March 29, 2001
ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT COMMITTEE WELCOMES YOUR INPUT
The ODA Committee welcomes your input on two important issues set out below. Time is regrettably tight so please send your feedback as soon as you can to:
1. Anticipated Meeting with the New Citizenship Minister
In a recent letter, the new Citizenship Minister Cam Jackson said that he would be meeting with various people interested in the ODA issue over the next weeks. In the letter he specifically suggested to me that a meeting be held to get input from the ODA Committee in the next few weeks.
In response, I have called the Minister's office to discuss possible dates to meet as soon as possible. I proposed to bring a small group with me, no greater than two. I await their response and will let you know what is arranged once we have word.
In the meantime, we would welcome your thoughts on what we should address in this meeting. As preliminary thoughts, I wanted to put forward these ideas. Feel free to comment on them and to add any additional ideas that you wish.
* We welcome the Minister's positive tone in his letter, and his willingness to meet so quickly after taking office. We also welcome his recognition of the importance of getting the ODA project completed this year. We want to offer to do whatever we can to help him succeed in bringing in a strong and effective ODA by November 23, 2001 which complies with the 11 principles that the Legislature unanimously adopted by resolution on October 29, 1998.
* It is good for us to have this introductory meeting. However our small delegation meeting with the Minister for a short time will not be able to fully share in detail the views of our membership. It is therefore very important that the Minister get out and meet with as many people and groups as possible, including ODA Committee regions around the province, to get their direct feedback and input. It is also important for him to hear from the different ranges of disability groups so he can learn about the specific barriers facing people with different kinds of disabilities. It is preferable for these to be open, accessible opportunities, and not closed or invitation-only meetings as has been the case in the past. It should not be centered on Toronto, and should involve the whole province.
* It is important that Premier Harris be directly involved in this process. We welcome the Minister's help in getting the Premier to meet with us.
* We would welcome having an open, positive working relationship. We welcome the chance to work together with the Government and other stake-holders such as business in a collaborative way all at the table together.
* We welcome the Minister's ideas on how to bring his caucus
on side on this issue.
* As a result of our group's strong efforts right across Ontario, support for a strong ODA is itself strong, and growing even stronger.
Let me know what you think of these ideas, and what other suggestions you have. While we cannot squeeze every idea into a short meeting, we will do our best to hit the high points. We again strongly encourage you to contact the Minister and seek a meeting with him. Invite him to your community. Let us know how it goes. I know we have been through this before, but with the tide of media coverage we have gotten recently, we should do whatever we can to get our message across.
2. LABOUR MINISTER'S PROPOSAL TO AMALGAMATE ALL LABOUR TRIBUNALS INTO ONE MEGA-TRIBUNAL
We have been invited to give our input into the proposal, put forward recently by the Labour Minister Chris Stockwell, to amalgamate several labour tribunals into one mega-tribunal. One of the tribunals which would be included is the Ontario Human Rights Code Board of Inquiry. That is the tribunal which holds hearings and decides cases when a person has filed a human rights complaint of discrimination with the Ontario Human Rights Commission. The Commission is supposed to investigate those complaints, including complaints of discrimination because of disability. If the Commission thinks the case should go to a full hearing, it brings the case before the Ontario Human Rights Board of Inquiry. That tribunal does not just hear employment discrimination cases. It also hears cases of discrimination because of disability in access to such things as housing, goods, services and other facilities. It also is not limited to disability cases; it deals with human rights complaints based on other grounds like race, gender, religion and sexual orientation.
This is a rather complicated subject, and is hard to fairly summarize. If you want a copy of the Labour Minister's discussion paper on this topic, send me an email and I will email it to you.
You might ask why we would be interested in this issue at all. It is significant to us for two reasons. First, one of our core principles since the ODA Committee was established was that we do not want to lose any of the protections we now have under the Ontario Human Rights Code. Second, the Ontario Government has suggested in the past that any enforcement of a new ODA would be done by the Ontario Human Rights Commission. We have not agreed with that Government position, because the Commission is so overworked and underfunded right now. We must at least make sure that things are not made worse while we await the ODA. This is especially important for us to keep an eye on in case it is the Human Rights Commission that gets the job of enforcing the ODA.
I have been invited to attend a consultation session on this subject next Thursday, April 5. Here are the points that we might wish to make. Again, before deciding what to say at that session, it would be great to get your feedback on these points, and on any other points we might wish to make. I should mention as well that from my understanding, this is not a place to make major recommendations about how the Human Rights Commission works in general.
The points we might wish to make include these:
* How the Human Rights Code is enforced may have a direct impact on the ODA. Therefore, the Government should make no changes to the Human Rights Board of Inquiry until we have had a full chance to have input into the ODA and until the ODA is designed. They should not put the cart before the horse. Whatever the Government chooses to do with this mega-tribunal, it should hold off amalgamating the Human Rights Board of Inquiry into the new mega-tribunal at least until the ODA process is completed.
* The Labour Minister's discussion paper proposes a possible new system for user fees and orders to pay legal costs. There are no such requirements under the Human Rights Code now. Any changes threaten to be a new barrier facing persons with disabilities who already face barriers and want to fight against them.
* In a letter recently written to Labour Minister Chris Stockwell by a person participating in a consultation session on the mega-tribunal process, it is suggested that Minister Stockwell apparently indicated that the Government may be considering taking away from the Ontario Human Rights Commission the job of investigating discrimination. If the Government is in fact considering this option, it should announce this openly and seek public input, including input from the disability community. Such a change might have a direct impact on how the ODA might be enforced. A core principle of the ODA Committee is that the ODA must have effective enforcement.
* Right now the Human Rights Board of Inquiry does not just deal with employment discrimination. It deals with discrimination in services, facilities, goods, etc. It is questionable whether the new mega-tribunal should get responsibility for this wide range of discrimination issues that have nothing to do with employment. The tribunal will have no expertise outside the tribunal area. In fact, there is room to question whether this new tribunal will have expertise in human rights at all. The ODA Committee has advocated that under the ODA, there should be a separate agency for dealing with the ODA that has expertise in disability barriers.
We look forward to getting your input.
Because these events are all happening so fast, you are encouraged to get in touch as soon as you can with your ideas.
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Last updated April 2, 2001