The Liberals recently announced in the Legislative Assembly a proposal to create a new human rights system for Ontario.

The current human rights system consists of an investigation and enforcement branch comprising the Ontario Human Rights Commission and an adjudication branch comprising the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. This system has been in place since 1962, when the province enacted Canada’s first human rights code. The code was established to prohibit discrimination and harassment in the workplace, and in public accommodations, goods, services and facilities.

The new bill has been sent forward for a second reading debate in the House, after Attorney General Michael Bryant offered assurances that he held consultations with numerous community and human rights groups; and also guaranteed that the recommendations are consistent with numerous reports including the Cornish Report; and declared that the legislation, if passed, would modernize and strengthen Ontario’s “40-year-old”;system.

But Bryant’s statements championing a new and improved human rights system to the House is at complete odds with the substance of Bill 107.

Bill 107 effectively guts the Ontario Human Rights Commission, eliminating the entire enforcement provision. By voiding the investigation and compliance functions of the Commission, complainants will be expected to navigate the process on their own or hire a lawyer. In addition, the Bill legally circumscribes the right to a hearing and violates the principles of natural justice that affirm a full and fair inquiry. Hundreds of years of collective experience and acquired knowledge in promoting and protecting human rights are unceremoniously wiped out.

All of this purportedly guarantees the public “direct access” to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario for adjudication, which is code for “privatizing human rights protections” by off-loading the responsibility for due process and procedural fairness to the victims of discrimination. This will have a profoundly prohibitive impact on racialized and other economically disenfranchised communities, by narrowing their future options.

Ponder these scenarios: A secretary rejects her boss’ advances and isdismissed for “performance issues”; a hotel rents the dirtiest rooms toa person of colour; an employee with cancer requires time off forchemotherapy and finds that his job is “restructured”; a condominium won’t lease to gay or lesbian families.

Where is the public to turn for help? The public will effectively be on itsown.

Of the 100 recommendations in the 1992 report prepared by lawyer Mary Cornish for improving the human rights system, Bryant selected two — direct access and bolstering the Commission’s research functions. Bryant ignored all the necessary recommendations for minimizing the consequences of directly accessing the Tribunal, including: ensuring an adequately-resourced Commission that is independent of the government; ensuring that the government (as the worst violator of the Human Rights Code) is accountable for eliminating discrimination (within) through comprehensive plans; holding broad-based community consultations on the draft legislation; and establishing province-wide advocacy centres to assist with the complaint process.

Instead, Bill 107 proposes a one-track, self-service system akin to a super-market express check-out. Depending on the circumstances an express line to the Tribunal can work if the items on the complaint are limited, uncomplicated and no one wants to see if the complaint can be resolved.

For respondents, the allegations against you are immediately made public. You will be identified as racist, sexist, homophobic, ageist, harasser, whether true or not.

You think you’ll get your day in court? Think again. Bill 107 gives the Tribunal sweeping powers to toss out your complaint and charge you for filing it and other costs. Plus, you have no right of appeal.

Ontarians want a strong and effective Commission, one that is both comprehensive and flexible; not one that merely achieves a case management efficiency by the slashing and burning of human rights. Bill 107 only benefits the government, which saves administrative costs; and human rights lawyers who will be hired by the government. Expediency at any cost is too high a price to pay.