When a new issue arises, we often hear about it first in the media. And the media is often the best venue for commenting on an issue to a wide audience. Throughout the past year, we continued to use media interviews, releases and advisories, and letters to the editor to respond to issues, correct inaccuracies and educate new audiences about human rights.
Some of the issues where we received significant media coverage in the past year included:
- Mental health and human rights
- Canada’s responsibilities under U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
- Lynwood Charlton zoning issue in Hamilton
- Rental housing licensing bylaws in Waterloo and North Bay
- Racial profiling cases in the courts.
“Getting the message out” is a critical part of the work we do. This past year the OHRC began to take advantage of the communication tools offered by social media. We’ve since attracted more than 700 “friends” to our Facebook page and more than 1,400 ”followers” to our Twitter stream. We’ve discovered that those social media networks reach different audiences looking for different sorts of stories. We’ve also found that we are increasing the awareness of all our work among people who we might not reach with ”traditional” publications. One immediate result – we believe our new social media presence played a key role in getting more than 1,400 people to take our online survey on mental health and addiction issues.
Social media also helps us be more accessible. We have now made five of our brochures available in American Sign Language and Quebec Sign Language, known in French as Langue des signes québécoise (LSQ). These are posted to our YouTube channel and linked from our website.
We also used more traditional means – letters and submissions – to share our input on a variety of issues. Examples, also on our website, included:
- Submission to the Ministry of Labour about input for Canada’s 2011 International Labour Organization (ILO) Article 22 Report on Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention
- Submission to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights for their study on participation in political and public life in accordance with Article 29 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). This submission highlighted the work we have done in this area, especially involving making elections more accessible.
- Submission to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing on Bill 140, Strong Communities through Affordable Housing Act, 2011.
Making the personal connection
We worked hard last year to keep in touch with people across Ontario, using many electronic options to send our messages to the widest possible audience. And we worked just as hard to help Ontarians connect with the real people who work at or lead the OHRC.
Staff consulted and offered human rights training in over 40 venues, and also met with groups across Ontario on a wide range of issues. Here are some highlights:
- Provided training on human rights and student discipline to the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation
- Provided “train-the-trainer” sessions on human rights and inclusive education for COPA (le Centre ontarien de prévention des agressions) and also for Conseil des écoles publiques de l’Est de l’Ontario
- Worked with the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board on applying the Code in their policies and practices
- Led training on human rights and policing for the Ontario Association of Police Services Boards
- Hosted “Human rights from A-Z,” a one-day training event in Kingston in partnership with the City of Kingston, Queens University and the Canadian Coalition of Municipalities Against Racism
- Led policy dialogue and legal workshops to begin the discussion on revising the OHRC’s creed policy
- Presentation to PREFER (Peer Recovery Education for Employment and Resilience) on discrimination, harassment and accommodating mental health issues in workplaces
- Met with other groups, such as the Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation, Social Rights Advocacy Centre and Rainbow Health Ontario, to discuss ways to advance a range of human rights concerns.
As well, Chief Commissioner Barbara Hall met or spoke with more than 100 communities and groups across the province, to build partnerships and share critical human rights messages. Highlights of her speeches and presentations included:
- Waterloo City Council, Waterloo
- Ontario Association of Police Services Boards, Niagara Falls
- Courtice Secondary School, Courtice
- Roadmap 2030 Conference, Toronto
- Workplace Safety Symposium, Mississauga
- Ontario Education Services Corp./Ministry of Education Symposium, Toronto
- Hamilton Civic Centre for Inclusion, Hamilton
- Ontario Multifaith Council, Toronto
- Human rights and policing, Thunder Bay Police Service, Thunder Bay.
We can’t be everywhere, but our materials can
We regularly receive requests for printed materials that explain specific human rights issues. These are especially of value to social agencies and smaller organizations that may not have the resources to produce their own materials. To make sure readers got the most up-to-date advice possible, over the past year we reviewed, updated and redesigned every OHRC brochure, and added some new ones, on subjects such as:
- Disability and human rights
- Sexual orientation and human rights
- Sexual and gender-based harassment: know your rights
- Sexual harassment in education
- Gender identity and human rights
- Human rights for tenants
- Human rights in housing: an overview for landlords
- Canada and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
- Racial discrimination
- Racial harassment: know your rights
- Age discrimination
- Pregnancy and breastfeeding
- Human rights and family status
- Introducing … The Living Rights Project.
Each brochure is available in English and French, and is also available on the OHRC website. As well, printed versions of the two housing brochures are also available in 13 other languages, and we are currently designing several other brochures in 13 languages beyond English and French.