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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario finds that Visitor Restriction Policy Discriminated Against Child with Disabilities

Toronto, March 23, 2021: The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario released an important decision about the impact of COVID-19 visitor restrictions on the rights of children and youth with disabilities living in congregate care homes. In JL v Empower Simcoe, 2021 HRTO 222, the Tribunal found that the visitor restrictions implemented by a service agency discriminated against the applicant who is a 14 year old youth with multiple disabilities.

The brief facts are that the service agency implemented a visitor restriction policy which meant that residents were not allowed to visit with their family members. As an alternative, the service agency offered only electronic communication and physically distanced visits. The Applicant, who does not use words to communicate, made requests for accommodations so that he could have access to meaningful communication, including in person visits with his family.

The Tribunal found that communicating by technology is not a reasonable accommodation for this applicant. The Tribunal further found the service agency was obligated to assess the real risk of the applicant’s parents visiting without physical distancing, while considering what other COVID precautions could reduce the risk of transmission. A safety risk, the Tribunal held, cannot be presumed by the sole fact of the pandemic.

The decision confirms that Ontario’s human rights framework remains a robust and flexible framework that is capable of responding to all types of circumstances, even a pandemic, in a principled way. The Tribunal stated:

“This case raises difficult and complex issues regarding the role of human rights in the middle of a public health care crisis. This is the Tribunal’s first merits decision on the issue. It affirms that service providers must continue to follow the requirements of the Code. Human rights protections do not go away in a pandemic.” (para 150)

“This is an important decision for persons with disabilities who have been disproportionately and adversely impacted by restrictive visitation policies,” said Jessica De Marinis, staff lawyer at ARCH Disability Law Centre. “It affirms that individual human rights cannot be unilaterally eroded in the name of pandemic response.”



Jessica De Marinis, Staff Lawyer
ARCH Disability Law Centre
Toll-free: 1-866-482-2724 ext. 2232

Mariam Shanouda, Staff Lawyer
ARCH Disability Law Centre
Toll-free: 1-866-482-2724 ext. 2224

March 23, 2021