Human Rights Legal Support Centre

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Human Rights Stories

Tackling Systemic Discrimination

Individuals who bring forward human rights claims usually hope that, by taking legal action, they can achieve changes that will prevent the same kind of discrimination from happening to someone else. This might mean, for example, a change in the way a company does business, a new anti-discrimination policy in the workplace or new rules that improve access to a government program.

When discrimination happens because of a business practice, a workplace policy or a government program, this is called “systemic discrimination” because the discrimination is not limited to a single incident or occurrence. Systemic discrimination can affect a large number of people.

When the Centre litigates a systemic discrimination case, it works with the individual applicant and with related community organizations to seek a result or remedy that will promote equality rights for a larger group. This type of remedy is often called a “public interest remedy”. A public interest remedy can be achieved through settlement negotiations or by Order of the Tribunal after a hearing.

Below are some examples of public interest remedies that the Centre was able to negotiate.


Discriminatory zoning removed in four Ontario municipalities

In 2010, eight people with disabilities filed human rights applications against Toronto, Sarnia, Smiths Falls and Kitchener to challenge mandatory separation distances for homes for Ontarians with disabilities. 

On October 6, 2014 Smiths Falls Council became the fourth municipality to remove discriminatory sections of their zoning bylaws. All four Ontario municipalities revoked their zoning laws that  limited supportive housing for people with disabilities within their municipality. 

The human rights applications were filed on behalf of the Dream Team, a group of advocates living with mental health disabilities. “In the future, people will scratch their heads and wonder why a legal process was even necessary to stop people from being excluded,” said Dream Team member Phillip Dufresne.

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Improved accessibility for jurors with disabilities

The Ministry of the Attorney General’s Court Services Division has intensified its commitment to providing barrier-free access to courts across the province.

The sweeping review of practices and procedures arose out of one woman’s attempt to participate in the jury selection process.  Carol Mehlenbacher arrived to find visual aids unavailable. She was relieved from jury duty. With help from the Human Rights Legal Support Centre, Mehlenbacher and Court Services officials crafted a range of changes to make courts more accessible. 

Changes to the process include:

  • A review of the accessibility resources available in Ontario’s courthouses with the Offices of the Chief Justices of Ontario and Regional Senior Justices and the Criminal Law Division and its staff and Crown Attorneys
  • Juror summons now include contact information for disability-related help at the specific court location where one is being summoned for jury
  • People will be directly connected to the local accessibility coordinator
  • The accessibility coordinator will work with the individual to determine how best to meet the person’s individual disability needs when they attend court
  • Necessary equipment will be arranged
  • The court/trial office will be informed of the request and particulars. 
  • An updated jury management manual will further clarify staff procedures when disability-related needs are raised
  • Ongoing training of all staff will be provided on appropriate responses to requests for communication supports and accessible document formats
  • An accessibility-focused newsletter will be distributed to staff

Disabled northern Ontario travellers settle human rights claim with Ontario Northland Transportation Commission (ONTC)

Limited travel options in Ontario's north were not even available to Bradley Bondar and Lisa Buck because no vehicles had accessible washrooms.  Bondar and Buck settled joint human rights claims with the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission (ONTC), making sure northern Ontarians with disabilities will have more transportation options.

Englehart resident Lisa Buck joined her human rights claim with that of Timmins disability rights activist Bradley Bondar, who passed away before his claim was settled.  Bondar's brother Jason carried forward the claim on his behalf of his estate. Jason commented that "Bradley broke down a lot of barriers for people with disabilities in his lifetime and this resolution is part of his legacy."

As part of the settlement of the human rights claim, ONTC agreed to:

  • Order three motor coaches with wheelchair accessible washrooms
  • Make every effort to have these coaches available to passengers with disabilities upon request
  • Train drivers on human rights - drivers will have to complete training before operating any equipment

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Hockey Canada addresses discrimination against transgendered players

Hockey Canada agreed to make changes to protect young players in Ontario from discrimination and harassment based on a player’s transgender status.  These changes resolved a human rights application Jesse Thompson filed after facing difficulties at his local arena.

Hockey Canada will:

  • Provide training to all its Ontario-based trainers and coaches on gender identity and gender expression, including training on discrimination and harassment
  • Amend its Ontario Co-Ed Dressing Room Policy, which will be publicly posted on the websites of the Ontario branches of Hockey Canada, to include that:
    • A player has a right to use a dressing room that corresponds with the player’s self-identified gender identity;
    • A player shall be addressed by the player’s preferred name and referred to by pronouns corresponding to the player’s self-identified gender identity; and
    • A player is entitled to privacy and confidentiality with respect to the player’s trans status
    • Information about the amended policy accessible to staff, volunteers, parents/guardians and players in Ontario.

Read more


Peel District School Board moves ahead with equity plan

Ranjit Khatkur filed a human rights application against her employer, the Peel District School Board, alleging that they had failed to promote her to the post of Vice-Principal because of her race. The Toronto Star covered the hearing and reported in November 2012 that the application asked the Tribunal to order the Board to:

  • Develop equity policies inclusive of marginalized groups;
  • Review the hiring, promotion and retention process with representation from visible minority groups;
  • Ensure better reflection of visible minorities within senior administration;
  • Train senior staff, including principals and vice-principals, in the area of equity inclusion and challenges facing visible minorities.

The Star article noted that the available data (from 2007-08) indicated that only five of 235 principals — 2 per cent — in the board were of South Asian background, while close to 30 per cent of Peel Region residents were South Asian.

The Centre negotiated a confidential settlement of Ms. Khatkur's application before her hearing was completed.

On January 22, 2013, the Peel District School Board issued a media release with details about their new Action Plan for equitable hiring and promotion.


Police Service improves access for deaf and hard of hearing Ontarians

A man who uses ASL and ASL-English interpreters was arrested after a dispute with his neighbours. On the way to the station and at the station, the man repeatedly requested an ASL Interpreter. None was provided while he was held at the station for over 3 hours. He was brought into an interrogation room and again requested an interpreter, but was instead given documents to sign. He was not told when an interpreter would be available, or if they were making efforts to locate one. His parents had also arrived at the station and were offering to help communicate, but the officer refused to allow this. He signed the papers and was released.

The police service agreed to implement a monitoring system in which all occurrences involving deaf persons are reviewed. Regular and updated training will now be provided to police officers and staff in order to better serve the needs of the deaf community.


Right to use mobility aids affirmed

The Human Rights Legal Support Centre assisted an applicant in reaching an agreement with the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services in relation to its policy on inmates using assistive devices within correctional institutions. The Inmates with Disabilities (Assistive Devices) Policy affirms the Ministry’s obligations under the Human Rights Code, including its duty to accommodate inmates with disabilities.

Inmates with assistive devices such as crutches, wheelchairs and prosthetic devices are permitted to retain the devices unless there are compelling medical, health, safety or security reasons otherwise. The correctional institution at issue adopted a new process for the consideration of the accommodation needs of inmates using assistive devices. Senior staff must be consulted and the reasons for the decision, are to be recorded. Inmates will have access to a complaint procedure.

The Superintendent distributed a directive to all staff at the correctional institution, recognizing that accommodation needs are unique to each inmate and that each inmate is to be “accommodated in a manner that most respects their dignity while ensuring a safe and secure environment for staff and other inmates.”


Employees of franchise across Ontario will benefit from training on human rights

A black man went to a convenience store in the early morning. Although he was a frequent customer, on this occasion, there was a new employee on duty. He was watched and followed as he walked around the store. When he went to the cashier with the items that he wanted to purchase, he was accused of stealing. He turned out his pockets in front of the store camera to show he did not take anything. The employee called him the n-word.

At mediation, the Centre negotiated an agreement requiring the store to:

  • Train all staff to observe and uphold the Human Rights Code in the treatment of customers, particularly recognizing the dignity and worth of every person;
  • Require all new employees in any store in Ontario to sign a new undertaking to respect and uphold the Code in all dealings with the public;
  • Require all new employees to receive training/orientation on Code compliance before signing the undertaking.

One brave student's human rights claim paves way for all transgender students

A student who was living as a male at school had a range of difficulties with school staff about his relationships, his use of washroom facilities his participation in school trips, etc. The experiences created a great deal of stress and difficulty for him throughout high school.

The Centre negotiated a settlement between the student and the Toronto District School Board. The school board created a comprehensive range of policies for the accommodation of transgendered youth, including detailed policies about: need-to-know, student records, field trips and washroom facilities. The Board also agreed to provide extensive staff training to identify and confront transphobia (fear of transgender people) in each school.

Guidelines for accommodating trans and gender non-conforming students include:

  • Right to privacy: disclosure is on a strict “need-to-know” basis; students are to be asked how s/he should be referred to when the school is communicating with their parents or guardian;
  • Right to use chosen name/gender in classrooms, attendance lists and activities;
  • Right to change a student’s Ontario Student Record (OSR) upon receipt of legal documentation of gender change;
  • Right to participate in school activities and trips in chosen gender (may require accommodation in terms of private change area, for example).