Meet our Commissioners

Commissioners have in-depth knowledge and expertise in human rights issues and issues relating to vulnerable populations, public policy, social values, and concepts of fairness, justice and public service. 

Chief Commissioner Ena Chadha

Chief Commissioner Chadha is a very experienced and highly respected human rights lawyer, educator and mediator. She recently served as a co-reviewer of the Peel District School Board systemic racism review. She is the former Chair of the Board of Directors of the Ontario Human Rights Legal Support Centre and a past Vice-chair of the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, where she issued several leading decisions in the areas of race, disability and sexual harassment. She also began her career as counsel to the OHRC.

Chief Commissioner Chadha was the Director of Litigation at ARCH (Disability Law Centre), a test case clinic advancing the equality rights of the disability community. As an equality rights litigator, she has appeared before the Supreme Court of Canada on a number of significant constitutional and human rights matters. She has published extensively on equality rights, including in the Supreme Court Law Review and the National Journal of Constitutional Law.

Chief Commissioner Chadha was born in New Delhi, India and raised in Brampton, Ontario. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Ryerson, received her LL.B. from the College of Law, University of Saskatchewan, and was called to the Ontario Bar in 1994. She received her LL.M. degree from Osgoode in 2008. She also holds certificates in Advance Alternate Dispute Resolution and Mental Health Law.

Appointment: July 22, 2020 – July 21, 2021

Commissioner Jewel Amoah

Jewel Amoah is a Canadian-Trinidadian human rights lawyer, activist and academic. Jewel has facilitated organizational change in various domestic and international public sector entities by raising awareness of harassment, discrimination, human rights and equity in teaching, learning and working environments. These environments have provided an opportunity to apply and expand her academic analysis of intersectionality and its impact on attaining equitable outcomes based on race, gender, gender identity and disability identities, among others.

Jewel is committed to research, advocacy and activism to inspire and produce systemic change, enhance access to justice and the full enjoyment of rights. She is a graduate of McMaster University, the University of Ottawa and the University of Cape Town. She lectured for four years at the University of the West Indies in Trinidad and is currently the Human Rights & Equity Advisor with the Halton District School Board.

Appointment: May 28, 2020 – May 27, 2022

Commissioner Randall Arsenault

Randall Arsenault is a 19-year veteran of the Toronto Police Service. Randall has experience in Youth Services, the Community Response Unit, Street Crime Unit, Criminal Investigative Bureau, Primary Response and has worked with the Aboriginal Peacekeeping Unit for over 20 years. Randall was also the Service's first Community Engagement Officer. An early adapter of social networking, Randall uses his global reach to engage and educate. Randall speaks at numerous conferences and has facilitated workshops on cyber bullying, effective engagement strategies and modern day policing.

Randall has taken leadership roles in many grassroots initiatives, and local and national charities. He is the recipient of awards and recognition for community outreach and engagement, and is an advocate for mental health awareness. Randall is a licensed carpenter, and in his spare time enjoys the outdoors.

Appointment: January 9, 2020 – January 8, 2022

Commissioner Brian Eyolfson

Brian Eyolfson is a lawyer who practices alternative dispute resolution, providing independent investigation, mediation and adjudication services, primarily in the area of human rights.

He was a Commissioner with the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, from September 2016 to June 2019. Before that, Brian served as Acting Deputy Director with the Legal Services Branch of Ontario’s Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation. From 2007 to 2016, he was a full-time Vice-Chair with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, where he adjudicated and mediated many human rights applications. Brian was a Senior Staff Lawyer with Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto (ALS) where he practiced human rights, Aboriginal and administrative law. He also represented ALS at the Ipperwash Inquiry. Brian also previously served as Counsel to the OHRC.

Brian has a B.Sc. in psychology and an LL.B. from Queen’s University, and an LL.M., specializing in administrative law, from Osgoode Hall Law School. He was called to the Ontario Bar in 1994. Brian is a member of Couchiching First Nation in Treaty #3 territory.

Appointment: November 12, 2020 – November 11, 2022

Commissioner Violetta Igneski

Violetta Igneski is a professor in ethics and political philosophy at McMaster University. For more than 18 years, her teaching and research have been focused on human rights, global justice and collective responsibility. She is a published author in leading journals and has presented her work at international conferences. In addition to her academic contributions, she has demonstrated a commitment to promoting an environment of respect and inclusion in various professional and administrative capacities, currently serving as Chair of the McMaster Research Ethics Board and Equity Officer in her department. She was awarded her PhD from the University of Toronto.

Appointment: January 9, 2020 – January 8, 2022

Commissioner Gary Pieters

Gary Pieters is an educator and has served as a member (part-time) of the Minister of Education's Advisory Council on Special Education since 2017, and as a member (part-time) of the Toronto Islands Residential Trust Corporation since 2020. He is a principal with the Toronto District School Board, and is a commissioner and past president of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations. He attended the University of Toronto and earned his Bachelor of Arts (BA) in African Studies and Political Science as a member of New College; and his Bachelor of Education (BEd) and Master of Education (MEd) at Ontario Institute for Studies in Education/University of Toronto (OISE/UT).

Appointment: March 25, 2021 – March 24, 2023

 

 

Administrative: 

Profile on Chief Commissioner Ena Chadha

Ena Chadha: Human rights takes leadership, community, entire institutions


For Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) Chief Commissioner Ena Chadha, what is most important in human rights work right now is to mobilize institutions, governments and service delivery organizations to understand what systemic racism and systemic inequity are, acknowledge that they exist, and do proactive and preventative work to eliminate them.

Chadha’s appointment in July 2020 comes amidst the backdrop of an evolving global pandemic. She acknowledges the magnitude of increased awareness and recognition of human rights issues at individual, community and institutional levels – something the OHRC has consistently pushed as a part of mainstream conversations. Chadha says, “I think it is important for the OHRC to recognize and get our communities, government and all stakeholders to review and commit to scrutinizing their own landscape at a macro level.”

“Organizations have to be vigilant. They have to work at every stage, from recruitment to reforming the systems, the programs, to embed substantive diversity and substantive equality,” says Chadha. “It takes leadership, working with the community, and looking at entire institutions, because the unconscious bias, subconscious racism and systemic unfairness is so deep. No matter how diverse, how many policies, how committed, unless they do the heavy-lifting work, no organization is immune from the legacy of discrimination that’s embedded in the systems.”

Chadha believes society must understand that beyond systemic racism, people often experience discrimination on more than one ground, such as disability, socio-economic status and gender, or some other combination. And she believes society must recognize that these intersections can exacerbate negative experiences in tangible and intangible ways.

“For human rights organizations, advancing a more intersectional assessment of human rights is crucial,” says Chadha. “As a society, we have to acknowledge and respond to how interconnected socio-economic, health determinants and poverty are. We have to work this understanding into all of our human rights strategies – whether it is housing, criminal justice or social services.”

Chadha thinks a lot of work needs to be done in the areas of racial equities and truth and reconciliation. “COVID-19 has really brought forward and exposed how these pre-existing inequities are so interconnected,” observes Chadha. “Access to health care, housing, justice, education, all of that has collided in cascading forms of inequality. This has just heaped onto marginalized groups, and I’m worried we’re going to leave some people irreparably debilitated with the consequences of COVID-19.”

As an example of intersectionality, Chadha points to inequities in breast cancer care. This issue is close to her heart, as she is a survivor of Triple Negative breast cancer, an aggressive disease which mainly affects young, Black and Hispanic women.

For racialized women, these health inequities are compounded when they intersect with gender and race. Inequities in breast cancer care provide a stark picture of how systemic discrimination affects racialized women’s access to screening programs, diagnosis and treatment – and affects their survival. Chadha notes that the OHRC’s advocacy in the area of disaggregated data collection applies across sectors, and it is especially important for governments to collect health and other human rights-based data to support racialized communities.

For example, in Canada, the health of Black Canadian women may be particularly threatened by a lack of data. In a paper published in the Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, University of Toronto researchers found that Black women may be under-screened for cervical and breast cancer, despite evidence that they may be predisposed to worse outcomes from these cancers. In a 2014 study, the Wellesley Institute found that in Ontario, inequalities across the breast cancer continuum because of race have significantly affected women’s access to screening programs, diagnosis and treatment.

Chadha, who has spent over 25 years as a human rights lawyer, educator and mediator, has long been committed to advancing human rights. “I have seen prejudice throughout my life and work,” says Chadha, a racialized woman, born in New Delhi and raised in Brampton, Ontario.

She explains that as immigrants from a country that experienced British colonization, her family was very sensitive to the issues Indigenous peoples in Canada were experiencing, and had a heightened awareness that as newcomers to this country, they were on other peoples’ land. “My father was very aware of the systemic discrimination Indigenous peoples faced and it was something he talked about with us around the kitchen table,” says Chadha.

“I have always been a human rights advocate,” she continues. “It’s just part of who I am and always have been.” Chadha reflected on how growing up in a time where the world was being shaped by important human rights events, such as the anti-Apartheid movement, the AIDS crisis and the anti-feminist Montreal massacre, had a deep impact on her understanding of equality rights.

While she was a journalism student, Chadha got a summer job as an intake officer at the OHRC. She says that her work on the front line, talking to people on the phone and hearing them share their stories and concerns, contributed to her decision to become a human rights lawyer.

Before her appointment as Chief Commissioner, Chadha was the Director of Litigation at ARCH Disability Law Centre and in her role worked closely with disabilities communities. She also brings extensive knowledge and experience from her work for all three pillars of Ontario’s human rights system: as an articling student and counsel with the OHRC, as Vice-Chair of the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario and Board Chair of the Human Rights Legal Support Centre.

What replenishes Chadha’s spirit to continue advocating for human rights in such challenging times? “For me, it is the poetry of Maya Angelou, particularly the poem When Great Trees Fall,” she says. “Angelou’s poetry is infused with issues that speak to me as a racialized woman.”

Profile on Commissioner Violetta Igneski

Violetta Igneski: An ethical look at human rights


Are ethics and philosophy important to understanding human rights? For 18 years, Commissioner Violetta Igneski has focused on this very intersection. “If I say there is a human right to have our basic needs met, for example, it actually means that someone has a duty to do something about it so I can have my right fulfilled,” explains Igneski.

An associate professor of Philosophy at McMaster University, Igneski teaches and researches human rights, global justice and collective responsibility. She tries to bring nuance to these areas by exploring questions about who has a duty to do something to whom, if human rights are actually going to be substantive things. “I’m lucky enough to have a voice, teach students and share topics that they might not have thought about,” says Igneski. “To think about, for example, do we have obligations to aid other people? Why would I have to sacrifice my interests to help other people? What would that mean?”

Igneski was the first in her family to go to university, and earned her PhD in Philosophy from the University of Toronto. She finds the ability to have such discussions in the classroom enriching. She sees them as a way to advocate for social justice.  

“Fulfilling and respecting human rights depends on political and legal structures and institutions, but it’s also important to consider our personal decisions and this brings us into the sphere of ethics,” observes Igneski. Personal decisions, she elaborates, would include how we behave and act towards each other, how we treat other people, and how these actions take place within collective contexts.

“We need to think about human rights at the community, state and international levels, so we can coordinate our efforts and figure out how we can best implement those, and then divide up and allocate the tasks to each of us as individuals,” she says. “It is about asking what is required of me, as an individual in this collective context with other people.”

Igneski extends this idea to consider how research in ethics applies to her role at the OHRC, especially during a global pandemic. One of the things that has become evident during COVID-19 is an increase in people’s general awareness of inequalities in our society.

“These inequalities have been exacerbated by the pandemic,” says Igneski. “I think that there seems to be, with this awareness, some positive energy and so, some potential to change things. I see some new understanding of why there are social programs to help people in these situations, and also why they are inadequate.”

Through her role at the OHRC, Igneski hopes to build on this momentum. She wants us all to think about changemaking as we witness the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on people living in poverty, or living with disability, on racialized persons and Indigenous peoples.

Igneski also talks about how in 2020, the OHRC released its Policy statement on a human rights-based approach to managing the COVID-19 pandemic, published a series of FAQs on rights and obligations, and was vocal about collecting human-rights based data to know the real impacts of this pandemic. Each of these initiatives shows how the OHRC continually examines issues from an intersecting and ethical standpoint.

“Poverty requires a lot more attention, and addressing it is currently a strategic priority of the OHRC. We see so many issues and factors undermining people’s access to healthcare, and poverty happens to overlap with many of these,” observes Igneski. “We have some understanding about the intersecting grounds, but working on communicating them in an effective manner and educating the public is one of the most important roles I see the OHRC playing.”

Igneski brings her applied theoretical knowledge to the OHRC with the hope of working with people on the ground and in the community. In addition to her academic contributions, she has shown her commitment to promoting an environment of respect and inclusion in various professional and administrative capacities, currently serving as Chair of the McMaster Research Ethics Board and Equity Officer in her department. She has authored several research papers on the duty to aid, ethical living and political philosophy. So she continues to live the intersection between ethics and human rights, to the benefit of all Ontarians.

Profile on Commissioner Jewel Amoah

Jewel Amoah: An obligation to take responsibility


“We all exist relative to something else. I think that’s really where we get our identity – who I am relative to each of you in age, race and culture?” says Commissioner Jewel Amoah, a Canadian-Trinidadian human rights lawyer, activist and academic. Amoah believes that we are hard-wired to function around comparisons, and discrimination happens when we structure those comparisons to disadvantage others.

Amoah is currently the Human Rights and Equity Advisor with the Halton District School Board. She has also worked with organizations both in Canada and abroad, providing extensive advice on gender equality and legislative reform.

While studying Literature and Political Science, and then going to law school, Amoah  was inspired by the events unfolding at that time – the Oka Crisis (Kanesatake Resistance), Nelson Mandela’s release from prison and the Gulf War – which all exposed human rights challenges around the world. “In the geopolitical context that we live in, we are grossly advantaged by the disadvantages that many other people experience. And I think that fascinated me personally, and perhaps also inspired me in a professional sense,” adds Amoah. “I was intrigued by the politics of the world, and really fascinated by notions of identity, geography, rights, access to justice, and what all of that means.”

Amoah is a graduate of McMaster University, the University of Ottawa and the University of Cape Town, and lectured for four years at the University of the West Indies in Trinidad. Identity and equality issues are at the core of her research interests. In her doctoral dissertation, Amoah examined the impact of intersecting identities on attaining equality. She developed GRACE, an analytical tool to show how the intersection of gender, race, age and culture affect access to equality rights for girls subject to traditional or customary law as well as modern day civil law in South Africa. Her research pointed her to some socio-economic situations/cases in rural South Africa, where gender, race, age and culture could place an individual at a severe disadvantage since she views these like axes equality operates around.

“Think about GRACE as somebody’s name,” explains Amoah. “If you change any part of your name, it doesn’t mean the same thing. So just as if you remove any aspect of your identity, your outcome doesn’t remain the same. Why is it that a tweak in identity is going to change your outcomes, when if we are really committed to equality, we should all be entitled to the same outcome? Gender, race, age and culture are not really interchangeable – they're immutable, because they all combine to identify who we are and what we get access to in the moment.”

In her role as an OHRC Commissioner, Amoah brings her own experience as a racialized immigrant woman. She believes that issues of race, gender, identity and experiences need to be examined against the current context of post-colonialism, economics and natural environment. For example, she asks: “Why is the economic emphasis centered around North America and Europe, although the majority of people do not live there?”

She adds, “I stand in awe with these power differentials in the world – how they came to be and how they are sustained.” Even in her current role as an equity advisor, she sees how education is itself a factor of colonial structures and by extension, has created room for more inequities.

Amoah views the OHRC as a leader in the community and public arenas, and its policy role is about adapting systems to the reality and needs of individual identities, as well as collective community identities. “There’s a lot of inadvertent exclusion, because people say this is just the way we've always done things,” says Amoah. “And maybe you have always done things in a way that has always disadvantaged others, but now that we are aware of that continued disadvantage, we have an obligation to take responsibility for it.”

Amoah explains how the OHRC looks at ordinary events like policing, housing access, health care, or the right to read or play lacrosse, and identifies areas where things can be problematic: “I think the OHRC’s role is to raise awareness that equality is everywhere, but that means so is inequality. The OHRC’s job is to peel away that facade of niceness that we all like to hide behind... and help understand how we are being conscious and active in identifying and addressing inequality.”

Amoah feels that the background people come from is always important. “But more important is what you do to leverage or interpret those experiences in your background,” says Amoah. “Even if those backgrounds are ones of pure privilege and entitlement, that also has a lot of influence on how you view yourself and your role in the world. So yes, I think where we come from is largely influential in terms of who we become, but not necessarily determinative. At some point we do have to take responsibility for that.”