Is the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal in Trouble?

On the website of the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal there is this important notice:

The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO) is experiencing a shortage of adjudicators (vice chairs and members) which is affecting the HRTO's ability to meet its service standards. As a result, already scheduled mediations and hearings may need to be re-scheduled to a later date. In addition, you may experience a longer than usual number of days before a mediation or hearing. The HRTO continues to be committed to providing fair, effective and timely dispute resolution.

Investigation reveals that eight of 18 full-time members of the Tribunal and eight of 22 part-time members have appointments that are due to expire soon (https://www.pas.gov.on.ca/Home/Agency/445). This means that more than a third of Tribunal members cannot be assigned to hearings because their appointments are likely to expire before they are completed. Competition for these positions was open in the fall and closed October 31, 2018 (http://www.sjto.gov.on.ca/en/latest-news/#hrto). But no new appointments, or re-appointments of existing members, have been made.

One can ascribe this delay to the fact that the Conservatives have only been in power  since the end of June, and it takes a new government time to find its feet. However, given other actions taken by the Conservatives since they came into office, there is reason to worry about what this delay means, and about the obstruction of human rights that it causes.

Since June, the Ford government has:

Directly, or indirectly, these decisions have a negative impact on individuals and groups protected by the Ontario Human Rights Code on the grounds of ethnicity, race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, and receipt of social assistance. Ford's does not appear to be a human rights-positive administration. That makes the notice on the Human Rights Tribunal website a special cause for concern.

The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal has a reputation for resolving human rights disputes efficiently and for issuing solid adjudicatory decisions. The Ontario human rights system is looked to by other jurisdictions as a model for reliable process and results. But Canada's more than 50 years of legislated human rights protections has revealed that governments, particularly Conservative, Socred, and BC Liberal governments, sometimes consider their own human rights systems a threat, and want to weaken them, if not abolish them altogether.

Having solid human rights machinery should be accepted as a fundamental necessity of good government for administrations of every political stripe, since it plays a key role in guaranteeing an equal and democratic society. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. BC is a prime example of the politicization of human rights, having survived two eliminations of its human rights commission (1985 and 2002) by Socred and BC Liberal governments, and having had it just restored for the third time by the new NDP government, after a hiatus of 16 years.

It is not likely that the Ford administration will openly dismantle its human rights system, ut there are other ways it can undermine its own watchdogs. Under-funding and delays in appointments are obvious ones. By failing to make timely appointments to the Human Rights Tribunal, causing the Tribunal to notify Ontarians that it cannot provide them with its essential services in a timely manner, the Ford government sets itself on a destructive path. Confidence in the human rights system requires being able to count on timely processing and resolution of human rights complaints. The Ford government should re-appoint existing Tribunal members, or appoint new members, immediately.

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CHRR decisions are only available from Canadian Human Rights Reporter Inc.

CHRR decisions are not included in LawSource (Westlaw), Quicklaw (LexisNexis) or CanLII.