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New Toronto Star On-line Guest Column Co-Written by AODA Alliance Chair Identifies Barriers to Enforcing Human Rights in Ontario

TODAY IS TTC ANNUAL ACCESSIBILITY PUBLIC FORUM

May 10, 2012

SUMMARY

The May 10, 2012 on-line edition of the Toronto Star includes a guest column on barriers that face people who try to enforce their human rights in Ontario. We set out that guest column below. It is co-written by AODA Alliance chair David Lepofsky and the director of the Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, Avvy Go. Our position on the need to reform Ontario’s human rights system, set out in this guest column, is fortified when we team up with respected community leaders like Ms. Go. She advocates for human rights from the perspective of racialized communities.

We encourage you to:

* email this guest column to friends and family.

* Post a link to it on your FaceBook wall and recommend it to your FaceBook friends. The link to the May 10, 2012 guest column in the Toronto Star is:
http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorialopinion/article/1175822–it-s-tougher-than-ever-to-enforce-your-human-rights-in-ontario

* If you use Twitter, tweet a link to this guest column to your followers.

* Write a letter to the editor of the Toronto Star to voice your thoughts on the position in this guest column. You can email letters to the editor to lettertoed@thestar.ca

This guest column helps alert the public to important issues that the current Ontario Human Rights Code Review is considering. Last August, the McGuinty Government appointed Toronto lawyer Andrew Pinto to conduct a review of the effectiveness of Ontario’s system for enforcing human rights. We await the Pinto Review’s final report later this year. You can download our main March 1, 2012 brief to the Pinto Review in MS Word format by visiting: http://www.aodaalliance.org/docs/march%201%202012%20entire%20final%20aoda%20alliance%20brief%20to%20andrew%20pinto%20human%20rights%20code%20review.doc

You can download our April 12, 2012 supplemental brief to the Pinto Review in MS Word format by visiting: http://www.aodaalliance.org/docs/AODA-Brief-to-Pinto-Review.doc

You can find more background on the pinto Human Rights Code Review at http://www.aodaalliance.org/reform/default.asp

It is timely that this guest column refers to the battle to get the Toronto Transit Commission to audibly announce all bus and subway stops for the benefit of passengers with vision loss. Today, May 10, 2012 from 7 to 9:30 pm, will be the fifth annual TTC Public Forum on Accessible Public Transit. We encourage anyone in the Toronto Area to attend this event. TTC’s governing Commissioners and senior managers will be present to hear your feedback, including complaints and concerns, from passengers with disabilities. Tell them about barriers you face when using the TTC. Make suggestions on how to fix these barriers. This includes barriers faced by those who ride the para-transit system called WheelTrans, as well as anyone who uses the conventional public transit system in Canada’s largest city.

Why is TTC holding this public forum on accessibility? In 2007, the Human Rights Tribunal ordered TTC to hold three annual public forums on accessible public transit as part of the remedies in the case of Lepofsky v. TTC #2, a case referred to in the Toronto Star guest column set out below. Last year, after that three year period expired, TTC commendably decided to voluntarily hold annual accessible public transit forums. This year’s TTC accessibility public forum is therefore being held voluntarily.

Starting next year, every public transit provider must hold a comparable annual event under the provisions of the new Integrated Accessibility Regulation that the Government enacted last year. Section 41 of the Integrated Accessibility Regulation includes:

“41. (1) In addition to the accessibility plan requirements set out in section 4, in their accessibility plan, conventional transportation service providers shall identify the process for managing, evaluating and taking action on customer feedback.

(2) Every conventional transportation service provider shall annually hold at least one public meeting involving persons with disabilities to ensure that they have an opportunity to participate in a review of the accessibility plan and that they are given the opportunity to provide feedback on the accessibility plan.

(3) If the provider of conventional transportation services also provides specialized transportation services, the transportation service provider shall address both types of transportation services in its accessibility plan.

(4) Transportation service providers shall meet the requirements of this section by January 1, 2013.”

Tonight’s TTC event will be held from 7 to 9:30 pm at the Queen Elizabeth Exhibition Hall at Exhibition Place.

TTC’s announcement of this event includes the following:

“In addition to regular TTC services to Exhibition Place, and the accessible shuttle service between Bathurst Station, which is accessible, and Queen Elizabeth Exhibit Hall, Wheel-Trans will be providing to-the-door services for its registrants.

Accommodations at the meeting will include barrier-free entrances, accessible washrooms, attendants, full audio system, assistive listening devices, and captioning.

If you would like to learn more about the TTC’s accessibility plans, or see presentations from past public forums, please visit the Accessibility section of the TTC website:

http://www3.ttc.ca/TTC_Accessibility/index.jsp

If you have difficulty accessing the link, have questions, or cannot attend but would like to contribute suggestions about improving the accessibility of TTC services, please call 416-393-3030 (TTY at 416-481-2523), any day, 7:00 am to 10:00 pm.”

We encourage you to urge your community’s public transit provider to also hold an accessible public forum on public transit accessibility in your community this year. We always welcome your feedback on our AODA Alliance Updates. Email us at: aodafeedback@gmail.com

*****

TORONTO STAR ON-LINE EDITION MAY 10, 2012
URL: http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorialopinion/article/1175822–it-s-tougher-than-ever-to-enforce-your-human-rights-in-ontario

It’s tougher than ever to enforce your human rights in Ontario
David Lepofsky and Avvy Go

Imagine being refused a job, an apartment or public service due to your race, disability or sex. How hard is it to enforce your human rights? Six years ago, the McGuinty government’s Bill 107 made controversial changes to human rights enforcement. You likely don’t know that a poorly publicized government-appointed independent review has asked the public if these changes make things better or worse.

Before Bill 107, you could take your case to the Ontario Human Rights Commission. Its job was to enforce the Human Rights Code, to investigate human rights complaints, to screen out frivolous or meritless cases and to try to negotiate settlements. If it decided a complaint had merit and couldn’t settle it voluntarily, its job was to publicly prosecute the case at the Human Rights Tribunal.

Six years ago, to speed up a slow, backlogged system that needed reform, Bill 107 privatized human rights enforcement. It took the Human Rights Commission out of screening, investigating and prosecuting individual discrimination cases. It makes discrimination victims investigate and litigate their cases at the tribunal without the commission’s help.

Does Bill 107 make lives better for victims of discrimination? Far from it.

It created a huge void for discrimination victims by taking the Human Rights Commission out of individual cases. The government promised free lawyers for all claimants. Yet its new Human Rights Legal Support Centre only represents a fraction. Far too many unrepresented claimants encounter respondents (those accused of discrimination) armed with lawyers. The tribunal reports that 81 per cent of respondents have a lawyer at mediation but only 32.9 per cent of claimants have any representative when filing a claim.

The Liberal government promised human rights hearings within one year. The tribunal set a goal to achieve this in only 75 per cent of cases. Its average time to complete cases is 372 days, but most of those never have a hearing.

Individuals can’t themselves investigate and litigate complex systemic discrimination cases. The Liberals pledged that the stripped-down Human Rights Commission would effectively combat systemic discrimination by bringing public interest cases to the tribunal and intervening in individual cases. To date the commission has brought only one public interest case and intervened in only 73 of the thousands of individual cases. Also, the government hasn’t established the promised anti-racism and disability secretariats, ignoring its own legislation.
Liberals also promised more accessible human rights but instead created new barriers. A discrimination victim who wins at the tribunal risks having to pay thousands of dollars in legal costs if their win gets overturned by the court due to the tribunal’s own legal errors. Would a blind person likely take on the TTC today, to force it to call out bus stops, when the new Legal Support Centre is statistically unlikely to take their case, the TTC is ready to spend $450,000 on lawyers, and the applicant could be stuck with a huge court cost order because a win at the tribunal was based on the tribunal making legal errors?

The government said Bill 107 would address the backlog. Yet its transition process unfairly led 885 cases to vanish in the system.

Liberals promised fair hearings. Yet they gave the tribunal power to override legislation designed to ensure fair hearings and allowing it to pass controversial and complicated rules.

We hope this current Human Rights Code Review will recognize these amply-documented problems, and make strong recommendations to improve Ontario’s troubled human rights system. Many from equality-seeking communities want the government to keep its broken promises about Bill 107. They want the government to require the tribunal to obey legislation designed to foster fair hearings, and to restore the Human Rights Commission as a stronger public interest voice at the tribunal. Discrimination victims should be given the option of asking the Human Rights Commission to investigate and publicly prosecute their case if there’s enough evidence. Discrimination victims want results. They don’t care if they get it through hearings or through mediations.

Do you like the TTC announcing bus and subway stops, even if you’re sighted? Imagine if under this new human rights system, no one wanted to risk taking on big organizations like the TTC without the backing of a public prosecutor to win that and other accessibility measures. Is that the human rights enforcement system we really want?

David Lepofsky is a blind Toronto lawyer, activist for reforms for the rights of persons with disabilities, and twice successfully won human rights cases before Bill 107 to force the TTC to announce bus and subway stop announcements. http://www.aodaalliance.org/www.aodaalliance.org, Twitter.com/davidlepofsky
More on the AODA Alliance’s briefs and activities regarding the Ontario Human Rights Code Review.
Avvy Go is Clinic Director, Metro Toronto Chinese & Southeast Asian Legal Clinic.
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