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Human Rights Exist In A Pandemic

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Mariam Shanouda, Jessica De Marinis:
ARCH Disability Law Centre
BY Aidan Macnab 12 Apr 2021

In its first merits decision on the role of human rights in the COVID pandemic, the Human Rights Tribunal
of Ontario has found visitor restrictions at a care home for youth with disabilities discriminated against
a resident.

The applicant – referred to as JL in the case – lives in a group home operated by Empower Simcoe.
JL claimed the housing provider had violated his rights, under s. 1 of the Human Rights Code,
not to be discriminated against in the delivery of a service.
Empower Simcoe provides housing support
for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, operates 41 group homes and is funded by the
Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services.

“In a number of different areas, the way that the pandemic responses are affecting our communities
is that individual human rights are just kind of being swept aside in the name of safety, without
a lot of justification,
” says Jessica De Marinis, staff lawyer at ARCH Disability Law Centre, who acted
for the applicant.

“And so that issue came up in a big way in this case. And our arguments were that human rights continue
to exist in a pandemic,
and the pandemic is just contextual… And the tribunal agreed with us on that point.”

The case was heard on an expedited basis, which is uncommon for the HRTO, says Mariam Shanouda,
who also acted for JL and is also a staff lawyer at ARCH Disability Law Centre.
Shanouda and De Marinis filed the application in June and had a hearing in November. They moved quickly
because JL had not seen his parents since March and, ultimately, he did not have any contact with them
until the end of August, she says.

“It’s very difficult to convince the HRTO to hear something on an expedited basis, and in the pandemic,
especially so, because they are quite overwhelmed with a lot of cases,” she says.

“But I think the merits of the case were so resounding and systemic, that the tribunal saw fit to hear
it quite quickly.”

The claim arose from the respondent’s restrictions on in-person meetings and social distancing policies,
which prevented JL from communicating with his famil

JL is a non-verbal communicator, using gestures,
touch and physical direction to communicate and connect with family, says De Marinis.


Canadian Legal Newswire