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Eliminating discrimination to advance the human rights of women and transgender people

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Through its public education, policy development, outreach and litigation functions, the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) continues to work with community partners to challenge gender inequality and promote and advance the human rights of women and trans people in Ontario. Here is some of the work the OHRC has done in the past year:  

Sexual harassment  

The OHRC continues to do public education on its Policy on preventing sexual and gender-based harassment with many audiences across Ontario, including police, community agencies, human resources professionals (in collaboration with the Human Resources Professionals Association) and members of the general public. In the last year alone, the OHRC has reached more than 2,000 people and organizations through presentations, workshops and online webinars on sexual harassment. On June 1, 2015, we released a public statement commemorating Sexual Harassment Awareness Week. The statement advised people and organizations of rights and responsibilities under the Ontario Human Rights Code (Code) with respect to sexual harassment.   

The OHRC continues to support the Government of Ontario’s Action Plan to Stop Sexual Violence and Harassment by being an active member of the Roundtable on Sexual Violence and Harassment. Renu Mandhane, Chief Commissioner of the OHRC, gave the keynote address at the 2015 Government of Ontario’s Summit on Sexual Violence and Harassment in Toronto.

Violence against Indigenous women and girls

The OHRC publicly supported the Government of Ontario’s call for the establishment of a national public inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada. As part of implementing its Action Plan to Stop Sexual Violence and Harassment, we urged the Government of Ontario to consider two reports[1] from international human rights bodies that support the intersectional perspective of how violence manifests itself against Indigenous women.

The OHRC recommends using a human rights lens to look closely at the systemic aspects of this issue and address the obligations of governments. We are committed to using our mandate and resources to address the human rights aspects of violence against Indigenous women and girls, assist with the federal inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and look at ways to support other Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s calls to action. We recognize the importance of continuing to do outreach and engage the input of Indigenous communities in our work.

Discrimination based on pregnancy and family status

In 2014, the OHRC updated its Policy on preventing discrimination because of pregnancy and breastfeeding. 

In December 2015, a settlement was reached between the Ottawa Police, a human rights applicant, and the Ontario Human Rights Commission in a case that alleged that a female police officer was denied training, job placement and promotion opportunities because of her family status, sex and maternity leaves. Because of the settlement, the Ottawa Police will, among other things, analyze the data collected in an workforce census to determine the representation of employees based on sex and family status at all levels of the organization and review its policies and procedures to make sure that female police officers, particularly those who take maternity leave and have caregiving responsibilities, have equal opportunities for advancement.

The OHRC is also currently intervening in a case filed at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario in which the applicant alleges that a proposed disability accommodation at work was inappropriate and interfered with her eldercare responsibilities.

Sex and disability discrimination

In 2013, the OHRC intervened in Jahn v. MCSCS, a human rights application by a woman with mental health disabilities and cancer. Ms. Jahn alleged that she was placed in segregation at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre for more than 200 days. The parties reached a landmark settlement agreement including commitments by the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services (MCSCS) to improve its treatment of prisoners -- particularly women -- with mental health disabilities.  This has already led to policy changes prohibiting the use of segregation for any prisoner with mental health disabilities barring undue hardship, mental health screening for all prisoners upon admission, and an expert review of how to improve mental health services for women prisoners.

Due to continuing concerns about the overuse and harmful effects of segregation on Code-protected groups, including women, people with mental health disabilities, and Indigenous and racialized prisoners, in January 2016 the OHRC made a submission to MCSCS’ Provincial Segregation Review, calling for the province to end the use of segregation in its correctional facilities.

Sex discrimination and creed discrimination

In its newly-updated Policy on preventing discrimination based on creed, the OHRC recognizes the distinct forms of discrimination women who identify with a creed experience in society. Women who observe a religion  have often faced the brunt of discrimination and prejudice based on creed in Ontario. In some cases, this is due to their greater visibility, or actual or perceived vulnerability. For example, the OHRC research and consultation findings suggest that Muslim women who wear the hijab (headscarf) or niqab (face-veil) have been particularly susceptible to creed-based discrimination, prejudice and harassment, owing in part to their greater visibility. The policy gives guidance on the intersecting forms of discrimination faced by women based on sex, creed and other Code grounds.  

In July 2015, the OHRC released a statement on creed accommodation involving cross-sex contact. It sets out how organizations can address competing rights in these situations.

Sex discrimination and racial profiling

On February 16-18, 2016, the OHRC hosted a policy dialogue on racial profiling with York University in Toronto. During the dialogue, individuals, academics, advocates and community organizations identified specific types of racial profiling and racial discrimination that Indigenous and racialized women face. The OHRC heard that, in addition to being subjected to racial profiling by police, many racialized and Indigenous women are scrutinized by store or mall security staff when shopping, by child welfare systems and referring agencies, by income support program staff, and by healthcare staff.

The information we heard at the racial profiling dialogue will be used to develop our upcoming policy on racial profiling.

Discrimination against trans people   

In the last year, the Ontario Human Rights Commission has tried to remove barriers for trans people by writing to, advising and meeting with government ministries, including the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, and the Ontario Public Service, about inclusion in services and employment, such as data systems that properly reflect people’s lived gender identity, and equal access to gendered environments (e.g. washrooms).  

The OHRC also provided input to community and sporting organizations that are developing policies to include trans people. OHRC staff continue toprovide training and public education on the OHRC’s Policy on preventing discrimination because of gender identity and gender expression.

In 2015, the OHRC intervened in a human rights application filed by a trans man alleging discrimination by both the Toronto Police Service and the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services after he was arrested in 2012. The applicant alleges that, despite having official documentation identifying him as man, he was held in women's sections of police and correctional facilities, had his penile prosthetic confiscated, and was required to wear women’s clothing while incarcerated, at court appearances, and when released. The OHRC is seeking systemic remedies relating to the treatment of trans persons in police custody.

The OHRC also continues to monitor the J.T. v. Hockey Canada et al. settlement, which resulted from a human rights application by a trans youth hockey player who was denied access to a locker room in accordance with his gender identity. The OHRC intervened in the application, and in 2014 the parties reached an agreement requiring Hockey Canada to change its policies to allow all players in Ontario to use locker rooms that match their self-identified gender identity, review and revise its procedures to protect privacy about players’ trans status, and provide related training and information to all Ontario coaches, trainers, staff, volunteers, parents/guardians and players.

Relevant OHRC Policies:

Policy on preventing sexual and gender-based harassment

Policy on preventing discrimination because of gender identity and gender expression

Policy on preventing discrimination based on creed

Policy on preventing discrimination because of pregnancy and breastfeeding

Policy and guidelines on discrimination because of family status

Policy and guidelines on racism and racial discrimination

Policy on preventing discrimination based on mental health disabilities and addictions

[1] Ruth Goba, OHRC letter to Premier Wynne regarding Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women (29 October 2015), online: Ontario Human Rights Commission (retrieved February 25, 2016).   

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