Toronto Star Reports on Wynne Government Weakening the 2007 Customer Service Accessibility Standard, and on Toronto Transit Commission Delays in Ensuring Accessibility of Public Transit in Canada’s Largest City

June 23, 2016


Two important Toronto Star reports this week illustrate how far Ontario falls short of the Wynne Government’s claim to be a global leader on disability accessibility. These news reports come just eight and a half years before the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act’s mandatory 2025 deadline for the Ontario Government to have led Ontario to become fully accessible to 1.8 million people with disabilities.

1. Premier Wynne’s Breaking Her Promise Never to Weaken any Accessibility Provisions or Protections

An excellent June 23, 2016 article prominently appeared on the front page of the Star’s Greater Toronto Area section, set out below. In it, the Star’s widely-respected senior social policy reporter Laurie Monsebraaten covered the Wynne Government’s gutting the enforceability of the 2007 Customer Service Accessibility Standard, for the huge number of private sector organizations in Ontario with 20-49 employees.

In a recent email, the Wynne Government confirmed that there are fully 32,888 private sector organizations in Ontario with 20-49 employees, as of the end of 2014. That is the number of organizations that the Wynne Government is giving the undeserved windfall of not having to obey some important obligations after July 1, 2016, under the 2007 Customer Service Accessibility Standard.

The Customer Service Accessibility Standard requires that all organizations that provide goods, services or facilities to the public in Ontario must establish a policy on ensuring the accessibility of their Customer Service to people with disabilities, and must train their staff on this policy. Up to now, under the Customer Service Accessibility Standard, all public sector organizations as well as all private sector organizations with at least 20 employees, had to keep a record of their Customer Service accessibility policy, and produce it on request, including on request from customers with disabilities. As well, they had to keep records of their staff training on this policy.

These records are critical to the AODA’s effective enforcement, given how the Government enforces that law, in the small percentage of obligated organizations where it takes any enforcement action. A main way the Wynne Government enforces these requirements is by auditing the records of a select number of obligated organizations. If there is no documentation to audit, that enforcement cannot work.

According to information we have obtained from the Wynne Government, this effectively guts effective enforcement of the Customer Service Accessibility Standard for more than half of the number of private sector organizations in Ontario that previously had to keep these rudimentary records. From data the Wynne Government gave us late last year, we calculate that there were about 53,400 private sector organizations in Ontario at the end of 2014 with 20 or more employees, i.e. private sector organizations that had to keep those records under the Customer Service Accessibility Standard up to now. The Wynne Government has just amended that accessibility standard so that as of July 1, 2016, more than half of them won’t have to keep any of those records.

The number of private sector obligated organizations that will still have to keep these important records is a small fraction of the 400,000 businesses in Ontario with any number of employees. On February 26, 2015, Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid told CBC’s Metro Morning program:

“There are 400,000 businesses across this province.”

Premier Wynne has thereby just broken several promises. She broke her word that she’d never weaken any protections or provisions we had won under the AODA. She also broke the Government’s repeated promises to effectively enforce the AODA. She also thereby breaks her promise to ensure that Ontario is on schedule for full accessibility by 2025.

In this Toronto Star article, Ontario’s new accessibility minister, Tracy MacCharles, is quoted as defending the Wynne Government’s actions led by the previous minister, Brad Duguid, by using the same line that Minister Duguid had used to justify the Government’s massive cuts to the Government’s weak AODA enforcement in February 2015. The Toronto Star article states:

“One of the main objectives of the customer service review was to harmonize standards to make the requirements clearer for organizations,” said MacCharles. “These businesses will still be required to comply with the law regardless of whether or not they have a written policy,” she said in an email. “Our ultimate goal with accessibility is a culture shift, and we believe the best way to accomplish that is through education and awareness.”

After ten and a half years of the Government’s efforts on education and awareness, Ontario lags behind schedule for full accessibility by 2025. Two Government-appointed Independent Reviews of the AODA, reporting in 2010 and 2014 together proved this. The Government’s failed strategy on which it relies in this article, standing alone, has been proven not to work effectively.

When it enacted the AODA in 2005, the Ontario Liberal Government also recognized that this strategy isn’t enough. That is why it promised in 2005 that the AODA would be effectively enforced, a promise that this Government has repeated in several elections.

On May 10, 2005, the day that the Ontario Legislature passed the AODA on Third Reading, the minister who led its development, Dr. Marie Bountrogianni, spoke at a Queens Park news conference. Dr. Bountrogianni drew on her expertise in human behaviour as a professional psychologist when she said:

“Well, once a standard is a regulation, it will be immediately enforceable. Which means if it’s not complied with, there will be fines. Having said that, we do believe in an education campaign, so that there are no surprises, that people are educated with respect to what’s expected of them. That there will be spot audits very, much like the environment in the United States uses these spot audits. We’re talking about over three hundred thousand organizations, private and public, that will be affected. So can’t have an inspector going in every one every day. So there’ll be spot audits. Special technology will be used to track these audits, and where there will be inconsistencies, that is where the inspectors will go in. They will be given of course chances to remedy their situation. It’s not about punishment. It’s about doing the right thing. However if they do not comply, there is a fine — fifty thousand dollars for individuals and a hundred thousand dollars for corporations. So we’re serious. That was missing in the previous act. That was one of the things that was missing in the previous act. And without that enforcement compliance, when you just leave it to the good will of the people, it doesn’t always get done. And so we know that we know that from the psychology of human nature. We know that from past research in other areas, like the environment, like seatbelts, like smoking. And so we acted on the research in those areas.”

Up to now, it has not been clear to us whether the Wynne Government’s position, echoed today by the new minister in the Toronto Star, and which was vigorously pressed for much of the past two years by the previous minister, had originated from the previous Minister, Brad Duguid, on his own impetus, or from Premier Wynne, imposing that contravention of the Government’s promise of effective enforcement from on high.

We hope that Minister MacCharles’ email, quoted in the Star, came from a staffer who is not fully up-to-speed on this file, and that the cabinet shuffle that brought us this new minister responsible for the AODA brings a new approach to this issue. We urge Tracy MacCharles, the new minister responsible for the AODA, and Ontario’s first minister responsible for accessibility, to show new leadership on this issue, by taking a fresh look at the recent violation of Premier Wynne’s promise, and by acting now to unbreak that promise.

Only a small percentage of the private sector was subject to document audits under the Customer Service Accessibility Standard. There is no good reason to cut that small percentage by more than half. The Government had promised that the AODA would apply to the private sector and be fully enforceable. The Wynne Government should not take this backdoor action to reward the rampant violations of the AODA by private sector organizations with 20-49 employees.

To read the AODA Alliances June 7, 2016 news release on Premier Wynne’s broken promise to Ontarians with disabilities that she’d never weaken any accessibility provisions or protections.

To read further reflections on Premier Wynne’s broken promise.

To read the transcript of Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid’s February 26, 2015 interview on CBC Radio Toronto’s Metro Morning program.

2. Fully Accessible Public Transit in Canada’s Largest City Seems Even Further Off in the Future

A troubling article in the June 20, 2016 Toronto Star, set out below, shows that the Toronto Transit Commission, Canada’s largest public transit service that serves Canada’s largest city, is even further behind in ensuring that all of its transit services are fully accessible to passengers with disabilities. This report, which focuses on the lack of sufficient accessibility on streetcars, comes at a time when fully half of Toronto’s subway stations are still not disability-accessible.

Toronto cannot hold itself out as a world-class city as long as it continues to provide passengers with disabilities such second class service.

You can always send your feedback to us on any AODA and accessibility issue at

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We encourage you to use the Government’s toll-free number for reporting AODA violations. We fought long and hard to get the Government to promise this, and later to deliver on that promise. If you encounter any accessibility problems at any large retail establishments, it will be especially important to report them to the Government via that toll-free number. Call 1-866-515-2025.

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The Toronto Star June 23, 2016

Greater Toronto

Accessibility minister urged to ‘undo damage’; Disability activist says Tracy MacCharles should reverse recent regulatory change that weakens Ontario’s landmark access act

Tracy MacCharles, Ontario’s new minister responsible for accessibility, must act quickly to reverse a recent regulatory change that weakens the province’s goal of becoming fully accessible by 2025, says a disability rights activist.

“This is the closest we’ve come to having a full-time minister on this file,” said Toronto lawyer David Lepofsky, head of a grassroots alliance that monitors progress on the province’s landmark Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).

“We just hope she can undo the damage that she inherits.”

Under the act, passed unanimously in 2005, all businesses and non-profits with 20 or more employees must have a written policy outlining how they accommodate customers with disabilities, train staff and receive customer feedback.

The policy must be available to the public upon request.

But earlier this month, as part of a periodic review of regulations under the law, the government exempted businesses and non-profits with 20 to 49 employees from having to put their accessible customer service policy in writing or to make it public.

As of July 1, only companies with 50 or more employees must have written policies. Almost 33,000 organizations will be affected by the regulatory change, according to Ontario’s accessibility directorate.

“The government has been saying that it’s really important for organizations to deliver accessible customer service,” said Lepofsky. “But how do you train your staff on a policy that’s not in writing?”

The organizations being exempted are among those already breaking the law by not filing annual compliance reports to the government on how they are serving customers with disabilities, he noted.

A year ago, 65 per cent of businesses still had not filed their 2012 accessibility reports, and 60 per cent had failed to meet the 2014 deadline, said former accessibility minister Brad Duguid.

“How is this change going to improve compliance?” Lepofsky asked.

“We are calling on the new minister to reverse this decision. It doesn’t come into effect until July 1, so it’s not too late for her to fix it.”

James Sanders, former chair of the provincial Accessibility Standards Advisory Council, said his group recommended the change after an independent review of the legislation last year urged the government to simplify the rules for businesses.

The act’s accessibility standards for employment, communications and transportation define small organizations as those with 50 or fewer employees. The council agreed the accessible customer service standard should use the same benchmark, said Sanders, past CNIB president.

“We really wrestled with this one,” he said. “But in the end, we did it in the spirit of harmonization.”

All organizations with one or more employees must have accessible customer service policies and those with 20 or more staff still have to file compliance audits, he noted.

“One of the main objectives of the customer service review was to harmonize standards to make the requirements clearer for organizations,” said MacCharles. “These businesses will still be required to comply with the law regardless of whether or not they have a written policy,” she said in an email. “Our ultimate goal with accessibility is a culture shift, and we believe the best way to accomplish that is through education and awareness.”

Making Ontario accessible
1.8 million

Number Ontarians with a disability.

1 in 5 Number of Ontarians expected to have a disability in 20 years as the population ages.

10% Percentage of Canadians who are deaf or have a significant hearing loss.

2005 Year the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act was passed.

2025 Year Ontario is to be fully accessible.

2007 Year the accessible customer service standard was enacted.

2012 Year businesses and non-profits with 20 employees or more had to e-file their first compliance report confirming they had a policy to serve customers with disabilities, train staff and handle customer feedback.

Laurie Monsebraaten Toronto Star

The Toronto Star June 20, 2016

Greater Toronto

Wheelchair users face 514 Cherry line wait; New streetcar route, touted as fully accessible, has only one low-floor car so far

Graphic: The TTC’s older streetcars are running along the 514 route, despite promises that it would be accessible. TODD KOROL/TORONTO STAR

When the first streetcar on the 514 Cherry line trundled out of the Distillery Loop on Saturday morning, it was already behind schedule.

Providing reliable, accessible service for passengers with disabilities was one of several priorities the TTC had for the new streetcar line – along with easing pressure on the already packed 504 King line.

But that plan ran afoul of the woefully delayed delivery of the new Bombardier vehicles. While one low-floor car is currently running on the line, the 514 won’t be fully accessible until mid-September – at best.

“I’m actually not surprised by the fact it’s going to be delayed,” said Adam Cohoon, an artist and access advocate who uses a wheelchair.

He was once a part of the Advisory Committee on Accessible Transit, a group that advises the TTC on how best to design transit for riders with disabilities, and is in the process of moving to a new place in the former Pan Am athletes’ village, a fully accessible building near the 514 route.

The delay was noted in a TTC staff report filed back in March 2015, which said the route would open June 19, but wouldn’t be fully accessible until around mid-September.

When Cohoon spoke to a TTC planner who specializes in accessibility about the 514’s delay, the details got even gloomier.

“I’ll be lucky to have it reliable enough till about June next year,” the planner told Cohoon.
TTC spokesman Brad Ross confirmed that the 514 line will be getting more low-floor cars.

Bombardier is expected to finish 16 more of them for the TTC by the end of 2016. The current fleet of 20 low-floor cars is currently split between the Spadina and Harbourfront routes.

Cohoon is skeptical about riding the 514 at all at this point, citing the danger of “through-traffic” on King St. and the unreliability of being able to actually board. Disabled riders, he says, aren’t rushing to try out the 514.

“The TTC wants to promote accessibility, but … we’re always more skeptical until we actually see that, yes, there are enough vehicles to safely ride in,” Cohoon said.

Transit advocate Steve Munro, who rode the 514 on its inaugural run Saturday, says that having even two low-floor cars on the line would mean a potential wait of 40 minutes for someone who can’t board the regular streetcars.

“The problem is, the TTC has been talking about this as it’s going to be an accessible route.”
Munro says there’s a fix. “It’s easy! All they have to do is simply trade off a couple of cars that would be on Spadina for a couple of cars on Cherry.”

Bombardier had originally promised delivery of 73 streetcars by the end of this year, a figure that has been revised downward twice.

Cohoon says he may try heading down to the 514 platform in a week or two and see how long it takes for an accessible car to pass. “I am going to probably try it, but again, it won’t be that reliable,” he said.

Brennan Doherty
Toronto Star