By August 24, 2018, Please Send Us Your Feedback on Our Draft Brief to the Federal Government and Parliament on Bill C-81, the Proposed “Accessible Canada Act”

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

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

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

By August 24, 2018, Please Send Us Your Feedback on Our Draft Brief to the Federal Government and Parliament on Bill C-81, the Proposed “Accessible Canada Act”

August 3, 2018

          SUMMARY

On June 20, 2018, the Federal Government introduced into Parliament Bill C-81, the proposed Accessible Canada Act, for debate. This bill is meant to be the promised national accessibility law that the Federal Government promised in the 2015 federal election. We and others have been campaigning for strong national accessibility legislation for years.

Bill C-81 is a good start, but needs significant strengthening to make it a good law. We are eager to get the bill strengthened and passed by the House of Commons and Senate well before the fall 2019 federal election.

This fall, we expect that this bill will come before Parliament for public hearings and public debates. We will have the chance at that time to propose amendments to the bill, to make it as strong and effective as we can. We need to be ready to jump into action at those public hearings. We’re busy getting ready.

We have been working since Bill C-81 was made public on June 20, 2018, trying to develop concrete and constructive recommendations for improvements to the bill. We have drawn on our experience with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, the feedback we have received on Bill C-81 from our supporters, and our knowledge of experience with such legislation around the world. Building on all of that, we have written a draft brief. We want to get your feedback on it, and then finalize it. Our aim is to submit our finalized brief to the Federal Government and Parliament by the end of August.

We just made public our draft brief. It lists and explains 93 amendments to Bill C-81 that we seek. Email us your feedback on our draft brief by August 24, 2018 by writing us at aodafeedback@gmail.com

You can download our draft brief in MS Word format by clicking on https://www.aodaalliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/Aug-2-2018-AODA-Alliance-brief-on-Bill-C-81.docx

You can download the text of Bill C-81 at First Reading in Parliament by visiting:

https://www.aodaalliance.org/whats-new/new2018/click-here-to-download-in-ms-word-the-text-at-first-reading-june-20-2018-of-bill-c-81-the-proposed-accessible-canada-act/

Below, we set out a five-page summary of the draft brief. If you don’t have time to read the entire draft brief, feel free to send us feedback on the ideas in this summary. The summary spells out what is good in the bill. It identifies the key parts of the bill that need to be improved. It then summarizes the key recommendations in the draft brief.

Our draft brief is quite long and detailed. This is because Bill C-81 is itself over 100 pages long, and quite complicated.

For each issue we identify in the draft brief itself, we explain what the issue is, and quote the relevant part of the bill. We explain our concerns, and make concrete recommendations on how to address those concerns.

At the end of the draft brief is Appendix 1. It gathers together in one place all the recommendations set out in the draft brief.

This brief builds on the AODA Alliance’s preliminary analysis of the bill which we raced to make public the day after the bill was tabled in Parliament. We want to emphasize that this draft brief is still very much a work in progress. We welcome feedback so we can figure out what to change in the draft brief, if anything, before we come up with the final finished product.

We are so indebted to all who have shared their input now and in the past. It has really helped with this major project. We hope that disability organizations and others across Canada will find our ideas helpful. Please circulate our draft brief and encourage others to send us their feedback, and to use the ideas we offer in this draft brief.

Do you want to learn the steps a bill like Bill C-81 must go through to get through Canada’s Parliament and become a law? Check out the AODA Alliance’s introductory guide for beginners on how a law gets through Parliament.

          MORE DETAILS

Summary of the AODA Alliance’s August 2, 2018 Draft Brief on Bill C-81, the Proposed Accessible Canada Act

a) General

The Federal Government is congratulated for committing in 2015 to pass a national accessibility law, and for introducing Bill C-81 in Parliament in June 2018 for First Reading. This bill is quite a good start. It contains a number of important ingredients. It reflects a number of the ideas that we shared with the Federal Government during its two-year public consultation. It reflects a serious effort by the Federal Government to craft constructive legislation.

However, the bill has substantial deficiencies that need significant improvement. These improvements are all readily achievable within the bill’s overall framework. We certainly don’t need or ask the Federal Government to start again from scratch.

With the amendments proposed in this brief, this bill can be turned into good legislation. Without those amendments it will not be sufficient to meet its important goals. The need for these improvements to this bill does not take away from the fact that the Federal Government is to be commended for bringing this bill forward, and for including in it a number of the core components that it did.

We look forward to working with the Federal Government and with all parties in Parliament to get the bill improved through the debates and hearings process. We strongly urge Parliament to hold robust, open nation-wide travelling legislative hearings on this bill, where people with disabilities and all Canadians can offer ideas for improvements.

b) Helpful Features in the Bill

This bill’s good and promising features include the following:

It is good that by its title, this bill aims to create an accessible and barrier-free Canada for people with disabilities.

The bill endeavours to broadly define the key terms “disability” and “barrier.”

The bill establishes several important new officials and agencies to achieve its goal. This includes a new Accessibility Commissioner to enforce the bill in part, a new federal Canadian Accessibility Standards Development Organization (CASDO) to create model accessibility standards that the Federal Government can choose to enact as enforceable federal regulations, a new Chief Accessibility Officer to advise and report on progress and needed improvements, and a minister to be responsible for certain key functions under the bill.

The bill allows for the development of non-binding accessibility standards, which can guide federally or provincially regulated organizations. It empowers the Federal Cabinet to enact these standards, as is or with modifications, as enforceable regulations, that are binding on organizations that the Federal Government can regulate.

The bill aims to provide effective enforcement and for the public accountability of obligated organizations for accessibility efforts, including a formal complaint process. It also provides for Independent Reviews of the bill’s effectiveness over a period of years.

The bill includes a regime for federally-related organizations to create multi-year accessibility plans and to update these over a period of years.

c) Areas Where the Bill Needs Improvement

The bill’s deficiencies, needing correction by amendments, include the following:

The bill’s “purpose clause” is too weak. It falls well short of the goal proclaimed in the bill’s title. The purpose clause only seeks the “progressive realization,” of a barrier-free Canada. It does not set a much-needed specific deadline for reaching full accessibility, which is something the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act commendably has. This means that people with disabilities could face the prospect of disability accessibility barriers for the indefinite future.

The bill’s well-intended definitions of “disability” and “barrier” are too narrow.

The bill gives the Federal Government and various accessibility agencies a set of helpful powers to promote accessibility. However, it does not impose any duty on them to use those powers, or any mandatory time lines for the major implementation steps that the Government must take to get this bill effectively implemented. For example, the bill commendably empowers the Government to create accessibility standards or regulations. However, it wrongly does not require the Government to ever do so.

The bill wrongly splinters enforcement and implementation in a confusing way over a number of different public enforcement agencies, rather than providing people with disabilities with the simple one-stop enforcement they need. This wasteful duplication will slow and weaken the bill’s effective implementation, and risks inconsistent and unpredictable enforcement. It unfairly makes the burden on people with disabilities to get effective enforcement harder, being shuffled back and forth from one federal enforcement agency to another.

For example, the bill wrongly leaves enforcement for broadcasting and telecommunications to the Canadian Radio, Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) and for transportation to the Canada Transportation Agency (CTA). It does so despite the CRTC’s and CTA’s long and inadequate track records on enforcing accessibility over many years.

Each of the Accessibility Commissioner, the CRTC and the CTA will have to get regulations enacted to cover very similar topics. This duplication again risks inconsistencies, even further delays, and the real possibility that some sectors of the economy will have these regulations ready for them before other sectors. It unfairly burdens the disability community to lobby each of these different public oversight agencies on the same issues in these duplicative regulations.

The bill unjustifiably gives various public bodies sweeping, unnecessary, unjustified and unaccountable powers to exempt any or all obligated organizations from a number of important of their accessibility obligations under the bill.

The bill helpfully requires obligated organizations to establish accessibility plans, but does not require them to be good plans. It does not require an obligated organization to implement its accessibility plan.

The bill unnecessarily delays some important duties of obligated organizations, and rights of people with disabilities, until certain technical regulations are passed. Thus, the disability community would have to lobby various federal entities, possibly for years, to get all those regulations passed.

The bill does not effectively ensure that the Federal Government will use all its levers of readily-available power to promote accessibility across Canada. For example, it 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, e.g. when federal money contributes to new or renovated infrastructure, or when it is used for federal loans, grants or transfer payments.

While the bill commendably has some public accountability requirements, these are too weak. Both the Federal Government’s accessibility agencies and obligated organizations should have broader public accountability requirements regarding accessibility.

The bill assigns too much power to regulations that the Federal Cabinet can make. This allows a future Government to effectively weaken or gut this bill by mere amendments to regulations, without ever having to bring a bill before Parliament and publicly debate such plans.

Several needed ingredients are missing from the bill, such as provisions on the Federal Government in relation to Indigenous People, and federal duties to review all federal laws for accessibility issues, to ensure federal elections are accessible to voters and candidates with disabilities, and to ensure that the Federal Government itself operates as a model of an accessible employer and service-provider.

d) Recommended Amendments

This brief therefore recommends that the bill be amended to do such things as the following:

  1. Set the bill’s purpose as achieving a barrier-free Canada by a date the bill will fix, in so far as the Federal Government and Parliament can do so.
  1. Specify that the Federal Government as a whole is responsible for leading Canada to the goal of accessibility, in so far as the Federal Government has constitutional authority to do so.
  1. Ensure that the bill’s definitions of “disability” and “barrier” are broad and inclusive.
  1. Ensure that the bill reaches all organizations that the Federal Government and Parliament can reach, including any recipients of federal money and all operations within Parliament.
  1. Impose specific duties and implementation time lines on the Federal Government, and on specified public officials and agencies, regarding their roles to implement and enforce the bill. For example, the Federal Government should have a duty to enact and enforce all the accessibility standard regulations needed to achieve the bill’s purpose.
  1. Consolidate all of the bill’s enforcement in the Accessibility Commissioner, rather than it being splintered among several federal regulatory agencies. If not consolidated, then remove duplicative regulation-making requirements to ensure consistent implementation and enforcement across all accessibility enforcement agencies.
  1. Ensure that key bodies responsible for the bill’s oversight, such as CASDO and the Chief Accessibility Officer, are fully independent of the Government.
  1. Strengthen the mandates of CASDO, the Accessibility Commissioner and the Chief Accessibility Officer.
  1. Strengthen the openness of the standards development process under the bill, while ensuring that people with disabilities have effective input into accessibility regulations that the Federal Cabinet can enact.
  1. Remove from the bill, or drastically reduce and constrain the sweeping and unnecessary powers to exempt obligated organizations from certain of their obligations under the bill.
  2. Ensure that the accessibility plan that obligated organizations must establish are good plans, and ensure that they are implemented and enforceable.
  1. Remove preconditions in the bill that delay specified duties of an obligated organization until regulations are passed.
  1. Increase duties to make public key information on accessibility on a timely basis.
  1. Reduce the power of the Federal Cabinet and key accessibility enforcement agencies to make regulations, especially where regulations could weaken or gut the bill.
  1. Speed up the requirements for future reviews of this bill by Parliament and by an Independent Review which the Federal Government will appoint.
  1. Require the Federal Government to focus specific efforts to address its special responsibilities in relation to Indigenous People with disabilities.
  1. Guarantee that in the case of conflicting legal provisions, the strongest accessibility always prevails
  1. Ensure that Nothing in the Act, in its regulations or in any actions taken under it shall reduce in any way any rights which people with disabilities enjoy under law.
  1. Require the Federal Government to review all its statutes and regulations for accessibility barriers.
  1. Enforceably require that no public money can be used to create or perpetuate barriers against people with disabilities, e.g. money spent on procurement, infrastructure, grants, loans or transfer payments.
  1. Require the Federal Government to use all other readily-available levers of power to advance the goal of accessibility.
  1. Require that whenever a federal statute or regulation confers a discretionary power on any federal public official, department or agency, that decision-maker shall take into account, in its exercise, the impact on accessibility for people with disabilities.
  1. Require the Federal Government to ensure that federal elections become barrier-free for voters and candidates with disabilities.
  1. Include strong measures to ensure that the Federal Government becomes a model accessible workplace and service-provider.

Require the Federal Government to develop and implement a plan to ensure that all federally controlled courts (e.g. the Supreme Court of Canada and Federal Courts) become accessible.