Fourth and final municipality settles legal challenge over discriminatory bylaws - Ontarians with disabilities free to live in neighbourhood of their choice

TORONTO, Oct. 7, 2014 /CNW/ - Four years ago, eight people with disabilities filed human rights applications against Toronto, Sarnia, Smiths Falls and Kitchener to challenge mandatory separation distances for homes for Ontarians with disabilities.

Yesterday, Smiths Falls Council became the fourth municipality to remove discriminatory sections of their zoning bylaws. All four Ontario municipalities had used zoning laws to limit supportive housing for people with disabilities within their municipality.

The human rights applications were filed on behalf of the Dream Team, a group of advocates living with mental health disabilities. "In the future, people will scratch their heads and wonder why a legal process was even necessary to stop people from being excluded," said Dream Team member Phillip Dufresne.

Laurie Letheren of the ARCH Disability Law Centre, representing a group of people with intellectual disabilities based in eastern Ontario, commented "the members of People First Ontario celebrate this overdue change that affirms people living with disabilities can live in the neighbourhood of their choice."

The other three municipalities had complied one by one.  Sarnia removed its minimum separation distances for group homes almost immediately after the human rights applications were filed in 2010.  Two years later Kitchener followed suit.  It took until mid-June of 2014 for the City of Toronto to conclude there was "no planning justification" and Council passed a bylaw change removing the restrictions.

Kathy Laird, Executive Director of the Human Rights Legal Support Centre said "We call on every municipality to amend their bylaws and remove arbitrary barriers and focus on inclusion of people with disabilities in every community." Noting that hundreds of municipalities have such exclusions on their books, Laird "hoped further legal action won't be necessary."

The Ontario Human Rights Commission intervened in the human rights applications and Chief Commissioner Barbara Hall welcomed the news. "Applying a human rights lens to zoning requirements is a challenging but vitally important task. Through these bylaw changes, each municipality accepted the challenge. I encourage all municipalities to blend human rights and zoning, to the benefit of neighbourhoods and residents across Ontario."

SOURCE: Human Rights Legal Support Centre

For further information:

For more information or to arrange interviews:

Jennifer Ramsay, Human Rights Legal Support Centre 416-597-4958; mobile: 416-522-5931

Rosemary Bennett, Ontario Human Rights Commission 416-314-4549

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