TORONTO – The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) released a policy statement to guide all levels of government to adopt a human rights-based approach to managing policy, legal, regulatory, public health and emergency-related responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ontario’s and Canada’s COVID-19 responses have already included social policies aimed at keeping people housed, reducing income inequality, guaranteeing safe jobs, helping caregivers, and releasing non-violent prisoners back into the community. The OHRC commends these actions and calls on governments to ensure human rights are at the centre of their response to COVID-19. Without a deliberate human rights-based approach, COVID-19 will further exacerbate existing inequalities for vulnerable groups.
The OHRC’s Policy statement on a human rights-based approach to managing the COVID-19 pandemic calls on governments to:
- Approach preventing and treating COVID-19 as a human rights obligation
- Respect the rights of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit (Indigenous), peoples
- Set strict limits on measures that infringe rights
- Protect vulnerable groups
- Respond to racism, ageism, ableism and other forms of discrimination
- Strengthen human rights accountability and oversight.
Along with the policy statement, the OHRC has released Actions consistent with a human rights-based approach to managing the COVID-19 pandemic, which sets out government actions that are consistent with protecting and promoting the rights to health and life, as well as the rights to housing, work and an adequate standard of living, and rights protected in the UN Declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples.
These actions are a compilation of possible responses based on OHRC policies, engagement with OHRC Advisory Group members and Indigenous peoples, as well as a review of guidance from the United Nations, the European Union and leading Canadian and international human rights organizations.
“Federal and Ontario laws expressly recognize the importance of complying with existing human rights protections during emergencies,” said Chief Commissioner Renu Mandhane. “Entrenching government responses to the pandemic in a human rights-based approach offers a unique opportunity to benefit everyone, including vulnerable groups, during and after this pandemic.”
The OHRC has the mandate to make policies that provide guidance on human rights obligations under the Ontario Human Rights Code and to make recommendations that promote human rights during situations of tension or conflict.