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OHRC files human rights application related to deaths of Joey Knapaysweet, Agnes Sutherland

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February 5, 2020

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Toronto—On the second anniversary of the deaths of Joey Knapaysweet and Agnes Sutherland, the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) announced it has filed an application with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO) alleging discrimination based on Indigenous ancestry by public service providers in Timmins, Ontario. The OHRC has initiated the application pursuant to its powers under s. 35 of the Ontario Human Rights Code. The OHRC’s application will support those made on behalf of both individuals’ families.

The parties named in the application include the Timmins Police Service, Timmins and District Hospital, Cochrane District Social Services Administration Board (which provides emergency medical services), and other social service agencies.

The February 2018 deaths of Joey Knapaysweet and Agnes Sutherland highlight the serious and sometimes tragic result of systemic discrimination against First Nations peoples in Northern Ontario. Both Joey Knapaysweet and Agnes Sutherland traveled to Timmins from Fort Albany First Nation, more than 400 km away, to access health services that were not available in their community. These circumstances left them particularly vulnerable to discrimination.

The OHRC acts in the public interest and is committed to ensuring that Indigenous peoples receive equal access to essential services consistent with their unique cultural and language needs, pursuant to the Ontario Human Rights Code and consistent with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The OHRC is seeking a variety of public interest remedies, including requiring the respondents to:

  • Engage with Indigenous communities to understand their concerns and needs
  • Develop policies and provide training to ensure that their services are delivered in a culturally competent and safe manner, free of discrimination
  • Develop a human resources plan to promote and expand the hiring and promotion of Indigenous staff
  • Collect human rights-based data to identify problems and monitor solutions.

“When I visited Timmins in the weeks after Joey Knapaysweet’s and Agnes Sutherland’s deaths, many people I spoke to linked their deaths to systemic racism and unequal access to essential services,” said OHRC Chief Commissioner Renu Mandhane. “The deaths of two vulnerable people who came to Timmins seeking help should be an impetus for concrete action to advance human rights and reconciliation.”


Media contact:

Yves Massicotte
Communications & Issues Management
Ontario Human Rights Commission
Phone: 416-314-4491