A number of submissions received by the Commission identified barriers for families in the receipt of services. The Commission heard concerns about a broad range of services, including large public services like transportation, education and health, as well as small private services.
In addition to concerns about the delivery of existing services, the Commission heard much about the lack of appropriate services for families, particularly with respect to supporting the needs of caregivers. As noted elsewhere in this Report, stakeholders identified pressing unfulfilled needs around childcare, eldercare, and supports for persons with disabilities. Persons with intersecting needs have particular difficulty finding services. For example, ARCH pointed out that there are few appropriate ongoing supports or services available to persons with disabilities who have caregiving responsibilities. Similarly, CLGRO pointed out that:
Structures and programs designed for and based on heterosexual concepts of family and parenting are often unsuitable for or ill-equipped to deal with gay, lesbian and bisexual family situations. Few services are available in Ontario that specifically address the needs of and provide programs specifically for gay, lesbian and bisexual parents or their children. This is particularly true in the north, in smaller and rural communities, and in the outlying or suburban areas of urban Ontario.
The lack of appropriate services can have significant impact on access to employment and housing by persons identified by family status.
2. Negative Attitudes and Stereotypes
Throughout this consultation, many stakeholders raised concerns regarding the negative attitudes and stereotypes attached to some family forms. This is particularly true where family status intersects with race, marital status, age, sexual orientation or gender. For example, female-headed lone-parent families are heavily stigmatized, particularly where they are racialized, or in receipt of social assistance. These negative stereotypes can result in harassment, or in exclusion from services.
One issue that has come up time and again related to family status and single parents is with social service agencies such as Ontario Works. Although the workers have a mandate to follow, oftentimes we find that their personal attitudes interfere in their capacity to make no discriminatory comments and decisions. The OFIFC did a report on the findings of Ontario Works recipients. Single Aboriginal women reported that workers had told them they wanted to have more babies so they can get more money from the system, others reported being told they should get their tubes tied.
Similarly, the Commission heard from a number of stakeholders that it is not uncommon for parents who have disabilities or are from racialized or Aboriginal communities who contact the Children’s Aid Society for help with caregiving responsibilities, to then find themselves under investigation because of stereotypes and presumptions about their abilities as parents. The Commission also heard that mortgage providers may be very reluctant to provide services to lone parents, again because of stereotypes and assumptions based on their family and marital status. CLGRO told the Commission that where a parent ends a heterosexual relationship and enters a same-sex relationship, that parent may face difficulties, not only within the family, but also in having the new partner recognized by authorities, such as schools.
One former foster child raised concerns about policies that prohibit former foster children from accessing records about themselves, on the basis that this could compromise the physical or emotional well-being of third-parties. This individual states that “[A]s a Crown Ward or a Former Crown Ward, they assume that we are going to be violent or harmful to someone in our past”.
3. Inclusive Design and Accommodation of Needs
Service providers, like employers and housing providers, have a duty to design their services to include persons identified by family status, to remove existing barriers, and to accommodate remaining needs. Consultees pointed to a number of areas where inclusive design could be of significant benefit to families.
One example of non-inclusive design provided by an individual was her fitness club’s rule that children over the age of four must not enter opposite sex changerooms. A mother would be expected to send her five-year old son to change alone in the men’s changeroom. There are no family changerooms provided. As this mother pointed out, this policy is neither realistic nor particularly safe for such small children.
A number of stakeholders raised concerns about the design of Ontario Works programs; specifically, that while the program requires OW recipients to work, study or do volunteer work, OW recipients who have childcare responsibilities will require some accommodation of those needs. OFIFC stated that “Childcare may be inaccessible, unavailable. I believe that the service provider (gov’t) has a duty to accommodate that need. Also the parent’s childcare needs should be taken into consideration when deciding upon an appropriate job.” MCSS indicated that participation requirements may be temporarily deferred under a range of circumstances, including when the participant is a sole-support parent with at least one dependent child and publicly funded education is not available (e.g., where children are not yet of school age). Delivery agents develop and implement local childcare service plans annually, which include the budget for OW childcare and regular childcare. Through the planning process, delivery agents determine the mix and level of child care services appropriate to local needs and priorities.
Inclusive design should take into account that families may include persons who have disabilities, are LGBT, or are from various cultural communities. For example, the Commission heard from ARCH that family members of persons with disabilities may have a great deal of difficulty finding accessible homecare or childcare services and supports. Specialized transportation providers will only rarely permit a parent with a disability to travel with a child, so that a caregiver with a disability may face administrative obstacles when trying to find a way to drop off a child at a daycare and then continue on to an appointment. One individual submission indicated that:
I find that hotels with handicap accessible facilities assume it is a person travelling alone or a couple. Very few facilities have rooms that accommodate a family travelling with a person with a disability.
A number of stakeholders pointed out that families with young children, like persons with disabilities and older persons, face challenges from physically inaccessible services, and would benefit from barrier removal and inclusive design for buildings. Families with young children in strollers, for example, will have difficulty getting in and out of subway stations, or accessing buildings with many stairs and heavy doors. MCSS pointed out that restricted stroller access may be particularly problematic for parents with disabilities, as they are unable to carry small children for even a short period of time. The Commission has previously identified the benefits of physically accessible services for families with young children in its Restaurant Accessibility Initiative, and its consultation on accessible transit services.
4. Narrow Definitions of Family
Some service providers have restrictive definitions of what a ‘family’ is, which creates barriers.
For example, one individual told the story of how he and his same-sex partner cared for his elderly mother for many years. However, when she was ill and dying in the hospital, because of the hospital’s rules, his partner was only able to visit her by pretending to be his brother.
The Adoption Council of Canada pointed out that even now, legal distinctions are made between families formed by adoption, and those formed by birth. For example, federal citizenship laws differentiate between a child who is born to a Canadian and one who is adopted by a Canadian: the one automatically receives citizenship, while the other does not. The Adoption Council also raised concerns regarding the treatment of adoptive parents under the Employment Insurance Act.
5. Child-Free Spaces and Age Restrictions
It is widely recognized that there may be social policy reasons for treating minors differently than adults in some circumstances. For example, we may not wish to see young children watching adult-oriented movies, or buying cigarettes.
However, caselaw has recognized that rules barring children may have an impact based on family status. In a British Columbia human rights case, a restaurant that refused to allow customers with children to use its services, on the basis that other customers did not like being disturbed when children made a fuss, was found to have discriminated on the basis of family status.
As some consultees noted, there is a balance to be struck between ensuring that children do not have access to services or facilities that compromise their safety or well-being, and protecting the rights of families to access services without discrimination.
There will be situations where you’ll see ‘child-free’ or ‘adult-only’ and this should only be for the protection of the children from experiencing situations that would be detrimental to their health and wellbeing, not due to the fact they are a child when it comes to their parents or relatives accessing accommodations.
Where a child’s health or well-being would be at risk due to the nature of the service provided, the service provider may have a bona fide reason for denial of the service to a family.
As well, there may be circumstances where the activities of children may be unduly disruptive to the enjoyment of the service. If children are crying during a movie, for example, it could unduly affect the ability of others to enjoy the service. Children’s potential behaviour should not be a reason for a blanket denial of access to all children, some argued, as children, like adults, are individuals and their behaviour can’t necessarily be judged beforehand; however, the behaviour of children may in some circumstances legitimately be a reason for asking a family to leave. Further, there is, of course, a distinction to be made between exclusion of children based on legitimate behavioural concerns, and denial of access based on exclusionary preferences.
It was also pointed out that there may be situations where a service provider may wish to target disadvantaged groups, such as children, youth, women or older persons, and such efforts should be supported. Section 14 of the Code permits service providers to implement special programs to relieve hardship or economic disadvantage or to assist disadvantaged persons or groups to achieve or attempt to achieve equal opportunity, or that is likely to contribute to the elimination of the infringement of rights under the Code.
The service that received the most attention from consultees was education. This was due, no doubt, to the key role that education plays in the lives and prospects of Ontarians.
Many individual consultees pointed out to the Commission that, despite the manifold benefits of education and training for their economic security and prospects, their caregiving responsibilities, together with the pressures of employment, made education and training unattainable.
While I have been working in a management job for over 4 years and have had many challenges that have had successful outcomes, I am being told that my ability to move to a senior position is compromised due to the fact that I have not completed my degree program.... I am the sole caregiver of my children and I am not able to leave them at night to continue with my studies at this time.... My lack of education due to the childcare issues has basically frozen the path to any type of promotion.
Some stakeholders recommended that education providers consider means of making their services more accessible to persons with caregiving responsibilities. For example, DAWN suggested that since many women chose distance-learning options as a way to juggle their family responsibilities, or to deal with accessibility issues, improving the quality and extent of distance learning programs may be of significant benefit in improving access to educational services. MCSS noted the importance for its clients of improved access to educational opportunities, and provided a number of suggestions for ways in which educational services could be made more accessible to persons with caregiving responsibilities:
On-site daycare services, choice of part-time, day and evening programs, and the ability to take a leave to meet family or personal care obligations are all necessary to assist ODSP recipients to fully participate in their communities. Programs of study which do not allow leaves or part-time study options, such as engineering, law and medicine, effectively eliminate potentially lucrative education and employment options for those with child or other family-care obligations thus perpetuating poverty and marginalization.
Accommodation of the needs of caregivers was highlighted as an important issue. The Commission has, for example, received complaints regarding the refusal of post-secondary institutions to accommodate the needs of students who are breastfeeding mothers. ARCH indicated that family members may require extra assistance dealing with missed examinations as a result of caregiving obligations, and that a caregiver may be unable to schedule classes in the evening, or to travel, as it may interfere with caregiving obligations. One individual consultee recounted her experiences trying to combine the completion of her PhD with her pregnancy and maternity leave, pointing to the inflexibility of the timetable as a significant barrier to her completion of her qualification exam. Another individual told this story:
My ability to succeed at law school was damaged when my sister became very ill in my second year and I had to balance school and her care. The study of law is not available on a part-time basis except in exceptional circumstances surrounding the student or a person in their ‘immediate’ family – child or spouse – and then only for one year. My sister is my closest relative.
Submissions emphasized the importance of designing educational services to include the broad spectrum of modern day families. OECTA stated that:
[T]he structure of the school day/year can undermine families. Parents often have difficulties attending school meetings because of scheduled work hours. Childcare can be a financial burden. Sometimes parents are wrongly viewed as being uninterested in their children’s education.
Family Services Canada emphasized the need for education providers to be more inclusive of lesbian and gay families. For example, school board policies on signing for school trips or dealing with medical emergencies may not be inclusive of LGB families. Others raised concerns about the need for schools to develop policies more inclusive of the realities of foster children.
As well, the Commission heard that negative and discriminatory attitudes about various family forms may play out in a range of ways in an educational setting; for example, children from families that are perceived to be ‘different’ may be subject to bullying and ridicule from their peers as a result. Education providers have a responsibility to maintain a positive, non-discriminatory environment, and should take steps to educate students about human rights and implement strategies to prevent discrimination and harassment.
Consultees identified a wide range of barriers related to family status to equal access to services. Particular concerns were identified with respect to social services and educational institutions. Service providers should take steps to design inclusively, accommodate needs related to family status, and overcome negative and discriminatory attitudes.
Micallef v. Glacier Park Lodge Ltd., (1998), 33 C.H.R.R. D/249 (BCHRT)