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Human Rights inquiries and complaints from the public

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Caseload at a Glance

In 2005-06:

  • The Commission began the fiscal year with an active caseload of 2,733 cases
  • 2,399 new complaints were received and added to the caseload 
  • 2,117 complaints from the caseload were completed at the Commission, on average at 12.9 months (approximately 3% more cases than in 2004-05, and 11% more than the 1999-2004 average)
  • 143 cases were referred to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, on average at 27.6 months (150 cases were referred in 2004-05)
  • 27 additional cases were referred to the Tribunal after reconsideration by the Commission of a previous decision
  • The Commission ended the fiscal year with an active caseload of 2,880 cases, 147 or 5% more cases than the beginning of the year
  • Over the last few years, the Commission has received more cases than it has the resources to complete, resulting in a backlog of 581 cases at year-end
  • 85 cases (3% of its active caseload) were over three years old at year-end

Contacts with the Commission and Intake of Complaints

As the first point of contact for members of the public, the Commission’s Inquiry and Intake Service delivers important public education about human rights and responsibilities under the Code. Specific information is also provided about the Commission’s policies and guidelines as well as how to file a complaint or access other external resources. Often, this information helps empower potential complainants to resolve matters so that a complaint is not necessary. The Commission’s Inquiry and Intake Services also assist potential respondents to prevent or address discrimination within their organizations. Inquirers whose issues are not human rights-related are provided with referrals to more appropriate organizations for assistance in addressing their concerns.

Each year, a number of individuals turn to the Commission for help by filing a formal complaint. Under the Code, the Commission is required to receive all complaints filed by individuals.

In 2005-06:

  • Commission staff dealt with over 43,011 telephone inquiries[1]
  • 1,760 inquiries were received by letter
  • 760 persons inquired in person at the office
  • 824,887 individual visits were made to the Commission’s Web site
  • 2,399 formal complaints were filed with the Commission. This is the same number of complaints filed in the 2004-2005 fiscal period, and represents a 16.5% increase over the average of 2,060 new complaints filed per year over the five-year period from 1999-2004

Cases Dismissed on Preliminary Objections

The Commission may decide not to proceed with a complaint for reasons set out in section 34 of the Human Rights Code. In 2005-06, of all cases completed at the Commission or referred to a Tribunal, 8.6% were dismissed based on such preliminary objections, on average at 9.5 months. Using the parties’ written submissions, the Commission determined that:

  •  2.0% of cases could have been dealt with by another legislated body, such as through a union grievance procedure under labour legislation or at the Workplace Safety and Insurance Appeals Tribunal
  • In 4.0% of cases there was evidence the complaint was frivolous, vexatious, or made in bad faith
  • In 0.2% of cases the matter was outside the Commission’s jurisdiction
  • In 2.4% of cases the events occurred outside the Code’s six month filing requirement

Mediation and Settlement

The Code requires the Commission to endeavour to settle complaints, and mediation is an extremely successful aspect of the Commission’s work.[2] The Commission provides confidential mediation services early in the process to help settle complaints to the satisfaction of both parties and the Commission. The Commission has a consistent 70% or higher success rate in resolving complaints at this stage. Successful early mediation brings about quick remedies, can incorporate public interest provisions, and reduces the need for individuals to go through more lengthy processes of investigation or litigation. One good example this past year was the significant public remedies obtained by the Commission through early mediation of a complaint involving homophobic discrimination and harassment at Lakehead District School Board (see Appendix: Case Summary Highlights). 

Complaints that cannot be settled or resolved in some other way between the parties early on are referred for investigation: however, they may settle at any stage in the Commission’s process or at the Tribunal. Year after year, the Commission assists parties to reach mutually agreeable resolutions in more than half of all cases completed at the Commission and in approximately 80% of cases at the Tribunal.  The Commission seeks out systemic and public interest remedies in all settlements, designed to prevent future discriminatory conduct. 

In 2005-06, of all cases completed at the Commission or referred to a Tribunal, 57.1% were settled by the Commission or resolved between the parties, on average at 12.4 months:

  • 34.4% (778 cases) were settled through early mediation without investigation, on average at 7.4 months, representing a success rate of 71% of the 1,096 cases in which parties participated in early mediation
  • 10.1% were settled at the investigation stage, on average at 26.2 months
  • 12.6% were resolved between the parties, on average at 15.0 months

Withdrawn Complaints

Individuals may withdraw their complaints at any time, and for a number of reasons. For example, this will occur where the parties reach a settlement and an agreed upon term is that the complaint be withdrawn.  Withdrawals can also arise early in the process if it becomes apparent that their concerns do not fall within the jurisdiction of the Commission, or if the respondent’s answer explains the situation to the complainant’s satisfaction. Some complainants may decide not to pursue the matter any further after reviewing the Commission's investigation findings. In other cases, individuals simply decide they no longer wish to pursue a complaint that has been in the system for a long time.

In 2005-06:

  • Of all cases completed at the Commission or referred to a Tribunal, 16.7% were withdrawn by the complainant, some as a result of a term of settlement, on average at 7.5 months

Investigation and Referral of Complaints

The Commission conducts a neutral and objective investigation and then determines whether there is sufficient evidence to warrant referring a case to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario for a hearing. The investigation process creates an opportunity for parties to be heard, to ask questions, and to provide further information or evidence in support of their views, such as documents or names of witnesses. The Commission also continues to seek opportunities for settlement during the investigation process, enabling parties to come to a resolution of the complaint in accordance with the Code and Commission policy. 

Under s. 33 of the Code, the Commission has broad powers of investigation. It can interview parties and witnesses, conduct site inspections, seize and review documents, research and examine relevant data, such as statistical or demographic information, or employee and other organizational records. Through this process investigators may uncover evidence that is indicative of both individual and systemic discrimination.

Investigators consult with the Commission’s legal and policy services to ensure that investigation plans, reports of findings and settlements consistently and properly interpret and apply the Code and Commission policy. Investigators also provide parties with information about how the Code and the Commission’s policies relate to the case, and ensure that settlements include public interest remedies where they may prevent discrimination and harassment in the future. For example, during an investigation in 2005, the Commission successfully settled four cases with the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board relating to race, disability, and school discipline policies (see Appendix: Case Summary Highlights).

Although complainants do not appear in person before the Commission, they are provided with a copy of the comprehensive staff investigation report that is prepared for the Commissioners, and their written submissions, together with the respondent’s submissions, are provided to the Commissioners for consideration. Commissioners then decide whether there is sufficient evidence to support referral of the complaint to the Tribunal for a hearing.

In 2005-06:

Of all cases completed at the Commission or referred to a Tribunal, 17.6% received a Commission decision based on written submissions on the merits (s.36 of the Code), on average at 26.9 months:

  • 8.5% of cases were dismissed because of insufficient evidence to warrant a Tribunal hearing, on average at 29.6 months
  • 2.8% of cases were dismissed because of lack of cooperation by the complainant, on average at 17.4 months
  • 6.3% or 143 cases were referred to the Tribunal for a hearing, on average at 27.6 months (150 cases were referred in 2004-05)

As of March 31, 2006, the Commission’s active caseload was 2,880 cases.  This represents an increase of 147 cases (or 5.4%) over last year’s active caseload of 2,733.  The average age of a case in the Commission’s active caseload increased from 11.2 months to 12.9 months.

[1] The Commission responded to 43,011 (or 77%) of the 56,070 telephone calls received. The rate of “abandoned” calls does not account for individuals who call back again successfully and are able to speak with an inquiries representative.
[2] Over 87% of respondents to a client survey in 1999 stated that they would use mediation again if they had another human rights complaint.


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