Toronto faces human rights legal hearing on city’s restrictive zoning rules

The City of Toronto has been ordered to face a full legal hearing at the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal regarding city zoning rules that restrict the location of supportive housing for people with physical or mental health needs. The Dream Team, a group of psychiatric consumer / survivors, launched legal action against Toronto, alleging that city zoning rules that impose minimum separations and other restrictions on supportive housing and group homes are a violation of the Human Rights Code. The city’s lawyers sought to have the case thrown out, arguing that the Tribunal didn’t have the legal jurisdiction to decide the matter. In early January, the Tribunal released a legal decision ordering the case to proceed, and also setting a tight timeline to move to a full hearing.

Restrictive zoning practices are increasingly coming under human rights scrutiny. The Ontario Human Rights Code prohibits discrimination based on a number of protected grounds, including disability. The Ontario Human Rights Commission, in its human rights and housing work, has warned that municipal zoning rules that discriminate against people on one of the grounds set out in the Code may be illegal.

A year ago, the Ontario Municipal Board struck down a zoning bylaw in Kitchener that restricted supportive housing in a particular neighbourhood, citing the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.