An Ontario Superior Court deputy judge who has experience in immigration, pay equity and human rights cases has been nominated to be the province’s next top human rights watchdog.

Patricia DeGuire is set to become Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission later this summer pending a review by the Standing Committee of Government Agencies.

DeGuire, the Ford government’s choice to take over from Acting Chief Commissioner Ena Chadha, has previously served as vice president of the Ontario Human Rights Court, which handles human rights complaints.

“I am deeply honored and excited to take the lead to lead the Ontario Human Rights Commission,” DeGuire said in a government news release. “I look forward to using education and other strategies to carry out the commission’s mandate and unite our communities to address the unprecedented crises arising from the intersection of two global pandemics: COVID-19 and racism.”

Reached by email. Deguire declined to discuss the appointment until he takes office.

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 of Legal Aid Ontario, serving on the federal Board of Immigration and Refugees and the Ontario Parole Board, the latter two also appointed under Conservative governments.

Chadha had held the post of chief commissioner after Renu Mandhane was appointed as a Ontario Superior Court judge last March, months after her term expired.

Prior to that, the Ford administration, through Attorney General Doug Downey, filled two vacancies on the commission with friendly part-time commissioner appointments with the provincial Progressive Conservative Party and federal Conservatives, without consulting with Mandhane.

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That raised questions about the commission’s independence. Post-commission appointments have been made without raising similar concerns.

Mandhane, and later Chadha, used the commission’s legal powers to confront anti-black racism and racial profiling by police, including an ongoing investigation at the Toronto Police Service. The investigation has produced interim reports showing significant racial disparities in the use of force, arrests and charges.

Under Chadha, the commission and the Peel Regional Police have reached a voluntary and legally binding agreement to combat racism, a measure that Toronto police have so far ignored.

In a press release announcing DeGuire’s nomination, Downey thanked Chadha for “his exemplary public service in leading a remarkable team through a year of unique challenges” and said DeGuire’s proven knowledge and experience will be built on the incredible progress made over the past year and throughout the 60 years of the commission’s pioneering work to promote and protect human rights.

In a press release of its own, the commission congratulated and welcomed DeGuire, and Chadha said DeGuire is joining a “wonderful team.”

The commission’s press release called DeGuire an “inspiring and highly respected” lawyer and judge. He has received numerous accolades and awards, including the 2020 “Touchstone Award” from the Canadian Bar Association.

In a tweet, the association said DeGuire is “a judge, arbitrator, deputy judge, and court member with a passion for justice and a commitment to public service and mentoring those behind it.”

DeGuire, according to a Canadian Bar Association story on honor, is an active member of the Law Society of Ontario’s mentoring program and founded the society’s “At-Risk Youth Education Forum.” DeGuire was called up to law school in 1993 after earning a law degree from Osgoode Hall at York University.

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The human rights commission held its 60th anniversary in March.

The commission has the power to intervene in human rights complaints and can investigate broader systemic issues. It is adjacent to the Ontario Human Rights Court, which handles complaints, and the Human Rights Legal Support Center.

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