Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update
United for a Barrier-Free Ontario for All People with Disabilities
Promised New Canada Accessibility Legislation Expected to Be Introduced into Parliament for Debate This Spring – The AODA Alliance Writes Kirsty Duncan, Canada’s New National Minister for People with Disabilities
February 18, 2018
1. AODA Alliance Writes New National Minister for People with Disabilities, When the Promised New National Accessibility Bill Is Weeks Away from Introduction into Parliament
In the next weeks, the Federal Government is expected to introduce its proposed national accessibility law into the House of Commons, for it to be debated and passed into law. This will be an historic moment for Canada, and especially for people with disabilities in Canada.
The federal Liberal Party promised in the 2015 election that it would enact such legislation. We have been advocating both for that election pledge, and to ensure that the bill will be strong and effective.
The Honourable Kirsty Duncan was recently appointed as Canada’s third national Minister for People with Disabilities. She replaced Kent Hehr when he recently resigned from that ministerial post. Minister Hehr had replaced Carla Qualtrough late last August. She had been the first minister on this file, and had done most of the work leading the development of this legislation.
On Thursday, February 15, 2018, AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky had an introductory phone conversation with Minister Duncan. We’ve written the minister a follow-up welcome letter, set out below. In that letter we welcome Minister Duncan to her new post and offer to help in any way we can with the promised national accessibility law. We also set out specific requests regarding the proceedings on this forthcoming bill in Parliament. We ask the Federal Government to ensure that people with disabilities can fully participate in Parliament’s proceedings, and that these are disability-accessible. We ask for good advance notice of when the bill will be introduced and debated, and for public hearings on the bill to be held across Canada, if possible, by a joint committee of the Senate and House of Commons.
We also set out below an article that appeared in the Toronto Star online on December 30, 2017. A slightly shorter version appeared in the December 31, 2017 Toronto Star print edition. It explored what might be expected in the forthcoming Canada accessibility legislation.
We will keep you posted on new developments in this important area.
2. An Important Issue to Watch For
Here is a short update on one important issue that we will be watching for when the new national accessibility law is introduced into Parliament for debate. We have called on the Federal Government to ensure that all work on the implementation and enforcement of this legislation is assigned to one federal agency, which is arms-length from the Government, and which has needed expertise in disability inclusion and accessibility. When it comes to this law’s implementation and enforcement, there should be one-stop-shopping for people with disabilities, seeking accessibility.
Up to now, the Federal Government has made it public that it is contemplating assigning important aspects of this legislation to two existing federal agencies. It is considering assigning the topic of accessible transportation, within the federal sphere to the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA). It is considering assigning accessibility issues, as they relate to television, radio, telephone and cell phone services, cable TV, and the like to the Canadian Radio, Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). We are strongly opposed to this.
We have made our concerns known to the public and the Federal Government. Our June 13, 2017 AODA Alliance Update responded to the Federal Government’s public release of its report on the 2016-17 public consultation on the promised national accessibility law. In it, we said the following on this specific topic. Where we refer to “the report,” we are referring to the Federal Government’s report on the results of its public consultation:
“* Two of the Report’s statements about feedback received clash with and don’t acknowledge what our August 2016 Discussion Paper on the promised Canadians with Disabilities Act proposed. The Federal Government’s report includes:
“Finally, participants talked about how the Canadian Transportation Agency, the organization responsible for transportation standards, could be given more authority in certain areas, such as looking into issues proactively.”
The Federal Government’s report also states:
“Most participants recommended that the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission be given additional powers to ensure that the accessibility of telecommunications and broadcasting products and services continues to improve over time.”
Giving the CTA and CRTC a further mandate on accessibility is a formula for failure. Each federal agency has had mandates in this area. Neither has deployed those powers as effectively as they should have done. Both agencies have processes that are not conducive to ensuring success for people with disabilities, especially when running up against huge corporate giants such as Air Canada, a national TV network, or Bell Canada. Our Discussion Paper on the promised Canadians with Disabilities Act said the following, which the Federal Government’s Report should have echoed:
“There should be one federal agency for all CDA relief. People with disabilities shouldn’t have to chase around the Federal Government, to find out which agency or combination of agencies will enforce accessibility. Now if people with disabilities file a human rights complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission, they can find that all or part of it gets punted to another regulatory agency, like the CRTC or the Canada Transportation Agency. This is an unfair gift to organizations that seek to avoid timely justice, by dragging out proceedings, throwing barriers in the way, and wearing down victims of barriers.
The proposed new Canada Accessibility Commissioner should have lead responsibility for all accessibility standards development and all CDA enforcement. The Federal Government’s CDA Discussion guide implies that this may not be the case. Accessibility jurisdiction might be left in part with some federal agencies such as the Canada Transportation Agency. It states:
“It is envisioned that, by taking a proactive and systemic approach to improving accessibility and removing barriers, legislation would complement the laws that already exist in Canada to protect the human rights of Canadians with disabilities and build on existing federal accessibility standards and regulations.”
Before hearing from the public on this issue during its CDA consultations, the Federal Government shouldn’t pre-decide that transportation accessibility will be left with the Canada Transportation Agency, or that accessibility of telecommunication services will be left to the CRTC. If despite the foregoing, Parliament leaves any accessibility jurisdiction with those other regulatory agencies, then it should ensure that:
- a) All those regulatory agencies have the fullest range of remedial powers, at least as broad as the Canada Human Rights Tribunal’s.
- b) Those agencies must have an explicit duty to create and effectively enforce accessibility standards within their mandates, along time lines the CDA sets, similarly securing people with disabilities’ input into the standards.
- c) Those agencies should be required to give strong weight to accessibility when discharging any discretionary powers.
- d) A stronger accessibility standard made under the CDA and enforceable by the Canada Accessibility Commissioner should take precedence over any weaker accessibility rules or standards made by any other federal agency, such as the Canada Transportation Agency.”
We question the Federal Government report’s claim that most participants recommended expanding CTA and CRTC powers on this issue. We know of no disability organizations or individuals with disabilities who preferred giving more power to the CTA and CRTC, rather than giving this power to the new Canada Disability Commissioner that we propose be established. We know of no people with disabilities who would prefer to have to run around the Federal Government from one agency to another, trying to find out which can enforce their accessibility rights in a particular case. No one has given us such feedback. We held an open online consultation for months on our Discussion Paper before we finalized it. No one opposed the recommendation on point in our Discussion Paper, quoted above, either before or after we finalized that Discussion Paper in August 2016. No member of the disability community voiced a preference for giving more power on accessibility to the CTA and CRTC, rather than providing people with disabilities with one-stop-shopping at one independent federal agency, the Canada Disability Commissioner we recommend.
We were present during public consultations on federal accessibility legislation held in Toronto and in St. John’s Newfoundland, and more recently in Charlottetown PEI, the latter publicly-funded public forum which was organized by the Alliance for an Inclusive and Accessible Canada
It may be that the Federal Government received feedback that more regulatory powers are needed to ensure full accessibility in public transportation and in radio, television and telecommunication services. One could express this without expressing an overt choice between empowering a new Canada Accessibility Commissioner to address these, rather than the existing CTA and CRTC. We find it hard to imagine that there was broad preference in the disability community for splintered federal implementation and enforcement, rather than one-stop-shopping, in circumstances where we never heard a word about it, directly or indirectly.
In addition, we are concerned that federal regulatory agencies like the CTA and CRTC may be too close to the industries they regulate, and not close enough to the concerns of people with disabilities for whom they have had a mandate for years. They also lack proven expertise in disability accessibility.”
Put simply, for years, the CTA and CRTC have failed on this issue. It’s not that they have done nothing. Rather they have done far too little, and have taken far too long. This is not because they lacked the power to do more. It is because they lacked the will and expertise to do more.
With a track record of far too little action, it would be extremely unwise to give them the lead responsibility in this area, and to expect better from them. It is not good public policy to reward poor performance with a bigger job in the same area where they have performed poorly. It is wrong to require people with disabilities in Canada to have to run from one federal agency to the next, when seeking effective action on accessibility.
Put another way, we expect that huge, well-funded, federally-regulated obligated organizations like the railways, the airlines, the telephone and cable TV companies, and the broadcasters, will press the Federal Government to ensure that the CTA and CRTC retain their lead mandates on disability accessibility and accommodation. They would rather not have to deal with a new federal agency that has a stronger commitment to disability inclusion and accessibility. As well, the bureaucratic tendency will be for the CTA and CRTC to ask to keep and even expand their own mandates.
It would be wrong for the Federal Government to give in to any such pressure. To the contrary, should the Federal Government receive any such pressure, the Government should treat this as proof of why it is wrong to leave this with CRTC and CTA.
Text of the February 18, 2018 Letter from the AODA Alliance to Federal Disabilities Minister Kirsty Duncan
ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE
1929 Bayview Avenue,
Toronto, Ontario M4G 3E8
Email firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @aodaalliance www.aodaalliance.org
February 18, 2018
The Hon. Kirsty Duncan
Minister of Science and Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities
Via email: Kirsty.email@example.com
25 Eddy Street, 14th Floor
Les Terrasses de la Chaudiere
Gatineau Quebec, K1A 0M5
Dear Minister Duncan,
Re: Forthcoming National Accessibility Law
Please accept our congratulations on your recent appointment as Canada’s new Minister Responsible for People with Disabilities. Thank you as well for taking the time to speak with me by phone on February 15, 2018.
We are all waiting with anticipation for the impending introduction into Parliament of the promised new national accessibility law. We understand that this is coming in the next few weeks. Our non-partisan coalition, like so many others in the disability community across Canada, is eager to work together with you to ensure that this legislation is strong, effective and enduring.
As you take on this new Cabinet role, we encourage you to watch the August 22, 2017 online experts policy conference on what Canada’s promised national accessibility legislation should include. It gives you a detailed roadmap of what to include in this law, from leading experts on this topic from Canada and abroad.
We also encourage you to ensure that the process in Parliament for considering this legislation fully open and accessible for people with disabilities across Canada. For example, we ask the Government to take these steps:
- Let the public, including people with disabilities, know well in advance the date when your bill will be introduced in Parliament for First Reading. This will help people with disabilities arrange to either attend this historic event in Ottawa or arrange to watch this historic moment on TV or online around the country, and abroad. People with disabilities need extra time, in part due to the many disability accessibility barriers they face in public transit around Canada.
- Please also make public well in advance, the dates when the bill will be coming before Parliament for debates or votes.
- Please arrange needed accessibility supports to facilitate full participation by people with disabilities in watching or taking part in Parliamentary proceedings. This should, for example, include providing captioning and Sign Language (ASL and LSQ) for those watching Parliamentary proceedings and debates on the bill, whether by attending on Parliament Hill in person, or by watching on TV or online, from other locations.
- Please ensure that legislative hearings are held on this bill. To avoid the burden on people with disabilities and others of having to attend two sets of hearings, it would be helpful if a joint committee of the Senate and House of Commons could hold one set of hearings. It would be extremely helpful if these hearings could be held across Canada, and not only in Ottawa. This will make it much easier for people with disabilities across Canada to take part in the hearings. To its credit, in 2005, the Ontario Legislature held public hearings around Ontario, and not just at Queens Park in Toronto, on Bill 118, which became the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. We understand that that was the first time that Ontario legislative hearings were televised while being held outside Toronto. We also urge the Government to ensure that all who wish to have their say at public legislative hearings be given the opportunity.
- Finally, we will welcome any opportunity to dialogue with you and your officials as the bill works its way through Parliament, with a focus on any discussion of possible amendments, if needed.
Again, please accept our congratulations. We look forward to working with you on this historic legislation.
David Lepofsky CM, O. Ont
Chair Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance
CC: The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada firstname.lastname@example.org
Lori Sterling, Deputy Minister of Labour email@example.com
December 30, 2017 Article in the Toronto Star Online
(Note: A slightly shorter version of this article ran in the print edition of the December 31, 2018 Toronto Star)
What will Canada’s new accessibility law in 2018 look like?
The pending legislation would mark the first time Canada has moved to tackle accessibility at the national level, while the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia have had it in place for years.
John Rae, in his work for the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, hears many examples of travel plans thwarted by accessibility barriers. “(Current laws) talk about ‘undue obstacles’ to travel. We want the word ‘undue’ removed, says Rae, who is a blind person.
(Christopher Katsarov / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
By Michelle McQuigge
The Canadian Press
Sat., Dec. 30, 2017
Canadians with disabilities have their sights set on 2018, when the federal government is expected to usher in long-sought legislation designed to increase accessibility nationwide. The governing Liberals have promised to create a bill that would remove barriers in federally regulated sectors such as banking, interprovincial transportation, telecommunications and government-run services such as Canada Post.
But what will the expected legislation look like and what will it accomplish? People close to the process weighed in:
— What is Canada’s current accessibility picture?
The pending federal legislation would mark the first time Canada has moved to tackle accessibility at the national level. Other countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia have all had federal legislation in place for years or decades. Even most provincial governments have yet to take on the issue. Only Ontario, Manitoba and Nova Scotia have laws in place to address the needs of disabled residents.
— How do accessibility laws work?
They vary widely and have to strike a balance between being specific enough to attain results without being too restrictive for the people and places that have to abide by them. One approach, such as the one used in Ontario, involves developing standards focusing on broad areas such as customer service, built environments or employment. Some experts say Ottawa may go in a similar direction.
Michael Prince, Lansdowne professor of social policy at the University of Victoria, says individuals and businesses need to have enough flexibility to find accessibility solutions that make sense for their environments or clientele.
“We say, ‘here’s the standard, here’s the expected result we want. How you get there is up to you,’” he said of some government approaches.
Prince said some jurisdictions have gone so far as to set up government resources to help organizations comply with accessibility standards. He cited Ireland’s Centre for Excellence in Universal Design, an agency established a decade ago to conduct research and help shape accessibility practices in the country and abroad. Prince, who has taken part in numerous government consultations on the Canadian law, said having a comparable resource in place here would go a long way to making sure the new act is effective for years to come.
— What has the government promised?
Kent Hehr, the minister for persons with disabilities and the man charged with crafting the new legislation, says he’s on track to table the bill in the spring of 2018 as previously promised. Details, however, are still in the works, and Hehr declined to offer any specifics on what the bill might contain.
Hehr, who is quadriplegic and uses a wheelchair, said Canada is looking to other jurisdictions for lessons on how to implement a sound piece of legislation that would limit the hard work many disabled Canadians do on a regular basis even during some of society’s most basic interactions.
“As people with disabilities, we run into situations three, four, five, six times a day,” he said in a telephone interview. “And sometimes we become immune to them and we simply find other creative ways to move forward. I’m hoping we don’t have to be as creative in the future.”
— What kind of barriers do people with disabilities face?
Advocates say every sector that will fall under the scope of a federal act is rife with examples of barriers that vary depending on the disability in question. While many organizations and industries have developed inclusion strategies, they say myriad anecdotes demonstrate the fact that more formal intervention is necessary. Some examples include:
- Banking: When Jim Derksen goes to his local bank to conduct routine transactions, he’s never sure that he’ll be able to cross those tasks off his to-do list. Derksen, who uses a wheelchair, says many branch counters or bank machine keypads are located too high for someone using a mobility aid to reach. This is exacerbated for those with conditions that limit their ability to extend their arms. Some branches feature a wheelchair-accessible counter, but Derksen said high demand typically results in long lineups.
Even when he makes it to a counter, Derksen said another barrier frequently arises when he tries to use the pin pad. Such machines are regularly secured to the countertop, he said, making it impossible for many customers to reach them.
Derksen recognizes that businesses all over the country often take such precautions as a security measure, but he said the new law must force people to get more proactive in recognizing accessibility barriers and be creative in trying to overcome them.
“We require a law which is enforced, which will push the innovation and the ingenuity,” he said. “Because unless there’s a push, these compromises will be far less than acceptable.”
- Transport: In his work for the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, John Rae hears many examples of travel plans thwarted by accessibility barriers. As a blind person, Rae said he cannot use self-check-in kiosks at airports and must rely on harried counter staff for basic travel support.
Up until this year, Via Rail could only accommodate one wheelchair user at a time on its trains. The situation only began to change in the spring after the Canadian Transportation Agency ordered the company to double that capacity across its entire fleet, an edict Via Rail recently announced it would heed after months of resistance.
Rae said an accessibility law is essential to prevent such protracted battles from playing out in future. It would also have the added advantage of ensuring transportation companies keep accessibility in mind when doing everything from purchasing new vehicles to designing customer service protocols.
“(Current laws) talk about ‘undue obstacles’ to travel. We want the word ‘undue’ removed,” Rae said.
— Would broad “standards” actually help?
Yes, but experts and advocates alike say they won’t get the job done on their own. Michael Bach, managing director of the Institute for Research and Development on Inclusion and Society, said a standard in an area such as customer service would push companies to make disability issues a higher priority.
But standards can only go so far, he said, adding a potential benefit of an accessibility law would be its capacity to force the federal government to bring other laws in line. As an example, Bach cited statutes under the banking and tax acts that bar people with intellectual disabilities from either opening their own bank accounts or accessing their own funds.
“It’s great to be setting standards and coming up with a process to set them. It’s part of the picture, but there’s other pieces that need to be addressed for an inclusive and accessible Canada,” he said.
Bach and Rae both said the new law should make it mandatory for the government to put its own policies, legislation and program decisions through a disability analysis, just as it currently does for gender-related issues. Rae said such an approach would help identify instances of discriminatory laws on the books and signal that the feds are willing to get their own house in order before compelling others to do the same.
“It would be a signal to the disabled community that the government is really serious about its desire to make Canada a more accessible country.”
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