ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE UPDATE
Toronto Star Editorial Blasts the Wynne Government for Too Much Secrecy and Not Enough Action on Disability Accessibility – Will the Wynne Government Finally Agree to Waive Its Fee and Make Public All the Information on the Disabilities Act's Implementation and Enforcement that AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky Sought under the Freedom of Information Act Over Two Years Ago?
August 8, 2017
The August 7, 2017 edition of the Toronto Star included a powerful editorial by the newspaper's editorial board, set out below. This editorial calls for the Wynne Government to demonstrate more action and less secrecy when it comes to accessibility for people with disabilities.
This editorial was triggered by the July 28, 2017 ruling of Ontario's Information and Privacy Commission on the appeal by AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky against the steep $4,250 fee that the Wynne Government tried charging to answer Lepofsky's June 4, 2015 Freedom of Information application. His Freedom of Information application seeks information on the implementation and enforcement of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
We hope this editorial will at last lead the Wynne Government to release to us and the public, at no charge, all the information on the AODA's implementation and enforcement that AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky requested over two years ago. In its recent ruling, the Information and Privacy Commission concluded that the Wynne Government had over-charged us by trying to impose a $4,250 search fee which is more than five times the amount that the Government could justify.
The Information and Privacy Commission found that imposing the reduced fee that the Commission approved, $750, would still inflict financial hardship on the unfunded and assetless AODA Alliance. It concluded that releasing some of the information that Lepofsky requested would serve public health and safety. At his appeal before the Information and Privacy Commission, the Government's five-lawyer armada of lawyers opposed Lepofsky on each of these points.
Oddly, the Information and Privacy Commission did not order the Government to waive the reduced fee of $750, despite those damning findings against the Government. However, it is open to the Government to nevertheless agree on its own to waive that fee. In public statements last week, both the Ontario New Democratic Party and the Progressive Conservative Party called on the Government to drop the fee and just make all the requested information public.
Two years ago, the Government gave the AODA Alliance a portion of the requested information at no charge. The July 28, 2017 Information and Privacy Commission ruling orders the Government to give over some more of the requested information at no charge. But that still leaves some of the requested information secret, even though the Government has already gathered it together.
These unfolding events should sound very familiar. Back in August 2013, AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky brought an earlier Freedom of Information application to get earlier information on the AODA's implementation and enforcement. Initially in 2013, the Government tried to impose a $2,325 fee on Lepofsky. The Government backed down from that fee, only after the Toronto Star ran an earlier editorial that slammed the Government for insisting on that fee.
In 2013 the Government gave over all the requested information at no charge. The Wynne Government should do the same thing now. Back in 2013, the eventual release of the information that we sought revealed that the Government had been hiding the fact that there were rampant AODA violations in the private sector, that the Government knew it, that the Government did little to enforce the law, and that the Government had ample unused funds on hand that could have been used for more enforcement.
We are very appreciative of the Toronto Star for again endorsing and supporting our efforts in its August 7, 2017 editorial. In an editorial, a newspaper goes beyond reporting the news to take the step of taking a position on an issue of public importance. It is not just the opinion of one reporter or commentator. It is the collective view of the newspaper as a whole.
It is a real credit to the grassroots efforts of accessibility advocates around Ontario that this is the thirteenth editorial in an Ontario newspaper that has been published in support of the efforts of the AODA Alliance, or of its pre-2005 predecessor, the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee. Below we set out links to each of those thirteen editorials.
We encourage you to send a letter to the editor at the Toronto Star. Applaud the Star for running this editorial. Share your thoughts. You can email a letter to the star at this email address:
We also encourage you to forward this editorial to your local newspaper. Encourage them to also write an editorial in support of our cause. Point them to the information set out below, and to the AODA Alliance's website:
We encourage the Government to take to heart the wise advice in the Toronto Star's August 7, 2017 editorial. We would like to see as much progress made on accessibility as possible over the months leading to the June 2018 Ontario general election, and have offered the Government concrete suggestions on how to achieve this.
The Toronto Star August 7, 2017
Originally posted at: https://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorials/2017/08/06/on-accessibility-ontario-needs-less-secrecy-more-action-editorial.html
Less secrecy, more action
Ontario's privacy commission ruled last week that the provincial government was overcharging advocate David Lepofsky and his organization, the Access for Ontarians with Disabilities Alliance, for a freedom of information request. Lucas Oleniuk/Toronto Star
David Lepofsky just wants to make sure the province is doing what it promised to do. A disability advocate and lawyer, Lepofsky has worked tirelessly since the McGuinty Liberals passed the landmark Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) in 2005, holding the government to account as it moves toward its goal of a fully accessible Ontario by 2025.
Too often, however, what he has found is failure - and too often the province has tried to keep him from discovering the frequently disappointing truth.
Last week, Ontario's privacy commission ruled that the government was overcharging Lepofsky and his organization, the Access for Ontarians with Disabilities Alliance, for a freedom of information request related to the province's progress.
The government had tried to charge the group a prohibitive $4,200 for the information, which Lepofsky requested about two years ago, on the basis that the documents did not pertain to public health or safety and therefore did not qualify for a fee waiver. Lepofsky, who is blind, rightly countered that accessibility issues are public health issues. The commission agreed and ruled that $750 was the appropriate charge.
The government's two-year fight to levy the outsized fee seems to be part of a troubling pattern of obfuscation. In 2013, Lepofsky submitted a Freedom of Information request to take stock of how the act was being enforced and was charged more than $2,000. Outcry in the media eventually prompted the government to drop the fee.
This recalcitrance is particularly disturbing given the government's shoddy record of enforcing the AODA. The information Lepofsky eventually obtained in 2013 showed that some 70 per cent of businesses with 20 or more employees were not complying with the act, which aims to tear down barriers, both physical and figurative, for Ontarians with disabilities. And some $24 million in public funds earmarked for enforcement of the law had not been spent.
The Wynne government's first instinct upon meeting the bad press that followed was to loosen the rules rather than start enforcing them. But in 2015, on the 10th anniversary of the accessibility act, the government relented, admitting that it had fallen behind. It assured voters that it would still meet its 2025 goal and committed to a crackdown on the legislation's many violators. It was the details of this plan that Lepofsky was after with his latest Freedom of Information request.
"What is the government trying to hide?" Lepofsky asked after last week's ruling. Given the province's history of inaction on accessibility and its apparent aversion to transparency on the issue, that's a very good question. We eagerly await the forthcoming documents.
Lepofsky and the province both say they want the same thing. They want to ensure that people with disabilities have the same access to jobs, education, public services, restaurants and stores as anyone else in this province. They want buildings and bureaucracies alike to be designed with the challenges of living with a disability in mind. This is what the AODA promises to accomplish. And the Liberal government often points to this act, passed 12 years ago, as proof of its commitment to the rights of people with disabilities.
If the government is sincere in that commitment, it should stop fighting Lepofsky and his fellow advocates and start working alongside them to ensure that this good law is being enforced and that its laudable goal is truly realized.
13 Newspaper Editorials since 1998, Supporting the AODA Alliance and Its Predecessor, the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee
To read the Toronto Star's August 7, 2017 editorial, calling for the Ontario Government to offer less secrecy and more action on accessibility under the AODA, visit https://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorials/2017/08/06/on-accessibility-ontario-needs-less-secrecy-more-action-editorial.html
To read the Toronto Star's February 28, 2015 editorial, pressing the Ontario Government to beef up its enforcement of the AODA, visit http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/03022015.asp
To read the Toronto Star's February 1, 2014 editorial pressing the Ontario Government to take more action on employment for people with disabilities, visit http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/02182014.asp
To read the Toronto Star's November 19, 2013 editorial slamming the Ontario Government for not effectively enforcing the AODA, visit http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/11212013.asp
To read the Toronto Star's October 31, 2013 editorial, calling on the Ontario Government to waive its $2,325 fee for AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky's previous Freedom of Information application, visit http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/11052013.asp
To read the Toronto Star's April 12, 2010 editorial supporting our calls for elections to be fully accessible to voters with disabilities.
To read the Toronto Star's November 23, 2006 editorial, blasting the Ontario Government of Dalton McGuinty for invoking closure to cancel further public hearings on its Bill 107, which privatized enforcement of human rights in Ontario, and which cancelled a hearing at which the AODA Alliance, and others, were to voice opposition to that bill.
To read the Toronto Star's January 21, 2002 editorial, slamming the weak Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2001 passed by the previous Conservative Government in Ontario under Premier Mike Harris.
To read the Hamilton Spectator's November 8, 2001 editorial on the weak Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2001 then proposed by the Harris Government in Ontario.
To read the London Free Press's March 26, 2001 editorial, calling for an Ontario Disabilities Act.
To read the Sarnia Observer's October 16, 2000 editorial, calling for a disabilities Act.
To read the St. Catharines' Weekly November 27, 1998 editorial, slamming the first proposed Disabilities Act tabled in the Legislature by the former Harris Government in Ontario.
To read the Toronto Star's November 27, 1998 editorial, slamming the Harris Government for its weak proposed Disabilities Act.
Links to Key Background Information
To read the July 28, 2017 Information and Privacy Commission ruling on David Lepofsky v. the Ontario Government.
To read the AODA Alliance's August 1, 2017 news release, responding to the Information and Privacy Commission ruling.
To read David Lepofsky's June 4, 2015 Freedom of Information application which is the subject of this appeal.
To read David Lepofsky's memorandum of argument, filed on this appeal last March.
To read the January 24, 2017 affidavit which the Ontario Government filed (appendices excluded) in opposition to 'David Lepofsky's appeal.
To read the January 24, 2017 memorandum of argument that the Wynne Government filed with the Information and Privacy Commission in opposition to David Lepofsky's appeal.
To read David Lepofsky's reply affidavit, that he is providing in response.
To read David Lepofsky's reply memorandum of argument that he has filed in response.
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