The Ontario Human Rights Commission is seeking the public’s input as it develops a policy statement on the display of derogatory names, words and images, including the names given to streets and landmarks.
The commission says it wants to address what it calls a “quickly evolving issue” that has increasingly seen Indigenous and racialized communities call for the removal of statues of historic figures “perceived as colonizers, slave owners or who advances racist policies.”
It also points to growing calls for officials to rename roads, buildings and other institutions named after historic figures, for the same reasons.
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The organization notes such concerns are not new, noting it was involved in a 2018 case that required the City of Mississauga to remove all Indigenous-themed mascots, names and images not related to Indigenous sports organizations from its sports facilities.
It says human rights law has found that images and words that degrade people because of their ancestry, race, or ethnic group may create a poisoned environment and violate the province’s human rights code.
The commission says the policy statement will focus on the legal obligations of organizations to prevent and address discrimination against Indigenous peoples, racialized communities and possibly other protected groups in situations involving the display of derogatory names and images.
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“What’s in a name? Often, everything,” Chief Commissioner Patricia DeGuire said in a statement.
“We continue to hear about communities disturbed by the name of a street, a sports team, a building or a monument. This policy statement is being designed to help foster better understanding of the human rights issues involved, and to prompt communities to work together in a respectful way to overcome these issues.”
Those who wish to weigh in on the issue can complete an online survey or email the commission before Oct. 22.
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