October 3, 2007
Below you can read the October 3, 2007 Toronto Star’s guest column on the Ontario election’s disability accessibility issues. It was written by David Lepofsky, the AODA Alliance’s Human Rights Reform Representative. We encourage you to:
* Send a letter to the Toronto Star editor, expressing your views on the issues in this guest column. You can email the Star at: firstname.lastname@example.org
* Circulate this guest column to your acquaintances, friends and family. Encourage them to consider these issues when deciding on their vote.
* Send this guest column to your local media. Urge them to cover these issues in the election campaign’s final week.
* Urge others to join the AODA Alliance’s email update List. They can ask to be added by sending an email to: email@example.com
* Learn more about the election’s disability accessibility issues and the parties’ positions on them by visiting: http://www.www.aodaalliance.org/category/2007-ontario-election/
The Toronto Star, October 3, 2007
Election debate proves inaccessible to disabled
Graphic: Rick Eglinton TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO Party leaders applauded the installation of David Onley as Lieutenant- Governor but their commitment to the disabled is another matter.
In most election campaigns, pundits are preoccupied with just a few issues, such as private school funding this year. You hear less about parallel grassroots election campaigns on other issues important to many. Here’s one.
Lieutenant-Governor David Onley challenged all Ontarians to act now to make Ontario fully accessible to more than 1.5 million persons with disabilities. The party leaders all applauded. But what will they do if elected?
An easily fixed barrier to accessibility illustrates the problem. I recently won a hard-fought human rights case. The Human Rights Tribunal ordered the TTC to announce all bus route stops aloud so we blind passengers can know when we arrive at our destination. Most people cannot believe the TTC spent $100,000 to $200,000 on legal fees opposing me.
I led a decade-long campaign to win a new Disabilities Act, finally passed in 2005, so we would not have to fight these barriers to access one at a time. Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals get credit for keeping his commitment to pass the Disabilities Act after consulting with the disability community. The Tories and NDP get credit for voting for McGuinty’s Disabilities Act and for proposing amendments to improve it at our request.
Since then, the Liberals’ weak implementation of that Disabilities Act has been a huge letdown. The Human Rights Tribunal gave the TTC 30 days to start announcing all bus route stops. But the McGuinty government’s proposed transit accessibility standard under the Disabilities Act lets other transit authorities around Ontario delay an outrageous 18 years before announcing all bus stops. Thus we still must fight human rights complaints against each transit provider to get bus stops announced.
Then we suffered another blow. When I fought the TTC, I had the right to have the Human Rights Commission investigate my case and prosecute the TTC if there was enough proof. Now McGuinty’s widely condemned Bill 107 strips from the Human Rights Commission its job of investigating and prosecuting individual discrimination complaints.
Under the new legislation, discrimination victims have to investigate and prosecute their own cases. McGuinty broke his government’s promise to guarantee a free, publicly funded lawyer for all discrimination victims. The new Human Rights Legal Support Centre, which gets a paltry 25 per cent of the Human Rights Commission’s previous budget, will have to turn away meritorious cases. And the Human Rights Commission already was chronically backlogged.
Bill 107’s gutting of the Human Rights Commission also broke the Liberals’ 2005 commitment to us, made while negotiating over the Disabilities Act. The Liberals rejected our request to create a new public agency to enforce the new Disabilities Act but committed to having the Human Rights Commission investigate and prosecute our disability discrimination complaints. Subsequently, Bill 107 stripped that power from the Human Rights Commission.
Last year, when Bill 107 was being debated in the Legislature, the Liberals promised that anyone who had concerns could raise them at public hearings. As opposition to Bill 107 grew, McGuinty broke that commitment. He cut short the public hearings his government had promised, advertised and scheduled. Ours was one of the presentations that was cancelled. This is the government that promised democratic renewal, and the party that had railed against the Harris government when it used such closure motions in the Legislature. The NDP and Tories opposed McGuinty’s closure motion.
All three major parties pledge to strengthen implementation of the Disabilities Act. John Tory and Howard Hampton have agreed to meet disability community representatives, if elected, to discuss how to do this. McGuinty won’t agree to meet.
We’ve asked the parties to repeal Bill 107’s privatization of human rights enforcement and to restore and strengthen the backlogged, underfunded Human Rights Commission. The Conservatives and NDP agree. McGuinty doesn’t.
Unlike the school funding debate preoccupying pundits, this issue affects all Ontarians. Everyone has a disability now or will get one as they age. You won’t want to wait 18 years for an accommodation as simple, obvious and inexpensive as having your bus driver announce all stops. You won’t want to battle against barriers to accessibility one at a time. You won’t want organizations like the TTC spending a fortune in tax dollars opposing you. You won’t want to have to investigate your own discrimination case. You won’t want to line up for a lawyer at the underfunded Human Rights Legal Support Centre with the real prospect of being turned away. You won’t want to beg the weakened Human Rights Commission to use its diminished powers and gutted budget to bring discrimination cases in its own name.
Too bad these issues don’t get raised at leaders’ debates!
David Lepofsky is a Toronto lawyer and activist for reforms to protect the rights of persons with disabilities.