Ontario Human Rights Commission seeks input on derogatory street, building names

Strikes me among all the human rights issues, this one has to be one of the least important.

Not optimistic that this exercise will result in sensible recommendations that acknowledge historical wrongs but don’t erase our history and historical understandings.

And of course, focussing on names and monuments is easier than addressing economic and social disparities between and among groups:

The Ontario Human Rights Commission is seeking the public’s input as it develops a policy statement on the display of derogatory names, words and images, including the names given to streets and landmarks.

The commission says it wants to address what it calls a “quickly evolving issue” that has increasingly seen Indigenous and racialized communities call for the removal of statues of historic figures “perceived as colonizers, slave owners or who advances racist policies.”

It also points to growing calls for officials to rename roads, buildings and other institutions named after historic figures, for the same reasons.

The organization notes such concerns are not new, noting it was involved in a 2018 case that required the City of Mississauga to remove all Indigenous-themed mascots, names and images not related to Indigenous sports organizations from its sports facilities.

It says human rights law has found that images and words that degrade people because of their ancestry, race, or ethnic group may create a poisoned environment and violate the province’s human rights code.

The commission says the policy statement will focus on the legal obligations of organizations to prevent and address discrimination against Indigenous peoples, racialized communities and possibly other protected groups in situations involving the display of derogatory names and images.

“What’s in a name? Often, everything,” Chief Commissioner Patricia DeGuire said in a statement.

“We continue to hear about communities disturbed by the name of a street, a sports team, a building or a monument. This policy statement is being designed to help foster better understanding of the human rights issues involved, and to prompt communities to work together in a respectful way to overcome these issues.”

Those who wish to weigh in on the issue can complete an online survey or email the commission before Oct. 22.

Source: Ontario Human Rights Commission seeks input on derogatory street, building names

Christie Blatchford: Police and blacks in Toronto: The numbers tell a hard truth

Lot of coverage on the just released report by the Ontario Human Rights Commission but picked Blatchford given her generally more sympathetic coverage of police issues, with her column all the more devastating as a result:

There is nothing like solid data — naked, objective, hard data — even for someone like me, who struggles mightily with numbers.

Numbers are what’s at the core of an Ontario Human Rights Commission report released Monday. I don’t know that it’s the first time the commission has backed up the anecdotal with hard data, but it’s the most astonishing such marriage I can remember.

The report includes analysis of data collected from the Special Investigations Unit, the arms-length agency that probes all serious incidents where police forces in Ontario inflict serious injuries upon civilians.

For the first time, it also includes a review of the SIU director’s reports, a rich trove of heretofore unreleased detail — including descriptions of the circumstances of each incident, assessments of the civilians involved and the justification behind the SIU director’s decision to charge or not charge police.

Using that information, plus SIU investigator notes, case photographs, police documents such as officer notes and even media reports (solely when race couldn’t be otherwise determined) the analyst — University of Toronto associate criminology professor Dr. Scot Wortley — examined 244 completed SIU investigations of civilian/Toronto Police Service encounters in the four years from 2013-2017.

In those years, black people made up about 8.8 per cent of the population in Toronto. Yet, shockingly, they also made up 70 per cent of police shootings that resulted in death, 61 per cent of other sorts of lethal force encounters, almost 29 per cent of all Toronto police use of force cases and fully one quarter of all SIU TPS investigations.

As Chief Commissioner Renu Mandhane said, “This inquiry is different from past initiatives. We will examine racial disparities in how police services are provided in Toronto and will marry hard data with lived experience and case law.”

The report is called A Collective Impact, the commission’s interim report on its inquiry into racial profiling and racial discrimination of black Torontonians by police.

Even its aim is different. “The goal of the inquiry is to build trust in law enforcement and make our communities safer,” Mandhane said. That’s exactly what such an inquiry should hope to do, but not all its predecessors have been so clear.

Now, to put this in perspective, it’s important to remember that Toronto police have about 30,000 encounters a year with those it calls “in crisis,” meaning people who are emotionally or mentally disturbed. About 97 or 98 per cent of these end without the use of any sort of force. And encounters with people in crisis account for a significant chunk of those who end up in use of force clashes — almost 30 per cent.

Another troubling note: In a “significant minority” of SIU cases, the SIU director had problems with Toronto Police co-operation, though, a small mercy, such problems were no worse in cases involving black citizens.

One of these issues was delayed or improper notification to the SIU; police are supposed to notify the unit immediately whenever a civilian has been seriously injured or died. Sometimes, police notes indicate there was early awareness someone had been badly hurt, but the SIU was still not called right away.

Sometimes, the SIU director questioned the legal basis for police to have stopped or detained the black person in the first place, or for conducting searches.

And black men were significantly over-represented in SIU investigations of sexual assault complaints — six times more likely than their numbers in the population would suggest.

The data lend heft to the “lived experiences” people have been hearing about for decades and which the commission heard about in focus groups — black Torontonians being stopped because they “matched the description” of a suspect, including a young black man who was running to school, excited about a special event, and was stopped in full view of his classmates, and a black man who earlier this year who was leaving his office and searched in front of his workmates and onlookers both.

“I was feeling embarrassed,” the youth told the commission. “This is not who I am. This is not who I want to be. After that, people were looking at me different, like I was a criminal or some type of thug.”

It’s funny, but not so long ago, I was in a room full of accomplished black citizens; this was the judicial discipline hearing into the conduct of Ontario Court Judge Donald McLeod, one of a few black faces on the bench. Many of them were upset that the hearing had even been called. McLeod is a distinguished man who made it to the bench from a hard background (single mom, subsidized housing) and who in his efforts to pay it forward by founding a non-profit national black organization allegedly crossed a line judges should not cross.

McLeod had been moved to act by the shooting of a pregnant young woman, which hit close to home; he’d gone to school with the young woman’s aunt.

There was a real sense of affront in the room, that somehow, even this good and honourable man who rose so high should have been brought down like this.

It’s not quite the same thing, rather a real sense of injury and injustice, when black people end up, in such out of whack numbers, dead or hurt after encounters with police. We leave it alone to fester at our peril.

Source: Christie Blatchford: Police and blacks in Toronto: The numbers tell a hard truth

Being on social assistance draws more spite than race, colour, gender . . . but not more than being Muslim: survey | Toronto Star

Some interesting insights, particularly with respect to contacts or not between groups:

While racial profiling and sexual harassment may have grabbed the public spotlight, being poor and living on assistance is more likely to elicit hostility and prejudice than race, skin colour or gender — although being Muslim is marginally worse for this.

According to an Ontario Human Rights Commission survey released Friday, one in five Ontarians have negative feelings against those on social assistance, surpassing their unfavourable views against all other groups, except Muslims, who were disliked by 21 per cent of the respondents.

The statistically validated survey of 1,501 Ontarians was the first attempt by the province’s human rights watchdog to measure public awareness, perception and attitudes towards different groups, and learn about personal experiences of discrimination in order to guide its strategic plan in the next five years.

“It is important for institutions, such as the commission, to try and reach people we may not encounter in our day-to-day work, just to get a sense more broadly what some of the sentiments are,” said its chief commissioner, Renu Mandhane.

“It will provide useful info for the commission, for the government and community, about how we can more effectively advance the public discourse about human rights.”

The questionnaire, conducted earlier this year, found 63 per cent of respondents believed race or colour to be one of the most common reasons for discrimination in Ontario, followed by sexual orientation (34 per cent), disability (25 per cent) and creed or religion (24 per cent).

While almost half of the survey participants said they experienced some form of discrimination in the past five years, seven in 10 of Indigenous respondents said they received prejudicial treatment over the time period.

Only four per cent of respondents say they were victims of discrimination as a result of being on social assistance, but those who are unemployed, from the LGBTQ community, who have disabilities, are on a low income and have less education were way more likely to say so.

“People on social assistance tend to map out against the (human rights) code grounds . . . racialized, Indigenous, people with disabilities, single parent. What this data shows us is that even stripping that away, there is a unique form of discrimination that poor people face,” Mandhane said.

“There is a private member’s bill in Ontario right now to include social conditions in the code. This is a solid foundation for the need to have our code modernized to account for the fact that poor people face unique discrimination.”

Mandhane said the lack of exposure to people from different backgrounds can breed ignorance and prejudice.

When asked about how often they came into contact with specific groups, some people were more insulated from diversity than others:

  • 1 out of 10 respondents said they rarely or never interacted with someone with a different ethnic origin or creed and religion
  • 14 per cent had few contacts with people of colour
  • One quarter had no dealinsg with immigrants
  • Two out of five seldom or never interacted with Indigenous or aboriginal people
  • 61 per cent hardly knew of a refugee
  • 66 per cent had little to do with transgender people.

The commission will “start to look at how we reach young people and teach them about human rights. Every time there is some discussion about curriculum, it is a very polarized environment,” said Mandhane.

“But 89 of respondents would support more human rights education in schools, which suggests that this cuts across demographics, across the regions, across income levels and should be a solid basis to move forward on that commitment.”

In response to people in religious and cultural attire, most respondents said they were comfortable seeing someone wearing a Christian cross, Jewish kippah or traditional Mennonite clothing. One out of five felt discomfort with men wearing turbans or women in hijab (head scarf). However, 46 per cent of people disapproved of a niqab or veil covering a woman’s face.

While seven per cent of respondents said they experienced sexual harassment in the past five years, one in 10 women say this happened to them, compared to just three per cent of men.

Four in 10 people believed it was sometimes justified for police to profile certain groups, namely Muslims, Arabs, homeless people, South Asians, young people, Blacks and people with mental health disabilities and addictions.

via Being on social assistance draws more spite than race, colour, gender . . . but not more than being Muslim: survey | Toronto Star

New Ontario Human Rights commissioner Renu Mandhane vows aggressive approach

Good profile on the background and values of the incoming commissioner:

The story underscores the empathy and compassion friends, colleagues and family say 38-year-old Mandhane — academic, lawyer, High Park-Junction resident, mother of two young boys, front line international human rights advocate — brings to her new job as the province’s top domestic rights watchdog, chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

“It was that moment where I realized, wow, I’m hard-wired to really think about the underdog and the perspective of people who are less privileged than I am.”

Her brother, Piush Mandhane, an Edmonton pediatrician and medical researcher, says Renu “always had a sense of ethics and what is right and wrong. And she’s always been willing to stand up for what she believes in.

“I think Ontario couldn’t have got a better person,” he says. “That position comes with a lot of carrots, and then some sticks. I think she will know when to use which.”

Mandhane leaves her old job as executive director of the University of Toronto’s International Human Rights Program to take on her new role, beginning Monday.

During her time at the program, Mandhane edited a 2015 research paper on migrants to Canada with mental health issues who are subject to arbitrary imprisonment. It is a bleak assessment of how the country deals with these newcomers, and prompted calls for more humane treatment and an end to indefinite detention.

She also works with PEN International, and through the U of T rights program helped produce a 2015 research paper on freedom-of-speech challenges in India.

With her new role comes a public profile and the power to make change.

Source: New Ontario Human Rights commissioner Renu Mandhane vows aggressive approach | Toronto Star

What Kathleen Wynne can do about anti-black racism

Anthony Morgan, a research lawyer at the African Canadian Legal Clinic, proposes the creation of an anti-racism secretariat to undertake research and public education to reduce racism.

Not really sure the extent to which this will be effective, compared to the Ontario Human Rights Commission as well as other activities, governmental and non-governmental, with the comparable objectives:

Peel recently joined Toronto, Ottawa, Hamilton and London as Ontario jurisdictions where black people are the primary targets of the humiliating, human rights violating police practice of street checks and carding. Peel Police Chief Jennifer Evans has even decided to join the line of other Ontario chiefs who are defiantly committed to continuing this practice despite evidence of its discriminatory impact on black people.

In the realm of child welfare, black children are grossly overrepresented in every Ontario region where there is a sizable black population. After initially being caught flat-footed, the Ontario government has responded by supporting two separate province-wide consultations to address the systemic anti-black racism chronically plaguing Ontario’s policing and child welfare institutions.

It’s likely only a matter of time before similar province-wide government consultations have to be launched to remedy the over representation of blacks in school dropout rates, suspensions and expulsions, Ontario prisons, mental health committals and incidents of police use of deadly force, among others.

Though not as prominent on the public radar as it should be, anti-black hate crime also remains a pressing problem in Ontario. According to annual reports by the Toronto police and Statistics Canada, for the last few years blacks have been the principal target of racist hate-crimes in not only Toronto but across Canada.

Recently in Ottawa, a Black Lives Matter mural was defaced with the following threat: “ALL LIVES MATTER, NO DOUBLE STANDARD, YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.” This was the third Black Lives Matter mural to be defaced in Ottawa over the last few months. In another jarring incident in April, a black assembly plant worker in Windsor faced repeated incidents of nooses being tied and mysteriously placed in and around his working space.

The above incidents are not small, isolated and unconnected mishaps enacted by a fringe few. They collectively form part of the continually creeping culture of anti-black racism embedded in the public consciousness, conventions and institutions of Ontario. This culture is critically implicated in constructing a context for black life in which chronic crime, violence, unemployment and poverty too commonly compromise the health and well-being of Ontario’s black population.

None of the above is to suggest that the Ontario government and its institutions are not leading and/or supporting some important work to directly or indirectly address anti-black racism. It is to point out that what is being done is simply not enough.

There remains a powerfully promising institutional response to anti-black racism and other forms of race-based discrimination that the Ontario government is yet to deploy: the Anti-Racism Secretariat. Since 2006, Ontario’s Human Rights Code has provided for the creation of this secretariat mandated to undertake research and public education programming designed to prevent and eliminate racism in Ontario.

For reasons that are unclear, the secretariat has never been established. In the chasm of the Ontario government’s silent inaction, it is tempting to speculate that black people being the primary targets of racism in Ontario is the reason for this.

Source: What Kathleen Wynne can do about anti-black racism | Toronto Star

Ontario must combat racism, says outgoing human rights commissioner Barbara Hall

Barbara Hall’s exit interview:

In an interview at commission headquarters, Barbara Hall said she strongly believes the very success of our society depends on ensuring the disadvantaged or marginalized are able to contribute fully.

“The most discouraging part of this work is the persistence of racism, particularly as it impacts black Ontarians and aboriginal people,” said Hall, whose 10 years as chief commissioner ends Friday.

“We see progress on issues but we need to — as a commission, as a society — be vigilant about these issues. It requires constant pushing.”

Discrimination, Hall said, is something that can touch everyone. As examples, she cited women returning from maternity leave to find their jobs have “mysteriously” disappeared or those sexually harassed at work.

Ontario must combat racism, says outgoing human rights commissioner – Macleans.ca.