From Human Rights to City Hall: OLIP Meets Barbara Hall

1. Barbara Hall.jpg

How do you make more inclusive cities? When should there be limits on free speech? How does lasting change happen?

These were all questions and themes that came out of our meeting with the Barbara Hall, a former mayor of the city of Toronto and past Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

She has a long history of social activism. As a young professional, she dedicated herself to community work, eventually returning to school (Osgoode Hall) and becoming a lawyer at age 34.

She went on to serve as the Mayor of Toronto from 1994-1997, becoming the last person to lead the city before amalgamation. In our meeting, Hall described how the mayors of the Metro Torotono area mobilized in an attempt to preserve local governance within the context of a chohesive city-region.

Her tenure as mayor was notable for the construction of the ACC and neighbourhood revitalization projects in Cabbagetown and Church-Wellesley. She also broke new ground on social issues, becoming the first mayor of Toronto to march in the city’s Pride Parade. She also helped introduce violence against women as a national political issue in Canada. Supporting affordable housing initiatives was likewise a key aspect of her tenure, and it remains an issue she is passionate about. In our meeting she identified affordable housing as essential for building inclusive cities.

Hall had two terms as the Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, occupying that role from 2005-2015. In her role, Hall fought to end discrimination based on mental health, advocated for greater accessibility for people with disabilities, and recommended that gender identity and gender expression be added to the Human Rights Code. Perhaps the most notable case that she oversaw during her tenure was the complaint filed against Maclean’s for allegedly running a series of articles that promoted Islamiphobia. The OHRC criticized Maclean’s for the articles, but ultimately found that they did not contravene the Human Rights Code. In our meeting, Hall spoke about the importance of protecting free speech.

With regards to making lasting change, Hall provided us with some sage advice. She described how her mayoral campaign included people from a diverse range of political and partisan backgrounds, including some she’d previously ran against at the provincial level. At the end of the day, making good policies and creating community-based change hinges on putting goals ahead of partisanship, and building coalitions that include multiple different viewpoints.

We left our meeting with Barbara Hall motivated to learn more about building inclusive communities, as well as a greater appreciation for the importance of local governance.