Updated: Jul 27, 2021
Article By Jim Rankin Staff Reporter for Toronto Star, "Lawyer Patricia DeGuire nominated next chief of the Ontario Human Rights Commission" , July 19, 202
A deputy Ontario Superior Court judge who has experience in immigration, pay equity and human rights cases has been nominated to be the province’s next chief human rights watchdog.
Patricia DeGuire is poised to become Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission later this summer pending a review by the Standing Committee on Government Agencies.
DeGuire, the Ford government’s choice to take over the position held by interim chief commissioner Ena Chadha, has previously served as vice-chair of the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, which handles human rights complaints.
“I am deeply honoured and excited to carry the baton to lead the Ontario Human Rights Commission,” DeGuire said in a government press release. “I look forward to using education and other strategies to carry our the commission’s mandate and bring together our communities to address the unprecedented crises flowing from the intersection of two global pandemics: COVID-19 and racism.”
Reached by email. Deguire declined to speak about the appointment until she assumes the position.
DeGuire is a founding member of the Black Law Students’ Association of Canada and helped found the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers. She has also been involved as a board member with Legal Aid Ontario, and sat on both the federal Immigration and Refugee Board and the Ontario Board of Parole, the latter two also appointments made under conservative governments.
Chadha had filled in as chief commissioner after Renu Mandhane was appointed a Superior Court of Ontario justice last March, months away from the expiry of her term.
Prior to that, the Ford government, via Attorney General Doug Downey, filled two vacancies at the commission with part-time commissioner appointments friendly to the provincial Progressive Conservative party and the federal Conservatives, without consulting with Mandhane.
That prompted questions around the commission’s independence. Later appointments to the commission have been made without raising similar concerns.
Mandhane, and then Chadha, made use of the commission’s legal powers to take on anti-Black racism and racial profiling by police, including an inquiry into the Toronto Police Service that is ongoing. The inquiry has produced interim reports showing major racial disparities in use of force, arrest and charges.
Under Chadha, the commission and Peel Regional Police have struck a voluntary, legally binding agreement to combat racism, a move Toronto police have so far brushed off.
In a press release announcing DeGuire’s nomination, Downey thanked Chadha for “her exemplary public service leading a remarkable team through a year of singular challenges” and said DeGuire’s “demonstrated knowledge and experience will build on the incredible progress made over this past year and throughout the 60 years of the commission’s ground-breaking work to advance and protect human rights.”
In a press release of its own, the commission congratulated and welcomed DeGuire, with Chadha saying DeGuire is joining a “wonderful team.”
The commission’s news release called DeGuire “inspiring and highly respected” lawyer and judge. She’s received numerous accolades and awards, including in 2020 the Canadian Bar Association’s “Touchstone Award.”
In a tweet, the association said DeGuire is “an adjudicator, arbitrator, deputy judge & tribunal member with a passion for justice and commitment to public service and mentorship of those coming up behind her.”
DeGuire, according to a Canadian Bar Association story on the honour, is an active member of Law Society of Ontario’s mentorship program and founded the society’s “At-Risk Youths Education Forum.” DeGuire was called to the bar in 1993 after getting a degree in law at York University’s Osgoode Hall.
The human rights commission celebrated its 60th anniversary in March.
The commission has the power to intervene in human rights complaints and can investigate broader systemic issues. It sits alongside the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, which handles complaints, and the Human Rights Legal Support Centre.
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