Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh Is First and Only National Leader to Pledge to Strengthen the Accessible Canada Act. What Will the Other Parties Pledge in This Election to Make Canada Accessible for Over 6 Million People with Disabilities by 2040?

ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE

NEWS RELEASE – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh Is First and Only National Leader to Pledge to Strengthen the Accessible Canada Act. What Will the Other Parties Pledge in This Election to Make Canada Accessible for Over 6 Million People with Disabilities by 2040?

September 4, 2021 Toronto: In the current federal election, the NDP is the first federal party to write the AODA Alliance to commit to strengthen the 2019 Accessible Canada Act (ACA), and to ensure that public money is never used to create barriers against over six million people with disabilities. The NDP’s September 4, 2021 letter to the AODA Alliance is set out below.

In its August 3, 2021 letter to the party leaders, the non-partisan AODA Alliance requested 12 specific commitments to strengthen the ACA and to ensure its swift and effective implementation and enforcement. (12 requests set out and answered below in Mr. Singh’s letter). The NDP’s letter, set out below, Mr. Singh makes many of the commitments the AODA Alliance sought.

“We’ve now gotten commitments from NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, so now we aim to get the other federal party leaders to meet or beat those commitments,” said AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky. “We and other disability advocates together got the Accessible Canada Act introduced into Parliament, and then got it strengthened somewhat between 2018 and 2019 before it was passed. It has helpful ingredients, but is too weak. We are seeking commitments to ensure that this law gets strengthened, and that it is swiftly and effectively implemented and enforced.”

In Parliament during debates over that bill in 2018-2019, the Liberals made promising statements about what the new law would achieve for people with disabilities. Commitments are sought in this election to turn those statements into assured action.

In the 2019 federal election, the Liberals promised the timely and ambitious implementation of this legislation. It repeated that pledge in its 2021 platform released days ago. Two years after first making this pledge, the Government has taken some steps, but has been dragging its feet. The federal government has not even hired the national accessibility commissioner or the chief accessibility officer, pivotal to lead the ACA’s implementation.

Even though Parliament unanimously passed the ACA, the federal parties were substantially divided on whether it went far enough to meet the needs of people with disabilities. The Tories, NDP and Greens argued in Parliament for the bill to be made stronger, speaking on behalf of diverse voices from the disability community. In 2018, the Liberals voted down most of the proposed opposition amendments that were advanced on behalf of people with disabilities.

In 2019, the Senate called for new measures to ensure that public money is never used to create new barriers against people with disabilities. The ACA does not ensure this.

Among the disability organizations that are raising disability issues in this election, the AODA Alliance is spearheading a blitz to help the grassroots press these issues on the actual and virtual hustings and in social media. The AODA Alliance is tweeting candidates across Canada to solicit their commitments and will make public any commitments that the other party leaders make. Follow @aodaalliance. As a non-partisan effort, the AODA Alliance does not support or oppose any party or candidate.

The AODA Alliance is also calling on the Federal Government and Elections Canada to ensure for the first time that millions of voters with disabilities can vote in this election without fearing that they may encounter accessibility barriers in the voting process.

Contact: David Lepofsky, aodafeedback@gmail.com Twitter: @aodaalliance

For background on the AODA Alliance ‘s participation in the grassroots non-partisan campaign since 2015 for the Accessible Canada Act, and its efforts to get it effectively implemented since then, visit www.aodaalliance.org/canada

Text of the New Democratic Party of Canada’s September 4, 2021 Email to the AODA Alliance

  1. 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 of the ACA’s enactment? If not, will you commit that those regulations will be enacted under the ACA within four years of the ACA’s enactment?

We can do much more to make Canada an inclusive and barrier-free place. As a start, New Democrats will uphold the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and strengthen the Accessibility Act to cover all federal agencies equally with the power to make accessibility standards in a timely manner.

The NDP fought repeatedly to include implementation timelines in Bill C-81. During committee study of the bill, the Government there was overwhelming unanimity on the part of the leading experts and stakeholder groups in the country as to how the bill needed to be amended. The NDP listened and introduced amendments based on the feedback of the disability community but nearly all our amendments were defeated by the Liberals. A New Democrat government will work hard to enact regulations to set accessibility standards in a timely fashion.

  1. Will your party commit to ensure that the ACA is effectively and vigourously enforced?

 

Yes, it’s critical to ensure that the ACA is effectively enforced. The NDP fought hard to amend Bill C-81 to ensure that the accessibility standards would be enforced, introducing amendments that were called for by Canadians living with disabilities. Unfortunately, the Liberals defeated nearly all of our amendments. An NDP government will strengthen the ACA to ensure accessibility standards are enforced.

  1. Will your party ensure by legislation, and if not, then by strong monitored 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?

 

The Liberal government missed a sizable opportunity when they introduced the ACA. Federal money should never used by any recipient to create or perpetuate disability barriers. The NDP fought to include this provision in the bill, putting forward an amendment at committee. Unfortunately, the Liberals voted against.

New Democrats want to build a society in which all of our citizens are able to participate fully and equally. We believe that this cannot happen until all of our institutions are open and completely accessible to everyone. The NDP would require that federal public money never be used to create or perpetuate disability barriers, including federal money received for procurement; infrastructure; transfer payments; research grants; business development loans or grants, or for any other kind of payment, including purpose under a contract.

 

  1. 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?

Yes, an NDP government will ensure 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 for persons with disabilities with respect to goods, services, facilities, employment, accommodation, buildings, structures or premises shall prevail.

  1. 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.”?

We will review section 172(3) of the ACA and take the appropriate corrective measures to make sure airlines and railways pay monetary compensation in situations where they should have to pay up.

  1. 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?

Yes. The ACA tabled by the Liberal government gave several public agencies and officials far too much sweeping power to grant partial or blanket exemptions to specific organizations from important parts of the Act. The ACA separates enforcement and implementation in a confusing way over four different public agencies. New Democrats believe it should be providing people with disabilities with what they need: a single service location or one-stop-shop.. We will 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.

  1. 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.”

The NDP has long been committed to the rights of persons with disabilities. It has been our longstanding position that all of government—every budget, every policy and regulation—should be viewed through a disability lens. The NDP has supported the establishment of a Canadians with Disabilities Act for many years.

  1. 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?

New Democrats recognize that our public institutions and our public policies are stronger when they are representative and allow for full participation. Within our own party, we have sought to address barriers for candidates with disabilities guided by the advice of our Persons Living With Disabilities Committee, and have established a fund specifically to support candidates living with disabilities.

We have also fought to create change for candidates in all parties, bringing forward amendments to C-81 that would have required the Accessibility Commissioner to appoint, within 12 months of the bill being enacted, an independent person (with no current or prior involvement in administering elections) to conduct an Independent Review of disability barriers in the election process, with a requirement to consult the public, including persons with disabilities, and to report within 12 months to the Federal Government. An NDP government will make sure that review happens, and bring forth legislation within 12 months of the completion of that review to address the barriers that were identified.

  1. 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?

Eleven years ago, Canada ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Though the Liberal government has introduced an Accessibility Act, its exemptions mean Canada’s accessibility legislation falls short of meeting Canada’s goal of creating an inclusive and barrier-free country. An NDP government will reduce the power to exempt organizations from some of the requirements that the ACA imposes.

  1. 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 to participants with hearing disabilities?

Our country cannot be barrier-free if our public institutions are not accessible to all Canadians, including Canadians with hearing disabilities. The NDP brought forward an amendment during hearings on the ACA that would have required the Minister of Justice, on behalf of the Federal Government, to develop and implement a multi- year plan to ensure that all federally controlled courts (e.g. the Supreme Court of Canada and Federal Courts) as well as federally-created administrative tribunals become fully accessible to court participants with disabilities, by the bill’s accessibility deadline. An NDP government will implement this requirement and ensure that we remove barriers to justice for Canadians living with disabilities.

  1. 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?

Absolutely! The NDP fought to improve this bill and brought forward numerous amendments that were proposed by stakeholders in the disability community. We do not see this fight as over just because the Liberals have given up; an NDP government will work to fix the ACA, including the many issues that were flagged during hearings on Bill C-81.

  1. Will your party commit to ensure that the National Building Code meets the accessibility requirements in the Charter of Rights, the Canada Human Rights Act and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities? Will your party commit that any efforts to harmonize federal and provincial building codes will never reduce or dilute accessibility protections for people with disabilities?

Yes, an NDP government will apply a disability lens to all government legislation, regulations, codes, and procedures to ensure that we are removing barriers to full inclusion and respecting the rights of Canadians living with disabilities. Where there are gaps or shortcomings in existing policies, we will work with the disability community to fix the legislation or policies, including with the National Building Code. We will apply this same lens to any conversations with the provinces and territories about harmonization of laws and regulations.