York Univerity's Office for Persons with Disabilities and the York Debating Society
Reports on the ODA Debate
York Univerity's Office for
Persons with Disabilities and
the York Debating Society
On Tuesday, January 18th, 2000 York Univerity's Office for Persons with Disabilities and the York Debating Society hosted a debate on the nature and progress of the ODA.
The following are two reports submitted to inform our visitors on the event.
Thank you to both Eric Brazier, the VP External of the York Debating Society and Zachariah Cameron, HelpDesk Analyst (Access Tech.) with York University, who shared his personal notes of the debate with us) for submitting reports on this extremely worthwhile event.
Report as submitted by participant, Eric Brazier:
The resolution was:
Passing an ODA based on the Americans with Disabilities Act should become a top priority for the Ontario government.
The Governmet Team, which was for the resolution, consisted of Eric Brazier and Delia Salmons.
The Opposition Team, which for the purposes of the debate were against the resolution, consisted of Milan Roy and Aaron Lewis. (Note also that the opinions expressed are for the purposes of debate and not necessarily the personal opinions of the participants)
Key Opposition Argument:
By creating an act to deal solely with disability, it creates a hierarchy of discrimination that will weaken the solidarity between persons with disabilities and other groups lobbying the government of Ontario.
Disability affects people of all races, creeds, classes, and genders - able bodied or not. In short it affects everyone. Therefore the ODA poses no threat to solidarity amongst lobby groups since all groups contain persons with disabilities.
Report as submitted by a member of the audience, Zachariah Cameron, from his personal notes:
(Please note:- This report is from my notes taken during a very fast paced debate and is largely in Zachariah's words. Note also that the opinions expressed are for the purposes of debate and not necessarily the personal opinions of the participants.)
Prime Minister: Eric Brazier
Minister of the Crown: Delia Salmons
Member of Oppostion: Milan Roy
Leader of Oppostion: Aaron Lewis
BIRT: (Be It Resolved That)
"Passing an ODA modeled on the Americans with Disabilities Act should become a top priority for the Ontario Government"
Eric Brazier opened with an outline of the Government's 5 lines of argument.
- We need to bring attention to the situation of people with disabilities as it relates to life in this province.
- The Government must live up to its responsibility to bring in an ODA (Ontarians with Disabilities Act) as promised by the Premiere 6 years ago.
- It is in the economic and human resources interests of the province to bring in such legislation.
- People with disabilities are in a unique position in life situation and barriers to full involvement in the community.
- Such an act is in the best interests of everybody.
Brazier then expanded on the first 4 leaving number 5 for the Minister of the Crown.
- The U.S act (ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act)) has been truly effective since it was brought in 10 years ago. It has brought awareness of the difficulties and issues and has been broadly effective in improving the situation of millions of U.S. citizens.
- The previous bill that was offered by the Premier was toothless and ineffective. It is the responsibility of the Government to bring in the promised legislation in a form that has the potential for meaningful change and they must follow through on it's directives.
- Currently 60 percent of the estimated 1.5 million people with disabilities in this province cannot get jobs due to the barriers they face. It is in the economic and human resource interests of the people of the province to break down these barriers and allow people to do the work for which they have been trained or for which they are being trained.
- People with disabilities find themselves in a unique position in terms of systemic discrimination. The Human Rights Commission is not a pro-active body. It sees complaints of a primarily psychological nature. Human Rights challenges take a great deal of time and money to see through. An active plan is needed to secure the rights of people with disabilities not to be shut out of the life of the province.
The government must bring attention to the situation of people with disabilities by bringing in an act with teeth. They must live up to their responsibilities by passing such an act in accordance with their promises. It is in the best economic interests of the province to fully utilize the potential of all its citizens. Legislation is needed to put an active force behind the province's belief in the equality of its citizens.
Milan Roy's rebuttal
Roy allowed that the government had made some good points but had missed two glaring deficiencies.
- First: It is a new idea and new ideas create a backlash. People will not want to make changes especially if any money is involved. Harris won't do it because it is revolutionary.
- Second: The suggestion is to model the ODA on the ADA. This in itself has two problems.
- The ADA is a federal act covering the entire country. The ODA is intended as a provincial act. If people find that it will cost a bit more to build a building in Ontario which is accessible there will be an economic exodus to places like Hull.
- The ADA is supported by the U.S. Department of Justice. They have great resources at their disposal. Roy asked the question, "Will Harris provide these resources?".
Roy continued by pointing out that Harris made his promise to support this legislation during a campaign without consideration to the consequences and politicians cannot be expected to honour their promises.
He claimed that the Government side was suggesting that a grassroots movement could be built by the Government and that this was not how such movements came about.
Roy further disparaged the Governments' claim that it was in the best economic interests of the province. He questioned whether it benefited the employer and what were the costs involved. He said it would be a disincentive to business.
Roy concluded by stating that the Human Rights code does not only deal with psychological barriers.
Delia Salmons continues the Government's proposition
Salmons added the fifth element in the Governments lines of argument. It is in the best interests of everybody to ensure that people with disabilities can fully engage in the life of the community.
She pointed out that a large group not always considered under the heading "people with disabilities" is the elderly. She said that many things put in place for people with disabilities are also of great value to the elderly. Elevators, safety bars and handles were among her examples. She suggested we lift the "Veil of Ignorance" and consider, "If something were to happen to me or mine how would I want people to behave?".
On the subject of a backlash, she pointed out that there had been no backlash in the United States to the ADA. It has been a gradual and reasonable act beginning by adding low cost items particularly during renovations such as ramps, handles and support bars. Also she said she found it odd that the Opposition should complain about the revolutionary nature of the change and also complain that the Government plan was to start small in Ontario and expand once the details were worked out. She pointed out that universal health care started out more locally in this country some decades back.
Salmons reiterated the need to bring attention to the issue and pointed out that this was not asking the Government to generate a grassroots campaign but that the grassroots had been growing for decades with little Government support or interest.
She concluded with the information that the Human Rights Commission has no provision for the removal of physical barriers.
Aaron Lewis' final rebuttal for the Opposition
Lewis began by pointing out that everyone agrees that the issue is very important. He went on to say that this very agreement meant that caution is necessary. The greater the agreement the greater is the need for caution and discourse.
He said that the American model cannot be put on Ontarians without modification. Consultation is necessary. We must get people together to learn from each other as to why it in necessary and important and what steps can be taken by the business community.
Lewis also cautioned that there is a danger herein. It is possible that a hierarchy of discrimination may be setup by creating an ODA at the same time as retaining the Human Rights Commission. He worried that this could lead to a loss of power to fight for justice by dividing the forces of those in the battle.
As a further cautionary note he offered up a story about a chiropractor in London who had lost his business in an Access battle.
Lewis' view is that we should focus not on confrontation but education; not on revolution but on evolution. He pointed out that this is not a government that is attentive to the needs of Education or Disability rights and that our best chance for change lies in bringing in a better government.
In response to the government's line that this act is beneficial to everyone Lewis argued that there are always costs to someone somewhere along the line when bringing in this kind of change. He said, "Nothing is beneficial to everyone." In rebuttal to the government argument that the Human Rights Commission was primarily involved in psychological discrimination cases he pointed out that the ODA's platform also includes psychological barriers and hence, he argued, this further muddies the water. Also he argued that psychological barriers have a habit of becoming physical barriers over time. He urged that we not divide physical and psychological barriers.
Eric Bazier - Government's final rebuttal
In his final summation Brazier decried the "Fear Mongering" of the Opposition. He did not argue with the notion that you cannot trust the Harris government but he did take issue with the argument that you cannot petition a government you do not like. To wait for a new government before acting is a fool's game.
He also dismissed the allegations that there was any attempt to have an ADA type act shoved onto Ontario without discourse. He pointed out that there had been over 6 years of discourse and the time for action has come.
Finally in response to the suggestion that an ODA would present an opposition to the Human Rights Commission and thereby damage solidarity in the fight for justice he pointed out that while the Human Rights Commission dealt primarily with single issue discrimination cases where the nature of the discrimination was specific and narrow the community of people with disabilities is fundamentally different. The community is multi-cultural and multi-facetted in nature cutting across lines of age, race, religion, sexual preference, ancestry, origin and political leanings.
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