Canada’s longest-running human rights case is concluded

Ontario Human Rights Commission and government to launch new partnership
|labour-reporter.com|Last Updated: 08/17/2011

A settlement has been reached in Canada’s longest-running human rights case.

The out-of-court settlement follows an unprecedented decision by the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario earlier this year. The Tribunal found that Deputy Minister of Correctional Services Jay Hope breached orders of the Tribunal and deliberately withheld information and documents that were vital to the case. This was the first time in its history that the Tribunal requested the Divisional Court consider whether the Deputy Minister was in contempt of its orders.

As a result of the settlement, legal proceedings at the Tribunal and before Divisional Court are discontinued. Terms of the settlement remain confidential.

In 1988, Michael McKinnon, a correctional officer, filed a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal, then called the Board of Inquiry, after facing racial discrimination in his workplace based on his Aboriginal heritage. His complaint was upheld, and the Tribunal issued orders to address discrimination in the workplace.

McKinnon subsequently returned to the Tribunal, contending the Ministry had repeatedly failed to implement the earlier orders. As a result, McKinnon said that he was still dealing with ongoing racial discrimination at work.

In 2002, the Tribunal found that there was a "systemic breakdown" at the Ministry characterized by indifference, ineptitude and bad faith of management. The Tribunal issued Ministry-wide orders to address the discriminatory environment. The Ministry's alleged failure to implement those orders was the subject of ongoing hearings before the Tribunal, and a further decision was anticipated for the fall of 2011.

"Mr. McKinnon's fight against discrimination was a fight for all employees and not just himself to have a workplace free from harassment and discrimination," said McKinnon’s lawyer, Kate Hughes. "We sincerely hope that this settlement will bring well-deserved closure for the McKinnons and long-term positive change in the corrections culture. This is a good news story of the government and the Ontario Human Rights Commission willing to work together and take responsibility."

The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) announced that it has entered into a partnership with the government to ensure that long-term systemic initiatives are further developed and properly implemented. This agreement is similar to other agreements they have entered into, such as the “Human Rights Project Charter” launched with the Toronto Police Services Board in 2007. The three-year project examined recruitment, promotion, retention, accountability and public education within Toronto Police Services and as a result, a series of strategies to deal with each area was developed.

“The Ministry has agreed to undertake a number of actions that will directly benefit those who presently work and who will work in the future in correctional services,” chief OHRC commissioner Barbara Hall said. “Among other things, these steps will result in enhanced accountability, recruitment and training with respect to Aboriginal employees.”

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