Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update
United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities
At Public Hearings, The AODA Alliance Urges Parliament’s Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities to Strengthen the Weak Bill C-81, the Proposed Accessible Canada Act — and – The Work of Two of Five Ontario Standards Development Committees Appear to Be Unfrozen While Three Others Inexplicably Still Remain Frozen
October 26, 2018
Again, here is more breaking news on both the federal and Ontario fronts, in our campaign for accessibility for people with disabilities.
1. The AODA Alliance October 26, 2018 Presentation on Bill C-81 to Parliaments Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities
On Thursday, October 25, 2018, the AODA Alliance made its formal presentation on Bill C-81, the proposed Accessible Canada Act, to Parliament’s Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities in Ottawa. Below we set out our unofficial transcript of our opening remarks.
Between 8 and 9 a.m. that morning, the Committee at the same time also heard from the CNIB and the Canadian hard of Hearing Association. The Committee then asked the presenters questions. Most of the questions were directed to the AODA Alliance. When the text of that entire meeting is made available, we will circulate the full text.
We understand that the Standing Committee will resume on November 8, 2018, to consider clause-by-clause debate over the bill. This is when each party can table, debate and vote on amendments. We are asking the political parties to give us accessible copies of their intended amendments, so we can send them to you. We will make any available when we get them and are able to circulate them.
We offer two observations about the exchanges at these public hearings on Bill C-81, which are now completed. First, the Federal Government seems resistant to the broad call from the disability community, including the AODA Alliance, that the bill be amended to set an end date for Canada to become accessible to people with disabilities. We understand that at an earlier hearing, the Federal Government argued that the Criminal Code does not set an end date for Canada to become crime-free. Our response is that this is a totally incorrect comparison. We all know that the criminal law is in place because sadly, violent and unlawful conduct has persisted throughout time, and will always be present in our society. The Criminal Code tries to address it the best we can.
In contrast, an accessibility law can set an end date for reaching accessibility. The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act commendably set a 20-year time line. That deadline has been a vital part of our advocacy efforts in Ontario since 2005. It provides the best benchmark against which we can measure progress. Without it, progress in Ontario, which has not been fast enough, would have been even slower.
If the Federal Government passes this law with no time line for reaching accessibility in Canada, it would tell people with disabilities in Canada that this is put off to the indefinite future. People with disabilities deserve better.
At the hearings, the Federal Government tried to argue that it is not possible to set an ultimate time line for reaching accessibility, because our understanding of accessibility is evolving over time. Some new barrier or new kind of disability could come up later.
This too, is no reason for the Federal Government’s refusing to include an end date in the bill. If a law sets an end-date for reaching accessibility, that means that by that date, Canada needs to become accessible, as the concept of accessibility is then understood. If some new kind of barrier is later discovered, then there will be a duty to address it so Canada will remain an accessible country.
This is no excuse for the Federal Government to refuse to set any deadline. Ontario could do it. All parties in Ontario voted unanimously for it. Canada can do it too.
2. The Ontario Front
Earlier AODA Alliance Updates informed you that after the last Ontario election, the Ontario Government froze the work of all AODA Standards Development Committees, pending briefing the new Ontario Minister for Accessibility and Seniors, Raymond Cho. The Ontario Government has had 119 days to brief that minister. Accessibility is his core job.
Five AODA Standards Development Committees were hard at work last spring, before this freeze. Days ago, we announced that we had learned that one of the five frozen Standards Development Committees had been unfrozen and allowed to go back to work, the Employment Standards Development Committee. Earlier this week we learned from a member of a second Committee, the Information and Communication Standards Development Committee that it too was being allowed to go back to work. We emailed the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario to confirm this. We have received no response.
This means that the Health Care Standards Development Committee remains frozen and unable to work on barriers in the health care system. It also means that the two Standards Development Committees addressing barriers in Ontario’s education system, the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee and the Post-Secondary Standards Development Committee, also remain frozen. We have no word from the Ontario Government on when that freeze will be lifted.
These Standards Development Committees were all appointed under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. They are required to do their work. the Ontario Government is required to let them all get back to work. If two Standards Development Committees were unfrozen, there is no reason why the remaining three Standards Development Committees should remain under a freeze.
Unofficial Transcript of the AODA Alliance October 25, 2018 Presentation to the Parliament’s Standing Committee on Human Resources Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities During Public Hearings on Bill C-81, the Proposed Accessible Canada Act
Presentation by AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky
Good morning, our society has for too many years indeed, decades been designed on the ridiculous assumption that for the most part it’s there for people without disabilities. It’s not that people wanted us excluded. But we just have never been part of the thinking, much of the time, when our buildings are built our public transit is created our workplaces are designed the goods and services we use are designed and sold.
It’s a ridiculous idea, because over 5 million of us now have a disability. But even that number underestimates us because, you see, every one of us in this room every voter that voted for you or against you, either has a disability now or is bound to get one later in their life. We are the minority of everyone. And no politician, no political party can go soft on the minority of everyone.
We commend the Federal Government for committing to bring forward Bill C-81, and for undertaking a good public consultation on it.
However, the bill that is now before you is very strong on good intentions, but very weak on implementation and enforcement. The groups that have come before you have provided a roadmap of how to fix it, and that can be done.
When you come to vote on amendments before this committee, when you go back to your caucuses to decide what position you’re going to take, we urge you not simply to think of the immediate political expediency of today. We do urge you to think about the imminent election a year from now, and the needs of the minority of everyone, for whom no party or politician can go soft. But we urge you to think about what you would say to you, 20 years from now, if you don’t already have a disability. Now, but you get one later. What would you come back in time and say about your reluctance to support strong amendments? We urge you to come together and unanimously support strong amendments.
You’ve heard many groups focusing on very common themes are top priorities are in a brief which is being circulated to you in braille, and a more detailed brief that you’ve got, that spells much more out in detail. Let me use my time to focus on to that other groups have supported, but which have not been discussed as much at this committee.
First, this bill wrongly splinters the creation of accessibility standards and their enforcement among multiple federal agencies. This is a formula for a week Bill. Please unsplinter it. This bill provides that accessibility standards can be enacted. And that’s good. But it divides the power to make them among the federal cabinet who should have all that power, and the Canadian Transportation Agency, for transportation providers, and the CRTC for broadcasters and telecom companies. That is a formula for confusion, contradiction, delay and weak standards. All standards should be made by one body alone, and that is the politically-accountable federal Cabinet.
Giving the power over public transit to the Canadian Transportation Agency will have the effect of weakening the measures you take on transportation. That Agency, like the CRTC, has no demonstrated expertise on accessibility for people with disabilities. Moreover, both the CTA and the CRTC have substantially inadequate track records in the use of the power they’ve had for years on accessibility. If you go to folks who got a bad track record, you’ve got a predictable future of more bad track record.
Let me give you one example that says it all. The Canadian Transportation Agency has had a power to make accessibility standards for people with disabilities and federally regulated transit providers, transportation providers, for over three decades. They are so excited and so eager to use that power that they’ve made absolutely none! So, giving them that power now can give us no enthusiasm that they’ll be any more willing to use it, and to use it well in the future.
Moreover, you might think I’d be upset that they haven’t used it. In fact, I’m happy they haven’t used it, because the legislation now, and as this bill is written, the legislation in the future would provide that if they make a federal accessibility standard, it can actually cut back on the rights that the legislation now provides, because once a regulation is made, it is fully dispositive of the right to accommodation under the transportation legislation. That is really bad.
We need you to first remove that feature in the Transportation Act, so that standard, if enacted, can only extend our rights, and never cut them back, and second, concentrate all power to make accessibility standards in the federal Cabinet.
As well, this bill splinters the power to enforce this legislation among four federal organizations. The three: the accessibility Commissioner, the CTA, the CRTC and the tribunal that regulates federal employment. Again, of formula for confusion.
Now, the Federal Government to date has responded to this with an inadequate response. It simply said all will have a policy that there will be no wrong door, which ever agency you go to, no matter how confusing it is to figure it out. And believe me it is. No matter how confusing it is, we will send you to the right door. Problem solved.
No it isn’t, because all that does is fix the problem of which door you go in. It does not solve the substantial problem, that happens once you’re inside that door. Four agencies. That means we’ve got to lobby four, to get them up to the level of expertise needed to deal with this. That means we’ve got to learn four different sets of procedures, because they all use different procedures, once you get inside the door. That means we’ve got to go to agencies that may not have any expertise in disability accessibility. It makes far more sense to simply mandate the new Accessibility Commissioner with all accessibility enforcement under this act.
The fact is simply this, the design of this bill splintering among these agencies serves only two interests, the bureaucracies that want to preserve their turf, and those obligated organizations that would rather this law have weaker standards, slower implementation and weaker enforcement. That is not consistent with the Federal Government’s commendable motivations and intentions under this legislation,
Let me conclude by turning to one other point we’d like to emphasize.
Members of this committee have asked what could be done to ensure that, on day one, this law will make a real difference. Here’s the answer, and it’s not now in this bill. This bill should be amended in accordance with our proposals in our brief, to ensure that whenever federal money is spent. It can never be used to create a new barrier or perpetuate an old barrier against people with disabilities. Now, it’s commendable that the bill allows the making of access standards for Federal procurement of goods and services. But that’s not the only way the Federal Government spends money. The Federal Government right now spends a lot of money on infrastructure, not only federal infrastructure, but money transferred to communities or provinces for local projects, public transit, hospitals, and so on.
We urge that any federal spending on procurement, on infrastructure, on loans or grants to business or otherwise, that any of that money have strong accessibility strings attached, monitored and enforced, so that federal money is never used to make things worse for us. On day one, that can start making a difference.
In conclusion, I have a real strong sense of personal history today, because 38 years ago, when the Charter of Rights was only a proposal, it did not include equality for people with disabilities. And I had the privilege of being one of the many people that came here, to argue that the Charter be amended to include equality for people with disabilities.
Working together, we succeeded then. Working together now, we can succeed to make this bill — which is strong on intention but weak on enforcement and implementation — we now have the opportunity to again work together with you, to create a strong law that will make the victory of 38 years ago, equality for people with disabilities, not only a legal guarantee, but a reality in the lives of all of us. Thank you very much.