Editorial: Fitting honour for rights code’s 50th

Ontario legislators acknowledged the Human Rights Code’s 50th anniversary in a fitting way last week.

On Wednesday, a private member’s bill to protect transgendered people under the code passed third reading.

The bill would add the words “gender identity” and “gender expression” to the existing list of prohibited grounds for discrimination under the code.

It was nice to see MPPs beef up protections as people around the province were celebrating 50 years of the code.

While critics have certainly raised valid concerns about some aspects of the code, particularly as it relates to some decisions at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, there’s no doubt it has made the province a better and more inclusive place by rooting out many obvious forms of discrimination.

At the same time, it’s clear that transgendered people face many forms of discrimination that they need protection from. There can be no justification, then, for the difficulties they face.

In the meantime, the anniversary and the legal change highlight a few other lingering issues related to human rights.

At the federal level, for example, efforts to add a similar provision to the Ontario one to the Canadian Human Rights Act have floundered.

A previous proposal almost made it into law during the previous session of Parliament, but a second attempt by NDP MP Randall Garrison has yet to make it that far.

As Garrison noted in introducing bill C-279: “This is a population that faces constant discrimination everywhere they go and in everything they do.”

Garrison’s words are clear justification for moving forward with the protections at the federal level as well.

On the other side of the issue, critics have raised a number of concerns with Ontario’s human rights system in general, including the notion that it makes it too easy for disgruntled employees to launch proceedings against their employers.

It can be very inexpensive, of course, for people to initiate cases at the tribunal often with free legal assistance, a situation that exposes employers to frivolous claims of discrimination.

While there are mechanisms to dismiss those claims and there are obvious pitfalls in doing that too easily, there’s nevertheless good reason to have a discussion on potential changes to address the issue.

Hopefully, the ongoing review of the Ontario human rights system provides some answers when it reports this summer.

It’s clear, then, that while we have lots to celebrate as the code turns 50, there’s more work to do to refine the human rights system.
— Glenn Kauth

For more, see "Discrimination cases wade dangerously into reversing onus."

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