Human rights are everybody's responsibility
In Ontario, we all have a responsibility to make sure that discrimination forbidden by the Code does not happen. Human rights legislation will only be effective when people take an active role in ensuring equality and preventing discrimination. All of us who live in Ontario must:
- Not discriminate against or harass others
- Address discrimination when we see it or experience it
- Report incidents of discrimination, either to school authorities or to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, and urge others who have been discriminated against to do so as well
- Learn about human rights and teach them to others, to make sure that people know their rights and responsibilities under the Code.
The human rights system in Ontario has three independent agencies that work together:
- The Ontario Human Rights Commission
- The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario
- The Human Rights Legal Support Centre
The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC)
The Human Rights Code recognizes that everyone should receive equal treatment and be free from discrimination. In recognition of this important “public interest,” the OHRC works to eliminate the root causes of discrimination in society.
The OHRC has does many different things to advance human rights in Ontario. Its work includes:
- Educating, empowering and mobilizing
- Developing and publicizing leading-edge human rights policy, to clarify law and promote effective public interest remedies
- Public interest inquiries to deal with emerging human rights issues and events
- Taking steps to reduce or resolve tension and conflict
- Outreach, publications and training
- Taking targeted legal action to clarify the law or enforce compliance with the Code
- Initiating applications at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (the HRTO) in the public interest, with a focus on mostly systemic issues
- Intervening in cases, when the OHRC thinks the outcome will affect a larger number of people
- Researching and monitoring what’s happening – reporting on the state of human rights in Ontario.
The OHRC is a statutory arms-length agency of the Government of Ontario and is headed by a Chief Commissioner. Several other commissioners (no fewer than seven), appointed by the Lieutenant Governor from the general public, meet regularly to direct human rights policy in Ontario.
The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario
The Ontario Human Rights Code provides that individuals who believe that they have experienced discrimination under the Human Rights Code can file a complaint (called an application) with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO) to have their case heard and judged by a qualified person called an “adjudicator.” The HRTO is independent from the Ontario Human Rights Commission and the Human Rights Legal Support Centre. It is similar in format to a trial in a court of law but the standard for the rules of evidence is on a “balance of probabilities,” where in court the standard is “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Filing an application
To file an application, a person must cite a ground protected under the Code and a social area. For an explanation of the grounds and social areas protected by the Code, see Fact sheet #1: The Ontario Human Rights Code.
Once an application is drafted, signed by the applicant and received by the HRTO, the application is filed. Once filed, it is served on the respondent(s) (the persons or organization alleged to have contravened the Code) who are asked to formally respond to the allegations. The applicant will have an opportunity to respond to any new issues raised by the respondent(s) by filing a “reply.”
As part of the application process, parties to an application are asked whether they would consider taking part in mediation. Mediation provides an opportunity to discuss the issues and generate options to resolve the issues early in the process. It is intended to empower the parties to craft their own resolution and remedies, with the help of a mediator who facilitates the discussion.
If the mediation does not result in a settlement, the case will go to a hearing. Once hearings start, the applicant has the opportunity to present evidence to support the application. The applicant may or may not be represented by a lawyer. All parties are given full opportunity to present their evidence and to make submissions at the hearing. Respondents are usually represented by a lawyer. Representatives of the applicant(s) and the respondent(s) examine and cross-examine witnesses.
The length of HRTO hearings varies greatly, but on average the length is four days. They are held across Ontario. A hearing room may be a regular court room or a meeting room in a hotel. The proceedings are quasi-judicial in nature. People involved in the hearing are asked to swear or affirm their evidence. Hearings are open to the public and the media at the discretion of the adjudicator.
Once the hearings are finished, the adjudicator will issue a decision, and distribute it to all parties. Decisions are also sent to a number of reference, legal and public libraries throughout Ontario. Most decisions are also published online on Can-LII at www.canlii.org.
If the HRTO finds that discrimination has happened, it can order a number of possible solutions. The applicant's full rights to equality must be honoured. As well, respondents can be ordered to pay the applicant for any losses suffered in pay or benefits or for mental anguish.
An organization can be ordered to undertake special programs designed to relieve hardship or economic disadvantage experienced by an individual or a group, or to help disadvantaged groups to achieve or attempt to achieve equal opportunity in the organization. They can also be required to provide human rights and anti-discrimination training for employees, develop comprehensive anti-discrimination or anti-harassment policies or undertake other such remedies.
The Human Rights Legal Support Centre
The Human Rights Legal Support Centre helps people through the human rights process, such as completing an application or claim to the Tribunal.
The Human Rights Legal Support Centre offers human rights legal services to individuals throughout Ontario who have experienced discrimination contrary to the Ontario Human Rights Code. Services may include legal assistance in filing applications at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, and legal representation at mediations and hearings.