Discrimination in Ontario: Human rights survey finds negative feelings toward the poor, refugees, trans people

Ontarians don’t think too highly of people on social assistance, according to a new survey about discrimination from the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

New Ontario Human Rights Commission survey claims discrimination remains a problem in the province

Ontario Human Rights Commissioner Renu Mandhane. (CBC)

Ontarians don't think too highly of people on social assistance, according to a new survey about discrimination from the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

Just 39 per cent of respondents had at least "somewhat positive" feelings toward people receiving social assistance, the lowest percentage of any group, although transgender people, refugees, Muslims and Arab people did not fare much better.

"There's a very unique form of discrimination that people on social assistance and people who are homeless experience. That was a very important insight for us," Chief Commissioner Renu Mandhane said on Friday.

With this first-of-its-kind public opinion survey, titled Taking the pulse: People's opinions on human rights in Ontario, the commission looked to gain a better understanding of the state of discrimination in the province.

Environics Research Group surveyed 1,501 people from across the province, including 720 from the Greater Toronto area.

"It's the kind of information that will help us gauge where we're at, but also help us more effectively advance the public discourse around rights," Mandhane said.

Two thirds of respondents to the survey believe that discrimination is a problem in Ontario.

The survey included 19 questions and the one that sought the most honesty asked respondents about their personal feelings toward specific groups.

While the lowest approval was for those on public assistance, only 44 per cent of respondents had at least somewhat positive feelings about Arab people.

Forty-five per cent of respondents had positive feelings toward Muslims, while that number for refugees and transgender people was 46 per cent.

The highest level of positive feelings were for people with disabilities (64 per cent) and Asians (62 per cent).

Fifty-seven per cent of respondents had positive feelings toward Indigenous people.

The survey also found that much discrimination goes unreported. Nearly half of respondents who've experienced discrimination said they kept it to themselves.

Most discrimination happens at work, according to the survey.

But 42 per cent of respondents who experienced discrimination said it happened in a public place, which falls out of the jurisdiction of the Ontario Human Rights Code.

"That's a real gap in protection but something that the survey shows is a key area where people still face negative treatment," Mandhane said.

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