In the news

Mental health disabilities, addictions and human rights take centre stage in Ontario

In summer 2014, along with its partners at Ryerson University, the OHRC released its new Policy on preventing discrimination based on mental health disabilities and addictions. This policy provides user-friendly guidance on how to define, assess, handle and resolve human rights issues related to mental health and addiction disabilities.

People with mental health disabilities or addictions continue to face considerable discrimination, stigma and social exclusion in Canada. Many people experience adverse treatment, negative attitudes and harassment in employment, housing and when receiving services. Many are afraid to disclose their disability to others because of the stereotypes and stigma associated with these disabilities. People with mental health disabilities or addictions are also more likely to have low incomes, and many live in chronic poverty.

The policy addresses:

  • different forms of discrimination
  • rights at work, in rental housing, and when receiving services
  • organizations’ responsibilities to prevent and eliminate discrimination
  • how to create environments that are inclusive and free from discrimination
  • how the duty to accommodate applies to people with mental health or addiction disabilities.

Today: After an overwhelmingly positive community response, we continue to offer training across Ontario. We have provided guidance on new guidelines for colleges and universities, and have reached a preliminary agreement with Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences on a long-term project to embed human rights in all facets of this healthcare organization. This is a ground-breaking initiative in the health sector.

We also enjoy a continuing partnership with the Canadian Mental Health Association, bringing the OHRC message to a broader audience.

OHRC: Bias-free policing is needed now

Racial profiling has a deeply corrosive impact, especially on young Black and Indigenous men. Our communities need to be welcoming and inviting – but when racial profiling happens, neighbourhoods become places of distrust and fear. So it’s time to root out and eliminate racial profiling whenever we see it.

Racial profiling by the Toronto Police Service is a recognized problem in need of an effective solution. While we appeared to make progress in the Toronto Police Services Board`s policy on community engagement – commonly called carding – in early 2014, we view the revised policy, released in 2015, to be a step backwards. We strongly urge the Board to either make major revisions or eliminate the policy altogether. We are calling on the Board to:

  • Guide and limit officer discretion to stop and question people
  • Require that officers tell the people they stop about their right to leave and not answer questions, as much as possible in the circumstances
  • Show effective monitoring and accountability including race-based data collection to identify racial bias
  • Provide transparency through receipts
  • Immediately purge carding intelligence data, already collected, that lacks a non-discriminatory explanation.

We are considering how to best use the full range of our legislated powers to ensure bias-free policing in Toronto and across Ontario.

Reaching out to Indigenous peoples

The OHRC has expanded its efforts to reach out to Indigenous peoples in Ontario. Highlights of our work in the past year included preparing a statement on designating employment and contracting provisions in Impact and Benefit Agreements as special programs under Ontario’s Human Rights Code. Impact and Benefit Agreements (IBAs) are becoming an industry standard for resource development projects that are located on or impact Indigenous people’ traditional lands and rights. The agreements often contain employment and contracting provisions that give priority for training, hiring and contracting to Indigenous peoples.

We also set up new partnerships with the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres, and conducted outreach events in Sioux Lookout, Kenora, Thunder Bay, Ottawa and Sault Ste. Marie.

While law clear, reminders needed on pregnancy and breastfeeding

We continue to see regular reports of women not getting hired or losing their jobs because they are pregnant, or getting fired when they take or return from a maternity leave. That’s why we hosted a webinar to launch an updated version of our Policy on preventing discrimination because of pregnancy and breastfeeding, in partnership with the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-term Care.

The updated policy, released in October 2014, outlines the needs of, and barriers faced by, women who are or will be mothers and offers a plain-language guide for employers, landlords and service providers on how to address, handle, resolve and prevent any pregnancy or breastfeeding-related discrimination or harassment in their organization.

Today: Organizations such as Restaurants Canada are helping to send the message that it is against the law to discriminate based on pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Gender identity policy just the beginning

Launching our Policy on preventing discrimination because of gender identity and gender expression in spring 2014 was just the beginning of a larger job to educate and advocate for change in Ontario. We are already seeing important results.

For example, we welcomed Ontario’s new procedures and forms allowing for changing sex designation on the birth registration of minors. In the new system, parents or legal guardians and a physician or psychologist (including a psychological associate) need to agree the change is appropriate. The child must agree as well. Youth age 16 and 17 can decide for themselves and follow the same procedure for adults. These changes reflect some of the issues we raised in a submission to the government in August 2014, and also appear in keeping with the OHRC’s policy.

We were also involved with the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services as it developed and launched a ministry-wide policy preventing discrimination against inmates because of their gender identity or gender expression.

Today: Understanding and acceptance of transgender people is growing in Ontario, as is awareness that discriminating based on gender identity or gender expression is against the law.

Sexual harassment: the story continues

Sexual harassment is a significant problem in workplaces across Canada. We have worked to remind employers, service and housing providers of their human rights obligations to prevent and respond to sexual harassment. We released a position statement on sexual harassment in December 2014, hosted our best-attended webinar ever, and continue to work with partners to enhance understanding of human rights in this area. We have also offered our expertise to help deliver the Ontario government’s Action Plan to Stop Sexual Violence and Harassment, and are serving on the Roundtable on Violence Against Women.

New options for employers

Getting human rights information into the right hands in workplaces across Ontario is essential. We made a major step forward in the past year though our work with the Human Resources Professionals association. As we have for many years, we attended the annual HRPA conference and distributed thousands of brochures, guides and policies to employers. Work is underway to combine our expertise with HRPA’s connections with employers to increase human rights awareness among their 22,000 members.

Today: Employers have a growing range of options for learning about their human rights responsibilities.

Promoting human rights on the home front

The OHRC continued to promote human rights in housing across Ontario, with some important successes in 2014-15. For example, along with the Dream Team and the Human Rights Legal Support Centre, we reached settlements with the cities of Toronto and Smiths Falls. Both cities removed minimum separation distance requirements for group homes from their zoning bylaws, increasing the options for this form of housing for some of Ontario’s most vulnerable residents. We urge all municipalities to remove minimum separation distances for group homes and other forms of much-needed housing.

We worked with the Province of Ontario in several areas to further connect human rights and housing laws and we’re seeing some results. The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing’s Provincial Policy Statement under the Planning Act – PPS 2014, effective April 2014, incorporates some of the recommendations we made. Most importantly, it has a statement that the PPS shall be implemented in a manner that is consistent with the Human Rights Code and the Charter. This statement has led to increasing interest in our work among planners and planning schools, and is helping us as we continue to speak to municipalities about zoning.

We are also involved in building partnerships with the Ontario Professional Planners Institute and Ryerson University. We have made presentations at OPPI and planning schools, and continue to promote human rights as a key element of planning education.

Today: Vulnerable people have increased options for group home living, because municipalities are removing zoning barriers.

Keeping tabs on Canadian experience

In 2013, we released our Policy on removing the “Canadian experience” barrier. Our position is that a strict requirement for “Canadian experience” is prima facie discrimination (discrimination on its face) and can only be used in very limited circumstances.

In the past year, we have monitored job ads and contacted employers and employment agencies when we see this requirement coming up. While it appears that the larger online job sites do not have Canadian experience requirements as often as they used to, we have found several smaller firms that do. In these cases, we are contacting the organizations, advising them of our policy and expectations, and offering to meet with them on the issue. We will continue to monitor job ads in the coming year.