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From hockey to policing: OHRC interventions

We continue to intervene in cases in the courts and tribunals, when we think the case decision could affect a wider number of people or groups, or advance human rights law. Here are some highlights:

JT. v. Hockey Canada: locker room access for trans hockey players

We intervened in a case at the HRTO about locker room access for transgender amateur hockey players. The Human Rights Legal Support Centre and applicant negotiated a settlement requiring Hockey Canada to allow all players in Ontario to use locker rooms that match their self-identified gender identity, review and revise its procedures to protect privacy about players’ trans status, and provide training to all Ontario coaches on gender identity and related discrimination and harassment. This case has received attention across Canada. We are following up by targeting other Ontario sports organizations and working to ensure they are aware of their Human Rights Code-related obligations and responsibilities.

Sjaarda v. Ottawa Police Services Board: accommodating for pregnancy and childcare

In this HRTO application, a female police officer of 10 years alleged she was denied certain training and job placement opportunities because of her maternity leaves and her sex. She also said she was not accommodated for her pregnancy and childcare needs. In our intervention, we sought public interest remedies including policy review and training.

Sarnia (City) v. River City Vineyard: adding creed to the zoning mix

We intervened in an appeal in the Court of Appeal for Ontario. This followed a lower court ruling that upheld a City of Sarnia decision to deny an application from a local church to rezone its premises to operate a shelter for homeless persons.

We focused the Court’s attention on the fact that the Superior Court accepted that sheltering poor and homeless people in the Church was a sincerely held belief, and that based on the evidence and the legal requirements for establishing a sincerely held belief, there was no good reason to depart from that finding.

Fair v. Hamilton Wentworth District School Board: reinstatement, 10 years’ back pay

In this case, the HRTO ruled that the school board did not accommodate Ms. Fair’s post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and fired her instead. The HRTO ordered the board to reinstate her in a suitable job, pay her roughly 10 years’ back wages, make retroactive payments to the Canada Pension Plan, reinstate her years of service for pension purposes and pay her $30,000 for injury to her dignity, feelings and self-respect. The School Board appealed the HRTO’s decision to the Divisional Court, which deemed the HRTO’s decision and remedies to be reasonable.

We intervened in this judicial review application to provide the court with an accommodation framework, and to argue that the HRTO’s remedial authority is at the very heart of its expertise and therefore reasonableness, the most deferential standard of review, is to be applied to HRTO remedial orders. The School Board is seeking to take the case to the Court of Appeal for Ontario, which we are opposing.

Jahn v. MCSCS: making mental health a priority in corrections

In 2013, we negotiated a major settlement agreement with the Ministry of Community Safety and Corrections (MCSCS) on the treatment of inmates with mental illness – particularly women – and the use of segregation in correctional facilities. The settlement agreement sets out commitments until 2017.

To date, the settlement has resulted in MCSCS:

  • Reviewing its psychiatric physician contacts to try and address how to meet the needs of inmates with mental health issues
  • Amending its policies to state that segregation will not be used for inmates with mental illness (to the point of undue hardship)
  • Providing all inmates in segregation with information about their rights
  • Completing a report in consultation with mental health experts setting out recommendations for how to serve women with mental illness
  • Providing the OHRC with statistics about the number of women placed in segregation.

New Litigation and Inquiry Strategy

We developed and posted to our website our first Litigation and Inquiry Strategy. This strategy explains how we make decisions on inquiries, interventions, and Commission-initiated applications to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.

We intervene in cases for many reasons, including when cases:

  • Fall within our priority work areas
  • Have a broad, systemic impact
  • Raise significant issues of public policy or public interest from a human rights perspective
  • Will affect vulnerable or marginalized people protected by the Code
  • Will shape, clarify or advance human rights law in Ontario
  • Are sufficiently serious or complex that OHRC involvement is needed
  • Can be done within current OHRC resources.

Methadone inquiry ramps up

We began an inquiry into municipal regulations that could have a discriminatory impact on clients of methadone clinics and pharmacies. We have already advised several municipalities on their pending or enacted bylaws on methadone clinics, where we see the bylaws may contravene the Human Rights Code.

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