Here are the Seven Most Important Amendments Needed to Make that Bill Become a Good Law
Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities http://www.aodaalliance.org, [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance
October 3, 2018
The House of Commons in Ottawa has invited the AODA Alliance to make a presentation on Bill C-81, the proposed Accessible Canada Act, to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities at 8:45 a.m. on Thursday, October 25, 2018, at the Parliament Building in Ottawa. This will be the last day for public hearings on that bill.
We have already submitted our detailed September 27, 2018 brief to Parliament. It lists all the amendments needed to make Bill C-81 into a good bill. We are today making public our short, punchy 4-page summary of that brief. Set out below, it explains the seven most important changes that must be made to Bill C-81, for it to live up to the public statements that the Federal Government has made about its intentions. Of course, our more detailed brief goes into a great deal of detail, and addresses other important issues, beyond these seven.
Please widely circulate this 4-page summary. Encourage as many people and organizations as possible to write the Federal Government to support the AODA Alliances September 27, 2018 brief.
You might say this, 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, you should feel free to add any additional information and recommendations about Bill C-81 you might wish to share, including anything we did not say in our brief.
Email to the Standing Committee of the House of Commons:
Please also email the minister who is championing this bill, the Honourable Carla Qualtrough, Minister for People with Disabilities, at: [email protected]
Please copy the AODA Alliance on your email. Email us at:
Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance
United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities www.aodaalliance.org Email: [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance
How to Make Bill C-81, the Proposed “Accessible Canada Act”, a Good Law Summary of the AODA Alliance’s September 27, 2018 Brief to the Parliament of Canada October 2, 2018
We congratulate the Federal Government for committing to enact national accessibility legislation, for widely consulting the public on it in 2016-2017, and for bringing a bill to Parliament on June 20, 2018. Bill C-81, the proposed Accessible Canada Act, aims to eradicate the barriers that impede accessibility for over four million people with disabilities in Canada, in areas that the Federal Government can regulate. That includes, for example air travel, banking, the post office, TV and radio broadcasts, telecommunications (like telephone and cell phone services), Federal Government Services, and anything that anyone does using money from the Federal Government.
Bill C-81 is a good start. However it needs substantial amendments for it to become a good and effective law, one that lives up to the commendable goals that the Federal Government announced in public statements supporting this bill. The AODA Alliance’s September 27, 2018 brief to Parliament explains in detail what is needed to strengthen this bill. The improvements we seek all fit within the bill’s framework. We here summarize the most important amendments we need. Our detailed September 27, 2018 brief to Parliament also describes other needed changes.
The AODA Alliance is a non-partisan community coalition that has advocated in Ontario since 2005 for the effective implementation and enforcement of Canada’s first comprehensive provincial accessibility law, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2005. We are the successor to the community coalition that successfully campaigned from 1994 to 2005 for the AODA’s enactment. We have been consulted by and spoken to many including from several provinces around Canada, and in the United Nations, the European Union, Israel and New Zealand.
Good Ingredients in the Bill
The bill creates several important new federal officials and agencies to promote accessibility. This includes a new federal Accessibility Commissioner to enforce the bill in part, a new federal Canadian Accessibility Standards Development Organization to create model accessibility standards that the Federal Government can choose to enact as enforceable regulations, a new federal Chief Accessibility Officer to advise and report on progress and needed improvements, and a minister to be responsible for some key functions under the bill.
The bill permits the development of non-binding federal accessibility standards. These can guide organizations across Canada on what they need to do to tear down accessibility barriers, and to avoid creating new barriers. The bill allows for the enactment of these standards as federal laws, called regulations. When enacted, these become enforceable.
The bill requires federally-regulated organizations to create multi-year accessibility plans and to update these over a period of years. The bill aims to provide effective enforcement and for the public accountability of obligated organizations for their accessibility efforts. This includes a complaint process. The bill requires legislative and Independent Reviews of the bill’s effectiveness over a period of years.
Amendments Needed to Make this Bill Become a Good Law
1. It is good that the bill is called An Act to Ensure a Barrier-Free Canada. However the bill’s section that sets out the law’s purpose is much weaker. It says the law’s purpose is “the progressive realizationof a Canada without barriers”. Unlike Ontario’s 2005 accessibility legislation, this federal bill does not set a deadline for Canada to become accessible to people with disabilities. Under it, Canada may not become accessible to people with disabilities for hundreds of years, if ever.
We ask for the bill to be amended to set a deadline for Canada to become accessible. We urge the Federal Government to work with us and others to arrive at a workable and achievable deadline to enshrine in the bill.
2. It is good that the bill gives the Federal Government and federal accessibility agencies/officials helpful powers to promote accessibility. However, the bill imposes no duty on them to use those powers. It sets no deadlines for taking major implementation steps that the Government must take to implement this bill. The Government could drag its feet for years.
For example, the bill commendably empowers the Government to create accessibility standards as enforceable regulations. However, it does not require the Government to ever enact any of these accessibility regulations. It gives the Federal Government enforcement powers but doesn’t require the bill to be effectively enforced.
We ask that the bill be amended to impose duties on the Federal Government and its accessibility officials and agencies to use the bill’s powers, such as these, and time lines within which they must act.
3. It is helpful that the bill requires federally-regulated organizations to establish accessibility plans. However, the bill does not require these to be good plans. It does not require an organization to implement its accessibility plan. It does not provide people with disabilities with a way to lodge complaints against an organization if it makes no plan, or makes a poor plan or doesn’t implement its plan. We ask that the bill be amended to correct this.
4. The bill is unnecessarily confusing and complicated. It will be hard for people with disabilities and others to figure out what it means, and to navigate its complicated provisions. This is because the bill wrongly splinters the power to make accessibility standard regulations and the power to enforce the bill among a number of federal agencies, such as the new federal Accessibility Commissioner, the Canada Transportation Agency CTA and the Canadian Radio, Television and Telecommunications Commission CRTC.
This splintering makes the bill’s implementation and enforcement less effective, more confusing, more complicated and more costly. It will take longer to get accessibility regulations enacted. These regulations will be weaker and inconsistent because more than one federal authority can enact them.
This splintering makes it much harder for people with disabilities to navigate the system, and to figure out what rights they have, whether they are being honoured, and how to get this fixed if there are violations. People with disabilities will have to figure out as many as three or four different procedures, rules, forms and time lines for presenting an accessibility complaint. That weakens the rights and voices of people with disabilities.
The only interests this splintering serves are those of existing federal bureaucracies that want more power, and of any obligated organizations that want to oppose taking action on accessibility. Those organizations will relish exploiting the bill’s confusing complexity to delay and impede its implementation and enforcement.
It is wrong for the bill to give almost exclusive powers over accessibility at federally-regulated transportation organizations (like airlines) to the CTA, and almost exclusive powers over broadcasters and telecommunication companies (like Bell Canada and Rogers Communications) to the CRTC. The CTA and CRTC have had powers in this area for years. Their record of action on accessibility is not good.
The CTA and CRTC are too close to the industries they regulate. They lack expertise in, and proven commitment to disability accessibility. The industries the CTA and CRTC regulate will love that the Federal Government wants the CTA and CRTC to stay largely in control of their accessibility obligations. People with disabilities deserve better.
We ask for the bill to be greatly simplified, to get rid of its harmful splintering of federal responsibilities. Only the Federal Cabinet should make all accessibility regulations. The new federal Accessibility Commissioner should do all the bill’s enforcement. This ensures clearer, smoother, lower-cost easier-to-access one-stop-shopping for people with disabilities, and easier implementation for the Federal Government and obligated organizations.
Now under the bill, transportation organizations, broadcasters and telecommunication companies must make two concurrent accessibility plans, one supervised by the Accessibility Commissioner and the other supervised either by the CTA or CRTC. We ask for the bill to be amended so that all obligated organizations will only have to make one accessibility plan at one time, all supervised by the new federal Accessibility Commissioner.
It is no solution to the bill’s serious “splintering” problem for the Federal Government to create a “single door” or single place to lodge a complaint under the bill, after which a bureaucrat will decide which of the bill’s many enforcement agencies to send it to. Adding this additional layer of bureaucracy leaves all the problems in place we identified. This added layer would also inject more delays into the process.
5. The bill has too many loopholes. These need to be closed.
As one example, the bill gives various federal agencies the sweeping, unjustified and unaccountable power to exempt any or all organizations from a number of important accessibility obligations. The Government can even exempt itself.
No reasons need ever be given for exempting an organization. These exemptions can last into the indefinite future, even if the exempted organization is doing a poor job on accessibility. This power to grant exemptions should be removed from the bill.
As a second example, the bill gives too much power to the federal Cabinet to make regulations. A future government could weaken or largely gut this bill by mere amendments to regulations. They wouldn’t have to bring a bill before Parliament and to publicly debate and vote on those harmful measures. Federal regulations under the bill can be passed by the Federal Cabinet, the CTA and the CRTC, in private meetings. The power to make these regulations under the bill must be substantially reduced.
As a third example, the bill includes no protections to ensure that nothing is done under the bill that cuts back on the rights or opportunities of people with disabilities. We need the bill amended to make it clear that nothing can be done under the bill that reduces the rights or opportunities of people with disabilities, and that if there are ever two different accessibility laws, the stronger one always prevails.
6. The bill does not ensure that the Federal Government will use 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. It lets the Federal Government impose accessibility requirements when it buys goods or services, but doesn’t require the Federal Government to ever do so. Moreover, the bill doesn’t leverage much if not most federal spending, in order to promote accessibility.
The bill should be amended to require this disability lens, by attaching accessibility strings to any recipient of federal money. This should include, for example, when federal money contributes to building any new or renovated infrastructure, or when it is used for federal loans, grants or transfer payments.
7. The Federal Government is the largest organization that will have to obey this legislation. Therefore, the key federal accessibility agencies that will oversee and enforce this legislation must be independent of the Federal Government. Under the bill, they are not. They all report to the Federal Government.
We ask for the bill to be amended to make the new Accessibility Commissioner, the new Canada Accessibility Standards Development Organization CASDO, and the new Chief Accessibility Officer report directly to Parliament, rather than to the Government. If this is not done, then we ask for the bill to be amended to give these key federal accessibility agencies/officials real operational independence from the Federal Government.
For more information, contact the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance care of its chair David Lepofsky CM, O. Ont. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance
Visit our website: http://www.aodaalliance.org