Human rights 2.0 // News

Revamped human rights system in Ontario aims for faster hearings and increased legal support

By Cameron Tulk

On Sunday September 7th, 2008


On June 30, 2008, the province launched a retooled human rights system that it calls stronger, faster, and more effective.

Wronged parties can now take their complaints directly to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario instead of going through the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

Under the previous system, the Commission acted as a human rights gatekeeper, investigating each complaint and deciding which would be referred to the Tribunal for a decision. This process could take upwards of five years to complete and required parties to prove their case to the Commission, and then again to the Tribunal.

By cutting out the middleman, the new system aims to complete hearings within one year of the application.

To help applicants navigate the human rights maze, the Human Rights Legal Support Centre has been created to assist with writing applications, explaining the law, and, if necessary, giving legal representation at the Tribunal, all free of charge.

“The new system only works if there is assistance. Otherwise, complainants … would be left to hire lawyers or otherwise represent themselves before the Tribunal,” says Raj Anand, chair of the legal centre. “It’s essentially the marriage of access to justice and equality rights.”

The Commission, now removed from the complaints process, will concentrate on the wider promotion and protection of human rights. This will allow the Commission to “address the broad public interest aspects of human rights,” according to Chief Commissioner Barbara Hall.

The new system does face some challenges. A large backlog of cases must be dealt with, and there will likely be an increase in new applications as complainants who might have been discouraged by the previous system try out the new one.

“If the new system can turn the corner on dealing with [those challenges], I think that it will not only survive but perform quite well,” says Andrew Pinto, a human rights lawyer in Toronto. “The basic infrastructure and processes are better thought out.”