Ontario Human Rights Commission
|Formed||March 29, 1961|
|Jurisdiction||Province of Ontario|
|Headquarters||180 Dundas Street West, Suite 900, Toronto, Ontario|
The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) was established in the Canadian province of Ontario on March 29, 1961 to administer the Ontario Human Rights Code. The OHRC is an arm's length agency of government accountable to the legislature through the Ministry of the Attorney General of Ontario.
The OHRC's mandate under the Code includes: preventing discrimination through public education and public policy; and looking into situations where discriminatory behaviour exists.
Since June 30, 2008, all new complaints of discrimination are filed as applications with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. However, OHRC has the right to be informed of applications before the HRTO, and receives copies of all applications and responses. The OHRC can intervene in any application with the consent of the applicant; the Commission can also ask to intervene without the applicant’s consent, subject to any directions or terms that the HRTO sets after hearing from the parties. The Commission also has the right to bring its own application to the HRTO if the Commission is of the opinion that the application is in the public interest.
There is a full-time chief commissioner and a varying number of part-time commissioners, appointed by Order in Council. Staff of the OHRC is appointed under the Public Service of Ontario Act, 2006.
On February 19, 2015, the Lieutenant Governor in Council appointed Ruth Goba as Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission on an interim basis for a period of three months, effective from February 28, 2015, and ending May 27, 2015, or when a new Chief Commissioner is appointed, whichever occurs first.
Barbara Hall was chief commissioner from November 28, 2005, until February 27, 2015, replacing Keith Norton, who had led the Commission since 1996; Norton succeeded Rosemary Brown. The commission's first director, appointed in 1962, was Daniel G. Hill.
The provincial government has nominated Renu Mandhane, executive director of the University of Toronto law faculty’s international human rights program, as the next chief commissioner, pending ratification by the Ontario Legislative Assembly's standing committee on government agencies.
Function and Vision Statement
The Ontario Human Rights Commission is committed to the elimination of discrimination in society by providing the people of Ontario with strong leadership and quality service:
- in the effective enforcement of the Ontario Human Rights Code; and
- in the promotion and advancement of human rights.
Section 29 of the Ontario Human Rights Code sets out the function of the Ontario Human Rights Commission. The OHRC's Vision Statement  is:
"An Ontario in which everyone is valued, treated with dignity and respect, and where human rights are nurtured by us all."
Dismissing a Complaint
Under the Ontario Human Rights Code, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO) may dismiss a complaint per s.45.1:
45.1 The Tribunal may dismiss an application, in whole or in part, in accordance with its rules if the Tribunal is of the opinion that another proceeding has appropriately dealt with the substance of the application.
Chairs and Chief Commissioners
- Louis Fine (1962–1971)[note 1]
- Daniel G. Hill (1971–1973)[note 2]
- Walter Currie (interim) (1974–1975)
- Thomas Symons (1975–1978)
- Dorothea Crittenden (1978–1982)
- Borden Purcell (1982–1988)
- Raj Anand (1988–1989)[note 3]
- Fran Endicott (Sep 1992–Nov 1992)
- Catherine Frazee (1989–1992)
- Alok Mukherjee (interim) (Nov 1992–Jun 1993)
- Rosemary Brown (1993–1996)
- Keith Norton (1996–2005)
- Barbara Hall (November 2005–February 2015)[note 4]
- Ruth Goba (interim) (February 2015–present)
- Renu Mandhane (pending)
Proposal for a National Press Council
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In February 2009, in a report to the Canadian Human Rights Commission, the OHRC commented on the proposal to create a National Press Council that would serve as a national media watchdog. Unlike current press councils in Canada, membership to this proposed new council would have been required by all publishers, webmasters and radio and television producers. No other steps were taken to implement the proposal.
Hall argued that a National Press Council would facilitate the protection of human rights without imposing censorship of the media, explaining that while the council duties would be limited to accepting complaints of discrimimation (in particular, from what Hall described as "vulnerable groups") and requiring media outlets to publish counterarguments. However, the council would have no authority to censor media outlets.
Mary Agnes Welch, president of the Canadian Association of Journalists, stated that the current provincial press councils are "the only real place that readers can go to complain about stories short of the courts" but that they "are largely toothless and ineffective." However, she argued against a mandatory national press council, stating that:
"The provincial ones don't even work, so how could we have a national one? And I know a lot of journalists who would take umbrage at essentially being in a federally regulated profession.... If on the crazy off-chance that there is some momentum behind this idea of a national press council, it won't be coming from journalists."
In an editorial, National Post strongly opposed the OHRC's proposal, arguing that a mandatory national press council "is merely the first step toward letting the Barbara Halls of the world decide what you get to hear, see and read." The Post further argued that nobody "has the ability to judge which speech should be free and which not." Barbara Kay also strongly opposed Hall's suggestion, stating that her experience with the Quebec Press Council (QPC) was evidence that press councils are abused by those wishing to suppress the discussion of sensitive or controversial issues.
In a speech to Ontario's Standing Committee on Government Agencies, Conservative author Mark Steyn criticized the proposal for a press council, arguing that “Free societies should not be in the business of criminalizing opinion.”
- Ontario Human Rights Code
- Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario
- Human Rights in Canada
- Canadian Human Rights Commission
- Canadian Human Rights Commission free speech controversy
- Court of Appeal for Ontario
- Supreme Court of Canada
- Canadian Islamic Congress human rights complaint against Maclean's Magazine
- Fine was the first Chair of the Ontario Human Rights Commission. He had been the chair of the OHRC's predecessor, the Ontario Anti-Discrimination Commission.
- Hill was the OHRC's first Director. He was appointed on April 3, 1962.
- First person to use title of Chief Commissioner - even though the position title was not changed in the Human Rights Code until the Human Rights Amendment Code, 2006, took effect.
- title changed from Chair to Chief Commissioner - when the Human Rights Amendment Act, 2006, took effect - section 27(5) of the Code.
- Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario - FAQ.
- Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) - The Human Rights System.
- OHRC - Our vision and mission
- Human rights commission calls for media council by Joseph Brean, National Post, February 11, 2009.
- No to national censorship council, (editorial), National Post , February 12, 2009 (full article available here.
- Barbara Kay, The perils of a national press council: Been there, done that by Barbara Kay, National Post, February 12, 2009.
- Committee Transcripts: Standing Committee on Government Agencies - February 09, 2009 - Agency review: Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.