Sunday, September 23, 2012

Local Governments and Distance Separation By-Laws

This past week the City of Hamilton in an attempt to stop the relocation of a teenaged girls group home “changed battle tactics in its war against” the Lynwood Charlton Centre according to the Hamilton Spectator.
The Spectator reports that only weeks before the commencement of an Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) hearing City staff have come up with a new argument to oppose the request to move from Charlton Avenue to nearby Augusta Street.
They now say that because the “home on Augusta would house both day and overnight programs it should be classified as a comprehensive institution rather than a residential care facility.”
The city looks bad on this.  But, at least, their apparent recognition that separation by-laws violate human rights is a good thing.
I’ve written about this on the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic website’s blog.
Following is a slightly updated version of another piece from which provides a little background to how this issue has played out around the province.

Distance Separations – Different Approaches
Recently Kitchener followed through with aspects of a negotiated settlement and scrapped a controversial by-law that had imposed distance separations. City staff will now write a new by-law that will go to a public meeting this month.

According to “the new by-law will allow group homes for people with physical, intellectual and emotional challenges to set up anywhere in the city.” Service providers will not have to worry about other group homes in the area. (

A couple of years ago Kitchener, Toronto, Sarnia and Smiths Falls had been challenged under the Ontario Human Rights Act to change their by-laws. Kitchener negotiated a settlement which required changing the offending by-law.
In a story on the ARCH Disability Law Centre’s recent newsletter Centre Jennifer Ramsay of the Human Rights Legal Support Centre wrote about the other three challenged municipalities. (

Incredibly, Smiths Falls had a provision in its bylaws that didn’t allow more than 36 mentally handicapped people to live within its boundaries. They’ve removed that offensive provision but left separation requirements in place. Toronto continues to resist change and has, in fact, challenged the Human Rights Tribunal’s jurisdiction to even hear the case.

But Sarnia took a different approach. In March 2010 Sarnia amended its bylaws to remove restrictions. At the time Sarnia Mayor Michael Bradley was quoted as saying that “the rules are discriminatory and have nothing to do with planning and everything to do with negative stereotypes about disabled people.”

Beginning in 2009 Sarnia staff had reached out and talked with human rights advocates when the issue arose that their bylaw might be discriminatory.
In a report to Council staff wrote that “(W)hile special group home regulations should be based on sound planning principles and conform to the intent and purpose of applicable land use policy documents and legislation a further test is required for conformity with the Human Rights Code.”

Sarnia’s response was proactive. It applied what staff called a “common sense approach” and concluded that “the imposition of separation distances between group homes should not be necessary as they are considered to be residential uses and the impact should be similar to that of a dwelling.”

I’ve got to the point where I think the Ontario government should step in and impose such common sense across the province.

Maybe they can take a look at the concept of “comprehensive institution” too. Sounds like a classic case of Orwellian doublespeak to me.