The Liberal government’s decision to prematurely close off debate on a proposed law to
overhaul Ontario’s Human Rights Code has angered defenders of the system who say
the province is trying to restrict public input on the changes.
The Liberals were planning to use their majority in the legislature to invoke closure on
the controversial legislation, angering activist groups and the opposition parties, who
wanted at least another month of public hearings.
The move means public hearings currently underway will end two weeks early Thursday
and force a final vote on the bill, which the province says is designed to reduce a
growing backlog of cases and address long-standing inefficiencies in the 40-year-old
If passed, the legislation would allow complainants to go directly to the Human Rights
Tribunal and make the Ontario Human Rights Commission more of an educator on
human rights issues.
It would also create of a Human Rights Legal Support Centre aimed at providing free law
services to complainants.
Critics called cutting the hearings off unfair to those who have yet to have their voices
heard, and warned the issue would haunt the Liberals in next year’s provincial election.
“This is anti-democratic,” said Mohamed Boudjenane of the Canadian Arab Federation.
“This is an insult for the most vulnerable people in this province.”
Premier Dalton McGuinty said he is eager to see the bill passed because complaints
currently take five to 10 years to work through the human rights system.
“It’s simply unacceptable,” McGuinty said.
The human-rights community is divided on the proposed changes and needs more time
to debate the merits of the proposed law, said New Democrat Peter Kormos.
“This is a very substantial change … The community is very much split around it,” he
said. “For the attorney general to suggest that somehow a debate is irrelevant is a
blemish on his office.”