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OHRC statement on the human rights impacts of Omicron and school closures

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January 13, 2022

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Mounting evidence shows that groups identified under Ontario’s Human Rights Code have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. These effects are being exacerbated by the current Omicron wave and the recent decisions to close and reopen schools.

The mental health and addiction impacts are particularly alarming, with high numbers of Ontarians reporting increased mental health concerns.[1] Many people are struggling to keep their housing, feed their families and cannot afford to stay home during lockdowns and school closures. Women especially are experiencing the greatest difficulties emerging from the crisis.[2]

School closures, since March 2020, have deepened inequities in education outcomes.[3] Closures have led to significant physical, mental health and safety harms for many students and young children.[4] The impacts have been particularly stark for students from low-income families, where Black, racialized and Indigenous groups, newcomers and people with disabilities are overrepresented.

An ongoing human rights-based approach to managing and recovering from the pandemic will help Ontario to address the harm caused by this pandemic, and to prepare for the future. This means addressing, at their roots, the profound and deadly inequalities exposed during the pandemic. It also requires an explicit education recovery plan with targeted and intensive accelerated learning programs for groups most disadvantaged by the school closures.[5]

For more information see the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s (OHRC) Policy statement on human rights in COVID-19 recovery planning.


[1] Canadian Mental Health Association. “New CMHA Ontario poll shows mental health impact of COVID-19 at all-time high.” 2021.

[2] Scott K. Women, work and COVID-19. Priorities for supporting women and the economy. Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. 2021.

[3] Gallagher-Mackay K, Srivastava P, Underwood K, et al. COVID-19 and education disruption in Ontario: emerging evidence on impacts. Science Briefs of the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table. 2021;2(34).

[4] Ibid.

[5] Srivastava P, Cardini A, Matovich I, et al. COVID-19 and the global education emergency: Planning systems for recovery and resilience. T20 Saudi Arab 2020. Published online November 26, 2020:29.