August 18, 2006
Strong opposition to Bill 107 dominated last week when the Legislature’s
Standing Committee on Justice Policy held its first three days of public
hearings on Bill 107, the McGuinty Government’s proposed new law to weaken the Ontario Human Rights Commission. These hearings have so far dealt a powerful blow to the controversial bill 107. They have shown that Ontario’s Attorney General Michael Bryant was incorrect when he claimed last spring that there is a community consensus in support of the kind of reforms the McGuinty Government has proposed. Hearings will resume in Toronto at as-yet unspecified dates after the Legislature resumes sitting on September 25,2006.
HOW THE PRESENTATIONS REACTED TO BILL 107
Despite the fact that these hearings took place at the peak of summer holiday
season, a total of 52 oral presentations were made in London, Ottawa and Thunder Bay. Fully 28 presentations opposed the bill. Only 11 presentations supported the bill.
The remaining 13 presentations didn’t take a bottom line position on the bill.
Of these, 9 didn’t speak about the bill’s contents at all. The other four of
these did address the bill, but didn’t take a bottom-line position on whether
they supported or opposed the bill.
Thus, of the 39 presentations that actually took a position on the bill, the 28
opposing the bill were more than double the mere 11 that supported the bill.
Of those opposing the bill, as many as 13 explicitly endorsed the contents of
the AODA Alliance’s July 15, 2006 draft brief. These didn’t just include
individuals and organizations from the disability community. Support for the
AODA Alliance’s draft brief also came from voices from the labour movement,
racialized communities and Aboriginal communities. Beyond these 13, several more of the presentations that opposed the bill voiced similar concerns about Bill
107 to those raised by the AODA Alliance, even though they didn’t explicitly
name the AODA Alliance or its draft brief.
Ten of the presentations referred to the fact that by this bill, the McGuinty
Government betrayed its understanding with the disability community concerning enforcement of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. Last year the McGuinty Government refused to establish a new independent agency to enforce the AODA, saying that persons with disabilities could use the Human rights Commission to investigate and prosecute disability discrimination. Yet bill 107 would now remove most of the Commission’s investigation and prosecution powers.
Of the minority of 11 presentations that said they supported the bill, 8 only
said in effect that they supported the bill in principle, or that they supported
the intent of the bill, but wanted amendments that are significant in content
During the hearings, Conservative and NDP MPPs supported criticisms of the bill.
Liberal MPPs generally sought to praise the bill, but also seemed to concede the
need for amendments.
IMPLICATIONS FOR BILL 107
What does this all mean for Bill 107? First, from the public hearings, it is
clear that this bill is highly controversial. To date, as far as oral
presentations to the Standing Committee have gone, opponents to the bill
out-number its supporters by a strong lead of at least 2 to 1. This is based
solely on the numbers of oral presentations. We have only seen a few of the
written submissions that the Standing Committee has received, and can’t comment on how all written submissions break down.
Second, there are a number of serious concerns about the bill that are similarly
voiced both by the bill’s opponents and by the minority who support it. These
concerns require substantial amendments, just to satisfy the bill’s supporters.
Third, concerns about the bill voiced by its opponents and supporters are not
limited to the important issue of providing effective free legal representation
to all human rights complainants. Many other serious concerns with the bill were
raised which a “quick fix” like broader funding for lawyers won’t solve.
Fourth, neither the Government MPPs nor any of the 11 presenters who support the Government’s plans mentioned Bill 107’s serious breach of faith regarding
enforcement of the AODA, or offered any justification for it.
Fifth, a good number of presenters expressed support for the compromise position which the AODA Alliance has proposed . The McGuinty Government has not responded to this compromise proposal since we first made it public fully three months ago. By that compromise, discrimination victims would have the choice of either a) taking their case to the Human Rights Commission for investigation and public prosecution if the evidence warrants it, or b) taking their case directly to the Human rights Tribunal.
Sixth, the McGuinty Government’s MPPs at these public hearings have said over
and over again that the Government plans to propose amendments to Bill 107 to
guarantee to all human rights complainants, free full legal representation by
lawyers throughout the human rights process. These statements included the
August 8, 2006 London
David Zimmer: “I should point out — you may or may not be aware of this — the
Attorney General has publicly committed in the Legislature — it’s a matter of
record in Hansard — to amend section 46 to provide full legal support to
Ontarians who have to turn to the human rights system. So at the end of this
process, I expect, as the Attorney General has said, there will be an amendment
to ensure full legal support of complainants at the tribunal/commission.
Mr. Zimmer: Just to respond to your comment — and I thank you for your support
and the constructive criticism that you offered. We want to work with the
community to make this an even better bill.
You offered the comment that the community hasn’t seen anything by way of
amendments yet. Let me just say this. First, I did have my BlackBerry out before
and I read the commitment the Attorney General made in the Legislature, for
instance, on section 46, to ensure that there was sufficient, proper and effective representation.
Deborah Matthews: “I asked the Attorney General in the Legislature if he would
clarify the intent of the government to ensure that people do have the legal
representation they need, and he has given that assurance.”
Deborah Matthews: The other thing is that I raised the question in the House
with regards to legal support and was assured very, very clearly by the Attorney
General that there will be an amendment that will ensure that people will get
the support they need to achieve justice. Your concern has been heard and
assurances have been given. So be patient. This does take time, and we will
address your concerns.
August 9, 2006 Ottawa
Mr. David Zimmer (Willowdale): I just want to point out that subsequent to the
bill being introduced, in response to a question in the Legislature, the
Attorney General did commit to introducing an amendment which would ensure that everyone before the tribunal would, in fact, have their own independent legal counsel. So your point on the representation has been well taken and addressed by the Attorney General in the Legislature. He’s made that public commitment.
August 10, 2006 Thunder Bay
Mr. Zimmer: Just in case you’re not aware, I want to point out that the Attorney
General in the Legislature has made a clear and unequivocal commitment to amend the bill to ensure that everybody who has a complaint before the tribunal does receive legal support, has a lawyer attached to their case to see the case
through with them.
Mr. Bill Mauro (Thunder Bay-Atikokan): The concern has been raised by the two or three speakers I’ve heard about whether or not people, if they go directly to
the tribunal, are going to have the ability to have publicly funded representation if they’re the complainant. The Attorney General has publicly committed in the House to amendments in the legislation to ensure that that will happen.
Despite the Government’s sweeping and potentially costly commitments, the
McGuinty Government still has not brought forward any proposed amendments, or any details of what their amendments will include. It hasn’t announced any
proposed budget. It has only made vague statements that the Government will
establish a “Human Rights Legal Support Center”. It hasn’t said who will operate
that clinic, or whether it will only have offices in Toronto, or how big it will
The Government has had over six months to develop its plans since it announced
its intentions. It has refused to comprehensively answer requests for details
about its plans. For example, two months ago, in its June 28, 2006 letter to
Attorney general Michael Bryant, the AODA Alliance wrote, among other things:
“Second, we ask your Government to now make public the specific changes it
contemplates proposing for Bill 107. On June 8, 2006, you stated in the
Legislature that you intend to table amendments to the bill, to address such
topics as the provision of legal services for discrimination victims. Your
Government has now had more than four months to develop its plans for such
important issues as legal representation for discrimination victims, since you
first announced your plans for the Human rights Code last February.
The public needs this information now in detail, so that it can develop and give
effective input and feedback on your plans at the Standing Committee hearings.
If the Government withholds this information from the public until after the
Standing Committee’s public hearings are completed, this would deny the public a fair chance to be properly consulted on your current plans. We commend to you the Toronto Star’s June 12, 2006 editorial, which called on your government to make your plans, including your budget plans, public as soon as possible.
As part of this, we ask you to now clarify what your Government specifically
means by its commitments to ensure that all human rights complainants are
provided publicly-funded legal representation and support. For example, we want specifically to confirm that this legal representation and support will be
delivered by lawyers, and not by non-lawyers. Particularly at Human Rights
Tribunals, it would be grossly insufficient for a discrimination victim to be
advised and represented by a non-lawyer such as a paralegal, when the respondent is so often represented by a skilled, well-financed private law firm. We also want to know such important things as how many lawyers will be provided to advise and represent discrimination victims.”
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