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Part A: Background and context - 1. Introduction

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Being a menta­­­l health patient seems to give people the right to do whatever they wish to you because you will not be seen as a valued member of our society. My mental health issues should not define me as an individual. 

- Written submission

In Canada and internationally, we have seen major advancements in human rights protection for people with disabilities. But in our consultation on human rights, mental health and addictions in Ontario, we heard a different story.

We were told that people with mental health disabilities and addictions continue to experience significant marginalization and exclusion. We heard that even though people are protected from discrimination and harassment under the Ontario Human Rights Code (Code) based on the ground of “disability,” this is often not the lived reality.

In 2009, the OHRC identified mental health as a “strategic priority.” This report is the result of a province-wide consultation on the human rights issues facing people with mental health disabilities and addictions. The goal was to identify factors that undermine the opportunities for people with mental health disabilities and addictions to fully take part in the economic, social and cultural life in Ontario. The consultation will inform our future work, and will set the stage for an OHRC policy on human rights and mental health. The OHRC’s policies reflect our interpretation of the Code, and set out standards, guidelines and best practice examples for how individuals, service providers, housing providers, employers and others should act to ensure equality for all Ontarians. 

The Ontario Human Rights Commission is an independent statutory body whose mission is to promote, protect and advance human rights across the province as set out in the Ontario Human Rights Code (the Code). To do this, the OHRC identifies and monitors systemic human rights trends, develops policies, provides public education, does research, conducts public interest inquiries, and uses its legal powers to pursue human rights remedies that are in the public interest.

This report documents feedback from participants on how people may experience barriers such as direct discrimination, harassment, lack of accommodation, or systemic discrimination that may violate their rights under the Code. It will also show that many factors in society create the conditions for discrimination. People’s experiences may be linked to human rights that are protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Charter), or in international human rights instruments, such as the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). 

Hundreds of individuals and organizations identified many different types of inequalities and concerns that lead to widespread discrimination against people with mental health issues and addictions. Some organizations found it difficult to understand and fulfill the obligations under the Code. They said this was particularly the case when interpreting the duty to accommodate people with mental health and addiction disabilities to the point of undue hardship – especially in complex situations where some people’s human rights may compete with the rights of others. As with other Code-protected groups, we recognize that addressing human rights concerns facing people with psychosocial disabilities can sometimes be challenging for all parties involved; each party’s perspective needs careful consideration.

Removing discriminatory barriers and ensuring equity for people with mental health issues and addictions is a shared responsibility. Concerted effort is needed from law-makers, policy makers and all levels of public and private institutions. It is vital that people with mental health issues or addictions are at the table and represented in efforts to make change.

Peer support is also about saying that we need to be included at the table. 

- Participant in Ottawa roundtable session

This report makes recommendations to government, employers, housing providers, service providers and others to review and remove the barriers that lead to human rights concerns. The report also outlines the steps the OHRC will take to address discrimination and harassment in this area.

We were told that much more concrete guidance is needed to help eradicate discriminatory attitudes, ensure accountability and educate individuals, organizations and the general public about their rights and responsibilities under the Code. The OHRC will work with multiple stakeholders to address these needs.  

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