The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario recently released its 2009-2010 annual report and, not surprisingly, it contains both good and bad news.
Let’s start with the good news.
People are using the human rights system. In 2009-2010 3,551 applications were filed with the Tribunal. Three years ago, the corresponding number was just over 2,300. This could be related to a few things. The human rights enforcement in Ontario was dramatically overhauled in 2008 to address a variety of problems with the system. There is a widespread perception (consistent with CERA’s experience) that the new system gives applicants faster results. The new system, therefore, may be more attractive to potential applicants. It may also reflect the fact that there is less pre-screening, or “gate-keeping,” of potential applications than there was under the previous system.
Almost 70% of Tribunal mediations resulted in a settlement being reached. For most cases, settling at mediation is a good thing. It gives an applicant the opportunity to craft his/her own resolution and requires much less time, stress and expense than going to a hearing. Overall, CERA’s clients have had good experiences at mediation. For the most part, Tribunal mediators have been very helpful, educating the parties on the Code and helping them understand the strengths and weaknesses of their cases.
Things are moving faster: In 2009-2010, 95% of the applications where resolved within one year of acceptance, with the average period being a little over 6 months. In 2006-2007, under the old system, the average period was 14.6 months. However, the active caseload of Tribunal is increasing, so timeframes may increase in the future.
And now for the bad news.
Housing case still make up a misleadingly small percentage of all applications filed – less than 6% in 2009/2010. There are probably many reasons for this, including the nature of human rights remedies (in most cases, filing a complaint is not going to help you get the apartment you were denied) and the particularly disadvantaged position of most victims of housing discrimination (low income renters, youth, recent immigrants and refugees, people receiving social assistance, etc.). There needs to be better supports for people who have experienced housing discrimination and who wish to file a complaint.
Less than 30% of applicants were represented when they filed an application with the Tribunal. While the Tribunal has done a lot to make the human rights enforcement process more accessible, this is still a legal process that is difficult to navigate without support. Applicants need assistance.
The wait for mediation is too long. This actually isn’t discussed in the annual report, but I’m going to raise it here. Three to four months from filing an application to mediation would probably be a reasonable timeframe. For our clients, the wait is about double this – and not much different from the wait for early mediation under the previous, “slower” system. This is just too long.
17% of decisions by the Tribunal were “dismissals on a preliminary basis” and the annual report provides no details regarding the basis for these dismissals. While this statistic presumably does not factor in the cases that were settled at mediation, it is a significant number and deserves clarification.
This is an important annual report for the Tribunal as it is the first to cover a full year under the new system. From the report and CERA’s experience using the system over the past year, it is clear that many things are working well. People are filing applications, things are moving relatively quickly, and the mediation process is largely effective. But there is still much that the Tribunal and the Ministry of the Attorney General can do to ensure that Ontarians have a truly effective and accessible human rights system.