Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Human Rights Tribunal to Examine City Restrictions on Group Homes: Human Rights Complaint Targets Zoning Rules

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Human Rights Tribunal to Examine City Restrictions on Group Homes: Human Rights Complaint Targets Zoning Rules

Article excerpt

TORONTO - Ontario's human rights tribunal will weigh a challenge to Toronto's zoning rules that experts say could affect how municipalities across the country integrate housing for people with mental illness or disabilities.

City lawyers had asked the tribunal to throw out a complaint against rules that restrict the number and location of group homes, residential care facilities and other types of supportive housing.

The complaint was filed two years ago by a housing advocacy group called The Dream Team, which said the city's bylaws discriminate against people with disabilities by limiting the areas in which they can live.

In a decision released earlier this month, the tribunal refused to dismiss the case and called for a hearing to determine whether the rules contravene the province's human rights code.

The case could have widespread repercussions, since many municipalities have similar regulations, said Michael Shapcott, housing director for the Wellesley Institute, a policy think tank in Toronto.

"Almost certainly, what happens in Toronto will have an impact on every other municipality not only in Ontario but across Canada," he said.

"So this is a legal case that a lot of municipalities are looking at very closely."

Provincial human rights codes across the country prohibit discrimination based on a number of protected grounds, including disability.

Yet only recently have human rights concerns been raised in opposing bylaws that limit supportive housing, said Barbara Hall, chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission. The commission is intervening in the Toronto case.

Last year, the Ontario Municipal Board struck down a zoning bylaw in Kitchener that restricted supportive housing in a neighbourhood, citing human rights concerns.

Meanwhile, the Ontario communities of Sarnia and Smiths Falls have pledged to review their bylaws to ensure they don't violate human rights laws.

Hall said most municipalities don't want to discriminate, but simply don't realize the full impact of their regulations. …

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