In a whirlwind trip of meetings across the region, the Ontario Human Rights Commission's (OHRC) Chief Commissioner Renu Mandhane is getting an understanding of communities’ needs.
After wrapping up a session at the Timmins Native Friendship Centre, Mandhane said her first trip as chief commissioner is about developing connections
“The Ontario Human Rights Commission has a mandate to address systemic discrimination around the province in relation to housing, employment and service delivery,” she said.
She said they are always trying to get out of Toronto to “see what diverse communities and Ontarians are experiencing and what are some their concerns in relation to human rights and discrimination.”
Other stops in the region that she’s made, or will make, include the Timmins and District Hospital, District School Board Ontario North East, North Eastern Ontario Family and Children’s Services (NEOFACS), and the Monteith Correctional Centre, along with meeting with Timmins Mayor Steve Black and Police Chief John Gauthier. The four-day trip will also bring her up the James Bay coast to Moosonee.
She said the trip is to raise awareness for what agencies are available, such as the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario and Human Rights Legal Support Centre, as well as to help agencies understand what their obligations are under the human rights code.
“And then lastly, we’re trying to, through speaking with, for example, First Nations groups and leaders to understand what is the experience of indigenous people who either live in Timmins or access services in Timmins and whether there are any concerns around discrimination,” she said.
“We had heard about the two incidents in February so, you know, obviously trying to understand how the community is feeling about those incidents as well.”
Reconciliation efforts are also one of the topics she is hoping to talk to the mayor about.
In other communities, she noted there are “more formal mechanisms for municipalities and First Nations communities to talk about common issues and brainstorm solutions.”
While she said that Black has said positive things in wanting engagement with the First Nations community, she wants to hear what his plans are.
Having already travelled to northwestern Ontario, she said there are some of the same or similar issues in this area.
One of the unique challenges here that she’s noted is mental health service delivery.
“We’ve heard a fair amount about the challenges of the communities along the James Bay coast who try and access service in Timmins and sort of Timmins as a hub for service and some of the challenges in meeting the needs of really quite diverse populations,” she said.
This week’s trip isn’t the last for Mandhane.
She hopes to be back in about a year — the spring of 2019 — to provide human rights training for local agencies.
“We’re really trying to give institutions practical advice, first how to understand what their human rights obligations are and some resources on how to meet them,” she said.
“And what we’ve found is in many communities, especially outside of the GTA, that kind of information isn’t readily available except online, for example, and so people really appreciate the opportunity to work through difficult scenarios, and sort of get that really current, up-to-date knowledge.”