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 Election Commitments on Advancing the Cause of Accessibility for Over 6 Million People with Disabilities in Canada
July 18, 2019
A hotly-contested federal election will take place this October. The candidates are already fanning out across Canada, campaigning for our votes.
Once again, the AODA Alliance is jumping into the fray. On July 18, 2019, we wrote the leaders of the major federal parties. We asked them for election pledges concerning accessibility for over 6 million people with disabilities in Canada. We set that letter out below.
Our letter offers this short summary of what we seek:
“In summary we ask your Party to make 11 commitments to ensure that the implementation and enforcement of the Accessible Canada Act (ACA) is swift, strong and effective, including, e.g. making needed accessibility standard regulations within four years, effectively enforcing the law, establishing a single unified process for complaints under the ACA, ensuring that nothing is done under the ACA that cuts back on the rights of people with disabilities, and ensuring that public money is not used to create or perpetuate barriers against people with disabilities.”
The specific pledges we seek include:
- Enforceable accessibility standard regulations should be enacted within four years.
- The ACA should be effectively enforced.
- Federal public money should never be used to create or perpetuate barriers.
- The ACA should never reduce the rights of people with disabilities.
- Section 172(3) of the ACA should be amended to remove its unfair and discriminatory ban on the Canadian Transportation Agency ever awarding monetary compensation to passengers with disabilities who are the victims of an undue barrier in federally-regulated transportation (like air travel), where a CTA regulation wrongly set the accessibility requirements too low.
- The ACA’s implementation and enforcement should be consolidated in One federal agency, not splintered among several of them.
- No federal laws should ever create or permit disability barriers.
- Federal elections should be made accessible to voters with disabilities.
- Power to exempt organizations from some ACA requirements should be eliminated or reduced.
- Federally-controlled courts and tribunals should be made disability-accessible.
- Proposed Opposition amendments to the ACA that were defeated in the House of Commons in 2018 and that would strengthen the ACA should be passed.
We will let you know what responses we receive. We will be active over the next three months on social media and elsewhere, in an effort to raise these issues leading up to the federal election. In future AODA Alliance Updates, we will offer you action tips on how you can help.
As we say time and again, but must repeat here: We don’t support or oppose any candidate. We try to get the strongest commitments on accessibility from as many candidates and parties as we can.
To learn about our efforts over the past four years to get a strong and effective Accessible Canada Act enacted by Canada’s Parliament, visit www.aodaalliance.org/canada
Text of the July 18, 2019 Letter to the Leaders of the Major Federal Political Parties
ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE
1929 Bayview Avenue,
Toronto, Ontario M4G 3E8
United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities
July 18, 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 Commitments to Ensure the Effective Implementation of the Accessible Canada Act (ACA)
With a federal election approaching, we seek 11 commitments from each federal political party on Canada’s new national accessibility legislation, the Accessible Canada Act (Bill C-81). It is good that Parliament recently passed Bill C-81, the Accessible Canada Act . That is only the first step on the road to making Canada accessible to people with disabilities in Canada.
In this letter, we explain what we seek, who we are, and why over six million people with disabilities in Canada need these strong election commitments. Founded in 2005, the AODA Alliance is a non-partisan community coalition that advocates for accessibility for people with disabilities in Ontario and at the federal level. We were one of the disability organizations that appeared before the House of Commons and Senate to call for amendments to strengthen Bill C-81. During debates in Parliament over this bill, MPs and Senators relied on our submissions.
In summary we ask your Party to make 11 commitments to ensure that the implementation and enforcement of the Accessible Canada Act (ACA) is swift, strong and effective, including, e.g. making needed accessibility standard regulations within four years, effectively enforcing the law, establishing a single unified process for complaints under the ACA, ensuring that nothing is done under the ACA that cuts back on the rights of people with disabilities, and ensuring that public money is not used to create or perpetuate barriers against people with disabilities.
1. Enforceable Accessibility Standard Regulations Should Be Enacted Within Four Years
The ACA’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 ACA 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 ACA will fail.
- Will you enact or amend legislation to require the Federal Government, the CTA and the CRTC to enact regulations to set accessibility standards in all the areas that the ACA covers within four years? If not, will you commit that those regulations will be enacted under the ACA within four years?
2. The ACA Should Be Effectively Enforced
We have learned from extensive experience with provincial accessibility legislation that the ACA will be ineffective unless it is effectively enforced.
- Will your party commit to ensure that the ACA is effectively enforced?
3. Federal Public Money Should Never Be used to Create or Perpetuate Barriers
The ACA 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 ACA 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. 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.
It is helpful that the ACA 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.”
- Will your party ensure by legislation, and if not, then by public policy, that no one will 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?
4. The ACA Should Never Reduce the Rights of People with Disabilities
The ACA includes only limited and insufficient protection to ensure that nothing under the ACA reduces the rights of people with disabilities. The ACA provides:
“121.1 For greater certainty, nothing in any provision of this Act or the regulations limits a regulated entity’s duty to accommodate under any other Act of Parliament.”
- Will your party amend the ACA to provide that if a provision of the ACA 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 ACA or in any regulations enacted under it or in any actions taken under it shall reduce any rights which people with disabilities otherwise enjoy under law?
A discriminatory provision was included in the Accessible Canada Act. It is helpful that it was softened in the Senate, after extensive advocacy efforts by people with disabilities. However, it should be repealed altogether.
Making this worse, section 172(3) of the ACA unfairly takes away important rights from people with disabilities in a discriminatory way. It bars the CTA from awarding justly-deserved money compensation to a passenger with a disability, even if the Agency finds that an airline or other federally-regulated transportation-provider has imposed an undue barrier against them, so long as a federal transportation accessibility regulation wrongly says that the airline did not have to provide the passenger with that accommodation. Section 172 of the ACA provides:
“Inquiry — barriers to mobility
172 (1) The Agency may, on application, inquire into a matter in relation to which a regulation could be made under subsection 170(1), regardless of whether such a regulation has been made, in order to determine whether there is an undue barrier to the mobility of persons with disabilities.
(2) On determining that there is an undue barrier to the mobility of persons with disabilities, the Agency may do one or more of the following:
(a) require the taking of appropriate corrective measures;
(b) direct that compensation be paid for any expense incurred by a person with a disability arising out of the barrier, including for any costs of obtaining alternative goods, services or accommodation;
(c) direct that compensation be paid for any wages that a person with a disability was deprived of as a result of the barrier;
(d) direct that compensation be paid up to a maximum amount of — subject to the annual adjustments made under section 172.2 — $20,000, for any pain and suffering experienced by a person with a disability arising out of the barrier;
(e) direct that compensation be paid up to a maximum amount of — subject to the annual adjustments made under section 172.2 — $20,000, if the Agency determines that the barrier is the result of a wilful or reckless practice.
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.”
This unfairly protects huge, well-funded airlines and railways from having to pay monetary compensation in situations where they should have to pay up.
- Will your party repeal the offending portion of section 172(3) of the ACA that reads “but if it does so, it may only require the taking of appropriate corrective measures.”” And replace them with words such as: “and grant a remedy in accordance with subsection 2.” ?
5. The ACA’s Implementation and Enforcement Should be Consolidated in One Federal Agency, Not Splintered Among Several of Them
The 105-page ACA is far too complicated and confusing. It will be hard for people with disabilities 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 CTA, and the CRTC.
This makes the ACA’s implementation and enforcement less effective, more confusing, more complicated and more costly. It will make it take longer to get accessibility regulations enacted. It risks weak, contradictory or unnecessarily complex regulations.
This splintering 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 are burdened 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.
This splintering only helps existing federal bureaucracies that want more power, and any large obligated organizations that want to dodge taking action on accessibility. Those organizations will relish exploiting the bill’s confusing complexity to delay and impede its implementation.
It is wrong for the ACA 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.
- Will your party assign all responsibility for the ACA’s enforcement to the Accessibility Commissioner and all responsibility for enacting regulations under the ACA to the Federal Cabinet? If not, then at a minimum, would your party require by legislation or policy that the CRTC, CTA and the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board must, 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 set out for the Accessibility Commissioner?
6. No Federal Laws Should Ever Create or Permit Disability Barriers
It is important to ensure that no federal laws impose or permit the creation of barriers against people with disabilities.
- Will your Party review all federal laws to identify any which require or permit any barriers against people with disabilities, and will your party amend Section 2 of the ACA (definition of “barrier”) to add the words “a law”, so that it will read:
“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.”
7. Federal Elections Should Be Made Accessible to Voters with Disabilities
Voters with disabilities continue to face disability barriers in federal elections, including, for example, barriers that can impede them from voting independently and in private, and verifying their choice. Recent amendments to federal election legislation do not ensure this.
- Will your party pass legislation or regulations and adopt policies needed to ensure that federal elections become barrier-free for voters and candidates with disabilities.
8. Power to Exempt Organizations from Some ACA Requirements Should be Eliminated or Reduced
The ACA has too many loopholes. For example, it lets the Federal Government exempt itself from some of its duties under the ACA. The Government should not ever be able to exempt itself.
- Will your Party eliminate or reduce the power to exempt organizations from some of the requirements that the ACA imposes? Such as eliminating the power to exempt the Government of Canada, or a federal department or agency? If not, will your party commit not to grant any exemptions from the ACA?
9. Federally-Controlled Courts and Tribunals Should be Made Disability-Accessible
People with disabilities continue to face barriers when they try to take part in proceedings in courts for which the Federal Government is responsible.
- Will your party develop and implement a plan to ensure that all federally-operated courts (e.g. the Supreme Court of Canada and Federal Courts), and federally operated regulatory tribunals (like the CRTC and CTA) become accessible.
10. Other Measures Needed to Strengthen the ACA
In 2018, federal opposition parties proposed a number of amendments to strengthen Bill C-81 in the House of Commons. The Government defeated most if not all of them.
- Would your party pass the amendments to the ACA which the opposition proposed in the fall of 2018 in the House of Commons, which the Government had defeated, and which would strengthen the ACA?
We would appreciate a response by email in MS Word format. We will make responses public. We would be pleased to answer any questions you have.
David Lepofsky CM, O. Ont
Chair Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance