OPSEU/SEFPO President Warren (Smokey) Thomas is calling on the Ford Government to strengthen the overstretched Ontario Human Rights Tribunal.
The Tribunal is flooded with thousands of applications. However, it does not have the resources to review and deal with the complaints in a timely manner. One pressing need is a significant increase in the number of expert adjudicators with a strong human rights and mediation background.
“Justice delayed is justice denied,” said Thomas. “The Tribunal needs the staffing resources to do the job it was created for. A watchdog without teeth is no good for folks who have nowhere else to turn to.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has created a widening gap of access to health and public services for people. This includes the ability to take sick days without the fear of reprisal or harassment. There also continues to be an alarming rise of systemic discrimination.
“Systemic discrimination has been a pressing issue during this pandemic,” said Thomas. “This is why the Human Rights Tribunal must have the resources to jump on these problems in a timely manner.”
Over the last decade, the Tribunal was successful in holding hearings and dealing with claims in a reasonable time frame. But since 2018, the Tribunal has been starved of resources and the resolution of complaints has slowed to a crawl, with some cases being delayed for years.
OPSEU/SEFPO First Vice-President/Treasurer Eddy Almeida says the result is that the most vulnerable seeking justice are falling through the cracks.
“These hearings are not only a means of finding grounds for a remedy and justice for an individual,” said Almeida. “We’ve seen the power of rulings from the Human Rights Tribunal. They have changed policies, legislation and the course of history.”
The mediation and resolution process is the foundation that ensures the pendulum of law swings to uphold the Ontario Human Rights Code. The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal is a significant, if not a key player in the fight for equity, fairness and justice. The Tribunal’s role in resolving issues and making them legally binding is fundamental in upholding the Code. There has never been a more critical time to make sure everyone’s human rights are protected.