As new and returning mayors, councillors and elected officials, you play a central role in ensuring that municipal processes and decisions respect the human rights of all community members. The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) has worked for several years with governments, experts and community partners to increase human rights compliance in housing, land use and licensing. I’m writing to share some positive developments in these areas, and to point out some OHRC resources that can help you make your community more inclusive.
In 2014, Toronto and Smiths Falls removed minimum separation distance (MSD) and other zoning restrictions for group homes, as part of human rights settlements with the Dream Team, a mental health consumer-survivor group. This follows similar moves by Sarnia in 2011 and Kitchener in 2012. In each case, there was no planning justification for MSDs. In fact, Toronto’s own external planning expert recommended they be removed because they contravened the Human Rights Code.
Over the past few years, several other municipalities have recognized their human rights obligations by preventing or removing zoning, licensing and other barriers to housing and services (such as methadone clinics) that are needed by Code-identified groups.
The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing has also reinforced the requirement to meet Human Rights Code obligations in municipal work by adding human rights language to two key resources:
- Section 3 of the Municipal Councillor’s Guide 2014 now refers to Code protections
- Section 4.6 of the 2014 Provincial Policy Statement under the Planning Act now states that the PPS shall be implemented in a way that is consistent with the Code and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Also in 2014, several Ontario planning schools and organizations added human rights content to courses and ongoing professional education. We continue to work with them to ensure that new graduates and practicing planners incorporate human rights principles in their work.
The OHRC provides several tools to help elected officials, staff and advocates improve human rights in housing, planning, licensing and other municipal decisions.
- Our municipal guides, In the zone: Housing, human rights and municipal planning and Room for everyone: human rights and rental housing licensing identify human rights risks and best practices in zoning and licensing.
- Our Neighbourhood housing tip sheet offers suggestions for responding to community concerns about affordable supportive and rental housing, including discriminatory opposition that is based on stereotypes, assumptions and misinformation about people or the impact on the neighbourhood.
- Municipalities can also spread the message about human rights in housing by sharing our landlord and tenant brochures, fact sheet on fair rental housing ads, and Policy on human rights and rental housing with community members and organizations.
Municipalities are the level of government that is closest to the daily lives of people across Ontario. The decisions you make can have an immediate impact on the human rights of your residents. I challenge you to look at your planning, bylaws and decision-making processes, and to apply a human rights lens to help your neighbourhoods and communities be supportive, welcoming places for everyone to call home.
If you would like more information on human rights, municipal decision-making and housing, please contact Jacquelin Pegg at 416-326-9863 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Barbara Hall, B.A., LL.B., Ph.D. (hon.)