February 5, 2010
1. AN UNACCEPTABLE BARRIER TO THE RIGHT TO VOTE
The February 5, 2010 Toronto Sun reported that a polling station in the February 4, 2010 Toronto provincial by-election was inaccessible to voters with disabilities. (Making this incident worse, Elections Ontario initially denied that the polling station was inaccessible. See the article below.)
It is shocking, yet unsurprising to us that in 2010, voters with disabilities continue to face such obvious and easily prevented barriers to their constitutional right to vote.
This is even more troubling since Premier McGuinty promised us in the 2007 election that he would establish an accessible election action plan. He has not yet kept that promise, with the next provincial election happening next year, and the next municipal election occurring even sooner, later this year. To see Premier McGuinty’s 2007 election promise to us of an accessible election action plan, see: http://www.www.aodaalliance.org/whats-new/newsub2011/liberal-party-writes-aoda-alliance-with-election-commitments-regarding-disability-accessibility/
2. FIXING THIS PROBLEM FOR THE LONG TERM
A week and a half earlier, an AODA Alliance delegation had met with the head of Elections Ontario, Chief Elections Officer Greg Essensa, at his invitation on Tuesday January 26, 2010. At that time, we had urged the need for new legislation to ensure fully accessible elections, and yet again offered to work with Elections Ontario to ensure that this goal is achieved.
On the morning of February 5, 2010, after the Toronto Sun published its article on this troubling event, Mr. Essensa called AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky to discuss this recent incident. He committed to discuss reforms with the AODA Alliance to prevent such incidents from recurring. David Lepofsky invited Mr. Essensa to work with us on presenting joint amendments to Bill 231 to make it strong and effective. He offered to circulate any response to this incident that Mr. Essensa provides us. Mr. Essensa then forwarded a letter to David Lepofsky, set out below.
We call on Elections Ontario to make public how this incident happened. This is especially important since Elections Ontario’s report on the accessibility of the 2007 general Ontario election revealed that a survey of voters with disabilities found the following: “a key finding of the survey is that compared to other electors, voters with disabilities report, in general, higher than average problems at voting locations. Forty-four per cent of voters with special needs said they experienced problems at their voting locations and 15 per cent said they had problems casting their ballots, a stark contrast to eight per cent and one per cent respectively for electors in general.”
The Government now has a bill before the Legislature to reform Ontario elections, Bill 231. Its disability provisions are far too weak. It would not ensure that incidents like this won’t happen again. To learn about the weak Bill 231, on which the government did not consult us after Greg Sorbara’s 2009 report, and to see our most recent letter to the Premier on this issue, asking who in the Cabinet is in charge of keeping the Premier’s election promise to us, see: http://www.www.aodaalliance.org/whats-new/newsub2011/mcguinty-government-introduces-bill-231-into-legislature-to-reform-provincial-elections-aoda-alliance-calls-for-stronger-disability-accessibility-provisions/
We call for the Ontario Government to ensure that there are open, accessible public hearings on Bill 231. We want that bill to be expanded to cover both provincial and municipal elections, and to ensure that voters with all kinds of disabilities can fully participate in the elections process. We also call for the Government to now hold public consultations on its promised accessible elections action plan.
For the past two and a half years, the Ontario Government has given us quite a run-around on which Cabinet minister had lead responsibility for keeping the Government’s promise of an accessible elections action plan. See our discussion of this in our December 11, 2009 brief to the Charles Beer Independent Review of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, available at: http://www.www.aodaalliance.org/whats-new/newsub2011/aoda-alliance-submits-final-brief-to-charles-beer-on-reforming-the-aoda-and-its-implementation/
In his January 18, 2010 letter to the AODA alliance, set out below, Premier McGuinty has finally cleared this up. He told us to speak to Community and Social Services Minister Madeleine Meilleur about this. Contradicting this, former Municipal Affairs Minister Jim Watson had written us on January 5, 2010, telling us to speak to Minister Chris Bentley about Bill 231. Mr. Watson’s letter, also set out below, dodges most of the specific matters we covered in our December 15, 2009 letter to him, available at: http://www.www.aodaalliance.org/whats-new/newsub2011/mcguinty-government-passes-legislation-to-make-municipal-elections-barrier-free-for-voters-and-candidates-with-disabilities-but-rejects-aoda-alliance-proposals-needed-to-make-the-bill-strong/
We will act on the Premier’s suggestion, not Mr. Watson’s.
The AODA Alliance, and its predecessor, the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee, have been advocating for fully accessible elections for over a decade. To see our presentation last year to the Ontario legislature’s Standing Committee on Elections, visit: http://www.www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/07272009.asp
To see our efforts, unsuccessful so far, to deal with this at the municipal elections level in connection with Bill 212 (the Good Government bill), see: http://www.www.aodaalliance.org/whats-new/newsub2011/mcguinty-government-passes-legislation-to-make-municipal-elections-barrier-free-for-voters-and-candidates-with-disabilities-but-rejects-aoda-alliance-proposals-needed-to-make-the-bill-strong/
To see how civil servants could do little on this since there was no one in charge, see: http://www.www.aodaalliance.org/whats-new/newsub2011/what-steps-is-the-mcguinty-government-taking-to-keep-its-2007-election-promise-of-an-action-plan-for-accessible-elections/
To see our approaches to Elections Ontario to raise this issue in 2007, see: http://www.www.aodaalliance.org/whats-new/newsub2011/aoda-alliance-writes-elections-ontario-in-pursuit-of-barrier-free-election/
We welcome your feedback. Our old email feedback address is going off-line. We have a new email address for feedback, which is: firstname.lastname@example.org
We urge you to contact your MPPs and your local media to let them know that there must be public hearings on Bill 231, to ensure that it is strengthened. It is utterly inexcusable that any polling station is not fully accessible. This affects over 1.5 million Ontarians who have disabilities. When we lose the right to vote which the Charter of Rights guarantees, we lose the power to fully participate in democratic government. We need to have our voices fully heard by Government to overcome the many barriers to access that we face. We need Bill 231 strengthened to ensure that this never happens again.
David Lepofsky, Chair,
Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance
TORONTO SUN FEBRUARY 5, 2010
Man in wheelchair has trouble voting in Toronto Centre by-election
By Antonella Artuso
Just a stone’s throw away from Queen’s Park — where legislators passed the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act just a few years ago — Elections Ontario set up a polling station that could only be accessed by going down a flight of stairs.
Local resident John Wood told the Toronto Sun that he had to abandon his wheelchair and struggle with help down the stairs to cast a ballot in the Toronto Centre by-election Thursday.
‘Able to walk a bit’
“If I hadn’t been able to walk a little bit, I wouldn’t have been able to vote,” Wood said. “It’s totally, completely not wheelchair accessible.”
The polling station was in the lower floor gym of St. Joseph’s College School on Wellesley St. E. near Queen’s Park.
While the school has an elevator, there was no way to enter the voting room without travelling down stairs.
The elevator is accessed across an icy parking lot through two heavy sets of manual doors without automatic opening devices.
A spokesman for Elections Ontario told the Sun that the site is wheelchair accessible with an elevator that leads directly to the voting place.
During a Sun visit to the site Thursday, it was clear that voters could not enter the polling station without going down six stairs.
At that time, an electric wheelchair without an occupant was parked at the top of the stairs.
Shortly after, an elderly and frail gentleman leaning heavily on a walker arrived with his wife to vote.
A political scrutineer scrambled to assist the man up and down the stairs as he clung to the railing, while his wife held his walker.
“Good thing you came along,” the man said. “I don’t think I’d have made it.”
Wood said someone offered to bring his ballot to him but he believes there’s no excuse for the lack of accessibility.
“You’re supposed to put your ballot in the ballot box — you’re not supposed to have a second or third party, a stranger … doing it for you. This is Canada. We don’t do that sort of thing.”
According to the Elections Ontario website, the public agency was required as of Jan. 1 to comply with new customer accessibility standards and takes seriously its obligation to provide services available to those without disabilities.
Wood said the setup on Wellesley St. W. was “disgraceful.
“I think in 2010, especially when we have someone like (disabled lieutenant governor) David Onley in Queen’s Park, that all voting places should be completely accessible for all handicaps,” he said.
FEBURARY 5, 2010 LETTER TO DAVID LEPOFSKY EMAILED BY CHIEF ELECTIONS OFFICER GREG ESSENSA
Our meeting last week was an important step forward to improving accessibility for electors in Ontario. I am pleased that we have established a relationship to collaboratively improve Elections Ontario’s services for electors with special needs.
Since our meeting, an unfortunate situation occurred in the Toronto Centre by-election where a voter had trouble accessing a poll to cast his ballot. I’m relieved that the voter managed to vote, but the challenges he experienced and the challenges others may have faced disappoints me.
As your members are well aware, we face challenges throughout the province finding accessible voting locations. Until the province becomes fully accessible, insight such as yours will help us make accommodations that meet the needs of electors with disabilities.
I recognize the history of discrimination against persons with disabilities in the province, and the fundamental importance of developing, implementing and enforcing standards in order to achieve accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities.
We are actively addressing barriers all Ontarians face in the electoral process. These challenges range from informational to physical and geographical. However, an important step forward to addressing these challenges is through partnerships with organizations such as yours.
As the Chief Electoral Officer of Ontario, I am committed to improving elections in this province for all Ontarians who may experience barriers to voting, including electors with special needs. I share your concerns and am dedicated to achieving equitable access to voting for all.
My staff are in the process of scheduling another meeting with you in the coming weeks to address some of these challenges. We are also planning to meet with organizations such as yours and I’m encouraged by the prospects of these discussions.
Chief Electoral Officer of Ontario
January 18, 2010 Letter from Premier McGuinty to David Lepofsky
The Premier of Ontario
January 18, 2010
Mr. David Lepofsky, CM, O.Ont
Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance
1929 Bayview Avenue
Dear Mr. Lepofsky:
Thank you for your letter regarding Bill 231 the proposed Election Statute Law Amendment Act, 2009. I appreciate your taking the time to share your thoughts with me on this important issue.
I want to sincerely thank you for your advocacy and your input on ways to make voting more accessible to all Ontarians. I note that you have also written to my colleague the Honourable Madeleine Meilleur, Minister of Community and Social Services. As your comments would best be addressed by the minister, I have asked that either she or a member of her staff follow up with you directly.
Mr. Lepofsky, thank you again for writing and please accept my best wishes.
Original Signed By
January 5, 2010 Letter from Minister Jim Watson to David Lepofsky
Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing
Office of the Minister
777 Bay Street, 17th Floor
Toronto ON M5G 2E5
Tel. 416 585 7000
Fax 416 585 6470
January 5, 2010
Mr. David Lepofsky
Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance
1929 Bayview Avenue
Toronto ON M4G 3E8
Dear Mr. Lepofsky:
Thank you for recent correspondence, submitting your proposed amendments to the Municipal Elections Act, 1996 in Bill 212, the Good Government Act, 2009, I also note your comments about Bill 231, the proposed Election Statute Law Amendment Act, 2009, which was introduced by the Attorney General, the Honourable Chris Bentley.
I appreciate having the opportunity to meet with you and receiving your input.
As you are aware, our government passed the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (AODA). The goal of the AODA is to achieve accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities with respect to goods, services, facilities, accommodation, employment, buildings, structures and premises by developing, implementing and enforcing accessibility standards.
As you know, the Good Government Act, 2009 reforms the Municipal Elections Act, 1996, and the amendments came into effect on January 1, 2010.
Consistent with the goals of the AODA, amendments to the Municipal Elections Act, 1996 will make local elections more transparent, accountable and efficient, will create a more level playing field for all candidates, and will promote greater accessibility for voters and candidates with disabilities.
More specifically, municipal clerks will be required to ensure that each voting place is accessible to persons with disabilities and, in providing for matters and procedures not otherwise covered by the act, the clerk shall have regard for the needs of candidates and electors with disabilities. The clerk must produce a public report on election accessibility measures within 90 days following voting day. Campaign expenses related to a candidate’s disability will be excluded from the candidate’s spending limit. More information about the legislation is available online at www.ontario.ca/e-laws
The Association of Municipal Managers, Clerks and Treasurers, in conjunction with the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario, is currently developing a series of publications to assist clerks, candidates and electors regarding accessible municipal elections.
I also note your remarks concerning Bill 231, which addresses provincial elections reform — and especially your interest in hearings on the bill. In this regard, I note you have also sent copies of your correspondence to Minister Bentley who will, I am confident, give your comments due consideration.
We will be undertaking a review of the Municipal Elections Act after the 2010 municipal election. One component of that review will be an examination of any provincial-election reforms that may occur as a result of Bill 231.
Thank you again for your continued interest in local elections in Ontario.
Jim Watson, MPP
c: The Honourable Dalton McGuinty, Premier of Ontario
The Honourable Madeleine Meilleur, Minister of Community and Social Services
The Honourable Chris Bentley, Attorney General
Mr. Greg Sorbara, MPP and Chair, Select Committee on Elections