September 6, 2018
On June 30, 2018 the Ontario Human Rights Commission (the “OHRC”) released its Annual Report, entitled Impact today, investment for tomorrow. The report tracks the steps taken by the OHRC from April 1, 2017 to March 31, 2018, to fulfil the commitments made in their 2017-2022 Strategic Plan. The report focuses on four main areas of commitment: reconciliation, the criminal justice system, poverty and education.
The OHRC has taken initial steps towards reconciliation with Indigenous peoples by engaging in meaningful discussions about human rights issues. The OHRC is hopeful that these discussions will foster relationships with Indigenous communities, which will in turn help to create a human rights system that adequately accounts for Indigenous perspectives and experiences.
The report reveals that steps have also been taken towards ending overrepresentation of racialized children in the child welfare system. In 2016, the OHRC conducted a public interest inquiry which confirmed overrepresentation within many Ontario organizations. The OHRC has recommended that the government, along with child welfare organizations, be accountable for taking steps to address institutional and societal causes of racial disparities in this area.
Criminal Justice System
One of the OHRC’s goals is to establish “accountability in the criminal justice system.”
The OHRC has engaged in communal discussions to enhance its understanding of racial profiling, and to hear from those who have experienced the phenomenon firsthand. Recognizing the prevalence of racial profiling of black individuals in Toronto, the OHRC has initiated an inquiry into Toronto Police Services. The OHRC seeks to develop effective solutions through the inquiry and discussions with individuals and communities affected by racial profiling.
Steps are also being taken to address the discriminatory treatment of incarcerated persons with mental illnesses and disabilities. A human rights complaint was launched by the OHRC against the provincial government after reports indicated a continued reliance on solitary confinement for inmates with mental illnesses and disabilities, contrary to its Jahn settlement commitments. As a result, the government has been ordered to take certain steps to improve policy in this area.
The OHRC intervened in the human rights case, The Estate of Kulmiye Ageneh v. Mental Health Centre Penetanguishene, which arose from the death of Kulmiye Aganeh at Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care. The OHRC raised human rights issues regarding the intersectionality of race, religion and mental health as well as the duty to accommodate. The settlement reached in that case requires the Centre to take various steps towards enhancing human rights protections moving forward.
The Commission played a role in including human rights protections in the Correctional Services and Reintegration Act, the new act governing corrections, as well as the Safer Ontario Act, which governs police services.
The report reveals the Commission’s commitment to ending the stigma faced by police officers who die as a result of mental health injuries incurred on the job.
The report tracks the OHRC’s efforts to learn more about the relationship between poverty and discrimination. The Commission has heard directly from individuals experiencing poverty to better understand the issues they face.
As part of its efforts to improve human rights protections for those living in poverty, the OHRC continues to advocate for the addition of poverty as a protected ground under the Ontario Human Rights Code (the “Code”).
The OHRC intervened in a case that reached the Supreme Court of Canada, British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal v. Schrenk, which found that human rights protection in the employment context is not limited to protection against the actions of superiors. Rather, it protects against all discrimination and harassment linked to employment.
The OHRC urges the government to repeal the Safe Streets Act, which in effect punishes people living in poverty, who are often part of other Code-protected groups.
The OHRC is critical about the effectiveness of the Code in terms of protecting against discrimination in education, and is focused on removing barriers in access to education for certain groups.
To address the educational barriers faced by students with disabilities, the OHRC has released policy statements entitled “The duty to accommodate”, and “Don’t confuse accommodating mental health with lowering standards.” The Commission is working on completing an updated “Policy on accessible education for students with disabilities” which will provide guidance on how to reduce barriers to education for students with disabilities. To account for barriers distinct to First Nations students with disabilities, the OHRC sent a letter to the Minister of Education.
In April 2017, the OHRC released the report “With learning in mind: Inquiry report on the systemic barriers to academic accommodation for post-secondary students with mental health disabilities,” which details the Commission’s recommendations to addressing barriers specific to universities and colleges in Ontario, and the steps those institutions have taken in response.
The Commission voiced their concerns over a policy implemented by the University of Toronto that could have a disparate impact on students with mental illnesses and disabilities by unilaterally placing them on leave. In response, the policy has been suspended.
For those interested, the full report can be accessed online at:
Authored by Demi Cartwright, Articling Student