Early in 2008, the Ontario government made substantial changes to the human rights system. This new and improved system was designed to resolve disputes more quickly and to provide more assistance to those making discrimination claims, amongst other improvements.
Andrew Pinto, a human rights and employment lawyer, was appointed by the Attorney General to conduct an external review of the new system. Mr. Pinto’s 233-page report was released late last year, and sets out his assessment of and recommendations regarding the new system.
His findings are summarized as follows:
Mr. Pinto found that the redesigned Human Rights Tribunal initiates and moves claims along more swiftly, and greater transparency is provided through written decisions. Most importantly, the Tribunal gives the public the appearance of impartiality: remedies are awarded where merited, and the Divisional Court has had few occasions to overturn the Tribunal’s decisions.
However, the Tribunal could improve its performance by screening unmeritorious cases out of the process faster and earlier than it does currently. Mr. Pinto suggests the following specific improvements, among others: simplification of Tribunal forms, increased resolution rates via mediation, increased general damages to reflect the gravity of discrimination, and the publication of improved protocols and practice directions.
The Human Rights Legal Support Centre
The Centre has improved access to the human rights process. In cases where the Centre provides full representation, it has been very successful at mediation, at hearing, and in the remedies obtained. However, this benefit was stifled by the Centre’s limited capacity to serve its many clients. Mr. Pinto recommends that the Ministry of the Attorney General provide more resources, both legal and administrative, in order to allow the Centre to represent more claimants, particularly in legal clinics outside of Toronto.
The Human Rights Commission
Mr. Pinto had mixed reviews of the Commission’s performance. While he found the Commission successful in respect of its new mandate of research, monitoring, policy development, education and training, it is failing to maintain a connection with the private sector, to remain accessible to the general public, and to litigate the more complicated systematic discrimination cases which individual complainants often have difficulty pursuing.
Recommendations to tackle these shortcomings include taking on cases relevant to the private sector such as hiring and retention, re-establishing a public access telephone line, established and, significantly, establishing a Human Rights Compliance Unit to offer
proactive advice to respondents. This would allow employers and others to maintain compliance with human rights legislation and avoid human rights claims.
Mr. Pinto identified a lack of coordination between the above three agencies, which makes it difficult to identify gaps and redundancies.
The Pinto report serves as a reminder to all employers to become familiar with the three branches of the human rights system, in order to make it easier to identify the ways in which the system can become a resource for your organization. For instance, one of the most popular resources available to employers is an assessment of their internal workplace human rights policies to confirm compliance with the Human Rights Code. Further, should Mr. Pinto’s recommendation regarding the Compliance Unit be implemented, this could be a very useful prevention tool for employers.