Renu Mandhane: The Ontario Human Rights Commissioner

 

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!

 

Advertisements

A Meeting with Our Sponsor: Loblaw

 

Image-1.jpg

A great part of the programme is the relationship interns have with sponsors. In past years, interns have met with long-time sponsor Loblaw at their Maple Leaf Gardens location on Carlton Street in Toronto.  This year, the interns had the unique experience to visit the relatively new Loblaw Digital offices in Liberty Village.  This visit provided great insights for the interns given the increasingly important role of e-commerce and digital projects in grocery and agri-food industries.

 The visit began with an informative tour and history of Loblaw Digital from Paul Sudarsan, Director of Business Development and Strategic Partnerships.  The interns were fascinated by Loblaw Digital’s collaborative workspace and culture.  It was also great to hear about their rapid growth and current projects.  A particularly interesting initiative is the collaboration with Metrolinx to expand “click-and-collect” service to commuters so they can pick up groceries at GO stations.  They have also developed the websites and apps used by Loblaw platforms.

 The visit concluded with an informative discussion with Jesse Dhaliwal, Senior Government Relations Analyst, and Alain Brandon, Senior Director of Corporate Social Responsibility and Government Relations.  Learning about Loblaw’s interactions with government was valuable for the many interns interested in government relations and the role of the private sector in public policy.  The interns also learned about the disruptive role of technology in the industry, and how initiatives like Loblaw Digital help to turn these challenges into opportunities for employees and consumers.

A Conversation with David Lindsay

david.jpg

David Lindsay is no stranger to Queen’s Park. The current President and CEO of the Council of Ontario Universities (COU) has walked through its halls holding a variety of positions in politics and public policy. We were excited to meet with him and hear about his vast experience in politics, public service, and in the higher education sector. David Lindsay was joined by Krista Orendorff, Senior Director of Government and Strategic Partnerships at COU.
Mr. Lindsay shared anecdotes about his time in politics and in the public service. From 1995 to 1997, he was Chief of Staff to then Premier Mike Harris. It was this work that sparked his interest in transition of power from one political party to another following elections. Although it’s a process that has taken place many times in our province, it has seldom been studied or written about. Mr. Lindsay outlined all the actors and stakeholders involved in a government transition, and some of the downfalls of how they are often carried out.
During that same government, David Lindsay became the founding President of the Ontario SuperBuild Corporation, which was responsible for infrastructure planning in the province. Mr. Lindsay then became the CEO of Colleges Ontario, and later returned to public service, where he held the role of Deputy Minister in several ministries during the McGuinty government.
David Lindsay has a unique understanding of the post-secondary landscape in Ontario, having served both as the CEO of Colleges Ontario and COU. With Ms. Orendorff and Mr. Lindsay, we discussed the past and future of higher education, and spoke about how current economic and social trends will affect the evolution of colleges and universities. We also discussed other pressing issues, including tuition costs and financial aid, and the increasing demand for STEM graduates, among other topics.
Thank you to David Lindsay and Krista Orendorff for having a lively conversation with us on higher education policy in Ontario!

Meeting with Ashley Wallis and Patrick DeRochie of Environmental Defence

enviro def.jpg

Invasive species. Algal blooms. Water diversion. Microplastics. Rising concentrations of pharmaceuticals. Risk of pollution from oil pipelines.

When asked, “In your opinion, what is the single biggest threat to the Great Lakes?” Ashley Wallis responded with an intimidating list.

Ashley, the Water Program Manager at Environmental Defence, and her colleague (and OLIP alumnus) Patrick DeRochie, Energy Program Manager, sat down with us last week to tell us about their work and the environmental challenges they see Ontario facing.

Environmental Defence is a non-partisan, non-government organization pursuing action by the public, businesses, and the government on four sets of issues: freshwater protection, climate change, healthy urban planning, and protecting consumers from harmful chemicals.

There is no single solution to all the threats faced by the Great Lakes, according to Ashley. She described how inter-jurisdictional collaboration among federal governments, states and provinces, and municipalities on both sides of the Canada – United States border is a necessary starting place, as is ensuring that Indigenous nations – who have relied upon the Great Lakes for food, drinking water, and transportation since time immemorial – are able to participate fully. In 2016 the governments of Canada and the United States committed to a 40% reduction in the amount of phosphorous – a driving factor causing algal blooms – entering Lake Erie, though the success of this initiative remains to be seen.

Microplastics are another issue of concern for the Great Lakes, as they may impact human wellbeing as well as the health of marine animals and ecosystems. Ashley described how Ontario has the lowest plastic bottle recycling rate in the country, and alongside Manitoba is among the only two provinces without a deposit return system for plastic bottles. Environmental Defence is advocating for the creation of such a system in Ontario, with the dual goals of reducing the amount of plastic waste ending up in marine ecosystems and generating revenues (from unclaimed deposits) that can be directed towards environmental remediation efforts.

Like Ashley, Patrick’s work takes place on multiple fronts. In his role as Energy Program Manager, Patrick helped governments across Canada adopt carbon pricing systems, including the cap and trade program here in Ontario. He participated in the political opposition to the Energy East pipeline, and is currently exploring ways in which environmental law can be reformed. Lastly, he is involved in initiatives that bring together blue collar workers and climate advocates, for the purpose of highlighting areas of joint interest.

This search for common ground also occurs in the political realm. Patrick described how he meets with political leaders from across the political spectrum, and that common cause may be found because of issues like local food, greenspace, and hunting.

This meeting left us with much to think about, from the state of Ontario’s environment to the best way to build coalitions around particular issues. Thank you again to Ashley and Patrick for sharing their insights!

Meeting the Hon. Tracy MacCharles

See the source image

It is a busy day at Queen’s Park, and a small knot of people stand in the hallway of the second floor of the legislature discussing what it takes to be a Minister, current issues falling under the domain of Government and Consumer Services, and the unique riding of Pickering – Scarborough East.

The Honourable Tracy MacCharles kindly took time out of her day to share her reflections on seven years of holding elected office. Serving as Minister of Government and Consumer Services is just the latest in a career has had many twists and turns. Starting out as an intern with the Ontario Public Service, Minister MacCharles worked for ten years as a civil servant — including a stint in the Ministry for Government and Consumer Services — before transitioning to the private sector. She worked as the human resources Vice President at Manulife, eventually going on to start her own human resources firm.

Her political career began in 2011 to represent the riding of Pickering – Scarborough East. Since then she has served as both the Parliamentary Assistant and Minister of Children and Youth Services, as well as the Minister Responsible for Women’s Issues. Today, in addition to Government and Consumer Services, she also the Minister Responsible for Accessibility.

During our wide-ranging hallway discussion, Minister MacCharles spoke about having a good understanding of how government works is essential for a Minister. She also praised the initiative of fellow caucus members who have introduced private member’s legislation falling under the purview of Government and Consumer Services. The Minister described how she has worked with the aim of making Ontario a national leader on issues such as gender identity – it is now possible for those who identify as non-binary to get a driver’s license with “X” instead of “F” or “M”. Another area in which she sees Ontario leading is accessibility, and she is proud to help support the implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005.

Minister MacCharles also spoke about her riding, Pickering – Scarborough East. It is unique because it is bisected by the City of Toronto boundary, and therefore encompasses part of Scarborough in the East and the City of Pickering in the West. The duality of her riding gives her two distinctive perspectives, and she makes a point of being present for both her Pickering and Scarborough constituents.

We’d very much like to thank the Hon. Tracy MacCharles for taking the time to speak with us, and we wish her all the best on the next stage of her career!

Retired Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin on “The Arc of the Charter: A Personal Perspective”

 

Ana, Mackenzie and Shireen had the privilege of attending York University’s 2018 Constitutional Cases Conference.

The highlight was meeting Retired Supreme Court of Canada Chief (SCC) Justice Beverley McLachlin, who delivered a speech on “The Arc of the Charter: A Personal Perspective.”

When reflecting on the implementation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Charter), the Chief Justice stated: “Someday,  will be able to look back upon the Charter with the benefit of historical distance. But that day has not yet come. The whole story of the Charter, from its inception to this day, is contemporaneous: for many of us, it is a story entirely encompassed within our own lifetimes.”

While the Charter is no longer in its infancy, the Chief Justice indicated that the Charter is an “unfinished project.” Moreover: “The ‘story’ of Canadian law has been, and will for the foreseeable future continue to be, the story of the Charter‘s impact on Canadian law. But the Charter‘s impact does not end there. A major part of the Charter‘s story is its impact, not just on Canadian law, but on Canada itself.”

Why have Canadians embraced the Charter so thoroughly and affectionately? Why have so many asserted in the past few days that it has become part of Canada’s identity?

The Chief Justice asserted that Canadians have come to see themselves as ‘rights holders’, which aligns with the Charters ‘rights mindset’. The uniquely Canadian character of the Charter is reflected in its emphasis on three kinds of rights: individual rights, tied to a conception of tolerance and respect; collective interests, bound up with an appreciation of the relationship of support and obligation between individual and community; and group rights, tied to a recognition that of pluralism is one of Canada’s animating values.

In pith and substance, the Chief Justice’s speech could be summed as: “We have a Charter that reflect our most fundamental values, that tells us who and what we are as a people.”

We are privileged to have met someone who substantially contributed to the legal landscape of Canada.

 

Ana, Mackenzie and Shireen had the privilege of attending York University’s 2018 Constitutional Cases Conference.

The highlight was meeting Retired Supreme Court of Canada Chief (SCC) Justice Beverley McLachlin, who delivered a speech on “The Arc of the Charter: A Personal Perspective.”

When reflecting on the implementation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Charter), the Chief Justice stated: “Someday,  will be able to look back upon the Charter with the benefit of historical distance. But that day has not yet come. The whole story of the Charter, from its inception to this day, is contemporaneous: for many of us, it is a story entirely encompassed within our own lifetimes.”

While the Charter is no longer in its infancy, the Chief Justice indicated that the Charter is an “unfinished project.” Moreover: “The ‘story’ of Canadian law has been, and will for the foreseeable future continue to be, the story of the Charter‘s impact on Canadian law. But the Charter‘s impact does not end there. A major part of the Charter‘s story is its impact, not just on Canadian law, but on Canada itself.”

Why have Canadians embraced the Charter so thoroughly and affectionately? Why have so many asserted in the past few days that it has become part of Canada’s identity?

The Chief Justice asserted that Canadians have come to see themselves as ‘rights holders’, which aligns with the Charters ‘rights mindset’. The uniquely Canadian character of the Charter is reflected in its emphasis on three kinds of rights: individual rights, tied to a conception of tolerance and respect; collective interests, bound up with an appreciation of the relationship of support and obligation between individual and community; and group rights, tied to a recognition that of pluralism is one of Canada’s animating values.

In pith and substance, the Chief Justice’s speech could be summed as: “We have a Charter that reflect our most fundamental values, that tells us who and what we are as a people.”

We are privileged to have met someone who substantially contributed to the legal landscape of Canada.

From OLIP to Universities Canada: Meeting Paul Davidson

DY_SyWMXkAAao8S.jpg

As recent university graduates, we are grateful to have had the opportunity to learn more about Universities Canada–and from none other than an OLIP alumnus.

 

Today, Paul Davidson is the President of Universities Canada, a federal organization representing the interests of 96  participating institutions from across the country. However, in 1988-89, Davidson was an OLIP intern. He had placements with Peter Adams, the Liberal MPP from Peterborough, and Richard Johnson, the NDP MPP from Scarborough West.

 

His post-OLIP career has been wide-ranging, and includes working for the Ministry of Finance, leading a stakeholder relations firm, and serving as the executive director of both the Association of Canadian Publishers and the World University Service of Canada.

 

In his current role, Davidson is responsible for advocating on behalf of three major policy areas. First, Universities Canada is a perennial advocate on behalf of investment in research and innovation.

 

Second, there is a need – given the economic realities of globalization – for Canada to seize its international moment. For degree-granting institutions, this includes welcoming international students, recruiting faculty with international experience, and encouraging Canadian students to take advantage of opportunities to study abroad. Recent global events are changing the demographics of international students attending Canadian universities: Brexit in the United Kingdom and hardline immigration rhetoric in the United States have, respectively, contributed to increased application numbers from India and Mexico.

 

Lastly, Universities Canada is dedicated to advancing equity, diversity, and inclusion. Davidson observed that excellence is not possible without diversity, and that sexism is real and persistent in Canada, post-secondary education sector included. For example, relatively few – only 25% – of university presidents in Canada are women. Yet, even that number is a testament to progress, as it is also the highest-ever proportion of female presidents.

 

These issues coexist in a context of ongoing change for universities in Canada. Funding levels remain an ongoing issue of concern; according to Davidson, per capita funding in Ontario  today is less than it was 20 years ago. Also, recent emphasis on STEM disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) corresponds to reduced in enrollment in the Social Sciences and Humanities. Davidson observed that the liberal arts teach valuable critical thinking and communication skills, and that programs teaching those disciplines will need to work hard to share their virtues with prospective students.

 

We want to thank Davidson for giving us a window into the issues facing universities in Canada, and for encouraging us to challenge ourselves and pursue adventurous careers.