At CERA we do a lot of advocating for our clients. In fact, we rely quite heavily on the power of our one-on-one advocacy to change or influence landlords’ policies, and in doing so to effect real, measurable and timely change in the lives of Ontarians facing discrimination.
When I am on the phone with landlords, choosing the right words to convince them that their policies or practices are discriminatory, I feel that the law, in this case the Human Rights Code, is at its best. To many people, the Code is simply words on paper: a string of words chosen by the lawmakers of Ontario which look orderly and professional, but seem far from able to compel private landlords to change practices or eliminate barriers. Many Ontarians are not confident that these words can protect them. At CERA we advocate with landlords to make the Code real. One-on-one advocacy can bring these words to life!
The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario is of course a crucial part of our human rights system, and it is a necessary venue for the many human rights complaints which cannot be resolved informally. But does every instance of discrimination require claimants to file pleadings, claim damages and wait for months to have the issue mediated or adjudicated? My experience as an advocate tells me that it doesn’t; that in fact, a formal legal approach would often be unproductive. More often than not, people who call CERA for help want to resolve their problems with the landlord informally and as quickly as possible. These people simply want the landlord to recognize that they have the right to enjoy and benefit from housing regardless of their family status, disability, ethnic origin, or any other Code-protected ground.
Individual advocacy allows us to make direct contact with a landlord, often on the same day that the discriminatory actions took place. We can speak with landlords and inform them that what they have done – or have failed to do – is against the law. More often than many would expect, this comes as a surprise to the landlords. If they disagree with our position, we can try to convince them. Even if this takes multiple phone calls or letters, we can often persuade these landlords to reverse their decisions, or change discriminatory policies. In doing so, we are able to assist our clients while also educating landlords so that they are less likely to discriminate in the future. To the Ontarian whose life improves because of this advocacy, the Code is no longer just words on paper, but a tool which has reached into their lives to protect them and ensure their dignity as a human being.
We will continue to assist our clients to file human rights applications at the Tribunal, and the threat of such action may help us persuade some landlords to change their approach to renting apartments. It is, however, important for all stakeholders in the human rights system to realize that the law is brought to life and used effectively every day through one-on-one advocacy. In utilizing this valuable tool, we can help protect the rights of many Ontarians without the need for pleadings, a “courtroom”, or an adjudicator’s orders.
Linden Dales, Human Rights Caseworker