What should we, as members of humanity, expect as our basic human rights, inviolable and protected by law? The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) uses 30 articles to define our rights (https://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/). The Canadian Human Rights Act (1977) prohibits discrimination against a person or persons based on their race, ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, family status or disability. The Ontario Human Rights Code (1962) outlines the rights of Ontarians on the basis of protected grounds: age, ancestry, colour, race, citizenship, ethnic origin, place of origin, creed, disability, family status, marital status (including single status), gender identity, gender expression, receipt of public assistance (in housing only), record of offences (in employment only), sex (including pregnancy and breastfeeding) and sexual orientation; and protected social areas: accommodation (housing), contracts, employment, goods, services and facilities and membership in unions, trade or professional associations.
The trampling of human rights on the global arena is horrific, from forced marriage to war crimes. In Canada, we are still witnessing crimes against our indigenous populations: contaminated water supplies on reserves, ignoring land rights (the Trans Mountain Expansion Pipeline), access to public services, ignoring the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls report Reclaiming Power and Place movement and slow adoption of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Report, amongst others. Gender equality is under attack: abortion rights are still being used as a political card and in some provinces are being phased out due to lack of government funding, job losses due to COVID-19 are greater for working women; lack of a National childcare policy makes both entrepreneurship amongst women as well as women’s job security difficult, especially now; women (andLGBTI2S) struggle to have their health needs met; appropriate sex education which is under attack gives women the power to make their own decisions and results in healthier and safer women and yet in Ontario the curriculum is being challenged; the list of gender equality infractions is endless. Efforts to address climate change are inadequate and those that do exist are being reversed (see Bill 229: Amendments to the Conservation Authorities Act. Barriers for refugees and asylum seekers are increasing: the government of Ontario ended legal aid for refugee and immigration proceedings. Justice for certain groups is unequal: discrimination against Black and Indigenous people in policing and the justice system, including random street checks, still exists.
The above is certainly not exhaustive. To learn about Ontario’s and Canada’s poor human rights records, look no further than our National Film Board’s human rights documentary playlist https://www.nfb.ca/playlist/human-rights/. Although some entries are ‘old’, they still ring true today. For a look at Canadian gender rights violations, watch https://www.tvo.org/video/documentaries/a-better-man-feature-version (gender based domestic violence) and/or https://www.cpac.ca/en/transgender-journey/ (gender expression) and/or https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zdzM6krfaKY (indigenous women).
For a remarkable experience in human rights issues, visit the virtual site for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights https://humanrights.ca/visit/explore-the-museum-from-home.
Learn. Acknowledge. Act.