Talking human rights and rental policy
After releasing our Policy on Human Rights and Rental Housing in October 2009, we attended a series of events across Ontario to provide more details about the policy and how to apply it. Chief Commissioner Barbara Hall, along with Senior Policy Analyst Cherie Robertson and community partners, visited Thunder Bay, Windsor, Montreal and Ottawa in January and June of this year.
- Understanding and addressing discrimination in rental housing
- Roles and responsibilities of housing providers and tenants
- The duty to accommodate
- Practical programs for reviewing and removing barriers to access
"We know that discrimination occurs in many forms in rental housing across Ontario. Vulnerable and marginalized people have a much tougher time getting the housing they need because they face a number of barriers. Our new policy provides some ideas on how to break down those barriers to fair rental housing. We worked with housing providers, decision-makers and other partners to try to develop practical tools that can be applied to everyday situations."
— Barbara Hall, Chief Commissioner, Ontario Human Rights Commission.
Looking at online rental housing ads
More and more people are using the internet to find rental housing. Some online advertisements with statements such as "professionals preferred" or "couples only" are discriminatory. Treating people differently or unequally often comes from negative attitudes and stereotypes, which may affect a person's access to housing. We are working with partners in the tenant rights sector, to learn more about how some online advertisements can unfairly prevent or discourage people from finding a place to live.
We looked at 28 of the most popular websites used for finding rental housing in Ontario. The research identified relevant contacts, best practices already in place and costs associated with reviewing or responding to discriminatory ads. Some best existing practices include:
- Links to policies, laws and organizations related to fair housing
- Mechanism for users to flag discriminatory ads
- Logs of all user IP addresses to prevent abusive or inappropriate ads
To try to reduce the number of discriminatory ads posted online, we will be sharing our findings and developing communication materials on human rights and housing. We hope webmasters and organizations will provide links to this information on their sites. We will also help in creating and improving systems that monitor and respond to discriminatory ads.
Teaching with e-learning
On June 8, 2010, we launched Human Rights 101, an e-learning module about modern human rights, the Ontario Human Rights Code, Ontario's human rights system and the OHRC's Policies and Guidelines.
Developed in cooperation with the New Media Studies Program at the University of Toronto Scarborough and along with input from community stakeholders, Human Rights 101 lets users learn about human rights from anywhere they have internet access. Created with accessibility to a wide range of users in mind, students, office or factory workers, employers or people new to Canada can get information on human rights history, principles, legislation and policies at the click of a button any time, from any where in the world.
With easy access and a quiz at the end of each module, many public and private organizations have incorporated Human Rights 101 into their training requirements. In a number of cases the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario has ordered parties to take the e-learning course. The OHRC will continue to develop new sector-specific e-learning modules. The newest module, Human Rights and Rental Housing, helps landlords and tenants understand their rights and responsibilities. (TBD)
The social media revolution: know your rights!
As an agency responsible for preventing discrimination and promoting and advancing human rights in Ontario, we are reaching out to communities, individuals and organizations through social media. We are using new channels as an interactive opportunity for the OHRC and to leverage the power of fans and their networks to connect with Ontarians.
Our Facebook fan page provides a platform for the community to learn and share information about human rights issues. Within the first month of launching our Facebook page, we had 115 fans and 1,870 total page views! On our Facebook page, fans can:
- Receive updates on OHRC initiatives, events and activities
- Access human rights-related issues and resources
- See news stories on human rights issues
- Find out how to take part in public consultations and public awareness campaigns
- Engage with others in the community on human rights issues
- Comment on human rights issues
- Share posters, materials and information to promote human rights in Ontario
Our Twitter page makes it easy for followers to stay updated on human rights issues. Some of these updates include:
- Noteworthy decisions from the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario and Ontario courts
- Human rights-related news and events
- Links to other articles and items of interest to the human rights community in Ontario and across Canada
- New OHRC initiatives and projects
Our mental health plan in action
One in five people is likely to experience mental illness at some point in their life. Some persons with mental health disabilities and addictions may need accommodation so they can have the same benefit from and access to services, housing and employment. Usually the process starts with the person making clear what accommodation they need. However, some people with a mental health disability or addiction may be unable to ask for help. Recent court rulings suggest employers should be prepared to take the initiative in providing some accommodations.
It is important for us to address mental health issues in an effective and coordinated way. We have been working with partners to identify the key priorities that will drive the work we do to advance human rights for persons with mental health and addictions disabilities. We're learning "who is doing what" in the community to contribute to mental health disability and addiction issues. We have also heard from individuals and organizations that providing guidance on how to apply the Human Rights Code in the area of mental health would be helpful.
Earlier in 2010, the OHRC approved a Human Rights Mental Health Plan, which outlines the areas we will focus on.
Our Human Rights Mental Health Plan includes:
- Creating a policy on mental health
- Monitoring Tribunal applications for potential interventions and legal action
- Delivering public education
- Holding public consultations
- Partnering with other organizations working in the mental health/addictions field
- Developing publications and other materials to raise awareness and understanding of mental health issues
For more information on human rights and mental health, including the work we've done so far click here.
Developing organizational policies, programs and procedures
Under the Ontario Human Rights Code, employers, landlords and service providers must provide inclusive and non-discriminatory environments. The aim is to create a climate of understanding and mutual respect for the dignity and worth of each person, so that everyone feels part of the community and has the ability to contribute to the community.
The OHRC developed Guidelines on developing human rights policies and procedures to provide some practical guidance to help organizations develop effective and fair ways to prevent human rights violations and respond to human rights issues,. This guide discusses the five elements of a strategy to prevent and address human rights issues:
- A plan for preventing, reviewing and removing barriers
- An anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policy
- An internal complaints procedure
- An accommodation policy and procedure
- An education and training program
Although each organization's strategy will depend on its size, complexity and culture, this guide provides sample language that can help all organizations create policies and define key human rights concepts.
Promoting safe schools and inclusive education
What do equity and inclusion really mean? They might mean a student with developmental disabilities learning alongside their friends in a regular classroom, instead of being set apart. They might mean adjusting exercise routines to include girls who wear hijabs, or not stereotyping students' interests and skills by assuming certain cultural groups will be good (or bad) at different subjects or sports. Equity and inclusion mean having a system where all students have the opportunity to belong and to succeed.
We have been working hard at the OHRC to build on our partnerships in the education sector and to find new ways to bring a human rights focus to schools across Ontario. One way we've done this is to give advice to the Ministry of Education on their Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy, which calls for school boards to develop and apply equity and inclusive education policies and procedures by September 2010.
We have also:
- Provided support to key stakeholders like the Ontario Education Services Corporation (OESC), the Ministry of Education, Inclusive Education Branch and Regional Equity and Inclusive Education Networks
- Delivered human rights training to large groups of school boards at events organized by the Ministry of Education, the Safe School Network, regional Equity and Inclusive Education Networks
Future plans include developing:
- An e-learning module for teachers;
- A policy and guidelines for "Human Rights and Student Discipline" and a barrier-review tool-kit for school boards.
Collecting human rights-based data
It is hard to solve problems, run a successful business or make a good policy without all of the information. Yet collecting information about a person's race, disability, sex, gender identity or other Ontario Human Rights Code-related ground is often overlooked. In many cases, employers and organizations are afraid that asking these questions would violate the Code. But responsible collection and use of human rights-related information can yield very positive results. That's why the we've published a new data collection guide called Count me in!
This 81-page guide helps dispel common myths and fears about collecting human rights-based data by providing a plain language, common-sense framework for collecting data in a way that can build trust and encourage real solutions. It includes best practice examples of how data collection can improve internal work environments, provide better customer service, promote higher productivity, identify opportunities for growth and have a positive effect on the bottom line.
The guide features the experiences and practical suggestions from organizations such as KPMG Canada, TD Bank Financial Group, Keewatin-Patricia District School Board, Mount Sinai Hospital, The Maytree Foundation, The Toronto City Summit Alliance, Ryerson University's Diversity Institute and the University of Guelph.
Continuing the Human Rights Project Charter momentum
Over the past three years, we have been involved in an innovative project to embed human rights into the day-to-day culture of the Toronto Police Service. The Human Rights Project Charter brought together the OHRC, the Toronto Police Services Board and the Toronto Police Service. The Charter partners developed a comprehensive program to bring a human rights focus to all facets of policing in Toronto, including recruitment, selection, promotion and retention, police learning, accountability and public education.
Although 2010 marks the end of the formal Project Charter, the three partners have agreed to maintain a Human Rights Advisory Committee to continue the momentum of the Project Charter and to build on the successes of the project so far. As well, the Toronto Police Services Board will soon publish an internal policy on human rights to guide police services in the future.
The lessons learned during this project will be used to develop a road map for systemic change in policing and other services. We continue to provide advice, support and training to partners such as the Ontario Police College. In the new year, we will publish a manual for organizational change and human rights. We are also looking forward to working with the Windsor Police Service on a new Charter Project! (TBD)
From left to right: (HRPC Executive group) Shaheen Azmi, Ontario Human Rights Commission, S/supt. Tony Corrie, Toronto Police Service, André Goh, Toronto Police Service, Hamlin Grange, Toronto Police Services Board