Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update
United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities
AODA Alliance Writes Federal Party Leaders Seeking Commitments to Strengthen Bill C-81, and to Bring It Back Before Parliament After This Fall’s Federal Election If It is Not Passed With Amendments to Strengthen It
April 5, 2019
We are diving head-first into our blitz before Canada’s Senate to get much-needed amendments to strengthen the weak Bill C-81, the Federal Government’s proposed Accessible Canada Act. Bill C-81 is called “An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada” for people with disabilities. Yet it does not require a single disability barrier to ever be removed or prevented anywhere in Canada.
Last week, on March 29, 2019, we sent the Senate our punchy 6-page brief on Bill C-81. It describes five of the major amendments that are desperately needed to strengthen this bill. See also the Open Letter to the Federal Government that fully 95 disability organizations (including the AODA Alliance) sent to the House of Commons last fall. It called for essential amendments to the bill.
In parallel with our strategy before the Senate, we have today written the leaders of the major federal parties in the House of Commons. We set that letter out below.
In this new letter, we ask the federal parties to each make two important commitments to us. We want these commitments now. In short, we want them to support amendments to strengthen Bill C-81, if the Senate passes any, and returns the bill to the House of Commons for a vote on those amendments before the fall federal election. We also want the party leaders to commit that they will bring a stronger national accessibility bill before Parliament after this fall’s federal election, if this bill does not get passed before the fall election, or if it is passed this spring “as is”, without these much-needed amendments.
We want Canada’s senators to feel free to strengthen Bill C-81 over the next short period when they consider this bill. The Senate’s Standing Committee on Social Affairs will be holding hearings on this bill on April 10 and 11, and May 1. After that, that committee will only have one meeting to consider passing amendments to the bill. That will be on May 2. We are all operating under extreme time pressure.
We are delighted that individuals and organizations have already been emailing the Senate’s Standing Committee to support the AODA Alliance’s March 29, 2019 brief. They are calling on the Senate to strengthen this weak bill.
It is not too late for you to help with this effort! Please add your voice. Get others to do so as well. Use your own words. Email the Senate Standing Committee today, by writing this email address:
We will have more to share over the next days about this blitz. Over five million people with disabilities in Canada deserve a strong national accessibility law. We need not settle for a weak bill. Now is the time to be heard!
We are tenacious! Visit our website to learn all about the background to Bill C-81 and our efforts to get it strengthened.
ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE
1929 Bayview Avenue,
Toronto, Ontario M4G 3E8
Email firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @aodaalliance www.aodaalliance.org
United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities
April 5, 2019
The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau
Via email: email@example.com
Office of the Prime Minister of Canada
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2
The Hon. Andrew Scheer, Leader of the Loyal Opposition and the Conservative Party
Leader of the Conservative Party; MP, Regina-Qu’Appelle
Via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Leader of the Conservative Party
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6
The Hon. Jagmeet Singh Leader of the NDP
Via email: email@example.com
300 – 279 Laurier West
Ottawa, Ontario K1P 5J9
The Hon. Elizabeth May Leader of the Green Party; MP, Saanich-Gulf Islands
Via email: Elizabeth.firstname.lastname@example.org
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A6
The Hon. Rhéal Fortin Interim Leader of the Bloc Québécois
Via email: Rheal.Fortin@parl.gc.ca
3730 boul. Crémazie Est, 4e étage
Montréal, Québec H2A 1B4
The Hon. Maxime Bernier, Leader of the People’s Party of Canada
Via email: email@example.com
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6 Canada
Dear Federal Party Leaders,
Re: Seeking Your Parties’ Commitments to Ensure that Canada Has A Strong and Effective National Accessibility Law
With a federal election this fall, we seek commitments from each federal political party now on the need for Canada to have a strong national accessibility law. Last fall, the House of Commons passed a weak bill, Bill C-81, the proposed Accessible Canada Act. It is now before the Senate.
We and others in the disability community are urging the Senate to strengthen that bill. It is unclear whether Parliament will finish with this bill before this fall’s federal election, and if so, whether the current weak bill will be strengthened before it is enacted. We seek your parties’ commitments now, as this will help ensure that the senators can feel free to amend this bill to strengthen it, without fearing that this will jeopardize the bill.
In this letter, we explain what we seek, who we are, and why over five million people with disabilities in Canada need Bill C-81 to be strengthened.
Commitments We Ask Your Parties to Each Make Now
We ask your parties to now make these two commitments:
- If this spring, the Senate amends Bill C-81(the proposed Accessible Canada Act) to strengthen it, and returns the bill to the House of Commons before it rises for this year’s federal election, will your party support swift passage of amendments that strengthen the bill in the areas that we refer to in this letter and in our March 29, 2019 brief to the Senate?
- If Bill C-81 does not finish its path through Parliament before this falls’ federal election, or if it is passed without the amendments needed to strengthen it in areas referred to in this letter and in our March 29, 2019 brief to the Senate, will your party commit to bring this bill, these needed amendments, back to Parliament to be enacted or strengthened, as the case may be, after the fall federal election?
Who Are We?
The AODA Alliance is a non-partisan community coalition that has advocated in Ontario since 2005 for the effective implementation and enforcement of Canada’s first comprehensive provincial accessibility law, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2005. In every Ontario election since 2005, each provincial political party that has made election pledges on Ontario’s provincial accessibility legislation has done so in the form of letters to our coalition.
We have given advice to many, including several provinces, a United Nations conference, the European Union, Israel and New Zealand. We are the successor to the community coalition that successfully campaigned from 1994 to 2005 for the AODA’s enactment.
We have been very actively involved in the campaign for national accessibility legislation in Canada. We have gathered input from our grassroots supporters and have actively worked with other key players in Canada’s disability community to forge common ground on what national accessibility legislation needs to include. We provided input to each successive federal minister responsible for this legislation, to federal parties, and to the Federal Public Service.
Why Canada Needs Strong National Accessibility Legislation
People with all kinds of disabilities in Canada face too many accessibility barriers when they try to get a job, use public or private services, or enjoy all the other things that the public ordinarily takes for granted. As the Federal Government has commendably recognized, it is unfair and ineffective to leave it to individuals with disabilities to have to bring their own legal proceedings to battle against these obstacles, one barrier at a time, and one organization at a time. We need comprehensive accessibility legislation to remove these barriers along reasonable timelines, and to prevent the creation of new disability accessibility barriers in the future.
Canada needs a national accessibility law to ensure accessibility for people with disabilities dealing with those operating in the realm that the Federal Government can regulate, such as banking, air travel, postal services, services offered by the Federal Government, as well as radio, television and telephone/cell phone services. We also need it to ensure that whoever receives federal funding never uses that money to create or perpetuate disability barriers.
How Does Bill C-81 Measure Up?
The bill has very serious problems. It is quite weak.
Bill C-81 is called “An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada” for people with disabilities. Yet it does not require a single disability barrier to ever be removed or prevented anywhere in Canada.
- The bill gives federal accessibility agencies/officials helpful powers to promote accessibility. However, the bill imposes no duty on them to ever use those powers, with one inconsequential exception.
The bill sets no deadlines for taking many of the major implementation steps that the Government needs to take to implement this bill. The Government could drag its feet for years if not indefinitely.
For example, the bill lets the Government enact accessibility standards as enforceable regulations. This is the bill’s vital core. However, the bill does not require the Government to ever enact any. Without them, the bill is a hollow shell.
The bill gives the Federal Government enforcement powers. However it doesn’t require the bill to be effectively enforced.
During the first five years after this bill goes into effect, the Federal Government’s only mandatory duty under the bill is for Cabinet, the CRTC and Canada Transportation agency to enact one regulation within two years after the bill comes into force. However that regulation could be an inconsequential one on minor procedural matters, without ever requiring that any disability barriers be removed or prevented.
- Unlike Ontario’s 2005 accessibility legislation, this bill does not set a deadline for Canada to become accessible to people with disabilities. Under Bill C-81, Canada may not become accessible to people with disabilities for hundreds of years, if ever.
- The 105-page bill is far too complicated and confusing. It will be hard for people with disabilities and others to navigate it. This is because the bill 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 Canada Transportation Agency (CTA) and the Canadian Radio, Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).
This makes the bill’s implementation and enforcement more confusing, complicated and costly. It will take longer and be harder to get strong, effective and non-contradictory accessibility regulations enacted.
It is wrong for the bill to give almost exclusive powers over accessibility to federally-regulated transportation organizations (like airlines) to the CTA, and almost exclusive powers over broadcasters and telecommunication companies (like Bell Canada and Rogers Communications) to the CRTC. The CTA and CRTC have had powers in this area for years. Their record on accessibility is not good.
- The bill does not ensure that federal public money is never used by any recipient of those funds, to create or perpetuate disability barriers. Under it, the Federal Government can continue to sit idly by when those who receive federal money use that money to create new disability barriers. This allows for a wasteful and harmful use of public money.
The bill lets the Federal Government set accessibility requirements for instances when it buys goods or services. However it doesn’t require the Federal Government to ever do so.
The bill 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 of federal money are left free to design and build new infrastructure without ensuring that it is fully accessible to people with disabilities. That’s what happened when the Federal Government helped fund the construction of Toronto’s new Women’s College Hospital, which has accessibility problems.
Also, the bill doesn’t require the Federal Government to attach any federal accessibility strings when it gives business development loans or grants to private businesses.
- The bill has too many loopholes. As one example, the bill gives the Federal Government the power to exempt itself from some of its duties under the bill. The Government should not ever be able to exempt itself.
Will Bill C-81 Be Passed by Parliament by the Fall 2019 Federal Election?
The Senate is expediting its debates on Bill C-81. The Senate’s Standing Committee on Social Affairs is scheduled to complete its consideration of Bill C-81 on May 2, 2019.
We and others from Canada’s disability community are urging the Senate to make vital amendments needed to address Bill C-81’s serious flaws, such as those addressed in this letter. Our preference is for the Senate to make these amendments, and for Bill C-81 to be returned to the House of Commons for a vote on those amendments this spring, before Parliament rises for the fall general election. We are eager for the Senate and then the House of Commons to pass those amendments.
Should this bill not pass before the fall federal election, or if it is simply passed by Parliament before the election “as is”, we are eager to get commitments, sought earlier in this letter, that after the fall election, people with disabilities in Canada will have a chance to get a national accessibility law addressed in the next Parliament. We seek an assurance that after the fall federal election, a national accessibility bill will be returned to Parliament for debate – one that includes the improvements to Bill C-81 that we seek.
People with disabilities should not be confronted with the unfair choice to have to accept this bill “as is”, no matter how deficient it is, just because it might not otherwise be passed before the fall federal election. Years of experience have also taught us never to settle for the palpably inadequate, without pressing for better, simply because that is all a government has offered. This is not a charitable hand-out to be gratefully accepted, no matter how inadequate.
This bill is about the fundamental equality and human rights of people with disabilities. All parties agreed in the House of Commons that there is a need for new national accessibility legislation. After all the effort that has gone into the public consultations on this bill, and with the widespread support in the disability community for the need for strong federal accessibility legislation, there is no reason why this effort should be treated by anyone as dead if it did not finish its travels through Parliament before the fall federal election.
We would be happy to answer any questions your party may have as it considers this request. We are eager to get an answer to our request as soon as possible. We want to ensure that the Senate is not deterred from making much-needed amendments to Bill C-81, out of any fear that doing so might jeopardize the bill’s future. A commitment that a national accessibility bill will be brought back before the House of Commons after the fall election, if needed, will remove that issue, and free Senators to do the right thing when they consider this bill over the next four to six weeks.
David Lepofsky CM, O. Ont
Chair Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance