June 30, 2014
Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario
Main Legislative Building
Dear Mr./Ms. Speaker:
Under Section 31.6 (2) of the Ontario Human Rights Code, the Ontario Human Rights Commission is required to submit a report on the Commission’s activities for the previous fiscal period by June 30th of each year, to be tabled in the Legislature.
In this regard, I am pleased to provide you with the Commission’s Annual Report of its activities from April 1, 2013 to March 31, 2014.
Barbara Hall, B.A, LL.B, Ph.D (hon.) Chief Commissioner
A message from Chief Commissioner Barbara Hall
Human rights in Ontario is always changing – and that’s a good thing.
“Silence never won rights. They are not handed down from above; they are forced by pressures from below.”
Roger Baldwin, founder, American Civil Liberties Union
I’m not simply talking about the changes we have seen in the human rights system – though I think those have been good too. The new Human Rights Code in 2006 gave the Ontario Human Rights Commission the clear mandate and opportunity to focus on systemic issues – the big picture approach to breaking down barriers. More recently, the 50th anniversary of the Code and of the OHRC itself gave us an opportunity to bring people together to look past changes and accomplishments. Those discussions helped me appreciate the important contributions of people and communities who together have led change.
Those discussions – and my decade or so at the OHRC – have expanded my understanding of how new issues and new challenges continue to emerge as our experience as a society changes. They demand new solutions, new approaches and new players. Inevitably that means challenging the status quo. We are well aware of the barriers posed by people who say “we’ve always done it that way,” or “we’re more comfortable with people who look and talk and think like us.”
It is also clear that some issues are tragically persistent. I think of the treatment of Indigenous Peoples in Ontario, the ongoing damage caused by anti-Black racism, especially for young Black men, and the continuing barriers for people with disabilities.
As you will read in this annual report, the past year has seen progress. The launch of our Policy on preventing discrimination because of gender expression and gender identity was celebrated by transgender people and their allies. Their long struggle to get explicit recognition in the Human Rights Code was accomplished through much “pressure from below” – and now we make those rights real. Our new Policy on removing the “Canadian experience” barrier is benefiting newcomers who are qualified for jobs in Ontario but have been turned down simply because they got their work experience somewhere else. We also took part in important legal cases. One, for example, with a milestone settlement, will help ensure people in jail, who have mental health issues, get the support they need.
There is no shortage of important human rights issues to address – so how do we choose? We have just completed a review of criteria for deciding which human rights issues to pursue. We looked across Canada and internationally but heard almost everyone say – this is not an exact science. Sometimes the decision just comes down to asking, “Which project will have the biggest impact?”
Like other government agencies, we are asked to show how we measure success. That’s a tough question for human rights issues. Sometimes the numbers capture it – the number of publications distributed, public education sessions held, webinar participants engaged, consultation surveys completed. But other things can be harder to measure – what is the impact of a new policy or a legal intervention? Have attitudes changed? The answers may not be clear for years.
We often hear one way we can help is by creating tools so people better understand their rights and their responsibilities. So this past year we revised and published a new edition of Teaching human rights in Ontario for use in schools. It adds the teaching tools of the moment – copious links to Internet resources including eLearning modules, webinars, documents and our own Living Rights series, available on YouTube. Living Rights lets individuals tell their stories of human rights challenges and victories and helps put a human face to Ontario’s Human Rights Code.
A few years back, the OHRC established a new Vision Statement to meet our changed mandate. The vision we settled on is “an Ontario in which everyone is valued, treated with dignity and respect, and where human rights are nurtured by us all.” I’ve reflected on that many times during this, my last year at the OHRC, and I am more convinced than ever that “nurturing” human rights is an excellent way to describe the duty placed on all of us by the Human Rights Code.
I’ve had the pleasure and the privilege to work with a wide range of dedicated people in my time at the OHRC. I’ve spoken with primary school kids and their teachers, young adults, advocates, MPPs, municipal and community leaders, police officers, and not-so-ordinary folks from across the province. I’ve come away from some of those meetings elated at the achievements being made. I’ve also faced the reality of issues still unresolved, of damage still being done to people who are denied the opportunity to realize their human rights. I’ve tried to learn from each encounter.
My fellow Commissioners at the OHRC have brought much collective wisdom and insight to the tasks before us; I am grateful for their dedication and wise counsel, especially in helping to set the direction for our initiatives.
The staff at the OHRC are, genuinely, world leaders in their areas of expertise. The legal work they have pursued, the policies they have written, the advice they have provided and the tools they have created have an impact in many areas of Canada and abroad. It has been a pleasure to work with them.
Human rights and social justice have been important to me for as long as I can remember. In a few months’ time, I will step down from my post as Chief Commissioner, but my commitment to these causes will not end. I am proud to be counted among the many people in our province who work to nurture human rights. Please join me!