A changed Commission, a changed annual report
As part of the changed Commission, we are looking at new ways of presenting our annual report. Respect for the environment has led the Commission, wherever possible, to use means other than paper to send its message. This year’s report has been shortened to include a high-level overview of the Commission’s progress in the past year and future directions. An expanded online version will provide many helpful links to descriptions of Commission activities.
June 30 – the next stage in the transformation
On June 30, 2008, the Human Rights Code Amendment Act, 2006 came into effect. From that date, all new complaints, which in the past would have been filed with the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC), were now to be filed with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (Tribunal). This date also represented the next stage in the transformation of the Commission, as it shifted its focus away from processing and litigating individual cases, instead setting its sights on bigger picture human rights issues, and issues of broader public interest.
People who still had complaints with the Commission after June 30, 2008 could either continue with this direction until December 31, 2008, or could “opt out” and file an application directly with the Tribunal up to June 30, 2009.
Communicating the changes
The Commission worked closely with the Tribunal, the Human Rights Legal Support Centre (Legal Support Centre) and the Ministry of the Attorney General, to coordinate communications and make sure the people of Ontario understand the changes to the human rights system, the roles of each organization, and their relationship to each other.
A coordinated campaign to contact complainants and respondents affected by the transition included several mailings, a new brochure, information on the OHRC website and frequent mention in public documents and speeches by the Chief Commissioner.
Changing the face of a changing Commission
The transition involved extensive restructuring of the Commission, including a significant reduction in staff. This involved many difficult choices and significant stress, both for the employees who moved on and the staff who remained. To help the remaining staff deal with the transition and the revised mandate, the OHRC is committed to ongoing staff development as it grows into its emerging role.
Setting our priorities, embracing our new direction
In November 2008, the OHRC finalized strategic and business plans to guide its work over the next three years. The Commission aims to educate, empower and mobilize partners in communities across the province to raise awareness, help them identify their concerns and implement solutions.
During this period, the OHRC will give priority to Ontarians affected by issues of race and hate crimes, housing, family status and mental health. It will work to move the issue of discrimination from the pages of various reports and inquiries (such as Ipperwash, Hate Crimes Working Group and the Falconer “School Safety” report), into real action that the people of Ontario can see, feel and contribute to.
The OHRC will also continue its work on disability (including providing advice and comments to various committees arising from the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act), and on legislative review.
To meet these priorities, the OHRC will continue to develop and publicize leading edge human rights policies that clarify the law and promote effective public interest remedies for problems. It will conduct public interest inquiries, and will deliver focused outreach, education and training (including e-learning) to show the effects of discrimination and how to prevent it.
The Commission will also take targeted legal action to clarify the law and enforce compliance with the Ontario Human Rights Code. This may include intervening in existing applications before the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, and bringing its own applications on issues it feels are in the broader public interest. The OHRC will also conduct research and monitoring to report on the state of human rights in Ontario.
Through its priorities, and through its many activities, the OHRC will focus on advancing human rights in our workplaces, in our schools, in our homes and wherever rights are threatened.
Building the human rights partnership
As the transformation of Ontario’s human rights system proceeds, the Commission is working with the Tribunal, the Ministry of the Attorney General and the Legal Support Centre. The OHRC is sharing its expertise in a variety of ways, including:
- Providing training for Legal Support Centre staff on litigation strategies, case conferencing, and an overview of the Toronto Police Charter process
- Extending its telephone enquiry services (originally scheduled to end on September 30) until December 31, 2008, to provide employers, service providers, respondents and the general public with information on the new human rights system, and with general information about the Code
- Working with the Tribunal to implement a process to give people the option to transfer their cases from the Commission to the Tribunal.
The Commission continues to maintain a regular dialogue and share information with its human rights partners.