Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update
United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities
Help Our New Blitz to Get the House of Commons to Swiftly Ratify All the Amendments to Bill C-81(the Proposed Accessible Canada Act) that the Senate Standing Committee Has Passed
May 6, 2019
The AODA Alliance has just launched a new blitz to get Canada’s House of Commons to swiftly ratify all the amendments to Bill C-81 (the proposed Accessible Canada Act) that the Senate’s Standing Committee passed on May 2, 2019.
Please email, tweet, phone or send a note by carrier-pigeon to your Member of Parliament. Ask them to commit to vote to pass all the amendments to Bill C-81 that the Senate’s Standing Committee approved. To find out how to contact your MP, visit https://www.ourcommons.ca/en.
We’ll soon provide you with more details on the amendments that the Senate’s Standing Committee passed.
What’s Happening and How You can Help
The Senate is expected to hold its final or “Third Reading” vote on Bill C-81 on or before May 16, 2019. It is widely expected that the Senate will pass Bill C-81 as amended by the Senate Standing Committee. We’re now focusing on what comes next after that.
Once the Senate as a whole passes the amended Bill C-81, the bill comes back to the House of Commons. The House of Commons then gets to vote on the Senate’s amendments. If the House of Commons passes all the Senate’s amendments, then Bill C-81 becomes a law, complete with these amendments. If the House of Commons does not pass some or all of the Senate’s amendments, Bill C-81 does not become a law. It is sent once again back to the Senate, for a vote on the bill without any of those Senate amendments.
What does all this mean for you? After the Senate passes Bill C-81 with the Senate Committee’s package of amendments, we want the House of Commons to hold a swift vote on those amendments, and to pass all the Senate’s amendments. This would improve the bill, (though not as much as we had wanted). As noted above, it would also make Bill C-81 become a law.
For that reason, we’ve now unleashed a campaign to get all MPs in the House of Commons to commit to a swift vote on Bill C-81, and to also commit that during that vote, they will vote to pass all the Senate’s amendments.
We’ve done four things to get this blitz started.
- We’ve already started a campaign on Twitter to tweet to as many MPs as possible. We’re asking them to commit to vote for all the Senate’s amendments to Bill C-81. We invite you to retweet these tweets, or send your own. Include the hashtag #AccessibleCanada in your tweets. You may want to use this wording in your tweet, in which you should also include the MPs Twitter handle:
The Senate amended Bill C-81 (proposed #AccessibleCanada Act) to improve it. Please commit to vote in the House of Commons to swiftly pass all the Senate’s amendments to Bill C-81 https://www.aodaalliance.org/whats-new/senates-standing-committee-passes-amendments-to-strengthen-the-weak-bill-c-81-the-proposed-accessible-canada-act-now-its-time-for-the-full-senate-and-house-of-commons-to-pass-all-those-amendmen/ #accessibility #CRPD #AODA #canpoli #a11y
For example, if you want to tweet to Minister Qualtrough, you start the tweet with her Twitter handle: @CQualtro.
To find your MP’s Twitter handle, visit https://www.ourcommons.ca/en and search for their contact information.
- We’ve given a media interview to the Canadian Press on the importance of the Senate’s amendments. CP’s Michelle McQuigge quoted the AODA Alliance in a great article, which has been run in City News Vancouver, and elsewhere in the media. We set that article out below. Please circulate it to others.
- On May 6, 2019, we wrote federal Disabilities Minister a short letter, set out below. It asks her to commit to a swift vote in the House of Commons on the Senate Standing Committee’s amendments to Bill C-81, and to vote to pass all those amendments. It also explains why the Federal Government should agree to these requests. We invite you to circulate that letter widely, and share it with your MP.
- On May 3, 2019, we sent the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs a short submission, set out below. It recommends that the Senate Standing Committee attach three “observations” to the bill in its report to the Senate. A Standing Committee’s “observations about improvements needed in connection with the bill are not the same as actual amendments to the bill. They are suggestions that are not binding on the Federal Government. However they can trigger further Senate oversight of the Government’s implementation and enforcement of the bill.
Text of the AODA Alliance’s May 6, 2019 Letter to Federal Disabilities Minister Carla Qualtrough
ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE
1929 Bayview Avenue,
Toronto, Ontario M4G 3E8
Email email@example.com Twitter: @aodaalliance www.aodaalliance.org
United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities
May 6, 2019
To: The Honourable Carla Qualtrough, P.C., M.P.
Minister of Public Services and Procurement and Accessibility
Place du Portage, Phase III, Room 18A1
11 Laurier Street
Gatineau, Quebec K1A 0S5
Via email: Carla.Qualtrough@parl.gc.ca
Re: Seeking the House of Commons’ Swift Ratification of the Senate Standing Committee’s Amendments to Bill C-81, the Proposed Accessible Canada Act
We write to ask you to commit to vote to pass all the amendments to Bill C-81, the proposed Accessible Canada Act, that the Senate’s Standing Committee on Social Affairs passed on May 2, 2019. We ask the Federal Government to commit to pass all these amendments as soon as possible after the Senate passes Bill C-81 on Third Reading, expected to be on or before May 16, 2019. We have every reason to expect that the Senate will pass Bill C-81 as amended, and no reason to doubt this.
There are compelling reasons for you and your Government to pass all these amendments, and to commit now to do so. There are no good reasons for you not to do so.
The Senate only passed a short, limited package of amendments. A good number of them were presented and requested by the Federal Government’s official sponsor of the bill, Senator Jim Munson. He clearly presented them on the Government’s behalf. The other amendments were all presented by Senators at the request of disability organizations and advocates who requested them both at the Senate’s public hearings, and last fall, during public hearings before the House of Commons’ HUMA Committee.
There is substantial disability community support for these amendments, as needed to improve the bill. To that end, it was very helpful that during your April 3, 2019 appearance at the Senate’s Standing Committee on Social Affairs, you committed that you were open to the Senate making amendments to the bill, and that you wanted the bill to be “the best it possibly can be”. You also committed:
“I would certainly defer to your process and recommendations”.
The Senate’s amendments are all completely in tune with the bill’s overall structure and design, and your goals for the legislation. The Senate’s Standing Committee arrived at these amendments after careful non-partisan study and, in the classical Canadian sense, sober second thought.
This is a very modest amendments package. These amendments are far, far fewer and less than many of us sought at the House of Commons during its public hearings last fall. They are much less than the much narrower requests that we placed before the Senate during its hearings.
Within the short amendments package that the Senate Standing Committee passed, the only small group of three amendments that the Senate passed and that reflected a different approach than yours were those that specified the end date for achieving a barrier-free Canada as 2040. Both in the House of Commons and the Senate, you had expressed a reluctance to include this in the bill. The Senate’s Standing Committee was keenly aware of and alert to your perspective. It took your perspective very seriously. The Senate Standing Committee also carefully weighed the strong message from so many in the disability community, to the effect that that the lack of such time lines in the bill was a significant shortcoming that hampered the bill’s effectiveness.
The Senate Standing Committee was especially alert to your primary concern that if such an end date were included in the bill, this might lead some to delay efforts on accessibility. For our part, we too were alive to your expressed concerns. As you know, for that reason and to address your concern, the Committee passed a specific amendment which we had proposed, that was specifically designed to ensure that setting a time line for accessibility in the bill could not be used to delay progress on accessibility. According to the senate Standing Committee’s new section 5.2:
5.2 Nothing in this Act, including its purpose of the realization of a Canada without barriers, should be construed as requiring or authorizing any delay in the removal of barriers or the implementation of measures to prevent new barriers as soon as is reasonably possible.”.
We are in the unique position of having worked at the front lines of Ontario’s advocacy efforts on accessibility for a quarter a century. From our actual hands-on experience, we know that the twenty-year deadline in the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act has played an important role in helping us make progress on accessibility in Ontario. It has not had the adverse impact that you had feared.
The widespread view that this time line is needed was eloquently articulated at the Senate Standing Committee’s public hearing on May 1, 2019 by Ontario’s former Lieutenant Governor david Onley (to whom you have turned for advice on this legislation). His input was based on his consultation with Ontarians with disabilities last fall while conducting the third mandatory Independent Review of the AODA. Mr. Onley and three other deputants before the Senate Standing Committee on its last day of hearings were asked to identify their top priority for a reform to Bill C-81, if only one change could be added. Mr. Onley, supported by the three other deputants at the hearings’ final panel, said that this priority would be to add to the bill the 2040 deadline which the Senate Standing Committee was later to adopt. The Senators saw that this was consistent with other feedback from the disability community that they had heard throughout this process.
When you spoke to the Senate Standing Committee on April 3, 2019, you said that a ten year period would not be long enough. The 2040 date which the Senate Standing Committee adopted is 21 years.
We hope and trust that the opposition parties in the House of Commons will support this amendment. During clause-by-clause debates in the House of Commons’ HUMA Committee, the opposition parties supported the inclusion of an end date. Both the Conservatives and NDP proposed a ten year period. We will be urging them to approve the 2040 deadline, and know that if they thought ten years was enough, they should surely accept 2040 as not being too short.
Minister, it is so commendable that you have many times said that at the core of your Government’s approach to this bill has been to honour the disability community’s message: “Nothing about us without us!” Senator Chantal Petitclerc, Chair of the Standing Committee, concluded the committee’s debates by noting that her Committee’s amendments are the very embodiment of that principle. This is because those amendments are the direct result of the strong feedback that the Standing Committee received from disability organizations and advocates. We therefore ask you and the Federal Government to honour the principle “Nothing about us without us,” by agreeing now to pass all the amendments that the Senate Standing Committee passed to Bill C-81.
We have made it clear to all political parties in the House of Commons that we want to ensure that a swift vote is held on the Senate Standing Committee’s amendments to Bill C-81. We are calling on all the political parties to reach an agreement among themselves to schedule that swift vote. We don’t want the scheduling of that vote to be impeded by any other issues that may be occupying Parliament’s attention.
Minister, for the Federal Government to oppose any of these amendments, and particularly the 2040 time line, would be to weaken this bill. We urge you and the Federal Government not to vote to weaken this bill. The Senate, like the House of Commons, heard about the importance of adding such time lines to this bill. We urge the Federal Government not to vote against such time lines.
As always, we welcome the opportunity to work with you and all parties in Parliament to achieve these important goals.
David Lepofsky CM, O. Ont
Chair Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance
CC: The Right Honourable Prime Minister Justin Trudeau firstname.lastname@example.org
CITY News Vancouver May 3, 2019
Senate committee votes to strengthen federal accessibility law
BY MICHELLE MCQUIGGE, THE CANADIAN PRESS
A Senate committee proposed changes to Canada’s first federal accessibility law Thursday that members of the disability community said addressed some of the most pressing concerns about the legislation, though some worried the bill may still be too weak to be effective.
Nearly a hundred disability organizations and advocacy groups had been calling on the committee to introduce major changes to Bill C-81, also known as the Accessible Canada Act, arguing it lacked teeth.
Following a detailed hearing, the Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology voted to propose the government include a timeline in the bill that would require it to be fully implemented by 2040 rather than leaving the date open-ended.
“We are dealing with a bill that is very important for Canada and is going to make our country a better country,” said Sen. Donna Dasko. “The issue of a timeline has come up many times … this is an important thing, this gives accountability to the bill, this gives a goal to the actions being undertaken.”
The committee also voted to recognize various forms of sign language as an official language of deaf Canadians and see it included among government services. That amendment also included Indigenous sign languages among those that should be acknowledged.
The committee’s proposed amendments will now go to the full Senate for a vote.
David Lepofsky, a long-time disability rights advocate, said the full impact of the committee’s proposed amendments won’t be known until they’ve been formally incorporated into the act. He noted that the House of Commons could vote to reject any steps the Senate may suggest to strengthen the law.
But he said the committee’s moves signal hope the existing bill, which he had previously described as “inadequate,” could be improved.
“We do know that the amendments do, to some extent, strengthen this bill,” Lepofsky said. “Any improvement is welcomed.”
Lepofsky said adopting a timeline would mark a significant step forward, adding that doing so would bring the federal government in line with the three Canadian provinces that have put accessibility legislation on their books.
Senators on the committee said during Thursday’s meeting that the absence of a timeline was the unifying issue that emerged from hours of testimony from disability rights groups.
It was also one of the core issues activists raised in an open letter to the committee last year that detailed concerns about the power and scope of the proposed law. The October 2018 letter also said the bill should enshrine American and Quebec sign language as the official language of the deaf community.
While the committee tackled those concerns, it did not address others raised in the letter signed by 95 organizations including the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, National Network for Mental Health and March of Dimes Canada,
The letter had criticized the bill for granting the government broad powers to exempt people from the new rules, spreading enforcement over numerous agencies, and opting not to withhold federal funding from organizations that don’t comply with accessibility measures.
Advocates also raised concerns about the way the bill was written. The bill repeatedly uses “may” rather than “shall” or “must” when describing initiatives, meaning the government is empowered to take actions but never required to follow through on them, they argued. An amendment brought before the committee addressed that concern but was defeated.
The Council of Canadians with Disabilities, who helped spearhead the letter, focused on what it viewed as positive developments from the committee vote.
“These proposed reforms did not get much traction at the time (the bill was passed through the House of Commons), So today, we are very pleased to learn that the Senate’s Social Affairs Committee has been more responsive to our calls for reform,” it said in a statement.
But Gabrielle Peters, a Vancouver-based wheelchair user, expressed disappointment at the committee’s unwillingness to change the bill’s language from “may” to “must.”
Not addressing the issue of federal funding, she added, risks allowing governments and those supported by them to continue treating disability rights and accessibility as a perk rather than a basic human right.
“They keep using the word ‘historic,’” Peters said of the government. “Historic means you create legislation that will fundamentally shift the direction we continue to be on … (The Accessible Canada Act) is not … a historic document.”
The office of Accessibility Minister Carla Qualtrough did not respond to request for comment.
Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press
May 3 AODA Alliance Submission Asking the Senate’s Standing Committee on Social Affairs to Attach Three Key “Observations” to Bill C-81
Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance
Proposed Observations for the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs to Attach to Bill C-81
May 3, 2019
We respectfully propose that the following observations be attached to Bill C-81:
- Because the bill’s centerpiece is the enactment and enforcement of accessibility standards as enforceable regulations but the bill does not require any of those regulations to ever be enacted, and because the bill gives the Federal Government a range of powers that it may use but does for the most part not provide that the Government must use those powers, the Committee recommends that
(a) the Federal Government should report back to the Senate in one year on its action to date, its plans and time lines for enacting accessibility standards regulations and for deploying its other discretionary powers under the bill, and
(b) within five years after the bill comes into effect, at least one regulation should be enacted that sets enforceable accessibility standards in each of the areas in section 5, namely employment, the built environment, information and communication technologies, communication, procurement of goods, services and facilities, the design and delivery of programs and services, transportation and any other areas that are designated by regulations under the bill.
- Because of concerns expressed by the disability community about the bill splintering its implementation and enforcement, the Committee recommends that:
(a) the Federal Government should report to the Senate in one year on the effectiveness and impact of splintering the bill’s implementation and enforcement among four federal agencies, for further study by the Senate, and
(b) within six months, the Canadian Transportation Agency, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, and the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board should 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 in sections 94 to 110 of the bill.
- Since the Federal Government spends billions of dollars of the public’s money on procurement of goods, services and facilities, on new infrastructure projects, and on business development loans and grants, the Federal Government should establish, implement, monitor and publicly report on policies to effectively ensure that public money is never used to create or perpetuate disability barriers and should report to the Senate within one year on its actions in this regard and the results achieved.