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Setting new standards for defining discrimination

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Preventing discrimination is at the heart of the Ontario Human Rights Code. The courts and tribunals continue to clarify what this means. One example is a landmark ruling in September 2010.

In Tranchemontagne v. the Ministry of Community and Social Services, the Ontario Court of Appeal upheld a lower court ruling that two alcoholics were entitled to disability benefits. This case looked at what constituted discrimination in human rights law.

Robert Tranchemontagne and Norman Werbeski were denied disability benefits because of their dependence on alcohol. The Director of the Ontario Disability Support Program said they should not get the benefits because their addiction was their “sole impairment.” But the Social Benefits Tribunal said that was discriminatory under Ontario’s Human Rights Code. The Divisional Court agreed. Both the Tribunal and the Divisional Court rejected the government’s argument that denying disability benefits was in the best interests of people with a substance abuse problem.

The Court of Appeal held that denying disability benefits to people with addiction disabilities is discriminatory.

“This is an important decision for people who are disabled by their addiction,” said OHRC Chief Commissioner Barbara Hall. “We hope this latest ruling will help shed light on the nature of discrimination and help other courts and tribunals deal with these cases which have a direct impact on the quality of life for many people in Ontario.”

In 1985, the OHRC litigated the landmark Ontario Human Rights Commission and O'Malley v. Simpsons-Sears Ltd. This case established that there was no need to establish “intent” to discriminate to find that discrimination happened.


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