Sunday, April 30, 2006

Supreme Court of Canada: All Ontario Tribunals Must Apply Human Rights Code

The Supreme Court of Canada has issued an extremely important ruling, which requires all government tribunals to apply and enforce the Ontario Human Rights Code.

According to the Court, the Ontario Human Rights Commission no longer has exclusive jurisdiction to consider human rights code issues. The Code is part of the fundamantal law of the Province, and all tribunals are therefore mandated to consider the implications of the Human Rights Code in their deliberations.

In Tranchemontagne v. Ontario (Director, Disability Support Program), 2006 SCC 14, Justice Bastarache, for the majority of the Court, stated:

"In general, encouraging administrative tribunals to exercise their jurisdiction to decide human rights issues fulfills the laudable goal of bringing justice closer to the people. "

Previously, tribunals had been reluctant to venture into such considerations. Human Rights issues were treated as the exclusive domain of the Human Rights Commission, and often, referred to the Himan Rights Commission for decision, causing delay and often, added expense.

See the press release below from the Ontario Human Rights Commission:

April 25, 2006

Supreme Court rules government tribunals must apply Human Rights Code

Toronto - The Supreme Court of Canada released a far-reaching decision declaring that the Ontario Social Benefits Tribunal has the authority to decide whether a section of the Ontario Disability Support Program Act, 1997 (the "ODSPA") breaches the Ontario Human Rights Code (the "Code").

The Supreme CourtÂ’s decision in Tranchemontagne v. Ontario (Director, Disability Support Program), released Friday, involves two persons who were denied income support from the Ontario Disability Support Program (the "ODSP"). The ODSPA limits which disabilities are eligible for ODSP coverage, and at the Social Benefits Tribunal, the appellants sought to argue that this contravened the Code. The Tribunal declined to hear the case, on the ground it lacked jurisdiction.

The Supreme Court allowed the Ontario Human Rights Commission (the "Commission") to intervene in this case, agreeing that the Commission had an interest in the outcome, and that it had unique arguments to offer. The Commission argued that because of the Code's precedence over all other Ontario laws, even those tribunals not specifically mandated to deal with human rights issues must ensure their decisions conform to the Code.

In its ruling, the Supreme Court agreed with this position, stating that, "The Code is fundamental law. The Ontario legislature affirmed the primacy of the Code in the law itself, as applicable both to private citizens and public bodies. Further, the adjudication of Code issues is no longer confined to the exclusive domain of the Commission. The legislature has thus contemplated that this fundamental law could be applied by other administrative bodies and has amended the Code accordingly."

During its 2005 consultation on strengthening Ontario's human rights system, the Commission noted that the general reluctance of tribunals to apply the Code contributes to the growing demand on the Commission's services and resources. A number of stakeholders also expressed the view that tribunals should actively be considering the Code in their decisions, something for which this decision now sets a

Commenting on the decision, Chief Commissioner Barbara Hall said that, "This decision supports our view that administrative tribunals should be addressing human rights issues as they arise, especially where a vulnerable applicant is advancing arguments in defence of their human rights. Under those circumstances, it would be rare for a tribunal not to be the most appropriate one to hear the entire dispute."

- Garry J. Wise, Toronto

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