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Ontario Human Rights Commission(OHRC) Under Fire


City councillors are outraged that the Ontario Human Rights Commission is demanding that they approve a $200,000 automated announcement system for Sarnia's buses.

"Refuse and see what happens," said Coun. David Boushy at Monday's council meeting. "I think this is a threat. It's not about Sarnia. We don't have this problem."

Larger cities like Toronto need to accommodate disabled riders who can't see which stop is approaching on the bus or subway. But small cities should not have to follow suit, Boushy said.

"We say no," he said. "Defy the Human Rights Commission decision."

As criticism of the commission became more pointed, staff advised council to go in-camera with their complaints.

New city manager Bruce Peever said that for legal reasons the issue should be tabled until it can be discussed behind closed doors.

Councillors were reacting to a request from Barbara Hall, chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, to all transit services across the province.

She's asked them to adopt a system in which drivers will have to announce every stop. That means Sarnia Transit will have to retrofit its fleet with an automated system, according to transit manager Jim Stevens.

The city faces the cost even though there has never been a single related complaint in the history of Sarnia Transit, said Coun. Andy Bruziewicz.

He is a member of the city's transit accessibility and advisory committee and said the committee wants a meeting as soon as possible with MPP Bob Bailey.

Insisting that drivers call out every stop creates many problems and distracts them from their driving, Bruziewicz said.

"Couldn't we have an ask-the-driver program?" asked Coun. Terry Burrell.

That's been tried by other municipalities that were later told it wasn't acceptable, said Lloyd Fennell, the city's director of corporate services.

The Human Rights Act "trumps" every other kind of bylaw and legislation, he added.

After council's meeting, Coun. Jon McEachran did not mince words.

"I have real frustration," he said. "To be frank, (the human rights commission) act like Nazis, which is complete hypocrisy to me.

"They're supposed to be looking out for human rights but they rule with an iron fist. There's no due process. It's their way or you get screwed."

By insisting that Sarnia taxpayers foot the bill for an unnecessary announcement system, the commission is denying the rights of local residents, McEachran said.

"They're very narrow-minded. It's tunnel vision. It's their way or they'll come down on you and it will cost you extra money.

"I question that any government body should have this much power."

Before council moved onto other business, Bruziewicz suggested that council invite the human rights commissioner to Sarnia to experience the local transit system. Council unanimously agreed.

An in-camera meeting will be scheduled soon, McEachran said. Article ID# 948469

Reproduced from http://www.theobserver.ca/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=948469

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