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Ontario human rights system: 50 years of progress worth defending


Ontario Attorney General CHRIS BENTLEY recently spoke on the province’s human rights system at a gathering at the Canadian Club. Excerpts from his speech:

I am delighted to join you at the Canadian Club. Delighted to join you in Ontario, the best place to live in the world. We are very fortunate in many ways. Ontario is a very special place. We are the most diverse place to be found anywhere. People from all over the world live here.

Every country, every language, every faith and ethnic group have joined our Founding Peoples in Ontario. Over 200 countries, with as many or more ethnic origins, and over 150 languages. The magic that is Ontario is that people from all over the world live, work and play together, peacefully. This does not happen everywhere in the world. You would be hard pressed to find any other similar place. None is as diverse as we are. We find strength in our diversity. We celebrate our differences. We work hard to make our society inclusive.

What we have in Ontario is not inevitable. It didn’t just happen. It was not an accident. We are a place unlike anywhere else. You can find people who have left conflict in one part of the world, and yet in Ontario are able to live, work and play side-by-side with relatives of the very people they were in conflict with. We are a unique, special combination. Some can trace their ancestry back centuries. Others, just minutes.

Every year, over 100,000 new people arrive.

You might ask why Ontario has such a successfully diverse society.

You might ask how. There are undoubtedly many reasons. I suggest that Ontario’s approach to protections for human rights, the rights of those around us, is one of them.

It would be easy to take where we are for granted. It would be easy to believe that things will always be as they are. In fact, the experience from elsewhere in the world suggests that we are unique. Every day we are challenged by something new. We must work hard at addressing the challenge, or not only will we not improve, but we risk losing ground.

Change can sometimes be difficult. It often requires effort to learn, understand, and adapt to change. Grievances and complaints will inevitably arise. Whether you address the questions, and how you do, will often be as important as the answers. The approach is critical. That we are willing to hear people out is an important start. Our willingness to ask questions, to challenge ourselves and to address the questions, sometimes informally, sometimes formally, strengthens and helps legitimize the answers we reach.

Ontario’s approach to human rights has developed over the years through social, political and judicial engagement and activism. Part of that development is a specialized Human Rights Commission and a Tribunal to consider, examine and hear human rights issues. This year the Commission celebrated its 50th anniversary. The issues we face are increasingly complex.

Don’t let my comments suggest anything but a continued determination to move forward. The desire to do better must be the guiding principle. We are a unique society. People from all over the world live and work here.

Posted: Jul 1, 2011

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