In the first merits decision of the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (“HRTO”) on the role of human rights during the Covid-19 pandemic, Vice Chair Jennifer Scott minced no words. “Human rights protections do not go away in a pandemic.” JL v. Empower Simcoe, 2021 HRTO 222 (“JL”) at para 150.
JL is a teenaged boy who resides in a group home operated by the Respondent. He is non-speaking, has an infectious personality, and has a genetic deletion (GABRG2) causing intractable epilepsy and global developmental delay. His parents continue to parent him and make all of his medical and educational decisions. As a result of the pandemic, the Respondent imposed visitation restrictions which prevented JL’s parents from visiting their 13-year old son in person.
Represented by lawyers Jessica De Marinis and Mariam Shanouda, JL by his litigation guardian PL, filed an Application to the HRTO on June 18, 2020 alleging discrimination based on disability. The Tribunal expedited the urgent matter and it proceeded relatively quickly, given the current delays currently happening at the Tribunal. The matter was heard over the course of 6 days in November and December 2020.
In its decision dated March 23, 2021, the Tribunal highlighted JL’s unique and important disability-related needs. JL “relies on his parents for comfort, guidance, nurturance, emotional development and the development of his identity… The evidence was clear that one of the ways the applicant communicates is through physical touch” (paras 91 and 92).