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UNITED FOR A BARRIER-FREE ONTARIO
May 24, 2013
Our daily countdown on Twitter continues, to the mandatory deadline of May 31, 2013. Section 41 of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (set out below) legally requires the Wynne Government to appoint an Independent Review of the effectiveness of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act and its implementation by that date. This is not optional. It’s the law.
The deadline is just one week away. Please spread the word. Let your local media know to monitor this issue.
1. Why is the Ontario Government required to appoint an Independent Review of the AODA by May 31, 2013?
When Ontario’s Liberal Government under Premier Dalton McGuinty introduced Bill 118, the proposed Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, into the Legislature for First Reading back in October 2004, it offered promise and hope to over 1.7 million Ontarians with disabilities. That law would require Ontario to become fully accessible for all people with disabilities. However, an immediate concern was that it set 2025 as the deadline for all disability barriers in Ontario to be removed and prevented. That would be twenty years after this law was to be enacted.
It was understood that there are many barriers to remove. Fixing them all would take some time. However, there was an understandable fear that the Government and others could delay and defer. The years could slip by. We didn’t want to find ourselves on Christmas Eve in 2024, with the Government suddenly realizing that it was far behind schedule, with no time to catch up. Governments can drag their feet, caught up in other issues, and delay rather than getting on with issues like these.
When the AODA was being developed and debated, this was a serious concern. Section 41 of the AODA is an important safeguard to help protect us from this. It requires the Government at legally stipulated deadlines to appoint an Independent Review of the AODA. That Independent Review is required to independently investigate and report on how effective the AODA has been at achieving its goals, and how effectively it has been implemented. The Independent Review must consult with the public, including with people with disabilities. Its final report must be made public.
The AODA required that the first Independent Review be appointed within four years after the AODA went into effect. The AODA was proclaimed in force in June 2005. Four years later, in June 2009, Ontario’s Liberal Government under Premier McGuinty appointed the first Independent Review on schedule. It appointed Charles Beer to conduct that Independent Review.
Mr. Beer did a commendable public consultation. He effectively reached out to Ontarians with disabilities. On December 11, 2009, we submitted a very detailed brief to the Charles Beer Independent Review. In it, we documented our serious concerns about the delays and insufficient action by the Government to implement the AODA. We made a series of concrete recommendations to get Ontario back on schedule for full accessibility by 2025.
Charles Beer commendably held his consultations, wrapped up his Independent Review and submitted his final report to the Ontario Government by February 2010, eight months after his appointment. Three months later, on May 31, 2010, the Government tabled the final report of the Charles Beer Independent Review in the Ontario Legislature, as section 41 of the AODA requires. Leaders from the disability community were invited to be present at the Legislature that day.
We endorsed the Beer Independent Review’s final report, even though it did not adopt all of our recommendations. Charles Beer found that the Ontario Government needed to revitalize and breathe new life into the implementation of the AODA, and needed to show strengthened leadership on this issue, if Ontario is to reach full accessibility by 2025.
Within days, we quickly released an analysis of the Beer Independent Review’s final report. We launched a campaign to press the Ontario Government to promptly implement all the Beer Report’s recommendations except for two minor ones. The Government was slow to effectively respond. It has taken the Government up to three years to implement some of the Beer Report’s core recommendations. The Government has not adopted some of the other important recommendations of the Charles Beer final report, and has not offered a public explanation for its not adopting them.
Section 41 of the AODA requires the Government to appoint the next Independent Review of the AODA within three years of the date on which it laid the Charles Beer Independent Review Report before the Ontario Legislature. That means that this new Independent Review must be appointed by May 31, 2013. It’s the law.
This deadline is certainly not news to the Ontario Government. It was the same Ontario Government that drafted, brought forward and passed the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act in 2005.
Fully three months ago, just after he took office, we alerted the new cabinet minister responsible for the AODA about this deadline, Economic Development, Trade and Employment Minister Dr. Eric Hoskins. Our February 27, 2013 letter to Dr. Hoskins listed top priority issues for him regarding the AODA. This would assist him to quickly get to work on implementing this legislation.
Among these priorities, we listed the appointment of the next Independent Review of the AODA by May 31, 2013. We wrote:
“7. Appointing the Next Independent Review of the AODA’s Implementation
Under section 41 of the AODA, your Government must appoint an Independent Review to conduct an arms-length consultation on how effectively the AODA has been implemented. This Review must be appointed and commenced no later than May 31, 2013, if not sooner. We would welcome the opportunity to consult with you on the criteria that the Government should use in selecting the person who will conduct this Independent Review. We have a great deal of experience to offer. We worked closely with Charles Beer, who conducted the last Independent Review in 2009-2010.”
2. Why is it important for the Wynne Government to appoint this AODA Independent Review on time?
There are several important reasons why this Independent Review must be appointed on time.
* It’s the law. This is not optional. The Ontario Government is not above the law.
* The Government has repeatedly said that when it comes to compliance with the AODA, it plans to lead by example. It aims to set a good example for all other organizations in Ontario’s public and private sectors. To lead by example, the Government must at the very least, strictly obey its own law.
This is especially important since recent news reports in Toronto and Windsor highlight illustrations where people with disabilities have been denied accessible customer service. We remain deeply concerned that the Ontario Government has not kept its promise to effectively enforce the AODA.
* It is important for Premier Wynne to keep all promises she has made to Ontarians with disabilities. While running for leadership of the Ontario Liberal Party, Kathleen Wynne made important written commitments to Ontarians with disabilities in her December 3, 2012 letter to the AODA Alliance. Among other things, she promised to fully maintain the implementation of the AODA, and not weaken or reduce any provisions or protections in that legislation, or regulations enacted under it, or any policies, practices, strategies or initiatives of or within the Ontario Government that exist to implement it or achieve its objectives. She also promised to ensure that Ontario is on schedule for full accessibility by 2025.
To keep these promises, it is important for the Wynne Government to appoint the next Independent Review of the AODA by the legal deadline of May 31, 2013. That is needed to help maintain implementation of the AODA, and to ensure that its protections are not weakened. It is also a necessary step to try to get Ontario back on schedule for achieving full accessibility by 2025.
* While he was also running for leadership of the Ontario Liberal Party, Dr. Eric Hoskins made these same promises as did Kathleen Wynne. He did so in a December 19, 2012 email to the AODA Alliance. He now has lead responsibility for the AODA’s implementation. It is important for him to personally keep these same commitments.
* For years we have warned that Ontario is not on schedule for making Ontario fully accessible for people with disabilities by 2025. A core job for the next Independent Review is to make constructive recommendations that will get Ontario back on schedule. The sooner this Independent Review is appointed, the sooner it can get to work crafting those recommendations. Any delay in appointing this Independent Review simply compounds Ontario’s lagging behind schedule.
* Of symbolic significance, May 31, 2013, the legal deadline for appointing this Independent Review, falls during this year’s annual National Access Awareness Week across Canada. Heightened public attention focuses on disability accessibility issues.
3. What sort of person should be appointed to conduct this Independent Review?
We don’t feel it appropriate to name any specific individuals. However, we believe it is helpful to propose the qualifications that the person should meet. Therefore, in our May 8, 2013 AODA Alliance Update, we listed obvious features that should guide the choice of whom to conduct this review. We stated:
“We await with eager anticipation the Government’s announcing no later than May 31, 2013 the name of the person to conduct the next Independent Review of the AODA. It is important that the person whom the Government chooses meets several important criteria. He or she should be:
* completely independent of the Government, and willing to take a very fair and independent look at how effective the AODA and its implementation has been going.
* knowledgeable about disability accessibility or able to quickly learn about it, through expertise in public policy.
* seen to be fair and arms-length both by the disability community and the organizations who must comply with the AODA (particularly the private sector and the broader public sector).
* skilled to be able to listen fairly and impartially to all sides, after holding an open, accessible public consultation around Ontario.
* a credible and respected individual whose advice and opinions will deserve and will secure the attention and respect of the Government and the public, including Ontarians with disabilities and organizations that must comply with the AODA.”
4. Where can you get more background?
Section 41 of the AODA provides:
“41. (1) Within four years after this section comes into force, the Lieutenant Governor in Council shall, after consultation with the Minister, appoint a person who shall undertake a comprehensive review of the effectiveness of this Act and the regulations and report on his or her findings to the Minister. 2005, c. 11, s. 41 (1).
(2) A person undertaking a review under this section shall consult with the public and, in particular, with persons with disabilities. 2005, c. 11, s. 41 (2).
Contents of report
(3) Without limiting the generality of subsection (1), a report may include recommendations for improving the effectiveness of this Act and the regulations. 2005, c. 11, s. 41 (3).
Tabling of report
(4) The Minister shall submit the report to the Lieutenant Governor in Council and shall cause the report to be laid before the Assembly if it is in session or, if not, at the next session. 2005, c. 11, s. 41 (4).
(5) Within three years after the laying of a report under subsection (4) and every three years thereafter, the Lieutenant Governor in Council shall, after consultation with the Minister, appoint a person who shall undertake a further comprehensive review of the effectiveness of this Act and the regulations. 2005, c. 11, s. 41 (5).
(6) Subsections (2), (3) and (4) apply with necessary modifications to a review under subsection (5). 2005, c. 11, s. 41 (6).”
You can read the 2010 Final Report of the Charles Beer Independent Review of the AODA, and see all the AODA Alliance’s efforts to give input to that review and later to get its final report implemented, by visiting http://www.www.aodaalliance.org/category/whats-new/
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