Ontario Human Rights Commission Promotion Activities: The Experience of Responding to Racial Profiling by Police

AuthorShaheen Azmi
ProfessionDirector of Policy, Outreach, and Education of the Ontario Human Rights Commission
chapter 11
Shaheen Azmi1
The Ontario Hu man Right s Commission (OHRC) has been d irectly i n-
volved in respondi ng to racial proling by police employ ing multiple
approaches since 2002. Th is article will r eview the key elements of thi s
experience and h ighlig ht its promotion elements i n particu lar. This
experience is a pr ime example of huma n rights ac tivity by a C anadia n
human rig hts commission t hat strateg ically combines prote ctive and
promotion mandates to r espond to a complex and entrenc hed form of
discri mination that has been r esistant to change for ma ny years. It will
be argued that the strateg ic and susta ined employment of promotion
activit ies by commissions i s vital to adeq uately respond to entr enched
forms of disc rimination in Ca nadian societ y.
In accordance wit h international huma n rights law, human rights leg is-
lation in Can ada has generally provid ed commissions with bot h human
1 Shaheen Az mi is the direc tor of Policy, Outreach, a nd Education of the On-
tario Hum an Rights Comm ission. The author is a n employee of the Ontar io
Human Rig hts Commission, bu t the contents of thi s article are h is own
and do not represen t the views of the OHRC.
shahee n azmi
rights protec tion and promotion mand ates.2 The protect ion mandate
has involved comm issions with h andling of individua l complaints
from communit y members. Such act ivities routi nely involve regist ra-
tion, mediation, investigation, and litigation of human rights com-
plaints. The promotion mandate involves education, public aware ness,
train ing, research , policy development, a nd systemic c hange activ ities.
The tendency for Ca nadian human rig hts commissions has bee n for the
protection mand ate to preoccupy resou rces and for promotion act ivity
to be deemed as seconda ry. In part this i s related to the natu ral tendency
to focus on the lega l aspects of the mand ate that draw most public atten-
tion and media sc rutiny but some of thi s is clearly related to ha rd choices
forced on commission s dealing w ith limite d and increasi ngly tight
Human right s promotion is unders tood to be a vital c omponent to
the eective ope ration of a human rights s ystem. The United Nations Of-
ce of the High Comm issioner for Human Rights i ndicates:
Whether hum an rights violations a re intentional or uni ntentional,
struct ural or specic, a la ck of knowledge can result i n actions that
breach human r ights pri nciples. Sometimes t raditiona l ways of
thin king and behav ing result in huma n rights abuse. In ei ther case,
human rig hts education an d the inculca tion of human ri ghts val-
ues can promote cha nge in behaviour w ithout the need for punit ive
sanctions. Succ essful hum an right s promotion can ther efore help
prevent human r ights violations f rom occurring i n the rst place.4
The OHRC is unique i n Canada for being t he only commission whose
current ma ndate is focu sed primar ily on a promotion mand ate. As a
2 The Paris Princ iples relating to th e status and f unctioning of n ational
instit utions for human r ights adopted in 1992 by the Un ited Nations Hu-
man Rig hts Commission a nd by the UN General Assembly in 1993 clearly
indicate t he importance of bot h protection and promo tion mandates for
national hu man rights i nstitutions. S ee Principles Relating to the Stat us of
National Institutions, annex to Nat ional Institutions f or the Promotion and
Protection of Human R ights, CHR Res 54, UNE SCOR, Supp No 2, UN Doc
E/1992/22, (1992); GA Res 48/134, UNGAOR, 4 8th Sess, (1993) Annex, ar ticle
3 [Paris Pr inciples].
3 R Brian Howe & David Johnson, R estraining Equality: Human Right s Commis-
sions in Canada (Toronto: Universit y of Toronto Press, 2000) at 120–27.
4 United Nations Oce for the H igh Commissioner f or Human Rights, Na-
tional Human Rights Inst itutions: History, P rinciples, Roles and Respon sibilities
(New York: United Nations, 2010) at 57–58.

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