The Commission engages in a wide range of educational activities and partnership initiatives, such as public awareness campaigns, presentations, workshops and conferences. It also engages in national and international cooperation, participates in intergovernmental task forces, and receives delegations from around the world.
In keeping with its responsibility to promote understanding and awareness of and compliance with the Code, the Commission has an important mandate to conduct public education throughout the province. Public education is delivered primarily through the Commission’s Web site, publications, public awareness campaigns, speaking engagements and presence at community events.
In evaluating the many requests for speakers, the Commission focuses its resources on events and initiatives that have the potential to: promote systemic prevention of Code violations and advancement of human rights; significantly enhance the Commission's relationship with a strategic or underserved sector; "train trainers" to have a sustainable "multiplier" effect in the organization; and reduce discrimination across a sector and/or to decrease the incidence of formal human rights complaints.
The Commission does not have the capacity to accept all requests. In such instances, the Commission tries to work with the organization or individual to help meet their needs in other ways through Commission resources or referral to other organizations.
The Commission focuses its public education activities on issues that are associated with current human rights concerns. With the release of its Policy and Guidelines on Racism and Racial Discrimination during this fiscal year, the Commission followed up with presentations to various police services and school boards that are attempting to address issues of racial discrimination and racial profiling. At the invitation of the Ontario Police College, the Commission delivered a day-long training event on the Policy for senior command and equity staff from police services across the province.
The list of topics addressed in public presentations also reflects continued interest in such issues as harassment, disability and education, mandatory retirement and concerns around the “safe schools” provisions of the Education Act. During this past year, the Chief Commissioners made a total of 17 presentations to members of the general public and visiting delegations.
During the 2005-06 fiscal year, the Commission had resources and capacity to accept over 70% of the requests it received. The Commission received 172 invitations and participated in a total of 136 public education events, reaching 10,428 individuals. These exceed the 2004-2005 numbers of 157 invitations received, 96 requests accepted, and 7,500 individuals reached. The majority of presentations in 2005-2006 were balanced throughout the education, business and public sectors, and evaluations of the presentations were very positive, with a satisfaction rate of 90.7%.
Aboriginal Human Rights Program
The Aboriginal Human Rights Program (AHRP) has now been in existence at the Commission for over six years. Throughout this time, the Commission has worked with partners in the Aboriginal community n various initiatives. The purpose of the AHRP is to create and build on awareness of the Code among people of Aboriginal communities and to enhance their access to the Commission’s services.
This past year, the Commission continued in its progressive partnership with the Union of Ontario Indians (UOI), accomplishing two major projects:
- An article published in the June edition of the UOI’s newspaper Anishinabek News on the rights of native persons under the Ontario Human Rights Code. The article described how the Commission can be of assistance, especially in discrimination and harassment situations where racism is identified. It focussed on the McKinnon Tribunal decision about an Aboriginal correctional services worker who had been subjected to vicious harassment as well as loss of job opportunities in the institution where he works.
- With the assistance of UOI, the Commission also initiated the development, publication and distribution of a brochure dealing with the rights of Aboriginal persons under the Code and describing the Commission’s role in protecting those rights. The brochures, besides being made available in English and French, were translated into Mohawk, Cree and Ojibway. They were distributed by UOI to over 250 Ontario bands and organizations and agencies providing services to Aboriginal persons in Ontario.
In August, the Commission also participated in an exhibition fair organized by the Chiefs of Ontario in connection with their First Nation Education Conference 2005. In addition, the Commission was in attendance with its information booth at the Canadian Aboriginal Festival at the Rogers Centre (formerly, the Skydome) in November.
Call for a Canadian Coalition of Municipalities Against Racism and Discrimination
The Commission, along with several other organizations across Canada, has lent its expertise and support to the Canadian Commission for UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Social and Cultural Organization) in developing and advancing a Call for a Canadian Coalition of Municipalities Against Racism and Discrimination. The purpose of the Coalition is to establish a network of municipalities interested in, and committed to, adopting a Plan of Action to address racism and discrimination within their jurisdictions. Under the leadership of UNESCO Paris, a similar coalition is already established in Europe and coalitions are being developed simultaneously in other regions , including Africa and South Asia.
Some of the accomplishments of the Commission with regard to this project in the past year have been:
- A proposal calling for the establishment of a Canadian Coalition, supported in principle by members of the Canadian Association of Statutory Human Rights Agencies present at the June 2005 Annual General Meeting
- The Federation of Canadian Municipalities endorsed the Call for a Coalition and distributed information nationally, encouraging municipalities to consider joining the initiative
- OHRC promoted the Coalition at the following conferences: Large Urban Mayors Forum in Barrie, Association of Municipalities of Ontario Annual General Meeting, International Metropolis Conference in Toronto (including hosting a meeting of visiting delegates), and the Southwest Regional Conference of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario in London
- Chief Commissioner Hall presented on a panel at the Canadian Commission for UNESCO’s Annual General Meeting in Montreal
- Chief Commissioner Hall also addressed a public gathering where the Mayor of Windsor signed a declaration of intent to join the Coalition
As of March 31, the City of Oshawa and the Town of Aurora have also given notice of joining or intent to join the Coalition, and other municipalities in Ontario and across Canada are in the process of developing resolutions for consideration at their councils.
The Commission, in partnership with the Canadian Coalition for UNESCO, is in the process of finalizing a booklet describing the purpose of the Coalition, common commitments and sample actions, and a model declaration for municipalities to sign. This booklet, also endorsed by the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, will form part of a toolkit that will be used to promote the Coalition provincially and nationally.
National and International Cooperation
The Commission cooperates at both the national and international levels in the promotion and advancement of human rights through liaison and participation on task forces and delegations. The Commission is a member of the Canadian Association of Statutory Human Rights Agencies (CASHRA), sharing its expertise through CASHRA’s policy, education and legal sub-committees as well as its annual conference, which took place in Saskatoon in June 2005, and will take place in Fredericton in June 2006.
The Commission is also a member of the International Association of Official Human Rights Agencies (IAOHRA) and makes contributions to provincial or federal reports with regard to Canada’s obligations under international human rights conventions. The Commission works to support its national and international partners in human rights advancement, hosting delegations and visitors from across Canada and abroad, and by participating in international conferences and symposia.
In September 2005, Chief Commissioner Norton was invited to deliver a presentation at an International Symposium on Age Discrimination in London England, highlighting the work the Commission has done on ageism, age discrimination, and mandatory retirement. The Commission also made 12 presentations to visiting international delegations during this fiscal year, for instance:
- Chief Commissioner Hall met with the Chief Commissioner of Afghanistan’s Human Rights Commission
- The Commission met with the British Joint Committee on Human Rights about counter-terrorism policy and human rights;
- The Commission met with delegates from Indonesia’s Ministry of Justice and Human Rights and its National Commission on Human Rights along with their host Equitas, the International Centre for Human Rights Education based in Montreal; and
- The Commission hosted representatives of the Moroccan Truth and Reconciliation Commission, who had particularly noted the work the Commission has done in dealing with racism and racial profiling.
The Commission’s Web site provides the public with access to a wide array of information and resources, including: an overview of the Code and the Commission’s mission; description of the complaint process; case summaries; policies, plain language guides, public inquiry reports and Commission submissions; public education resources;; news releases; and information on the proposed reform. During the fiscal year 2005-06, the Commission received 824,887 individual visits to its Web site, an increase of 57% (301,009 visits) over the previous year, representing the biggest increase in the past six years.
As these numbers demonstrate, the Commission’s Web site is an increasingly important tool in the promotion of human rights in Ontario. The Commission has continued to improve the Web site to make it more user friendly, and to ensure that all new documents are accessible on the site, simultaneously in English and in French, on the day of their print release. In addition, the Commission is making more of its plain language materials available in up to 10 languages, with the addition this past year of Mohawk, Ojibwa and Cree. The Commission also ensures that its Web site is compatible with international accessibility standards for persons with disabilities.