Attorney General Marks International Human Rights Day With Statement In The Legislature
House Statement Delivered by The Honourable Chris Bentley, Attorney General of Ontario, on International Human Rights Day.
Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege for me to stand in this House today as Attorney General to mark International Human Rights Day.
It has been 61 years since the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which recognizes that freedom, justice and peace can only exist when the inherent dignity and equal rights of all people are protected and preserved.
Our nation and province were very different in 1948 than they are today.
At that time, we had just learned a hard lesson about the devastating results of persecution during World War II.
But discriminatory policies existed in our own land.
People of Japanese ancestry were still a year away from having the right to vote. Immigrants from different parts of the world were mistrusted, feared and forced to live in isolation.
Change came gradually. Ontario enacted the first comprehensive human rights code in Canada in 1962, to protect people from discrimination and harassment.
By the 1970s most Canadians had come to believe that discrimination prevented a society from reaching its potential by denying people the opportunity to fully participate in their communities.
Ontarians supported former Prime Minister Trudeau's policy of multiculturalism, and we have never looked back.
Today, the McGuinty government remains deeply committed to protecting human rights and fighting against discrimination. We can be proud of the leadership role we have played furthering human rights in Canada.
We have accomplished a lot during our mandate, and we will continue to work toward a more just society.
An important part of this accomplishment was the creation of a stronger human rights system for Ontarians.
Our goals in developing the new human rights system were simple. We knew we needed to:
- provide quicker and direct access for victims of discrimination
- provide legal supports to help those who would otherwise have difficulty accessing justice, and
- proactively address systemic human rights issues.
The new system came into force on June 30, 2008, and has greatly strengthened the protection of human rights across the province.
At that time, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario and the Ontario Human Rights Commission transitioned to new roles and the Human Rights Legal Support Centre also opened its doors to Ontarians.
The new system is increasing access to justice for all Ontarians. Ontarians can apply directly to the Human Rights Tribunal when seeking redress for discrimination.
The new system includes expert adjudicators and timely processes that are easy to understand.
Currently, the tribunal holds an average of four mediations a day and approximately 35 hearings a month. To date, it has been able to deal with almost 1200 new applications.
The Human Rights Legal Support Centre responds to more than 100 inquiries every day from people across the province.
The centre has been successful in providing them with assistance and guidance.
More than 70 per cent of claimants who receive early intervention assistance reach a full or partial settlement before an application needs to be filed at the tribunal.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission is focusing on important systemic issues such as freedom of expression and fair rental housing.
It has made numerous submissions to our government, including one on our strategy to better meet the needs of Ontarians with mental illnesses and addictions.
There are many things that come to mind when you think about what makes Ontario, and Canada special, but one stand-out item - a characteristic of this province that I hold very dear - is the fact that no matter who you are, no matter where you come from, no matter how long you have been here and no matter what your roots are, you know your rights and freedoms will be protected and respected here in ways they may not be elsewhere.
You can trust in that fact, not simply because it is the fashion of the moment, but rather because it has been a part of who we are for decades. We are a unique society.
Our experience is one of diversity and it is based on the idea that everybody has the right to live freely and be treated with dignity and respect. We recognize that these principles are a cornerstone of our society and we will not let them slide even for a moment.
Even though we have come far, we cannot for a moment sit back and become complacent. It is very dangerous to take the position that the battle for human rights has already been fought by others and that we merely need to administer the results.
We have come a long way. We have tried to learn from our mistakes and grow as a society and as a culture. But we are not perfect and we are far from being as accepting of differences as we would like to be.
The strength of the society in which we live is not simply its accomplishments, its ability to house people and have people live together from all over the world, speaking a collection of languages, with every religion represented. That is not it. That is not enough.
The strength of Ontario is its determination that we won't rest. We will not let any form of discrimination go unchallenged. We will not let any form of differential treatment go unquestioned.
That is the strength of a society. Not simply its accomplishments but its determination to continue to maintain and improve - our shared determination to strive for the ideal.
In our justice initiatives, and others too numerous to mention today, our government is proud of its response to this challenge.
I ask you to join me in celebrating the progress we are making toward this goal.