Our strategic direction
The OHRC will promote and strengthen a human rights culture in Ontario that encompasses human rights entitlements and responsibilities, with a special focus on educating children and youth and addressing systemic discrimination in the education system.
We want to create an environment where all children can reach their full potential. We will approach this by working to ensure that children and youth are educated about their human rights and responsibilities. We will strive to eliminate systemic discrimination that children and youth face in education systems so that, in this formative system, they have a lived experience where human rights are respected in practice.
Promoting inclusive schools
In April 2016, we wrote to the Ministry of Education about its consultation on provincial and demonstration schools for students with disabilities, including the possibility of closing the provincial demonstration schools.
We highlighted broader systemic issues including lack of support and specialized programming to meet the needs of all children, ineffective mechanisms to resolve accommodation-related disputes, and the need for an accessible education standard under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).
About AODA standards
The AODA’s regulations establish accessibility standards, which are requirements related to accessibility in various parts of our society.
Standards include customer service, information and communication, employment, transportation, and design of public spaces.
The government announced it would not close the provincial schools, and that it would create a new accessible education standard under the AODA.
Empowering youth to stand up to Islamophobia
In January 2017, the OHRC joined a coalition of national and provincial organizations and agencies to launch an awareness raising campaign that encourages Ontarians to stand up to Islamophobia and racism. The “Break the behaviour” campaign was a collaboration between OCASI – Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants, the Canadian Arab Institute (CAI), the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) and the OHRC, along with media studio Mass Minority.
The campaign features a range of public education strategies, including public service announcements and a social media campaign. One 30-second public service announcement (PSA) is geared towards school-aged children. It features a classroom where a student is telling racist jokes. A classmate intervenes to stop him from sharing another offensive punch line.
The campaign also includes a website (www.breakthebehaviour.ca) where people, including children and youth, are encouraged to sign a pledge that they will reject Islamophobia and racism in all its forms, and commit to working to overcome inequality and achieve a shared prosperity for everyone.
To date, over 165 media outlets have covered the “Break the behaviour” story, and estimates are that at least half of these have included the videos on their websites.
“Canadians have by and large been incredibly welcoming of Syrian refugees and newcomers. However, there is troubling evidence of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiment in our communities which makes such a campaign both timely and necessary.”
- Amira Elghawaby, Communications Director at the NCCM.
Policy statement affirms the duty to accommodate diverse creed practices in schools
In 2017, the Peel District School Board faced increasingly negative attacks about their long-standing policy of accommodating Friday prayers for Muslim high school students. That’s why we released our Policy statement on religious accommodation in schools in March 2017. This statement was based on the law and the OHRC’s guidance, as presented in our Policy on preventing discrimination based on creed.
Under the Code, education providers have a duty to maintain environments free from discrimination and harassment based on creed. They also have a duty to accommodate people’s sincerely-held creed beliefs, to the point of undue hardship. As a form of accommodation, education providers may offer on-site space for students to worship together during normal school hours.
Accommodation is provided on an individual basis, and consenting individuals may be grouped if it fulfills the need of each individual in the group. Accommodations cannot interfere with religious practice. People being accommodated are allowed to conduct prayers in conformity with their own teachings, not based on ways proscribed by the accommodation provider. This may include segregated prayers, if a group of individuals believe that segregated prayer is the proper manner of prayer.
Showcasing student leadership on human rights
In June 2016, the OHRC was pleased to present the first-ever OHRC Human Rights Awards to students at Regional Heritage Fairs. Our goal was to celebrate students’ achievements in researching and preparing a project about the history of human rights in Ontario.
The Ontario Provincial Heritage Fair brings together students from grades 4 to 10 in regions across Ontario. It includes a non-competitive, interactive history camp that ends with public showcases of students’ projects to promote awareness of Ontario and Canadian history and heritage.
Students complete a research project using primary and secondary sources for sharing with their classmates and peers at their school and then at a Regional Fair. Each Regional Fair chooses students and projects to attend the Provincial Fair, which allocates extra spaces specifically for students who are Indigenous, speak French as a first language, or are non-traditional students.
Education that empowers
The OHRC played a leading role in 12 major education events, including almost 2,350 participants. Some examples are:
- Taking it Local regional training days in North Bay, with partners Nipissing University and the City of North Bay; and in Hamilton, with partners McMaster University and the City of Hamilton
- Full- or half-day training on creed and human rights, at the Canadian Multifaith Federation Educational Conference, Mississauga and London; with partner Nipissing University, North Bay; with partner Thunder Bay Multicultural Association; and in partnership with Thunder Bay Indigenous Friendship Centre
- Full-day training in collaboration with Toronto West, South, North and East Immigration Partnerships, on the “Canadian experience” barrier and racial discrimination in employment.
Training – and connecting – across Ontario
Many organizations across the province invited us to share our voice on current human rights issues, and to share what’s new in specific human rights areas. The OHRC staff team made 64 presentations in the last year, with a live audience of over 3,150 people. These ranged from presenting a workshop on creed and human rights at the Peel District School Board to giving a guest lecture at Ryerson University on human rights and ethical perspectives on racial profiling. As well, many events were webcast or recorded, further expanding our ability to speak out across Ontario.