AODA Alliance Asks Federal Party Leaders For a New Bill to Strengthen the Accessible Canada Act

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities

www.aodaalliance.org aodafeedback@gmail.com Twitter: @aodaalliance

AODA Alliance Asks Federal Party Leaders For a New Bill to Strengthen the Accessible Canada Act

November 18, 2019

          SUMMARY

We today kick off the next phase in our campaign for accessibility at the federal level in Canada.

The AODA Alliance today wrote the leaders of the federal parties in Canada’s newly-elected Parliament. We have asked them to pass a proposed new bill that we have outlined to strengthen the Accessible Canada Act that Parliament passed last June. We set out that letter below. It includes our framework for the new short but punchy bill that we are proposing and explains why we need it. In summary, we want this bill to:

  1. a) ensure that enforceable accessibility standards are enacted under the Accessible Canada Act within five years;
  1. b) remove an unfair and discriminatory provision So that passengers with disabilities who are the victims of accessibility barriers in federally-regulated travel (like air travel) are always able to seek monetary compensation when they deserve it;
  1. c) ensure that the Accessible Canada Act never reduces the rights of people with disabilities, and that in any conflict between laws, the one that provides the highest level of accessibility prevails;
  1. d) ensure that federal laws never create or permit accessibility barriers;
  1. e) ensure that federal public money is never used to create or perpetuate barriers against people with disabilities;
  1. f) simplify the Accessible Canada Act‘s unnecessarily confusing and complicated enforcement process;
  1. g) eliminate the Federal Government’s power to exempt itself from some of its duties under the Accessible Canada Act, and
  1. h) require the Federal Government to apply a disability lens when it makes decisions or policies.

As our letter to the party leaders explains, it is good that Parliament unanimously passed the Accessible Canada Act. However, it needs to be strengthened to ensure that it fulfils its goal of making Canada barrier-free for over six million people with disabilities by 2040. While the Act’s commendable goal is a barrier-free Canada, it does not require any disability accessibility barriers to ever be removed or prevented.

The recent federal election has opened the door to a tremendous new opportunity for us to advocate for this proposed new bill. Canada now has a minority government. All parties supported the goal of a barrier-free Canada and recognized the need for strong legislation to achieve this. The opposition Conservatives, NDP and Greens have all supported amendments to strengthen this bill. However, because our last government was a majority government, the opposition parties did not have the ability to make this happen.

The new minority government situation changes all that, and creates a new window of opportunity for us. However, minority governments typically only last for two or, at most, three years. We must move quickly. We are eager to work with any and all parties on this issue, in our well-known tradition of non-partisanship.

As our framework for this bill shows, our proposals for this bill are intentionally short and limited. They are the most high-impact changes with the best chance of getting them through Parliament. They reflect concerns that disability organizations repeatedly pressed for over the past year during public hearings in the House of Commons and the Senate on Bill C-81. Our experience with provincial disability accessibility legislation amply shows that these are top priorities.

Some might think it will be an uphill battle to get Parliament to amend the Accessible Canada Act now, so soon after it was enacted. We are used to uphill battles, including very daunting ones! For example, just one year ago, many thought it would be impossible to get the Senate to strengthen Bill C-81, especially so close to an election, and then to get the House of Commons to ratify any Senate amendments. Yet we and many others from the disability community tenaciously persisted. As a result, the Senate passed some amendments to strengthen Bill C-81 last spring. After that, the House of Commons approved all the Senate’s amendments.

We have nothing to lose in presenting this new proposal, and a lot to gain! Please urge your Member of Parliament to support this proposal for a new bill. Help us get all parties to make this a priority in the forthcoming session of Canada’s new Parliament.

Stay tuned for more on this issue. For more background on the non-partisan campaign for a strong and effective Accessible Canada Act, visit www.aodaalliance.org/Canada

We welcome your feedback. Email us at aodafeedback@gmail.com

          MORE DETAILS — AODA Alliance Letter to Federal Party Leaders on a New ACA Bill

ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE

1929 Bayview Avenue,

Toronto, Ontario M4G 3E8

Email aodafeedback@gmail.com Twitter: @aodaalliance www.aodaalliance.org

United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities

November 18, 2019

To:

The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau

Via email: pm@pm.gc.ca

Office of the Prime Minister of Canada

80 Wellington Street

Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2

Twitter: @JustinTrudeau

The Hon. Andrew Scheer, Leader of the Loyal Opposition and of the Conservative Party

Via email: andrew.scheer@parl.gc.ca

Leader of the Conservative Party

House of Commons

Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6

Twitter: @AndrewScheer

The Hon. Yves-François Blanchet, Leader of the Bloc Québécois

Via email: yvesfrancoisblanchet@bloc2019.org

House of Commons

Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A6

3750 boul. Crémazie Est, bureau 402

Montréal Quebec H2A 1B6

Twitter: @yfblanchet

The Hon. Jagmeet Singh, Leader of the NDP

Via email: jagmeet@ndp.ca

300 – 279 Laurier West

Ottawa, Ontario K1P 5J9

Twitter: @theJagmeetSingh

The Hon. Jo-Ann Roberts, Interim Leader of the Green Party; MP, Saanich-Gulf Islands

Via email: joann.roberts@greenparty.ca

House of Commons

Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A6

Twitter: @JoAnnRobertsHFX

Dear Federal Party Leaders,

Re: Strengthening the Accessible Canada Act to Achieve a Barrier-Free Canada for Over Six Million People with Disabilities

As the new Parliament prepares to meet, we ask your parties to ensure that its agenda includes a new short, but vital bill to strengthen the Accessible Canada Act. This is important for over six million people with disabilities who face too many accessibility barriers every day. It is also important for everyone else in Canada, since everyone is bound to get a disability as they grow older.

At the end of this letter we set out a framework detailing what this new bill should include. In summary, this new bill should:

  1. a) ensure that enforceable accessibility standards are enacted under the Accessible Canada Act within five years;
  1. b) remove an unfair and discriminatory provision So that passengers with disabilities who are the victims of accessibility barriers in federally-regulated travel (like air travel) are always able to seek monetary compensation when they deserve it;
  1. c) ensure that the Accessible Canada Act never reduces the rights of people with disabilities, and that in any conflict between laws, the one that provides the highest level of accessibility prevails;
  1. d) ensure that federal laws never create or permit accessibility barriers;
  1. e) ensure that federal public money is never used to create or perpetuate barriers against people with disabilities;
  1. f) simplify the Accessible Canada Act‘s unnecessarily confusing and complicated enforcement process;
  1. g) eliminate the Federal Government’s power to exempt itself from some of its duties under the Accessible Canada Act, and
  1. h) require the Federal Government to apply a disability lens when it makes decisions or policies.

Founded in 2005, the AODA Alliance is a non-partisan community coalition that advocates for accessibility for people with disabilities in Ontario and Canada. We presented to the House of Commons and Senate to ask for amendments to strengthen Bill C-81. During debates in Parliament, MPs and Senators quoted and relied on our submissions.

In June, before rising for the election, Parliament unanimously passed Bill C-81, the Accessible Canada Act. We appreciate and commend its unanimous passage. Many people with disabilities were encouraged by Parliament’s unanimity in recognizing that Canada has too many barriers impeding people with disabilities, and that the needed legislative solution to this problem must be based on the principle of “Nothing about us without us!”

It is good that the Accessible Canada Act sets the goal of Canada becoming barrier-free by 2040, and that it gives the Federal Government a range of important powers to achieve that goal. However, there was also commendable recognition from many in Parliament that the bill needs to include more to achieve its goal. Even though the Accessible Canada Act has the goal of ensuring that Canada becomes barrier-free by 2040, it does not require that a single disability barrier ever be removed.

In the House of Commons Standing Committee hearings, many disability advocates identified ways Bill C-81 needed to be strengthened. During clause-by-clause debate in the House last fall, the Conservatives and NDP presented a substantial number of proposed amendments at the request of disability organizations. The Federal Government presented a shorter package of amendments. The Federal Government’s amendments were passed.

After that, the bill came to the Senate last spring. A Senate Standing Committee held a second round of public hearings. The Senate heard that there was ample support for the need for this legislation, but that the bill still needed strengthening.

Commendably, the Senate passed a short package of improvements to the bill, before returning it to the House of Commons. Senators saw that the bill needed improvements. They were reluctant to pass more than a bare number of amendments, because they did not want to risk the bill dying on the order paper when the imminent election was called.

The Senate did what little it could to strengthen the bill within these substantial constraints. However, it did not fix all the key deficiencies with Bill C-81. When the bill was returned to the House of Commons last spring, it was commendable that the House unanimously passed the Senate’s improvements.

The job of coming up with an Accessible Canada Act that meets the needs of over six million people with disabilities in Canada is therefore still unfinished. We urge Parliament to now finish this important work, by strengthening the Accessible Canada Act. We propose amendments. Set out below, these amendments echo key requests from the disability community to the House of Commons and later to the Senate before the election. For Parliament to now act on them is true to the parties’ commitment to the principle “Nothing about us without us.”

To past a modest bill now to strengthen the Accessible Canada Act is consistent with the calls last year by the Conservative, NDP and Green Parties for Bill C-81 to be strengthened. During Third Reading debates on Bill C-81 in the House of Commons, the Conservatives promised, if elected, to make the strengthening of this bill a priority. The NDP promised specific amendments to this bill during the 2019 federal election. The Liberals promised that this new law would be historic and would ensure that Canada becomes accessible to people with disabilities. The Liberals also promised during the recent election to apply a disability lens to all government decisions. When a disability lens is applied to the Accessible Canada Act itself, it brings into sharp focus the fact that the amendments we seek are needed now.

These amendments would not delay the Federal Government’s current activity on implementing the Accessible Canada Act. Parliamentary debate over this short amendments package need not hold up other pressing Parliamentary business.

We anticipate that some within the Federal Public Service may push back that this should all await an Independent Review of the Accessible Canada Act’s operations. Yet people with disabilities cannot wait the seven or more years for that review to begin. The need for these amendments is clear and present now. Any delay in making them will only slow Canada’s progress towards the goal of full accessibility.

In the new minority Parliament that voters elected, your parties have committed to work together. Our proposed bill is an excellent opportunity for this. It reflects what your parties have said about accessibility for people with disabilities and to what many disability advocates told Parliament.

We would welcome the opportunity to speak to any of your parties’ officials about this. Please let us know with whom we should speak within your party.

We urge you to support the bill we seek, and to make this a priority on Parliament’s agenda. We are eager to work together with you on this positive proposal in the spirit of non-partisanship that is the hallmark of our many years of grassroots disability advocacy.

Sincerely,

David Lepofsky CM, O. Ont

Chair Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities

www.aodaalliance.org aodafeedback@gmail.com Twitter: @aodaalliance

Framework of a Proposed Federal Bill to Strengthen the Accessible Canada Act

November 18, 2019

Introduction

We call on Canada’s Parliament to pass a new bill to strengthen the Accessible Canada Act. The Accessible Canada Act is federal legislation that has the purpose of ensuring that Canada becomes barrier-free for over six million people with disabilities by 2040. This framework explains the amendments to the Accessible Canada Act that we seek via a new bill.

A. Enforceable Accessibility Standard Regulations Should Be Enacted Within Five Years

The Accessible Canada Act’s centerpiece is the enactment and enforcement of accessibility standard regulations. These regulations will specify what an organization must do, and by when to become accessible. The Act lets the Federal Cabinet, the Canadian Radio, Television and Telecommunication Commission (CRTC) and the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) enact these regulations. However, it does not require them ever to be enacted. If they are not enacted, the Act will fail.

Our proposed bill would amend the Accessible Canada Act to require the Federal Government, the CTA and the CRTC to enact regulations to set accessibility standards in all the areas that the Act covers within five years. We therefore propose:

  1. The Accessible Canada Act should be amended to add this subsection to section 117:

“Obligation

(1.2) The Governor in Council must make all the regulations under paragraphs 1(c) and (d) necessary to achieving the purposes of this Act, and, without limiting the generality of the foregoing, must make at least one regulation under paragraphs (1c) and (d) in each of the areas referred to in section 5 within the period of five years that begins on the day on which this subsection comes into force.”

B. The Accessible Canada Act Should Never Reduce the Rights of People with Disabilities

The Accessible Canada Act includes insufficient protections to ensure that nothing under the Act reduces the rights of people with disabilities and that if there is a conflict between two laws regarding accessibility, the stronger one will prevail.

Our proposed bill would amend the Accessible Canada Act to provide that if a provision of that Act or of a regulation enacted under it conflicts with a provision of any other Act or regulation, the provision that provides the highest level of accessibility shall prevail, and that nothing in the Accessible Canada Act or in any regulations enacted under it or actions taken under it shall reduce any rights which people with disabilities otherwise enjoy under law. We therefore propose:

  1. Section 6 of the Accessible Canada Act should be amended to add the following to the principles set out in it that govern the Act:

“(2) (a) If a provision of this Act or of any regulation under this Act conflicts with or guarantees a different level of accessibility for people with disabilities than a provision of any other Act or regulation, the provision that provides the highest level of accessibility for persons with disabilities with respect to goods, services, facilities, employment, accommodation, buildings, structures or premises shall prevail.

(b) Nothing in or under this Act or regulations enacted under it may be construed or applied to reduce the rights of people with disabilities enjoyed at law.”

C. An Unfair and Discriminatory Provision of the Accessible Canada Act Should Be Removed So that Passengers with Disabilities Who Are the Victims of Accessibility Barriers in Federally-Regulated Travel (Like Air Travel) are Always Able to Seek Monetary Compensation When They Deserve It

An unfair and discriminatory provision, section 172, was included in the Accessible Canada Act. It is helpful that the Senate somewhat softened it, after tenacious pressure from disability advocates. However, it should be repealed altogether.

Specifically, section 172(3) of the Accessible Canada Act unfairly takes away important rights from people with disabilities in a discriminatory way. It bars the CTA from awarding justly-deserved monetary compensation to a passenger with a disability, even if the CTA finds that an airline or other federally-regulated transportation-provider imposed an undue barrier against them, so long as a federal transportation accessibility regulation says that the airline did not have to provide the passenger with that accommodation.

This unfairly protects huge, well-funded airlines and railways from having to pay monetary compensation in situations where they should have to pay up. Our proposed bill would repeal the offending portion of section 172(3). We therefore propose:

  1. To ensure that the Canadian Transportation Agency can decide whether there is an undue barrier that makes federal transportation inaccessible for persons with disabilities and can always order the full range of remedies to remove and prevent such barriers, and to ensure that s. 172(3) of the Canada Transportation Act does not reduce rights of persons with disabilities, subsection 172(3) of the Accessible Canada Act and the corresponding s. 172(3) of the Canada Transportation Act should be amended to remove the words “but if it does so, it may only require the taking of appropriate corrective measures.”

Section 172(3) of the Canada Transportation Act currently reads:

“Compliance with regulations

(3) If the Agency is satisfied that regulations made under subsection 170(1) that are applicable in relation to a matter have been complied with or have not been contravened, the Agency may determine that there is an undue barrier in relation to that matter but if it does so, it may only require the taking of appropriate corrective measures.”

With this amendment, section 172(3) would read:

“Compliance with regulations

(3) If the Agency is satisfied that regulations made under subsection 170(1) that are applicable in relation to a matter have been complied with or have not been contravened, the Agency may determine that there is an undue barrier in relation to that matter.”

D. No Federal Laws Should Create or Permit Disability Barriers

The Accessible Canada Act does not ensure that federal laws never impose or permit the creation of barriers against people with disabilities.

Our proposed bill would amend the Accessible Canada Act’s definition of “barrier” to include laws that create or permit disability barriers. We therefore propose:

  1. Section 2 of the Accessible Canada Act’s definition of “barrier” should be amended to add the words “a law”, so that it will read in material part:

“barrier means anything — including anything physical, architectural, technological or attitudinal, anything that is based on information or communications or anything that is the result of a law, a policy or a practice — that hinders the full and equal participation in society of persons with an impairment, including a physical, mental, intellectual, cognitive, learning, communication or sensory impairment or a functional limitation. (obstacle)”

E. Federal Public Money Should Never Be Used to Create or Perpetuate Barriers

The Accessible Canada Act does not require the Federal Government to ensure that federal money is never used by any recipient of those funds to create or perpetuate disability barriers. For example, the Act doesn’t require the Federal Government to attach accessibility strings when it gives money to a municipality, college, university, local transit authority or other organization to build new infrastructure. Those recipients are left free to use federal public money to design and build new infrastructure that is not fully accessible to people with disabilities. Also, the Act doesn’t require the Federal Government to attach any federal accessibility strings when it gives business development loans or grants to private businesses.

It is helpful that the Act lets the Federal Government impose accessibility requirements when it buys goods or services. However, it doesn’t require the Federal Government to ever do so.

This allows for a wasteful and harmful use of public money. The Senate’s Standing Committee on Social Affairs that held hearings on Bill C-81 made this important observation in its May 7, 2019 report to the Senate:

“Your committee heard concerns that despite this legislation, federal funding may continue to be spent on projects that do not always meet accessibility standards. Therefore, we encourage the federal government to ensure that when public money is spent or transferred, the funding should never be used to create or perpetuate disability-related barriers when it is reasonable to expect that such barriers can be avoided.”

Our proposed bill would amend the Accessible Canada Act to require that no one may use public money distributed by the Government of Canada in a manner that creates or perpetuates barriers, including e.g., payments by the Government of Canada to any person or entity to purchase or rent any goods, services or facilities, or to contribute to the construction, expansion or renovation of any infrastructure or other capital project, or to provide a business development loan or grant to any person or entity. We therefore propose:

  1. The Accessible Canada Act should be amended to add the following provision:

11.1.

(1) No one shall use public money distributed by the Government of Canada or any agency thereof by loan, grant, or other like payment in a manner that creates or perpetuates barriers.

(2) Without limiting the generality of the foregoing, subsection 1 includes payments by the Government of Canada to any person or entity to purchase or rent any goods, services or facilities, or to contribute to the construction, expansion or renovation of any infrastructure or other capital project, or to provide a business development loan or grant to any person or entity.

(3) Within the period of two years that begins on the day on which this subsection comes into force, the minister must establish and make public policies and procedures to implement, monitor compliance with, and report to the public on compliance with subsections 1 and 2.

(4) The power to make regulations under clauses 117 (1) (c) and (d) includes the power to make regulations to implement this section.

F. The Confusing and Complicated Implementation and Enforcement of the Accessible Canada Act Should be Simplified

The lengthy Accessible Canada Act is very complicated and confusing. It will be hard for people with disabilities to navigate it. It splinters the power to make accessibility standard regulations and the power to enforce the bill among a number of federal agencies, such as the new federal Accessibility Commissioner, the CTA, and the CRTC.

This makes it much harder for people with disabilities to navigate the system, to find out what rights they have, and to get violations fixed. People with disabilities have to learn to navigate as many as three or four different sets of accessibility rules, enforcement agencies, procedures, forms and time lines for presenting an accessibility complaint.

Our proposed bill would require that the CRTC, CTA and the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board, within six months, establish policies, practices and procedures for expeditiously receiving, investigating, considering and deciding upon complaints under this Act which are the same as or as reasonably close as possible to those that the Accessible Canada Act sets out for the Accessibility Commissioner. We therefore propose:

  1. The following provision should be added to the Accessible Canada Act:

“Section 123.1.

(1) The Canadian Transportation Agency, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, and the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board must within the period of six months that begins on the day on which this subsection comes into force, establish policies, practices and procedures for expeditiously receiving, investigating, considering and deciding upon complaints under this Act which are the same as or as reasonably close as possible to, those set out for the Accessibility Commissioner in sections 94 to 110 of the Act.”

G. The Accessible Canada Act’s Power to Exempt the Federal Government from Some of the Act’s Requirements Should be Eliminated

The Accessible Canada Act has too many loopholes. For example, it lets the Federal Government exempt itself from some of its duties under the Act. The Government should not ever be able to exempt itself.

Our proposed bill would eliminate the Federal Government’s power to exempt itself from some of its duties under the Accessible Canada Act. We therefore propose:

  1. Section 72(1) of the Accessible Canada Act should be amended to add the words “except any entity referred to in paragraphs 7(1) (a), (b) and (c) (the Government of Canada, or a department or agency of the Government of Canada)”, so that the provision will read in material part:

“72 (1) The Minister may, by order, exempt any regulated entity or class of regulated entities except the any entity referred to in paragraphs 7(1) (a), (b) and (c) (the Government of Canada, or a department or agency of the Government of Canada) from the application of all or any part of sections 69 to 71, on any terms that the Minister considers necessary. The order ceases to have effect on the earlier of the end of the per­iod of three years that begins on the day on which the order is made and the end of any shorter period specified in the order.”

H. The Federal Government Should Be Required to Apply a Disability Lens to All Its Decisions

 

In the 2019 election campaign, the Liberal Party of Canada promised that it would apply a disability lens to all Federal Government decisions. Proposed opposition amendments to Bill C-81 last year would have made this a permanent legal requirement, not a voluntary practice that future governments could ignore.

Our proposed bill would amend the Accessible Canada Act to entrench in law a disability lens, that must be applied to all Government policies and decisions and would make it binding on both the current Government and future governments. We therefore propose:

 

  1. The following provision should be added to the Accessible Canada Act:

In order to systemically entrench the full inclusion of people with disabilities in all opportunities available in Canada, the government shall implement a disability lens whereby:

(a) Within two years the government shall have reviewed all existing policies to ensure that they do not exclude or adversely affect persons with disabilities.

(b) within 3 months of completing this review, the Minister shall submit a report to Parliament on the findings of the review and corrective measures taken.

(c) the government shall review all new policies and decisions to ensure that they do not exclude or adversely affect persons with disabilities.

(d) Before the Government of Canada adopts any new policies or makes any new decisions, the Minister shall certify that the policy has been reviewed to ensure that it does not exclude or adversely affect persons with disabilities, and shall annually report to Parliament on the reviews conducted and corrective measures taken