Ontario is the Canadian province with the longest history of human rights engagement in the country. Progress in human rights legislation is a reflection of the commitment towards the intrinsic value of recognising basic human rights and protecting against violations of said rights. These values emerged in the post-World War 2 climate where it was becoming increasingly expected that the state should play a role in preventing discrimination and providing social rights in order to maintain an environment of equality. This was a marked shift from the civil liberties discourse which dominated Canadian society before the Second World War. This conception of rights saw individuals as having fundamental freedoms – such as speech, association, religion, due process etc. – but considerations of how these freedoms may affect others were not of central concern.
In 1944, Ontario passed the first piece of Canadian human rights legislation, banning the display of discriminatory signs in public. In 1962, the province established a Human Rights Commission which was responsible for the administration and enforcement of the legislation outlined in the ‘Human Rights Code’.
Given Ontario’s long history of engagement in human rights issues, Toronto – as the capital of the province and the largest city in the country – is home to many active human rights organisations. In what follows, this article will outline a number of these organisations as well as identifying the possibilities for involvement in said organisations whether it is in a volunteer, intern or full employment capacity.
Human Rights Watch is an international, independent organisation that seeks to monitor and protect human rights worldwide. The organisation is committed to producing accurate investigative reports on the human rights conditions in countries around the world and enacts a combination of media and advocacy campaigns to target and bring attention to those areas where human rights violations are rife. The organisation provides an interactive search option on their website where one can filter ‘employment level’, ‘location’ and ‘department’ in order to find a position within the organisation that is a suitable fit for any given individual. The organisation hosts an annual Human Rights Film Festival in Toronto with the mission of bringing film makers and audiences together to engage around the issues of human rights and the violations that exist currently in our world.
This social organisation has a mission to bring diversity and inclusion into the workplace and into the greater social community. It works alongside the corporate world, conducting research and providing advice on inclusivity strategies and policy. The organisation also conducts educational programmes in schools which challenge staff and learners to re-think ‘diversity’ and envision new ways of overcoming prejudice and discrimination. The organisation advertises career opportunities on their website on a rolling basis as well as offering a ‘learning/work programme’ for university and college students who can demonstrate how issues of diversity and inclusion are relevant to their studies.
The CCLA is a non-governmental organisation which aims to “fight for the civil liberties, human rights and democratic freedoms of all people across Canada”. By performing primarily legal and educational functions, the CCLA seeks to uphold the civil rights enshrined in the Canadian constitution. Focus areas include issues of equality, fundamental civil freedoms, national security and policing and public safety. The organisation offers opportunities for legal volunteers and fellows as well as a host of other general and educational volunteer opportunities. In terms of careers, staff and articling positions are offered on a rolling basis.
Another organisation committed to addressing concerns around diversity and equity, the Harmony Movement primarily engages with society through the use of educational programmes. Encouraging conversations around these issues, the organisation seeks to target youth, educators and those working in the social services sector in order to develop leaders committed to social change. The Harmony Movement encourages involvement from individuals committed to human rights issues and ‘social change makers’ and offers employment opportunities on a rolling basis.
The Law Foundation of Ontario has a mandate to improve access to justice for the people of Ontario. A priority objective in this regard is enabling greater access to justice for disadvantaged groups in Canadian society. The Foundation therefore provides support through grants, fellowships and other financial assistance to parties undertaking class action lawsuits that lie within the public interest. A variety of fellowships are offered by the Foundation with the aim of developing professionals who are committed to issues around access to justice.
This organisation’s primary focus is on promoting the freedom of opinion and expression as a basic human right. With this mission at the heart of its work, PEN does work around the promotion of literature, fighting censorship and advocating for the freedom of persecuted and imprisoned writers. PEN offers membership opportunities for the writing community to join and support its cause. The organisation also relies on the support of volunteers and offers internship opportunities for a variety of projects related to its aims. These are offered on a rolling basis.
As a humanitarian aid provider, RefugeAid has a focus on concerns related to refugees, migrants and asylum seekers. Primarily functioning as a fundraising initiative which distributes aid to communities affected by human rights violations, the organisation also works towards raising awareness around these issues. The organisation’s current project focus is aimed towards assisting Syrian refugees fleeing war and it works closely with international bodies such as MSF Canada and UNHCR Canada to achieve these goals. The organisation is associated with York University and runs its operations from the campus in Toronto.
The above is a selection of human rights focused organisations – with international and local objectives – operating from Toronto, Canada. All of the above organisations seek to continue the long tradition of promoting human rights in Ontario and beyond.