Please Tell the Federal Government if You Support the AODA Alliance’s Finalized brief to the Parliament of Canada, that Requests Amendments to Bill C-81, the Proposed Accessible Canada Act

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

United for a Barrier-Free Ontario for All People with Disabilities

www.aodaalliance.org aodafeedback@gmail.com Twitter: @aodaalliance

Please Tell the Federal Government if You Support the AODA Alliance’s Finalized brief to the Parliament of Canada, that Requests Amendments to Bill C-81, the Proposed Accessible Canada Act

September 28, 2018

          SUMMARY

Here’s a quick and easy way to have your say! The AODA Alliance has just submitted its finalized brief to the Parliament of Canada on Bill C-81, the proposed Accessible Canada Act. Our brief asks Parliament to make a series of amendments to the bill, in order to make it a strong, effective and good law. It is the result of months of work.

Please let Parliament and the Federal Government know if you support our brief. If you are really busy, just a one-sentence email to them, would help. We give you the email addresses to use, below.

For example you might say the following, either as an individual, or on behalf of an organization that you can speak for:

“I’m writing to support the brief which the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance has submitted on September 27, 2018 to the Parliament of Canada that recommends improvements to Bill C-81, the proposed Accessible Canada Act.”

Of course, if you want, you should also add any additional information about Bill C-81 you might wish to share, including anything we did not say in our brief.

We recommend that you send an email to:

HUMA@parl.gc.ca

That is the email address for the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities:

Sixth Floor, 131 Queen Street

House of Commons

Ottawa ON   K1A 0A6

Fax: 613-947-3089

You should also address your email to the minister who is championing this bill, the Honourable Carla Qualtrough, Minister for People with Disabilities. You can email her at:

Carla.Qualtrough@parl.gc.ca

Please also copy the AODA Alliance on your email, so we know who has voiced their support for us. Email us at:

aodafeedback@gmail.com

You can download the AODA Alliance’s September 27, 2018 finalized brief on Bill C-81, the proposed Accessible Canada Act, by clicking here:

https://www.aodaalliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Sept-27-2018-AODA-Alliance-Brief-to-Parliament-on-Bill-C81-Final-Version.docx

Download the text of Bill C-81 at First Reading in Parliament by visiting:

https://www.aodaalliance.org/whats-new/new2018/click-here-to-download-in-ms-word-the-text-at-first-reading-june-20-2018-of-bill-c-81-the-proposed-accessible-canada-act/

Things are moving quite fast with Bill C-81. This week, Bill C-81 passed Second Reading in the House of Commons. We will have more to report to you on what was said during Second Reading debates in an upcoming AODA Alliance Update.

We anticipate that Bill C-81 will be coming quite soon before the Standing Committee of the House of Commons for public hearings. We have applied to appear at those hearings. Our brief will be the basis of our presentation.

We hope our brief will also help others who present to the Standing Committee, and that as many as possible will support and endorse our brief, in addition to any recommendations that they choose to bring forward. Feel free to make use of, and even cut and paste from our brief, as much as you want!

Below, we set out a five-page summary of the brief. Our brief is quite detailed. This is because Bill C-81 is itself over 100 pages long, and quite complicated.

For each issue we identify in the brief, we explain what the issue is, and quote the relevant part of the bill. We explain our concerns, and make concrete recommendations on how to address those concerns.

At the end of the brief is an appendix. It gathers together in one place all the recommendations set out in the brief. Each recommendation in the appendix has one, two or three *s next to it. These are meant to signal the priority level of each recommendation. All our recommendations are, of course, important.

This brief builds on the AODA Alliance’s preliminary analysis of the bill which we raced to make public the day after the bill was tabled in Parliament. It also builds on the draft brief which we made public on August 3, 2018, in order for one and all to send us their feedback and suggestions. It builds on the Discussion Paper on the promised national accessibility law that we made public two years ago, and on which we received very helpful feedback.

This brief includes almost all of the contents that were in our August 2, 2018 draft brief. A few topics and details were added as a result of our further research and feedback that we received on our August 2, 2018 draft brief.

We are very indebted to all who have shared their input now and in the past. It has really helped with this major project. We want to especially thank the ARCH Disability Law Centre. As ARCH developed its own analysis of the bill, we and ARCH exchanged our drafts in progress, and shared our feedback. This helped improve all our efforts.

We hope that disability organizations and others across Canada will find our ideas helpful. Please circulate our brief and encourage others to support it, using the contact information we set out above.

Do you want to learn the steps a bill like Bill C-81 must go through to get through Canada’s Parliament and become a law? Check out the AODA Alliance’s introductory guide for beginners on how a law gets through Parliament.

          MORE DETAILS

Summary of the AODA Alliance’s September 27, 2018 Brief on Bill C-81, the Proposed Accessible Canada Act

a) General

We congratulate the Federal Government for committing in 2015 to pass a national accessibility law, and for introducing Bill C-81 in Parliament in June 2018 for First Reading. This bill is quite a good start. It contains a number of important ingredients. It embodies a number of the ideas that we shared with the Federal Government during its two-year public consultation. It shows a serious effort by the Federal Government to craft constructive legislation.

However, the bill has substantial deficiencies that need significant improvement. These improvements are all readily achievable within the bill’s overall framework. We certainly don’t ask the Federal Government to start again from scratch.

With the amendments proposed in this brief, this bill can be turned into good legislation. Without those amendments, it will not be sufficient to achieve its important goals. The need for these improvements to this bill does not take away from the fact that the Federal Government is commended for bringing this bill forward, and for including in it a number of the core components that it did.

We look forward to working with the Federal Government and with all parties in Parliament to get the bill improved through the debates and hearings process. We strongly urge Parliament to hold robust, open, nation-wide, travelling legislative hearings on this bill, where people with disabilities and all Canadians can offer ideas for improvements.

b) Helpful Features in the Bill

This bill’s good and promising features include the following:

It is good that by its title, this bill aims to create an accessible and barrier-free Canada for people with disabilities.

The bill endeavours to broadly define the key terms “disability” and “barrier.”

The bill establishes several important new officials and agencies to achieve its goal. This includes a new Accessibility Commissioner to enforce the bill in part, a new federal Canadian Accessibility Standards Development Organization (CASDO) to create model accessibility standards that the Federal Government can choose to enact as enforceable federal regulations, a new Chief Accessibility Officer to advise and report on progress and needed improvements, and a minister to be responsible for certain key functions under the bill.

The bill allows for the development of non-binding accessibility standards, which can guide federally or provincially regulated organizations. It allows for the enactment of these standards, either “as is” or with modifications. When enacted, these would become enforceable regulations, that are binding on organizations that the Federal Government can regulate.

The bill aims to provide effective enforcement and for the public accountability of obligated organizations for accessibility efforts, including a formal complaint process. It also provides for legislative and Independent Reviews of the bill’s effectiveness over a period of years.

The bill includes a regime for federally-related organizations to create multi-year accessibility plans and to update these over a period of years.

c) Areas Where the Bill Needs Improvement

The bill’s deficiencies, needing correction by amendments, include the following:

The bill’s “purpose clause” is too weak. It falls well short of the goal proclaimed in the bill’s title. The purpose clause only seeks the “progressive realization,” of a barrier-free Canada. It does not set a much-needed specific deadline for reaching full accessibility, something the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act commendably has. This means that under this bill, people with disabilities could face the prospect of disability accessibility barriers for the indefinite future.

The bill’s well-intended definitions of “disability” and “barrier” are too narrow.

The bill gives the Federal Government and various accessibility agencies a set of helpful powers to promote accessibility. However, it does not impose any duty on them to use those powers, or any mandatory time lines for the major implementation steps that the Government must take to get this bill effectively implemented. For example, the bill commendably empowers the Government to create accessibility standards or regulations. However, it wrongly does not require the Government to ever make any accessibility regulations. Moreover, it wrongly splinters power to make enforceable accessibility regulations over more than one governmental body. This threatens to create a patchwork of confusing and potentially inconsistent if not contradictory accessibility regulations.

The bill wrongly splinters the important power to enact binding and enforceable accessibility standard regulations among three federal bodies, the Federal Cabinet, the Canada Transportation Agency (CTA) and the Canada Radio, Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) All power to enact accessibility standard regulations should be assigned to the Federal Cabinet.

The bill wrongly splinters enforcement and implementation in a confusing way over a number of different public enforcement agencies, rather than providing people with disabilities with the simple, easy-to-navigate, one-stop enforcement process that they need. This wasteful duplication will slow and weaken the bill’s effective implementation, and risks inconsistent and unpredictable enforcement. It unfairly makes it harder for people with disabilities to get effective enforcement of the bill. They risk being unfairly shuffled back and forth from one federal enforcement agency to another.

For example, the bill wrongly leaves enforcement for broadcasting and telecommunications to the CRTC and for transportation to the CTA. It does so despite the CRTC’s and CTA’s inadequate track records on enforcing accessibility over many years.

Each of the Accessibility Commissioner, the CRTC and the CTA will have to get regulations enacted to cover very similar topics. This duplication again risks inconsistencies, even further delays, and the real possibility that some sectors of the economy will have these regulations ready for them before other sectors. It unfairly burdens the disability community to lobby each of these different public oversight agencies on the same issues in these duplicative regulations.

The bill unjustifiably gives various public bodies sweeping, unnecessary, unjustified and unaccountable powers to exempt any or all obligated organizations from a number of important of their accessibility obligations under the bill.

The bill helpfully requires obligated organizations to establish accessibility plans, but does not require them to be good plans. It does not require an obligated organization to implement its accessibility plan. It does not provide people with disabilities with an avenue to lodge complaints against an organization if it has a deficient plan, or no plan at all. It also requires some obligated organizations, namely transportation organizations, telecommunications organizations and broadcasts, to make two sets of plans at the same time, and gives different federal oversight agencies mandates over each of these plans. This confusing and convoluted approach will weaken the bill’s implementation, by unnecessarily making it more complex and confusing.

The bill unnecessarily delays some important duties of obligated organizations, and the corresponding rights of people with disabilities, until certain technical regulations are passed. If those regulations are not passed, obligated organizations won’t have those important duties. Thus, the disability community would have to lobby various federal entities, possibly for years, to get all those regulations passed.

The bill does not effectively ensure that the Federal Government will use all its levers of readily-available power to promote accessibility across Canada. For example, it does not require the Federal Government to ensure that federal money is never used by any recipient of those funds, to create or perpetuate disability barriers, e.g. when federal money contributes to new or renovated infrastructure, or when it is used for federal loans, grants or transfer payments.

The bill commendably has some public accountability requirements for key public organizations or offices that have implementation and enforcement duties, and for obligated organizations. However, these are too weak. Both the Federal Government’s accessibility agencies and obligated organizations should have broader public accountability requirements regarding accessibility.

The bill gives too much power to the federal Cabinet to make regulations. This allows a future Government to weaken or largely gut this bill by mere amendments to regulations, without ever having to bring a bill before Parliament and to publicly debate and vote on such plans.

Several needed ingredients are missing from the bill. This includes, for example, needed provisions on the Federal Government in relation to Indigenous People, and on federal duties to review all federal laws for accessibility issues, to ensure federal elections are accessible to voters and candidates with disabilities, and to ensure that the Federal Government itself operates as a model of an accessible employer and service-provider.

d) Recommended Amendments

This brief recommends that the bill be amended to do such things as the following:

  1. To set the bill’s purpose as achieving a barrier-free Canada by a date the bill will fix, in so far as the Federal Government and Parliament can do so.
  1. To specify that the Federal Government as a whole is responsible for leading Canada to the goal of accessibility, in so far as the Federal Government has constitutional authority to do so.
  1. To ensure that the bill’s definitions of “disability” and “barrier” are broad and inclusive.
  1. To ensure that the bill reaches the actions of all organizations that the Federal Government and Parliament can reach, including any recipients of federal money and all operations within Parliament.
  1. To impose specific duties and implementation time lines on the Federal Government, and on specified public officials and agencies, regarding their roles to implement and enforce the bill. For example, the Federal Government should have a duty to enact and enforce all the accessibility standard regulations needed to achieve the bill’s purpose.
  1. To consolidate all the power to make accessibility standard regulations in the federal Cabinet, rather than splintering this power among other federal agencies, beyond the federal Cabinet.
  1. To consolidate all of the bill’s enforcement in the Accessibility Commissioner, rather than it being splintered among several federal regulatory agencies. If not consolidated, then remove duplicative regulation-making requirements to ensure consistent implementation and enforcement across all accessibility enforcement agencies.
  1. To ensure that key bodies responsible for the bill’s oversight, such as CASDO and the Chief Accessibility Officer, are fully and effectively independent of the Government, and are seen by the public to be independent.
  1. To strengthen the mandates of CASDO, the Accessibility Commissioner and the Chief Accessibility Officer.
  1. To strengthen the openness of the standards development process under the bill, while ensuring that people with disabilities have effective input into accessibility regulations that the Federal Cabinet enacts.
  1. To remove from the bill, or drastically reduce and constrain the sweeping and unnecessary powers to exempt obligated organizations from certain obligations under the bill.
  1. To ensure that obligated organizations’ accessibility plans are good plans, and to ensure that they are implemented and enforceable.
  1. To require that obligated organizations each only have to make one accessibility plan at a time, which will be overseen by the Accessibility Commissioner.
  1. To remove preconditions in the bill that require that certain duties of obligated organizations do not come into effect until and unless certain regulations are enacted.
  1. To increase duties to make public key information on accessibility on a timely basis.
  1. To reduce the power of the Federal Cabinet and key accessibility enforcement agencies to make regulations, especially where regulations could weaken or gut the bill.
  1. To speed up the requirements for future reviews of this bill by Parliament and by an Independent Review which the Federal Government will appoint.
  1. To require the Federal Government to focus specific efforts to address its special responsibilities in relation to Indigenous People with disabilities.
  1. To guarantee that in the case of conflicting legal provisions, the strongest accessibility law always prevails.
  1. To ensure that nothing in the Act, or in its regulations or in any actions taken under it shall reduce in any way any rights which people with disabilities enjoy under law.
  1. To require the Federal Government to review all its statutes and regulations for accessibility barriers.
  1. To enforceably require that no public money can be used to create or perpetuate barriers against people with disabilities, e.g. money spent on procurement, infrastructure, grants, loans or transfer payments.
  1. To require the Federal Government to use all other readily-available levers of power to advance the goal of accessibility.
  1. To require that whenever a federal statute or regulation confers a discretionary power on any federal public official, department or agency, that decision-maker shall take into account, in its exercise, its impact on accessibility for people with disabilities.
  1. To require the Federal Government to ensure that federal elections become barrier-free for voters and candidates with disabilities.
  1. To include effective measures to ensure that the Federal Government becomes a model accessible workplace and service-provider.
  1. To require the Federal Government to develop and implement a plan to ensure that all federally-operated courts (e.g. the Supreme Court of Canada and Federal Courts), and federally operated regulatory tribunals (like the CRTC and Canada Transportation Agency) become accessible.