Although the Ontario Human Rights Code has prohibited discrimination on the basis of family status since 1982, this ground of discrimination has been little understood. Employers, service providers, landlords, advocates, and the general public are largely unaware of the Code protections related to family status, or of the issues and barriers related to this ground of discrimination.
Nevertheless, the ground of family status raises significant human rights issues.
Our relationships of care and commitment with our families lie close to the core of our identities. We value our ability to provide care – emotional, social, physical and financial – to our family members, and rely on our families to provide the same for us when necessary. However, the frequent lack of recognition, value and support for caregiving often leaves caregivers at a significant disadvantage in accessing housing, employment, or services. This has a particular impact on women, who continue to provide the majority of caregiving in our society, whether for children, aging parents or relatives, or family members with disabilities. A lone mother who cannot find housing because landlords will not rent to single women with children; a parent of a child with a disability who loses his job because his employer refuses to accommodate his need for a flexible work schedule; a woman who is denied a promotion because her employer believes that mothers aren’t sufficiently committed to their work – these are significant human rights issues.
In the spring of 2005, the Ontario Human Rights Commission released a Discussion Paper, Human Rights & the Family in Ontario, and embarked on a public consultation on discrimination on the basis of family status. The initiative had two goals: to better understand the issues and barriers related to family status, and to raise public awareness and understanding about this ground of the Code. The Commission received written submissions and questionnaires from approximately 120 individuals and organizations, and held a series of roundtables focussed on specific issues of concern. Based on its research and this consultation, the Commission has now produced two documents on family status. The Cost of Caring, the Commission’s Consultation Report, reports on what the Commission heard, identifies significant systemic and societal barriers facing caregivers, sets out key conclusions, and outlines the Commission’s own commitments moving forward.
The Policy and Guidelines on Discrimination because of Family Status details the Commission’s interpretation of the provisions of the Code related to family status, and sets standards for how employers, service and housing providers, and policy makers should act to ensure compliance with the Code. The Commission hopes that these documents will raise awareness about the importance and impact of these issues, encourage further discussion and providing a resource for the community in advancing the rights under the Code related to family status.