy for discrimination in certain situations. It recognizes that people in Ontario are entitled to equal rights and opportunities without discrimination because of such things as race, ancestry, ethnic origin, colour, sex, sexual orientation, marital or family status, age, creed, or handicap (disability). When a person complains that they have been discriminated against, the Code provides a system for investigating and resolving complaints, including the payment of compensation.
In December, 2006, the Ontario government passed the first major reform of the human rights enforcement system since its inception in 1962. The Human Rights Code Amendment Act, 2006 was enacted in response to public criticism about the length of the complaints process, the dismissal of complaints without a tribunal hearing and the backlog of unresolved complaints before the Ontario Human Rights Commission. The amendments to the Code, when implemented, will provide a new complaints process that “will better prevent discrimination and resolve complaints more quickly and efficiently,” according to a press release from Ontario’s Attorney General, Michael Bryant.
Described by the Attorney General as a direct access-plus public support system, the new human rights enforcement system will have three pillars: a human rights commission, a human rights tribunal and a new human rights legal support centre that will provide service and assistance to claimants. Once implemented:
Complainants will file their complaints directly with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario instead of the Ontario Human Rights Commission. The commission will no longer screen complaints to determine whether they can be heard by the tribunal.
The Human Rights Tribunal will be restructured with the laudable objective of providing a more open, accessible and faster complaint resolution process that hopefully will resolve disputes fairly, quickly and effectively.
The mandate of the Ontario Human Rights Commission will be changed to focus on proactive measures such as public education, promotion of human rights, public advocacy, and research with the objective of better ensuring human rights compliance and the elimination of “systemic” discrimination. The commission will also be able to intervene in any applications before the tribunal as well as bring its own applications before the tribunal.
The new Legal Support Centre will be a publicly funded province-wide system for providing legal and other support services related to all aspects of applications to the tribunal including the enforcement of tribunal orders.
The improvements to Ontario’s human rights enforcement system are long overdue. Whether the new enforcement system will achieve its promised and admirable objectives will depend on when and how the system is implemented and the sufficiency of its resources. As always, the devil lies in the details.
By: Susan Irwin