December 10, 1997
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
HARRIS GOVERNMENT TO HONOUR INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS DECLARATION - BUT HARRIS' OWN HUMAN RIGHTS RECORD FOUND WANTING
On December 10, 1997, the Harris Government plans to honour the 50th anniversary of the UN Human Rights Declaration at Queens Park. But Harris' own human rights record is found wanting, according to a major disability rights coalition.
During the last election, Mike Harris promised to increase funding to the Ontario Human Rights Commission, to help battle discrimination in Ontario. Instead, he cut that important agency's budget. He abolished Ontario's employment equity legislation. He promised a zero tolerance policy towards discrimination in the Ontario Public Service. Instead, he slashed important funding and staff who were dedicated to that very goal.
Perhaps the most stark blotch on the Harris human rights record is his Government's flaunting of a solemn 1995 election pledge to people with disabilities in Ontario. When seeking their votes, he promised in writing that a Harris Government would enact a new disability rights law, to be called the Ontarians with Disabilities Act. He also promised to work together with persons with disabilities to develop the law, and to channel new funding toward the goal of achieving a barrier-free Ontario for persons with disabilities. Instead, Premier Harris has delivered no new law, has refused to even meet with those persons with disabilities with whom he promised to work together, and has cut funding for major disability needs.
Harris' previous Citizenship Minister, Marilyn Mushinski, showed signs last summer that she was finally ready to start taking these pledges seriously. She committed the Government to a target date of late Fall 1998 for introduction of the new law into the Legislature. But after Harris shuffled Mushinski out of the Cabinet two months ago, her replacement, Isabel Bassett, has refused to date to honour or even re-affirm any of Mushinski's commitments on the new law's timetable and on a public consultation before drafting it. "If the Harris Government really wants to honour human rights, why doesn't it start by keeping ts own broken election promises on human rights", said David Lepofsky, co-chair of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee. "The Harris Government should restore cut funding to the Ontario Human Rights Commission. It should also give that Commission the new funding that it promised. It should start the long-overdue public consultation on the Ontarians with Disabilities Act. We need action, not more empty 'good news' media events."