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The Saturday, April 8, 2006 the Toronto Star included a good article by columnist Helen Henderson on the continually-growing opposition to the Ontario Government's proposals to weaken the Ontario Human Rights Commission. Even from some among the small group, mainly lawyers, who support the Government's direction, there have come calls for the Government to heed the call for public consultations. From that group, there have also been calls for the Government to announce more specifics about its hitherto-vague plans.
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Here is a clarification of and further background on one brief matter in this article. Former Ontarians with Disabilities Act Chair David Lepofsky, quoted in this article, last year congratulated the McGuinty Government for passing the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).
He has recently reiterated that the negotiations leading to the enactment of the AODA were all based on the premise that nothing would be done to weaken protections under the Human Rights Code. It was implicit in those discussions that persons with disabilities would continue to be able to go to the Ontario Human Rights Commission to have their discrimination complaints publicly investigated and enforced.
During the 2003-2005 consultations over the new disability law, the ODA Committee and many community groups proposed that a new independent enforcement agency be established to enforce the AODA. The Government's position was that it wouldn't establish a new independent agency, as persons with disabilities can lodge complaints with the Ontario Human Rights Commission to be investigated and enforced.
While in opposition before 2003, the McGuinty Liberals proposed and voted for amendments to the previous Conservative Party's weak 2001 disability bill, to put enforcement teeth into it, at the ODA Committee's request. Those proposed amendments would have expanded, not reduced, the Human Rights Commission's investigation mandate.
While the McGuinty Government's AODA was ultimately designed to include enforcement elements, the ongoing full availability of the Ontario Human Rights Commission's existing public investigation and enforcement powers and duties is integral to the AODA. If the Government reduces the Human Rights Commission's public investigation and prosecution powers and duties, this would weaken the AODA.
Lepofsky has said that during the public consultations leading to the AODA's enactment, the Government did not say it was planning to reduce the Human Rights Commission's mandate to publicly investigate and prosecute discrimination. Had it done so, this would have dramatically influenced those negotiations, consultations and the ultimate endorsement of the final package. After so many endorsed the AODA, it's unfair for the McGuinty Government to turn around after the fact and propose to reduce the Human rights Commission's public investigation and public prosecution mandate.
The Toronto Star Saturday, April 8, 2006
B.C. a lesson in how not to do it
short URL: http://tinyurl.com/lxxmy
If anyone, particularly those in the vaulted towers of the provincial attorney general's office, is foolish enough to think that concern over proposed changes to the Ontario Human Rights Commission is going to fade, it's time for a reality check.
There is deep-seated resentment over the fact that the public will not be allowed any input into the mix.
After some initial knee-jerk posturing, the apprehension is solidifying into constructive, carefully thought-out ideas. It is visceral. And it is uniting diverse and widespread communities in a manner that should give pause to any government with an election on the horizon.
"We have nowhere else to turn but the human rights commission," says Margaret Parsons, executive director of the African Canadian Legal Clinic.
"Reform to the police complaints system, promised time and again, has amounted to nothing."
The same is true for people with disabilities, says David Lepofsky, architect of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. The Act offers no real redress against barriers to access because the province argued that the human rights commission would address these issues.
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