Letters to the Editor

Ontario shouldn’t cut off debate on human rights reform

Editor’s note: This is a copy of a letter sent to Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty.

I wish to express my profound dismay at your government’s notice to invoke closure and prematurely end debate on Bill 107, An Act to Reform the Ontario Human Rights Act.

From the start of the Bill 107 process, more than a year ago, the Ontario Human Rights Commission has commented on the need for full consultation by the Ministry of the Attorney General. What should have been a broad, consensus-building exercise in the best traditions of promoting human rights, was undertaken in a way which, instead, caused division within the communities concerned.

Despite that, some progress had been made in bringing the parties together and attempting to reach a viable compromise, based on amendments to the bill. It has been my hope, as I suggested in my presentation to the Justice Policy Committee, that the committee’s hearings would lead to further progress with more common ground being found. In particular, there is a need to fine-tune the attorney general’s proposed amendments, and to allay fears within the community by making clear the transition from the old system to the new. By bringing an abrupt halt to the proceedings that opportunity is lost; I fear the existing divisions will become more polarized and bitter.

It may seem trite to remind you that justice must not only be done, but must be seen to be done. This is an essential truth within the law and, particularly, in regard to human rights. Such rights have come to form the foundation of our democratic principles. There are those who will see your actions as a denial of those principles.

The Justice Policy Committee clearly felt that an extended period of consultation would have value; however the invitation to speak may now be withdrawn. Dozens of groups and individuals who have waited to take part could be denied the opportunity at the 11th hour. We at the Ontario Human Rights Commission have stated our support for the amended legislation. However, it remains our intention to make a formal response once we see the legal text of the amendments. We are left with the question: will it receive appropriate consideration?

On behalf of the commission, I urge you to withdraw the motion for closure. This should be a time to encourage discussion, for consultation and for healing of divisions. All sides share the goal of a stronger, more effective human rights system for Ontarians and care passionately about human rights. It is crucial in this context to seek common ground, for the sake of the people we both serve. Please, let their voices be heard.

Barbara Hall
Chief commissioner
Ontario Human Rights Commission

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