We visited Chief Commissioner Renu Mandhane at the Ontario Human Rights Commissioner’s office in downtown Toronto.
Before her appointment at the OHRC om 2015, Chief Commissioner Mandhane was the Executve Director of the International Human Rights Program at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law. Her practice has been focused on criminal law, and she was most recently recognized by the Canadian Lawyer magazine as one of Canada’s most influential lawyers for her advocacy related to solitary confinement. For these and many other reasons, it was an absolute honour to meet Chief Commissioner Mandhane.
During our meeting, Chief Commissioner Mandhane discussed her personal journey, her vision for the Commission, and the different types of activities that the OHRC is engaged with. She spoke about shifting the OHRC’s focus more towards understanding and tackling more systemic forms of discrimination in the province. Most recently, the OHRC has released reports on the over-representation of Indigenous and Black children in Ontario’s child welfare system, racial profiling by police forces, and sexual harassment experienced by women in the workplace, among others. Chief Commissioner Mandhane noted the importance of relationship-building in her role. The treatment that many marginalized communities experience makes it very difficult for them to place trust in the hands of public bodies.
We found the framework within which the OHRC operates to be fascinating. Unlike other Commissioners we’ve met, Chief Commissioner Mandhane is not an independent officer of the legislature. Instead, the OHRC is an arms-length agency of the government. However, it does share some similar traits to independent officers. The Chief Commissioner is hired by the Ontario Legislature, has a responsibility to report annually, and is independent of the government of the day. The OHRC is also one of the few government agencies that has the authority to write binding policies for the province. Commissioner Mandhane emphasized that the OHRC is one pillar of Ontario’s human rights system, alongside the Human Rights Tribunal and the Human Rights Legal Support Centre.
In addition to its ability to write policy, reports, and submissions, the OHRC has a broad litigation mandate that gives it the power to investigate, enforce policies, initiate a claim or action at the Human Rights Tribunal, and intervene on pertinent court cases. Commissoiner Mandhane spoke in detail about the significance of this mandate to the OHRC’s crucial work.
It was inspiring to hear about the incredible and important work that the Commissioner and her staff do. Thank you to everyone at the OHRC for you warm welcome!