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Human Rights Lessons from Kitchener

April 26, 2012 Hamilton Issues

In light of Hamilton City Council’s decision to deny Lynwood Charlton Centre’s request to move to a new building in Corktown we thought it would be worthwhile to update and revise a story we posted earlier this year.

Recently a letter from Ontario Human Rights Commissioner Barbara Hall forced Hamilton City Council to delay making an amendment to zoning bylaws for 121 Augusta Street.

Ms. Hall had written to the city urging caution on addressing the matter of Lynwood Charlton Hall’s attempt to move to a new location.

Last night In spite of Ms. Hall’s advice Council voted 12-4 to deny the agency’s request and completely disregard a fundamental human rights issue.

Kitchener Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) Case

Nearly two years ago HCLC staff lawyer Rani Khan researched a similar matter in the City of Kitchener This case concerned an appeal of the Region of Waterloo/City of Kitchener Official Plan Amendment for the Cedar Hill area of Kitchener. Almost twenty percent of this area is made up of residents who are persons with disabilities or in receipt of social assistance.

The city’s planning goal was to decentralize this population. They believed that they had authority under the Planning Act to address what they considered to be potential towards neighbourhood decline.

Our sister clinic, the Advocacy Centre for Tenants of Ontario (ACTO) participated in an appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB).

ACTO argued that the city was involved in “people planning” rather than the land use planning that it is mandated to do. ACTO also claimed that the users of such facilities/social services do not cause neighbourhood decline and further that the City was disregarding the objectives contained within the Planning Act of having regard to for persons with disabilities.

A basic legal question was whether the Human Rights Code and Charter allowed the city to do what they were attempting to do.

What the OMB found was that while the City had authority to determine an over-concentration of care facilities in a neighbourhood they had to be more precise in developing a policy for decentralization. As well, the OMB found that the City did not pay attention to the statutory considerations required by law to have regard for provincial interests such as the accessibility and removal of barriers for Ontarians with Disabilities and to ensure that the proposed measures were consistent with these interests and conform to the Official Plan and zoning by-laws.

The OMB gave the City 15 months to address their concerns.

Fortunately, instead of trying to bring the by-law into conformity Kitchener simply struck it from the books.

ACTO’s Kenn Hale had argued against the by-law and was satisfied with the outcome. He told the T. Pender at the that the case means breaks new legal ground.

“Any time councils are considering land use issues that affect vulnerable people, spend some time thinking about the human rights implications. “And think of ways that any kind of negative impact can be dealt with. What can we do to counteract any negative impact?” Hale said last June.

Clearly the Kitchener situation is different than the one Council faced in Hamilton but we’re left thinking human rights implications really weren’t on the radar of twelve Hamilton decision makers last night.

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