An Important Victory – The Trudeau Government Announced Yesterday that It will Vote in the House of Commons to Ratify All the Senate’s Amendments to Bill C-81, the Proposed Accessible Canada Act


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

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

www.aodaalliance.org [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance

An Important Victory – The Trudeau Government Announced Yesterday that It will Vote in the House of Commons to Ratify All the Senate’s Amendments to Bill C-81, the Proposed Accessible Canada Act

May 23, 2019

Yesterday, May 22, 2019, the Federal Government announced by email and Twitter that it will vote to approve all the amendments to Bill C-81, the proposed Accessible Canada Act, that the Senate passed earlier this month. The debate in the House of Commons on these amendments is expected to begin next week according to the Federal Government. Next week also happens to be National accessibility Week in Canada.

“This is an important victory for those disability advocates who have devoted so much effort and energy over the past weeks and months to strengthen Bill C-81,” said David Lepofsky, chair of the non-partisan AODA Alliance, which has campaigned on accessibility for people with disabilities for many years, and which has been involved in the campaign for this legislation since at least 2014. “The Senate’s amendments set 2040 as the legal deadline for Canada to become accessible to people with disabilities, and cut back on the power of the Canadian Transportation Agency to make regulations that could weaken the accessibility rights of passengers with disabilities when travelling on airlines or other inter-provincial modes of transportation, among other things.”

While the Senate’s amendments don’t fix all the deficiencies with Bill C-81 with which we have been concerned, they are an important and helpful step forward. The AODA Alliance and others have been hard at work over the past three weeks, mounting an all-out blitz on social media and elsewhere to press all MPs in the House of Commons to agree to vote to ratify all the Senate’s amendments to Bill C-81. It was by no means a certainty that the Federal Government, which holds a majority in the House of Commons, would agree to do so. Opposition parties in the House of Commons have since last fall been supporting our call for Bill C-81 to be strengthened.

We express our gratitude and appreciation to the Federal Government, including the minister responsible for this bill, federal Accessibility Minister Carla Qualtrough, for making its announcement yesterday in which it agreed to pass all the Senate’s amendments to Bill C-81. We thank the opposition parties that have pressed for Bill C-81 to be strengthened.

The House of Commons only needs to hold one vote to ratify these amendments. No further public hearings or Standing Committee study of the bill are needed. Once the amendments are passed during that vote, Bill C-81 will have completed its current journey through Canada’s Parliament. It will be a law. It will come into force when the Federal Government gives Bill C-81 royal assent. The Federal Government decides when that will take place.

With the Federal Government’s announcement yesterday, there is no doubt that the vote in the House of Commons will be successful. The bill had been unanimously passed last fall on Third Reading in the House of Commons. That was the case even though opposition parties had agreed with us and other similarly-disposed disability advocates that Bill C-81 needed to be strengthened. It is an important fact that up to now, all provincial accessibility legislation passed so far in Ontario in 2005, in Manitoba in 2013 and in Nova Scotia in 2017, has passed unanimously.

“This good news does not mean that our advocacy work is finished,” said Lepofsky. “Our attention now turns to the federal election this fall. We will be unleashing a non-partisan campaign to get election commitments from all the federal political parties regarding the future of Bill C-81 and its implementation and enforcement.”

We thank all those who have toiled tirelessly at the grassroots to help our campaign in the Senate and the House of Commons to get Bill C-81 strengthened. Every tweet or re-tweet, and every email or phone call to a Senator or MP, plays a crucial part in our efforts.

We thank all the disability organizations, numbering at least 71, that signed the open letter to the House of Commons sent earlier this month, that called for the House of Commons to ratify all the Senate’s amendments to Bill C-81. The AODA Alliance is a co-signatory to that letter. We also thank all those other disability organizations with whom we have teamed up over the past weeks and months to work on our shared objective of getting Bill C-81 strengthened.

Today’s announcement again shows that we were right to not simply accept Bill C-81 as it was, when the House of Commons passed it last fall. It was right for us and so many others to agree that people with disabilities deserve better, and to keep working to get the Senate to strengthen the bill. The improvements that we and others have won are helpful and important.

Our tenacity has always been one of our strengths. We remain resolved to do what we can with Bill C-81 to make as much progress as we can for over five million people with disabilities in Canada, and to keep working to get the bill further improved in the future.

To read the text of the Senate Standing Committee’s amendments to Bill C-81, and a good explanation of them by the ARCH Disability Law Centre, visit https://www.aodaalliance.org/whats-new/more-specifics-on-the-amendments-to-bill-c-81-the-proposed-accessible-canada-act-that-the-senates-standing-committee-passed-and-that-we-want-the-house-of-commons-to-ratify-still-no-commitment-by /

To watch the captioned video of AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky’s opening statement at the Senate Standing Committee on April 11, 2019 (10 minutes), visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FERCAljHbrw&feature=em-uploademail

To watch a captioned video of the portion of the Senate Standing Committee’s question-and-answer after that opening statement, where the AODA Alliance answers questions directed to us (26 minutes), visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dr0fCtB_cyw&feature=em-uploademail

To read the AODA Alliance’s May 6, 2019 letter to federal Disabilities Minister Carla Qualtrough, explaining why it is important for the Federal Government to agree to pass all the amendments to Bill C-81 that the Senate has now passed, visit https://www.aodaalliance.org/whats-new/help-our-new-blitz-to-get-the-house-of-commons-to-swiftly-ratify-all-the-amendments-to-bill-c-81the-proposed-accessible-canada-act-that-the-senate-standing-committee-has-passed/

For all the background on our efforts to get the Federal Government to enact a strong and effective national accessibility law, visit www.aodaalliance.org/canada



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In a powerful Open Letter sent to the House of Commons, An Extraordinary Lineup of Twenty-Eight Disability Organizations Unite to Press for the House of Commons’ Ratification of All the Amendments that the Senate Just Passed to Strengthen Bill C-81, the Proposed Accessible Canada Act


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

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

www.aodaalliance.org [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance

In a powerful Open Letter sent to the House of Commons, An Extraordinary Lineup of Twenty-Eight Disability Organizations Unite to Press for the House of Commons’ Ratification of All the Amendments that the Senate Just Passed to Strengthen Bill C-81, the Proposed Accessible Canada Act

May 15, 2019

SUMMARY

A strong concerted effort by Canada’s disability community has been unveiled to get the House of Commons to swiftly ratify all the amendments that the Senate just passed to improve Bill C-81, the Federal Government’s proposed Accessible Canada Act. This legislation is needed to tear down the many accessibility barriers that impede over six million people with disabilities in Canada, in areas that the Federal Government can regulate, such as air travel, banking, broadcast, telecommunication services, and the services of the Federal Government itself.

Twenty-eight disability organizations in Canada have just united to jointly send the House of Commons an open letter, set out below. It urges all MPs to swiftly ratify all the amendments to Bill C-81 that the Senate recently passed. Check out what those Senate amendments say, and why they’re needed.

This open letter, which the Council of Canadians with Disabilities delivered to all MPs on behalf of its 28 signatories (all listed below), explains that these amendments improve the bill. The Senate formulated these amendments after holding public hearings, where disability organizations and advocates pointed out the need to strengthen the bill that the House of Commons originally passed last fall. The Senate got the message, and formulated a short package of 11 amendments that together fit on two pages.

If the House of Commons passes all these amendments, the bill becomes a law. If the House of Commons rejects even one of those amendments, the bill must go back to the Senate yet again. As the open letter explains, that could delay the bill at a time when Parliament will soon rise for the fall election campaign.

The timing of this open letter is pivotal. A swift House of Commons vote on these amendments is needed to ensure that the bill does not die on the order paper.

“A federal election is fast approaching, and Canada has millions of voters with disabilities,” said David Lepofsky, chair of the non-partisan grassroots AODA Alliance who made presentations to a House of Commons Standing Committee last fall, and a Senate Standing Committee last month, on why this bill needed to be strengthened. “What political party would want to vote against measures to strengthen protections for people with disabilities, especially with an election looming? What party would want to cast a vote now that would delay Bill C-81 and risk it dying on the order paper?”

Any disability organization or group, whether national, provincial or local, can co-sign this open letter. The list of signatories will be updated as more disability organizations and groups sign on.

For your Organization/Group to co-sign this letter, just email [email protected]

Please give the following information:

  1. a) Name of your organization/Group
  2. b) Name of a contact person at your organization/group
  3. c) Email address for your organization/group
  4. d) A statement to the effect that:

My organization/group would like to sign the May 14, 2019 Open Letter to the House of Commons on the Need to Swiftly Pass All Senate Amendments to Bill C-81 – Accessible Canada Act.

To see more about the blitz that the AODA Alliance now has underway to press MPs to vote for all the Senate’s amendments to Bill C-81, visit https://www.aodaalliance.org/whats-new/help-our-new-blitz-to-get-the-house-of-commons-to-swiftly-ratify-all-the-amendments-to-bill-c-81the-proposed-accessible-canada-act-that-the-senate-standing-committee-has-passed/

To read the AODA Alliance’s May 6, 2019 letter to federal Disabilities Minister Carla Qualtrough, explaining why it is important for the Federal Government to agree to pass all the amendments to Bill C-81 that the Senate has now passed, visit https://www.aodaalliance.org/whats-new/help-our-new-blitz-to-get-the-house-of-commons-to-swiftly-ratify-all-the-amendments-to-bill-c-81the-proposed-accessible-canada-act-that-the-senate-standing-committee-has-passed/

For all the background on our efforts to get the Federal Government to enact a strong and effective national accessibility law, visit www.aodaalliance.org/canada

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Text of the May 14, 2019 Open Letter from Disability Organizations and Groups to the House of Commons of Canada

Open Letter on the Need to Swiftly Pass All Senate Amendments to Bill C-81- Accessible Canada Act

[Le français suit]

To: All Members of Parliament

Date: May 14, 2019

The undersigned national, provincial and local disability groups ask all Members of Parliament to commit to swiftly pass all the amendments to Bill C-81, the proposed Accessible Canada Act that the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology (SOCI) passed on May 2, 2019.

We commend the Honourable Minister Carla Qualtrough for championing this Bill and her openness to considering amendments to it, as she expressed to the Senate Standing Committee.

The Senate Standing Committee heard from a spectrum of disability organizations and advocates who supported the need for national accessibility legislation and who recommended areas where the bill could be improved to achieve its goal of ensuring that Canada becomes barrier-free for people with disabilities. SOCI chair Senator Chantal Petitclerc concluded the committee’s debates by stating that the committee’s amendments reflect the maxim of disability communities: “Nothing about us without us.

While they do not include all the improvements that disability organizations and advocates sought, the Senate’s amendments improve Bill C-81. The amendments include: setting 2040 as the end date for Canada to become accessible; ensuring that this time line does not justify any delay in removing and preventing accessibility barriers as soon as reasonably possible; recognizing American Sign Language, Quebec Sign Language and Indigenous Sign Languages as the primary languages for communication used by Deaf people; making it a principle to govern the bill that multiple and intersectional forms of discrimination faced by persons with disabilities must be considered; ensuring that Bill C-81 and regulations made under it cannot cut back on the human rights of people with disabilities guaranteed by the Canadian Human Rights Act; ensuring that the Canadian Transportation Agency cannot reduce existing human rights protections for passengers with disabilities when the Agency handles complaints about barriers in transportation; and fixing problems the Federal Government identified between the bill’s employment provisions and legislation governing the RCMP.

It is expected that the Senate will pass Bill C-81 as amended by May 16, 2019. The bill then returns to the House of Commons, for a vote on the Senate’s amendments. It is critical that the House pass all of the Senate’s amendments to Bill C-81, to ensure that this important bill swiftly becomes law.

We ask the House of Commons to schedule a vote on the bill as soon as possible. We ask all MPs to vote to pass all the Senate’s amendments to Bill C-81.

If the House of Commons does anything less, it will weaken the bill, and risk the possibility that the bill will not finish its journey through Parliament before the fall election.

Signed:

Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD)

AODA Alliance

ARCH Disability Law Centre

Federal Accessibility Legislation Alliance (FALA)

Citizens with Disabilities Ontario (CWDO)

Ontario Autism Coalition

Spinal Cord Injury Canada

StopGap Foundation

Travel for All

Older Women’s Network

Physicians of Ontario Neurodevelopmental Advocacy (PONDA)

Barrier Free Canada – Canada sans Barrières

BC Coalition of People who use Guide Dogs

Keremeos Measuring Up Team

National Coalition of People who use Guide and Service Dogs in Canada

The Project Group Consulting Cooperative

VIEWS Ontario for the Vision Impaired

Communication Disabilities Access Canada (CDAC)

British Columbia Aboriginal Network on Disability Society (BCANDS)

DeafBlind Ontario Services

March of Dimes Canada

North Saskatchewan Independent Living Centre Inc.

Peterborough Council for Persons with Disabilities

Québec Accessible

CNIB Foundation (Ontario and Québec)

Electromagnetic Pollution Illnesses Canada Foundation (EPIC)

Ontario Federation for Cerebral Palsy

Rick Hansen Foundation

Lettre ouverte pour une rapide ratification des modifications sénatoriales au projet de loi C-81, la Loi canadienne sur l’accessibilité.

À: Tous les membres du Parlement

Date: 14 mai 2019

Nous, les soussignés, organisations nationales, provinciales et locales de personnes handicapées, recommandons à tous les membres du Parlement de s’engager à adopter rapidement toutes les modifications au projet de loi C-81, Loi canadienne sur l’accessibilité, adoptées le 2 mai 2019 par le Comité sénatorial permanent des affaires sociales, sciences et technologie (SOCI).

Nous félicitons l’honorable ministre Carla Qualtrough d’avoir défendu ce projet de loi et, tel qu’exprimé au Comité sénatorial permanent, de son ouverture envers les modifications proposées.

Le Comité sénatorial a entendu une vaste gamme d’organisations de personnes en situation de handicap et d’intervenants marteler le besoin d’une loi nationale sur l’accessibilité et recommander l’amélioration de certains secteurs afin que le projet de loi atteigne son objectif, à savoir faire du Canada un pays exempt d’obstacles. En clôturant les débats, la sénatrice Chantal Peticlerc, présidente du SOCI, a déclaré que les modifications apportées par le Comité traduisaient le slogan des collectivités de personnes handicapées “Rien pour nous, sans nous”.

Bien que n’incluant pas toutes les améliorations revendiquées par les organisations de personnes handicapées et les intervenants, les modifications sénatoriales améliorent le projet de loi C-81. Elles stipulent : que le Canada devienne un pays totalement exempt d’obstacles d’ici 2040; que cet échéancier ne justifie aucun délai quant à l’élimination et la prévention des obstacles le plus tôt possible; que l’American Sign Language, de la langue des signes québécoise et de les langues des signes autochtones soient reconnues comme langues de communication fondamentales des personnes Sourdes; que les formes multiples et intersectorielles de discrimination subies par les personnes en situation de handicap soient un principe sous-tendant l’application du projet de loi; que le projet de loi C-81 et les règlements afférents ne puissent restreindre les droits humains des personnes handicapées, garantis par la Loi canadienne sur les droits de la personne; que lors du règlement des plaintes basées sur les obstacles dans les transports, l’Office des transports du Canada ne puisse atténuer les droits des voyageurs en situation de handicap, actuellement garantis; que soient réglés les problèmes identifiés par le gouvernement fédéral entre les dispositions du projet de loi en matière d’emploi et la loi régissant la GRC.

Le Sénat devrait adopter le projet de loi C-81, tel que modifié, avant le 16 mai 2019. Le projet de loi reviendra alors en la Chambre des communes pour un vote sur les modifications sénatoriales. Et pour que le projet de loi devienne rapidement loi, ces modifications doivent absolument être adoptées.

Nous demandons à la Chambre des communes de programmer un vote aussitôt que possible et nous demandons à tous les membres du Parlement de voter en faveur des modifications sénatoriales au projet de loi C-81.

La Chambre des communes affaiblira le projet de loi si elle se contente de moins; dans ce cas-là, la course parlementaire de ce projet de loi risque d’être stoppée avant l’élection de cet automne.

Lettre ouverte signée par:

Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD)

AODA Alliance

ARCH Disability Law Centre

Federal Accessibility Legislation Alliance (FALA)

Citizens with Disabilities Ontario (CWDO)

Ontario Autism Coalition

Spinal Cord Injury Canada

StopGap Foundation

Travel for All

Older Women’s Network

Physicians of Ontario Neurodevelopmental Advocacy (PONDA)

Barrier Free Canada – Canada sans Barrières

BC Coalition of People who use Guide Dogs

Keremeos Measuring Up Team

National Coalition of People who use Guide and Service Dogs in Canada

The Project Group Consulting Cooperative

VIEWS Ontario for the Vision Impaired Doing It Blind

Communication Disabilities Access Canada (CDAC)

British Columbia Aboriginal Network on Disability Society (BCANDS)

DeafBlind Ontario Services

March of Dimes Canada

North Saskatchewan Independent Living Centre Inc.

Peterborough Council for Persons with Disabilities

Québec Accessible

CNIB Foundation (Ontario and Québec)

Electromagnetic Pollution Illnesses Canada Foundation (EPIC)

Ontario Federation for Cerebral Palsy

Rick Hansen Foundation



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Canada’s Senate Passed Bill C-81, the Proposed Accessible Canada Act, on Third Reading Last Evening, Replete with All the Amendments that the Senate’s Standing Committee Made to Improve the Bill — But Will the Federal Government Vote to Ratify All Those Amendments When the Bill Returns to the House of Commons?


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

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

www.aodaalliance.org [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance

Canada’s Senate Passed Bill C-81, the Proposed Accessible Canada Act, on Third Reading Last Evening, Replete with All the Amendments that the Senate’s Standing Committee Made to Improve the Bill — But Will the Federal Government Vote to Ratify All Those Amendments When the Bill Returns to the House of Commons?

May 14, 2019

          SUMMARY

Last evening the Senate of Canada passed Bill C-81, the proposed Accessible Canada Act, on Third Reading, complete with all the amendments that the Senate’s Standing Committee on Social Affairs added to the bill on May 2, 2019. This is an important step forward for this bill, and a helpful step for people with disabilities in Canada. Below we set out the Hansard transcript of the Third Reading debates on Bill C-81 that took place in the Senate last evening.

The first among the speeches on the bill was by Senator Jim Munson. Senator Munson is the Federal Government’s sponsor of the bill in the Senate. It is likely that some or all of his speech was written by the Federal Government.

Bill C-81 is not yet an enforceable law. It is still just a bill, a proposed law.

For Bill C-81 to become a law, it must go back to the House of Commons. The House must vote on the amendments that the Senate has added to the bill. If the House of Commons passes all those amendments, Bill C-81 becomes a law. If the House of Commons does not pass some or all of those amendments, it remains a bill, a proposed law. The Senate would then have to vote again on the bill, but without the Senate’s amendments.

Thus, all attention must now focus on the House of Commons, and especially on the Trudeau Government which has a majority of seats in the House. The Federal Government has not yet said it will vote for all the Senate’s amendments to Bill C-81.

As we announced days ago, we and many other people with disabilities and disability organizations are campaigning to get the House of Commons to pass ALL the amendments to the bill that the Senate has just passed. We are focusing special attention on the Senate’s commendable amendments that would set the time line of 2040 for Canada to reach full accessibility to people with disabilities, while making it clear that this time line may not delay progress before then on accessibility.

For tips on how to help with this time-sensitive blitz, visit https://www.aodaalliance.org/whats-new/help-our-new-blitz-to-get-the-house-of-commons-to-swiftly-ratify-all-the-amendments-to-bill-c-81the-proposed-accessible-canada-act-that-the-senate-standing-committee-has-passed/

Please email or tweet as many Members of Parliament as you can. Press them to agree to pass all the amendments that the Senate Standing Committee made to Bill C-81. For action tips on how you can help press the Federal Government to agree to pass ALL the amendments to Bill C-81 that the Senate passed, and to read our May 6, 2019 letter to federal Disabilities Minister Carla Qualtrough (explaining why we need all these amendments passed), visit https://www.aodaalliance.org/whats-new/help-our-new-blitz-to-get-the-house-of-commons-to-swiftly-ratify-all-the-amendments-to-bill-c-81the-proposed-accessible-canada-act-that-the-senate-standing-committee-has-passed/

To find your MP’s email address or Twitter handle, visit https://www.ourcommons.ca/en and search for their contact information.

To read the text of the Senate Standing Committee’s amendments to Bill C-81, and a good explanation of them by the ARCH Disability Law Centre, visit https://www.aodaalliance.org/whats-new/more-specifics-on-the-amendments-to-bill-c-81-the-proposed-accessible-canada-act-that-the-senates-standing-committee-passed-and-that-we-want-the-house-of-commons-to-ratify-still-no-commitment-by /

To watch the captioned video of AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky’s opening statement at the Senate Standing Committee on April 11, 2019 (10 minutes), visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FERCAljHbrw&feature=em-uploademail

To watch a captioned video of the portion of the Senate Standing Committee’s question-and-answer after that opening statement, where the AODA Alliance answers questions directed to us (26 minutes), visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dr0fCtB_cyw&feature=em-uploademail

To read the AODA Alliance’s May 6, 2019 letter to federal Disabilities Minister Carla Qualtrough, explaining why it is important for the Federal Government to agree to pass all the amendments to Bill C-81 that the Senate has now passed, visit https://www.aodaalliance.org/whats-new/help-our-new-blitz-to-get-the-house-of-commons-to-swiftly-ratify-all-the-amendments-to-bill-c-81the-proposed-accessible-canada-act-that-the-senate-standing-committee-has-passed/

Our overall strategy regarding Bill C-81 is unfolding as we planned. The Senate’s amendments, for which we and others fought so hard, help improve this bill. The bill clearly needed improvements. Now the issue will come before the House of Commons just months before an impending federal election.

From a disability advocacy perspective, this timing is very helpful to our cause. What elected politician or party would want to vote against measures to strengthen the protections for people with disabilities, especially with an election looming? What elected politician or party would want to cast a vote now that would delay Bill C-81 from becoming a law?

For all the background on our efforts to get the Federal Government to enact a strong and effective national accessibility law, visit www.aodaalliance.org/canada

Please send us your feedback. Email us at [email protected]

          MORE DETAILS

Senate of Canada Hansard May 13, 2019

Originally posted at https://sencanada.ca/en/content/sen/chamber/421/debates/287db_2019-05-13-e

Accessible Canada Bill

Third Reading

Hon. Jim Munson moved third reading of Bill C-81, An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada, as amended.

He said: Honourable senators, what a journey we have been on. What a journey all of us have been on.

Senators, as the sponsor of this bill, I’m pleased to speak tonight at the third reading of Bill C-81, An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada, also known as the Accessible Canada Act. I am humbled and honoured to speak to a bill that will no doubt become a proud part of Canadian history.

Making history takes dedication, hard work and perseverance. So I want to acknowledge the work of many people who helped get this bill to this stage.

I want to thank the chair and deputy chair of the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, Senators Petitclerc and Seidman, and all members who attended the committee meetings. Questions were engaging and led to an enlightening input from witnesses and to constructive amendments. This committee works so well together; I am honoured to be a member.

Thank you also to our clerk and administrator, Dan Charbonneau and Ericka Dupont, for arranging sign language, ASL, and CART services, Communication Access Real-time Translation, and the special room set-up, which helped to make the Senate committee meetings the most accessible to date. The Senate should be proud in this regard. We have shown leadership by example.

I also want to acknowledge the incredible work of the Minister of Public Services and Procurement and Accessibility, Carla Qualtrough. She and her team have shown great leadership on accessibility, and I can confidently say that Bill C-81 enjoys widespread support due to their efforts.

Most importantly, I want to recognize persons with disabilities, stakeholders, and organizations who all play a crucial role in accessibility in Canada. They have all invested tremendous work and energy into this historic bill, ensuring that it reflects the priorities of persons with disabilities. Their contributions have been instrumental in getting the bill in its amended form to this stage. Thank you for sharing your personal experiences and stories with us. I know it takes courage. We could not have done any of this without your involvement and expertise. Some of those folks are here in the Senate tonight.

Senators Petitclerc and Seidman gave excellent speeches at the report stage of the bill last week, summarizing the amendments that were adopted at committee. I will not go over the amendments and details again. However, I do want to highlight some important testimony.

Over the course of our committee hearings we heard repeatedly that the time for an accessible Canada act is now. Canadians facing barriers to fully participating in their workplaces and society told us and are still telling us to pass this bill into law. Here is what Bill Adair from Spinal Cord Injury Canada and with the Federal Accessibility Legislation Alliance, or FALA, told us at committee:

What people are telling us across the country who are participating with FALA is: We want the bill. Give us something to work with. Yes, push for the changes, but at the end of the day, before the election, we want the bill. That gives us structure and the framework so that we can get to work on removing barriers and we want it now. We’ve been waiting far too long and this is our day.

Senators, everyone is eager to see this bill become law. We must continue our essential work in order to take it over the finish line. This community has waited long enough for this recognition and respect.

Another significant and positive change is that Bill C-81 will shift the responsibility on to the system and away from the individuals facing barriers in their daily lives. Diane Bergeron from CNIB said during her testimony:

Having a disability is exhausting, and I do not say that lightly. But when you have to deal with discrimination, rights violations, different pieces of legislation, criticisms, people not thinking that you have value, it makes it worse. The current system is unfair and unacceptable.

Colleagues, we know the history. It is one of institutionalization, sterilization and social isolation. Canada had a system that took children away from their families and power away from our citizens. Persons with disabilities were seen as burdens and treated as if they were broken. Our country simply cannot continue to place the burden of advancing human rights on individuals. We can do better, and we must do better. In fact, with this bill we will do better.

In addition to this necessary shift in responsibility, the accessible Canada act, when passed, will set best practices and a framework that the provinces and the private sector can mirror. Most importantly, this bill will start to shift culture, perception and understanding of what inclusion in our society should really look like. I cannot come up with a better analogy that encompasses my hope for what this legislation will achieve than that of Minister Qualtrough. You have to be a sports fan to get this. I couldn’t agree more when she said at committee:

I think we will look back on this as a “TSN Turning Point” on disability rights and the way we talk about disability in this country.

The words of the minister.

Honourable senators, in 2017, approximately 6.2 million people, or about 22 per cent of Canadians aged 15 years and older, reported being limited in their daily activities due to a disability. This percentage is expected to increase in the coming years due to Canada’s aging population, since the prevalence of disability increases with age. This is why the government consulted with over 6,000 individuals from across the country with lived experience over the course of this bill’s development. They have continued to be consulted and included as witnesses and experts at committee so that we can use their knowledge and their experiences to help drive the change needed for a better tomorrow.

One of those witnesses was Steven Estey from Nova Scotia, from the Council of Canadians with Disabilities. This organization helped facilitate some of these consultations. Mr. Estey gave us a good summary of what that meant. He said:

. . . to talk to Canadians with disabilities about what they wanted in this legislation. We had a chance to talk to over a thousand people across the country. We had 22 separate consultations in towns and cities across the country. We had telephone consultations. We had Internet consultations. We really spent a lot of time trying to figure out what people wanted to see in this legislation. It’s an important thing for us to be involved with. We have really appreciated the opportunity and the support that we have had to be able to do that.

This is what inclusion looks like, honourable senators. Consultation, collaboration, cooperation and real input from real life experience. I know that the finer points of the bill have been outlined to you many times, including by myself, but I do want to talk again about the Canadian accessibility standards development organization. The landmark importance of the CASDO board membership aligning with the community’s mantra of “nothing about us without us.” Think about it. Because it’s the board membership who will be responsible, with their own lived experience, in making standards.

I’ve always said this, that you need to be in the room when it comes to communications. It is just as important in policy making; you need to be in the room to make a difference and to influence change. In this case, CASDO will set regulations that will lead to better results for people in this country. I hope it reoccurs in other areas of policy development. Applying a disability lens is crucial in moving forward.

Barbara Collier, Executive Director of Communication Disabilities Access Canada explained in her testimony at committee what that organization represents. Her list included people with or affected by cerebral palsy, autism spectrum disorder, Down’s syndrome, learning disability, fetal alcohol syndrome, cognitive and intellectual disability, acquired brain injury, aphasia after a stroke, dementia, head and neck cancer, Lou Gehrig’s disease or ALS, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.

(1910)

Senators, these are common conditions. It made me realize again that we will all face barriers to fully participating in society at some point in our lives. This is legislation that will affect us all in a positive way.

We learned at committee that many wheels are already in motion in anticipation of the bill coming into force. Job postings are already online for the chief accessibility officer and the CEO and board of the Canadian Accessibility Standards Development Organization, or CASDO. In fact, CASDO is expected to open its doors this summer. We know that the organizations responsible for accessibility have taken advanced steps towards planning regulations. In fact, the Canadian Transportation Agency, or CTA, has already released the first draft of its accessibility regulations.

Committee members gave the bill and its adopted amendments a deserved thorough study and consideration despite time constraints. I know that many of these amendments came right from the community, witnesses and organizations; I think we should pass the bill with these changes and let the other place do its job and reflect on our amendments. This is the process of our democracy and of our Parliament. We all need to move swiftly.

I will say it again: An accessible Canada act is a long-overdue recognition for human rights equality for 6.2 million — or one in five — Canadians. The 2017 disability survey also indicated that of the approximately 1.5 million Canadians with a disability aged 15 to 64 who are unemployed, approximately 654,000 are potential candidates for work in an inclusive, discrimination-free and accommodating labour market.

Yes, senators, there is a business case for inclusion. There is a huge untapped talent pool that could help improve Canada’s shrinking labour market.

As I mentioned, the spirit of collaboration on this bill has been and continues to be exceptional. I’m always an optimist, so over the course of study and consultations it became obvious that the removal of barriers is universal in scope and understanding. Together, our society is ready to take this step, the first of many towards a fair and equal-opportunity society. The momentum is with us.

Colleagues, I am proud of Bill C-81. I am proud of the amendments made at committee. We need to send the amended bill to the other place this week so that we can receive it back in time to do what Canadians have been asking us to do through testimony, letters, emails and phone calls: Give Canada a framework toward being barrier-free and accessible for all.

This is the time, colleagues. This is their time. It’s our opportunity to help make this happen and to be on the right side of history.

I will close tonight with some words from the great Jean Vanier, the master of inclusion. As you know, he passed away last week at the age of 90. At a 1998 Massey Lecture entitled Becoming Human, he said:

As we become more conscious of the uniqueness of others, we become aware of our common humanity. We are all fundamentally the same, no matter what our age, gender, race, culture, religion, limits or handicaps may be.

Honourable senators, as I said at the beginning of my speech, we are on a shared journey. What we have discovered on this journey is a new path of inclusion, a path where, as they say in the disability community:

Nothing About Us Without Us.

I recognize we haven’t satisfied everyone. That’s the way it is when you’re building something we have never had before: a Canada without barriers.

But we have done our job. We have discovered more about each other. We have captured the meaning of empathy. We have amended the bill. We recognize there will always be next steps. This is a step toward a more inclusive society.

Thank you very much.

Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!

[Translation]

Hon. Thanh Hai Ngo: Honourable senators, I rise today at third reading stage of Bill C-81, An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada.

For one last time, I want to express my full support for the bill and commend the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology on its excellent work. I also want to acknowledge the work of the chair of the committee, Senator Petitclerc, as well as that of the deputy chair, Senator Seidman, on a decisive and historic bill for Canada.

I won’t get into the details of the thorough review undertaken by the committee, since Senators Petitclerc and Seidman already did so quite eloquently. However, I’d like to draw your attention to the remarkable work that the committee has done since March 21, 2019.

The committee studied the bill in depth over the course of four meetings, with the intention of widening its scope. After hearing testimony from 20 interest groups four organizations, the committee did indeed make changes that are favourable to the primary goal of the bill.

Although I’m not a member of that committee, it is clear that those long, well-informed deliberations led to the adoption of 11 amendments. Through those deliberations, the vast and unique needs of many groups of disabled persons were identified by the committee, which led to specific amendments that improve Bill C-81 without jeopardizing its long-awaited passing.

To sum up, the changes to the bill remain faithful to its principles while doing more to recognize, eliminate and prevent barriers in all areas of federal jurisdiction. This new version of the bill also takes into account the fact that seniors living with disabilities also experience multiple and intersecting forms of marginalization and discrimination.

Another amendment recognizes sign languages as the primary language for communication by deaf persons in Canada and an integral part of their accessibility. After all, the recognition of sign languages constitutes an essential part of their culture and a valuable tool that enables them to participate in society.

[English]

Honourable senators, these are some examples of the positive changes that were made to the bill in consultation with experts and in collaboration with the extensive work that was previously accomplished in the other place.

I feel this bill should also act as a signal and reminder to the government regarding the recent news of 34 developmentally disabled federal workers who hold segregated and redundant jobs in Ottawa. Their contract is set to end in March 2020. I hope that, once enacted, this law will eventually represent further actions for every Canadian with a disability in order to help them become full, equal members of society.

After all, a barrier-free Canada requires us to understand the norms, societal attitudes and stigma that prevents people with intellectual, cognitive and physical disabilities from fully participating in society.

I truly believe this bill, once enacted, will be a tool for many organizations that are ready and have been patiently preparing for the implementation in order to respond to these emergent challenges and obstacles.

Honourable senators, this historic law is a testament of the great work that was accomplished in the hallmarks of this great chamber in defence of the rights of minorities.

It marks a new beginning. We will transform and address accessibility by becoming proactive instead of reactive for Canadians who do not want to be treated as a burden but as full and equal members of society as we continue to grow and learn how to become more inclusive. Thank you.

(1920)

Hon. Marty Deacon: Honourable senators, I rise to speak to Bill C-81, An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada. I have listened with great interest to my colleagues, as well as to the many witnesses we had at the Social Affairs Committee. I speak today to share with you my perspective, my story, based on a lifetime of learning and action in this very important area.

When I arrived in Senate 15 months ago, there was much to learn; there is still much to learn. For instance, when I arrived here, I had incorrectly assumed that accessibility had already been addressed as a national issue with a fulsome national strategy. Why? Because my own formal leadership on accessibility began in Ontario, 14 years ago. I thought — silly me — that the same regulations were being mandated nationally, given how much time had elapsed since this successful law in Ontario was implemented and began its implementation in 2005.

Honourable senators, 2019 is far too late in the game to be discussing and mandating accessibility for all at the federal level, and it’s why the bill before us is so important.

In my previous life, as an educator, every day I was faced with an issue by a student, their family, a teacher or a community member who challenged fair, equitable and inclusive access. One case — and sometimes it just takes one — in particular crystallized for me what would be become a lifetime commitment to universal accessibility.

Imagine now a single mother with six children, all under the age of 10. Three of them carry the positive gene for Duchenne’s disease, a severe type of muscular dystrophy that over time reduces muscular function. It eventually results in the young person being immobilized, weakened and in need of a wheelchair.

The family survives on a low income, and, frankly, the school and the community are their lifeline. As principal of the school, on a one-floor facility, my staff and I gave the family everything we had, from meals to fundraisers, to transportation, to tutoring, and finally to the purchase of a well-used wheelchair for her oldest son, Ricky.

This school goes up to Grade 6, and now it becomes time for Ricky to graduate from junior school and move on to middle school. We meet with a team of educators and medical support people to determine the best plan for Ricky. As a former secondary school administrator, new to elementary administration, I learn that due to Ricky’s physical needs he will not be able to attend the middle school just down the road. There are just too many accessibility issues. Eventually, I learn that he will have to take a 50-minute bus ride to the nearest school that will provide some sort of wheelchair access.

How do I tell his mother, with so much on her plate already, that her son will now spend over 100 minutes a day with strangers, with different untrained bus drivers, travelling on several highways, with no significant network of support, and that in two years, if Ricky is able to keep on attending school, his ride to high school will be even more challenging and disconnected with yet another group of young people, all at the same time his condition worsens and that in two years she will have to go through this all over again with her next child?

As it turned out, it was a hard lesson I needed to learn. This was in 2005, the same year that the Ontarians with Disabilities Act became law. As you know, the act was aimed at identifying, removing and preventing barriers for people with disabilities. It applied then to government, non-profit and private sector businesses in Ontario that have one or more employees.

My own school board needed an established leader to commit to this AODA work for at least three years. Somewhat fortuitously, I was invited to take on this role. It was going to be tough work, very political, but an opportunity to bring many internal and external stakeholders together to do the right thing. Most of the table I worked with was represented by those representing diverse accessibility needs in our community. My job would be to ensure that all aspects of the act were being addressed, that all staff and volunteers were trained, that we had an accessibility policy and procedures, and that we had a multi-year accessibility plan with annual public updates, timelines and monitoring in place. I continued this leadership for 10 years. The work was ongoing and a challenge politically, financially and ensuring equity while the voices of all were heard.

Senator Moncion highlighted her work related to the AODA at second reading. I will not repeat her message. However, I will indicate how the “visible” and “invisible” needs of those with a disability are far-reaching and diverse. We started with the built environment and spaces in 130 buildings and new builds. I learned more about architecture, facility design, ramps, lifts, nine styles of elevators, more than I dreamed possible. One basic washroom to upgrade for one child was $35,000; one elevator was half a million dollars. How do you prioritize? Every student matters.

These are the more visible physical needs we are familiar with. It’s the invisible needs that are often overlooked; that is, making sure every individual — just as we do in the Senate — feels they are part of their community.

As a result of deep consultation, we were determined that every decision had to result in our students being able to attend a school within their family of schools, which is a geographically smaller region. This would not be the closest to their home, perhaps, but still in their community — full stop. We had to find the way and we did. Every decision was and continues to be backward mapped with this in mind; that is, to find a way to keep our students and families in their community.

Honourable senators, imagine your son or daughter being told they could go on a bus for a class trip with their classmates on a bus all by themselves — not with their friends, not with their peers.

One of my proudest moments was meeting with 200 bus drivers, getting some buses retrofitted, modified and ensuring more of our students could travel and experience being with their classmates. The visible need was physically getting the student to their destination by ensuring the best barrier-free environment. The invisible need was ensuring the student would not be stigmatized on a separate bus and they could contribute and participate in this class trip to the same extent as their peers — something they deserve.

This is why this legislation is so important. It will aim to make federally regulated entities so much more accessible. However, it will also unlock the potential of a huge group of Canadians who have been held back in one way or another. It will allow them to participate and contribute to their community in ways that, quite frankly, they should have been able to do long ago. With this legislation, Canada could become a world leader in accessibly. This leadership is sorely needed.

In my role as an international coach and sports leader travelling internationally, I saw first-hand and continue to see first-hand the great disparity in the respect and understanding of what it means to try to embrace and provide support for those with a disability. I observed countries that “hid” those with disabilities, countries whose representatives said to my face, “We have no citizens with disabilities.” I watched first-hand a political leader of a G7 country, while on Canadian soil, say, “There is no place for athletes with a disability in a major sporting event.”

Thankfully, this culture is changing. I’m excited to say, after 12 years of advocacy, my sport will have its debut at the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo. To get to this point, again, we had to educate the countries that did not support their para-athletes and para-children, and did not demonstrate their beliefs in accessibility or inclusion. This has taken over a decade.

This past weekend, at Carleton University in Ottawa, I was able to speak with families and para-athletes from many countries about what sport means to them, what it means to be barrier-free and the work that must still continue around the world. The passage of Bill C-81 for Canada will set the kind of example needed to keep this momentum going.

Senators, I want to shift my thinking before I wrap up. I want to thank the steering committee of the Social Affairs Committee — Senator Munson, Senator Seidman and our chair, Senator Petitclerc, for guiding us through such a comprehensive and in-depth process. You have heard that said earlier this evening. It is so very true. It was a collective effort by all groups and caucuses represented at committee, and that showed in fulsome but respectful discussions that played out at clause-by-clause consideration of the bill, which led to some good amendments in the legislation.

To the large but important number of Canadians who will be directly affected by this legislation, I can say to you with confidence that every member of the Social Affairs Committee has listened to your concerns. I want to thank the many individuals who gave us such compelling evidence at committee, as well as the hundreds who took the time to write and meet with us. Colleagues, many of these stakeholders have been advocating for years. They are very tired, exhausted but hopeful for the immediate passage of this bill.

(1930)

While no piece of legislation is perfect, I am confident that the bill before us gives us a solid foundation and permission to rebuild our culture in the years to come. A senator last week reminded me that there is progress and there is perfection. This bill is no different. Bill C-81, the time for all is now. Thank you.

Hon. Yonah Martin (Deputy Leader of the Opposition): Honourable senators, I rise today also to speak very briefly at third reading of Bill C-81, An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada. Bill C-81 enacts the accessible Canada act in order to enhance the full and equal participation of all persons, especially persons living with disability, in our society. This bill will require federally regulated entities across the country to ensure accessibility to workplaces, public spaces, employment, programs, services and information.

Bill C-81, as others have stated, is an important step in the right direction to address the barriers that many Canadians face. The message that we have heard from advocates has been the same: Bill C-81 is a good bill and deserves to be enacted into law but no one can be certain of the full effect that this bill will eventually have. This will require further knowledge and learning from a practical perspective and a commitment to work in consultation with stakeholders across Canada.

I want to associate myself with some of the very important comments that have been made in this chamber and especially recognize our colleague Senator Munson, who has dedicated so much of his life to really be quite a voice and a champion for Canadians with disabilities and, of course, on issues like autism. He has been a cosponsor on a number of events, and we have done some meaningful work together. I know that one of the motions that we cosponsored that recognized June as Deafblind Awareness Month recognizes this important subgroup of Canadians who are living with some incredible challenges.

This motion was adopted unanimously in 2015, and it was sort of thanks to our retired former colleague Senator Vim Kochhar who many of us know to be a real champion and a strong voice for Canadians living with physical disabilities as well as other disabilities. Through his outstanding effort and inspiration, we have worked together to achieve certain outcomes through the Senate. Senator Kochhar also cofounded the Canadian Helen Keller Centre and Rotary Cheshire Home, which is said to be one of the only facilities in the world where those who live with deaf-blindness can live independently.

Some of the intervenors who have come to the Hill have spoken about their work to help Canadians living with deaf-blindness communicate. Their work is truly astonishing. It’s a real calling for them to serve in this capacity. They work in a unique space where they allow those who cannot communicate otherwise to communicate with the outside world.

I also know that the work of our former colleague Senator Asha Seth also led to a motion to designate May as National Vision Health Month. That, too, was unanimously adopted in the Senate.

I stand together with many of you who have spoken on this measure and also recognize the great work of our Social Affairs Committee, the chair, the deputy chair and committee members to ensure that important amendments were adopted that will help towards ensuring a barrier-free Canada as is envisioned in this bill.

I had the opportunity to meet with the Canadian Association of the Deaf and President Frank Folino, who was also a witness during committee hearings on this bill, as well as Bill Adair, Executive Director, Spinal Cord Injury Canada. They expressed their firm support of passage of Bill C-81 as a very important step, but they were also hopeful that there will be continued vigilance and effort towards proper implementation and, of course, that same intention beyond implementation. In some ways we have achieved this important milestone, but our work will begin to ensure that implementation and the work beyond implementation will be successful.

I recognize these men and others who have been the real heroes and champions who inspired this important legislation and once again thank our colleagues Senator Munson, Senator Ngo and members of the Social Affairs Committee for your leadership helping this chamber arrive at this significant moment in our legislative history.

Your Honour and honourable senators, I am definitely ready for the question.

Hon. Tony Dean: Thank you Senator Martin and others who have spoken. Thank you, Senator Munson, for your very fine sponsorship of this legislation.

I have some brief introductory remarks and then I want to speak specifically about the inclusion of communication in this bill as a category of challenge in the spectrum of disabilities.

I rise to add my voice to Bill C-81, An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada. We all know now that the stated policy objective of this important and historic piece of legislation is to enhance the full and equal participation of all individuals, with a special emphasis for those living with disabilities. The bill is designed to achieve a barrier-free Canada through the identification, removal and prevention of barriers in areas of federal jurisdiction.

Many groups, including various disability advocacy groups, support Bill C-81 and are urging us to pass this bill before our summer break. Senate leaders met on April 4 to sign an agreement to ensure several pieces of legislation are voted on prior to the break and the next federal election. This bill is one of them.

I want to take this opportunity to congratulate the facilitator of the Independent Senators Group, the Leader of the independent Senate Liberals, the Government Representative in the Senate and the Senate Conservative Leader on this important modernizing step. You will know, I think, that I and others here believe that we could benefit greatly from more organized and effective business planning of this sort. Moreover, that’s what Canadians expect of us, and they expect and deserve timely votes on all bills, but particularly on bills that are inclusive of all members of our society and that aim to protect some of our most vulnerable people, bills like Bill C-81.

An act to ensure a barrier-free Canada is a direct response to a 2016 federal budget announcement that made a commitment to “eliminate systemic barriers and deliver equality of opportunity to all Canadians living with disabilities.”

Among other things, the bill aims to guide future interpretations of the accessible Canada act by setting out important principles and including a provision that states that all persons, regardless of their abilities or disabilities, must be treated with dignity, enjoy equality of opportunity, be able to fully and equally participate in society without barriers and have autonomy.

It also establishes the application of the accessible Canada act bringing greater clarification to which bodies and entities are bound by accessibility legislation and allows the Governor-in-Council to designate a minister to be responsible for this act.

Another important piece of this legislation is the proposed establishment of the Canadian accessible standards development office, CASDO, which Senator Munson has spoken about eloquently.

I emphasize that the CASDO would be overseen by a board of directors whose majority identify as persons with disabilities. The board would be responsible for setting the organization’s strategic direction and managing the activities and affairs in accordance with its mandate.

The inclusion of people with disabilities on the board would ensure fair representation for the many Canadians who don’t currently have a voice in accessibility standards.

Honourable senators, while no single area of accessibility is more important than any other, I would like to now focus some remarks on the issue of communication.

I am delighted that communication is recognized in key definitions in this bill, including in the definitions of barrier and disability. This legislation says that “barrier” means anything including physical, architectural, technological or attitudinal that is based on information or communications or anything that is the result of a policy or practice that hinders the full and equal participation in society of persons with a physical, mental, intellectual, learning, communication, sensory impairment or functional limitation.

(1940)

It also defines “disability” as a physical, mental, intellectual, learning, communication, sensory impairment or functional limitation, whether permanent, temporary or episodic in nature that an interaction with a barrier hinders a person’s full and equal participation in society.

This recognition of communication is critically important, as communication includes the half million Canadians who have speech and language disabilities that are not caused by significant hearing loss and who do not require or use sign language. They may have lifelong disabilities, such as cerebral palsy, autism, spectrum disorder, Down syndrome, learning or cognitive disabilities. Other people may have acquired disabilities that affect communication, such as traumatic brain injury, stroke, dementia, ALS, multiple sclerosis and much more.

Having a communication disability can affect one or more areas of a person’s ability to speak, to understand what others are saying, read or write. People with theses disabilities may communicate using unclear speech, writing, typing, pictures, symbols, speech-generating devices, sign language interpreting, captioning and communication assistive devices.

Recognizing the broad scope of communication is also consistent with the optional protocol to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, of which Canada is a signatory. This is obviously important for many reasons, but I’d like to highlight a tangible example for honourable senators to consider.

Similar to the need for sign language services for people who are deaf or translation services for people who don’t speak English or French, victims, witnesses and accused persons with speech and language disabilities may require appropriate communication supports in police, legal and justice services. Despite the fact that people with speech and language disabilities are at high risk for all types of abuses and crimes — and remember, for violators, the best victims are often the ones who are perceived not to be able to tell. Communication support services in police, legal and justice services are not routinely provided as an accessibility accommodation.

Communications intermediaries are qualified speech-language pathologists who have extra training from Communication Disabilities Access Canada, CDAC, to work in justice settings. CDAC maintains a database of trained intermediaries with limited funding from a small private foundation. These services are provided to people who require assistance, understanding questions posed to them or supporting them communicating what they want to say to police, legal and justice professionals.

In a case in Canada I recently learned about, an elderly woman indicated to her son, a police officer, that she had been sexually assaulted by a personal support worker in a retirement or long-term care facility. The woman had a stroke two years before the incident, which left her with aphasia, a communication disorder that results from damage to the language centres of the brain. She had difficulty understanding spoken language and expressing her thoughts in words, as well as difficulties in reading and writing. She communicated what happened using gestures, some speech and pointing to pictures.

The Crown attorney recognized that she would require assistance to communicate in court and engaged a communication intermediary who conducted an assessment. The intermediary concluded that the woman could effectively communicate in court if provided with appropriate communication intermediary support to ensure that she rephrase questions posed to her in ways she could understand and to facilitate her responses using pictures. The judge denied the woman access to the communication supports that she required to testify.

This case illustrates the lack of understanding about accessibility accommodations required by a victim, witnesses or an accused person who has speech and language disability.

Having strong accessibility legislation in place makes it mandatory for all justice services to provide people with the communication accommodations and supports they need, including communication boards, speech-generating devices, sign language interpretation, captioning and communications assistance devices, and is an important move in ensuring that the policy objectives of this bill are realized. Access to appropriate supports for people living with disabilities that affect communications would go beyond our justice system and would also include access to health services, education and more.

Honourable senators, I want to share with you one other brief story, the story of a friend of mine of 30 years who in the past several months came to know all too well the challenges associated with difficulty in communications. Kim Clarke Champniss, as some of you will recall from his work in the heyday of MuchMusic as a veejay, TV producer and a challenging interviewer of the world’s top rock and roll artists, lost his voice permanently in the past months due to radical throat surgery that was used to address throat cancer.

I’ve watched Kim over the last weeks and months heroically take on this challenge, including the challenge of access to supports and technologies that would assist in his ability to continue engaging in the world with his upbeat energy and curiosity about the human condition. Kim will get through this. He would say, “I’m all right, Tone. I’m all right.” But Kim would also wish for better services for those who were alongside him and those who will undoubtedly follow him with communications challenges.

I would urge the government to ensure someone with a disability that affects their speech, language and communication be considered as a member of the board of the proposed Canadian Accessibility Standards Development Organization, CASDO, which was mentioned earlier. Their contributions would greatly benefit the 500,000 people living with speech and language difficulties and ensure that no one is left behind.

I would also like to recognize that standards and regulations under Bill C-81 will need to be updated every five years, which allows for changes in innovation. They will also require public review before they are adopted.

I close by saying, senators, that Bill C-81 needs to pass now. We have an obligation as parliamentarians and senators to protect the needs of all Canadians, especially those who are among the most vulnerable in our society. I strongly believe that acknowledging this community is an essential part of meeting the objectives of this bill, which will ultimately aim to remove and prevent barriers for all people in this country.

I end by thanking Barbara Collier, who has been a tireless advocate for a communications amendment passed in the House of Commons. With these final words, I would ask my honourable colleagues to join me in voting in favour of Bill C-81, An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada. Thank you, all.

The Hon. the Speaker: Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

(Motion agreed to and bill, as amended, read third time and passed.)



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The Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs’ Chair and Vice-Chair Make Strong Speeches in the Senate to Support the Committee’s Amendments to Improve Bill C-81, the Proposed Accessible Canada Act -These Speeches Show Why the Federal Government Should Agree to Pass All Those Amendments


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The Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs’ Chair and Vice-Chair Make Strong Speeches in the Senate to Support the Committee’s Amendments to Improve Bill C-81, the Proposed Accessible Canada Act –These Speeches Show Why the Federal Government Should Agree to Pass All Those Amendments

May 10, 2019

            Summary

On Wednesday, May 8, 2019, the full Senate voted to formally accept the report of the Senate’s Standing Committee on Social Affairs on Bill C-81, the proposed Accessible Canada Act. Below we set out the two strong speeches made in the Senate at that time, by the Standing Committee’s chair and vice chair. Together these speeches show why the House of Commons should vote to pass all the amendments to Bill C-81 that the Senate’s Standing Committee adopted. These speeches make a compelling case for those amendments.

On May 6, 2019, the AODA Alliance wrote federal Disabilities Minister Carla Qualtrough. We asked the Federal Government to agree to pass all the Senate Standing Committee’s amendments. The Minister has not yet responded. To our knowledge, she has not yet made that commitment. If the Federal Government does not pass all those amendments in the House of Commons, that will both weaken Bill C-81 and risk Bill C-81 not being finally passed by Parliament before it rises for the fall election.

The Senate is moving the bill to Third Reading debates. We understand that those debates will occur next week, with a final vote on or before Thursday, May 16, 2019. The Senate’s acceptance of the Standing Committee’s report is a formality, needed to move the bill to Third Reading.

We are eager for you to email or tweet as many Members of Parliament as you can. Press them to agree to pass all the amendments that the Senate Standing Committee made to Bill C-81. For action tips on how you can help press the Federal Government to agree to pass ALL the amendments to Bill C-81 that the Senate passed, and to read our May 6, 2019 letter to federal Disabilities Minister Carla Qualtrough (explaining why we need all these amendments passed), visit https://www.aodaalliance.org/whats-new/help-our-new-blitz-to-get-the-house-of-commons-to-swiftly-ratify-all-the-amendments-to-bill-c-81the-proposed-accessible-canada-act-that-the-senate-standing-committee-has-passed/

To find your MP’s email address or Twitter handle, visit https://www.ourcommons.ca/en and search for their contact information.

To read the text of the Senate Standing Committee’s amendments to Bill C-81, and a good explanation of them by the ARCH Disability Law Centre, visit https://www.aodaalliance.org/whats-new/more-specifics-on-the-amendments-to-bill-c-81-the-proposed-accessible-canada-act-that-the-senates-standing-committee-passed-and-that-we-want-the-house-of-commons-to-ratify-still-no-commitment-by /

To watch the captioned video of AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky’s opening statement at the Senate Standing Committee on April 11, 2019 (10 minutes), visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FERCAljHbrw&feature=em-uploademail

To watch a captioned video of the portion of the Senate Standing Committee’s question-and-answer after that opening statement, where the AODA Alliance answers questions directed to us (26 minutes), visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dr0fCtB_cyw&feature=em-uploademail

For all the background on our efforts to get the Federal Government to enact a strong and effective national accessibility law, visit www.aodaalliance.org/canada

Please send us your feedback. Email us at [email protected]

            MORE DETAILS

Hansard Senate of Canada May 8, 2019

Originally posted at https://sencanada.ca/en/content/sen/chamber/421/debates/285db_2019-05-08-e

Thirty-fourth Report of Social Affairs, Science and Technology Committee—Debate

The Senate proceeded to consideration of the thirty-fourth report of the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology (Bill C-81, An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada, with amendments and observations), presented in the Senate on May 7, 2019.

Hon. Chantal Petitclerc moved the adoption of the report.

She said:

Honourable senators, I rise today in support of the thirty-fourth report of the Social Affairs, Science and Technology Committee. The report deals with Bill C-81, An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada.

[English]

Bill C-81 proposes to enact the accessible Canada act, with the objective of enhancing the full and equal participation of all persons living with disabilities in society through the identification, removal and prevention of barriers within areas under federal jurisdiction. It would also make related amendments to a number of other acts.

The proposed legislation adds to the rights and protections currently available to persons with disabilities, including those set out under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Canadian Human Rights Act and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Bill C-81 was referred to the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology on March 21, 2019.

[Translation]

Pursuant to the leaders’ agreement, the committee was supposed to report back by yesterday, May 7, 2019, and it did. I sincerely thank my committee colleagues who, despite the tight deadlines created by that agreement, were able to study the bill very efficiently. The committee wouldn’t have been able to complete its report on time if it weren’t for our highly efficient clerk, Daniel Charbonneau, and Library of Parliament analysts Laura Munn-Rivard and Mayra Perez-Leclerc. I sincerely thank them.

A few groups wanted to take part in our study. We thank them for their interest and, above all, for their understanding since they were unable to appear in person.

[English]

In its study of the bill, the committee endeavoured to follow the principle, “nothing about us without us,” consulting with advocacy groups, accessibility experts and other relevant witnesses from the disability community across Canada. On behalf of the committee, thank you to the members of the disability community who offered their knowledge, expertise, ideas and insights on this important piece of legislation.

Over 4 meetings, the committee heard from 20 witnesses and received more than 70 emails from the public and more than a dozen briefs from experts and organizations. Based on the testimony we received, the committee made 11 amendments and 2 observations to Bill C-81 with the goal of strengthening the legislation.

With regard to a timeline, January 1, 2040 has been added to the legislation as a deadline by which Canada must become accessible to persons with disabilities. To address concerns that a deadline acts as a disincentive to quick implementation, Bill C-81 is also amended to state that nothing in the act authorizes any delay in the removal of barriers or the implementation of measures to prevent new barriers as soon as possible.

As well, the preamble section of the bill is amended to state that the identification, removal and prevention of barriers to accessibility must be done without delay.

The deadline of January 1, 2040 was suggested by multiple expert witnesses, including the Honourable David Onley, as a reasonable time frame. Witnesses said that identifying a date was necessary to measure progress, strengthen accountability and propel the implementation of Bill C-81.

[Translation]

Clause 6 of the bill, which sets out the principles of the proposed legislation, is amended by the committee to reflect the fact that people with a disability face many intersecting forms of marginalization and discrimination. This issue was raised several times in committee and in the briefs we received. The purpose of this amendment is to recognize the unique challenges faced by people living with disabilities. For example, handicapped seniors regularly face ageism and may also live in poverty. This enhancement of Bill C-81’s principles is important because the legislation provides that the organizations concerned take these principles into consideration when developing their accessibility plans.

[English]

Sign languages in Canada receive express recognition in the amended legislation in two ways.

First, clause 5.1, the clarification provision regarding the identification, removal and prevention of barriers under the area of communication other than information and communication technologies, is amended to include the use of American Sign Language, Quebec Sign Language and Indigenous Sign Languages.

Second, another amendment in the same clause recognizes sign languages as the primary language for communication by deaf persons in Canada.

Many witnesses stated that for people in the Deaf community, sign language is their primary language and a critical part of their culture, enabling them to participate in society.

As well, witnesses pointed to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which states that:

Persons with disabilities shall be entitled, on an equal basis with others, to recognition and support of their specific cultural and linguistic identity, including sign languages and deaf culture.

[Translation]

The bill is also amended by adding clause 121.1 to indicate that nothing in any provision of the new accessible Canada act or its potential accompanying regulations limits an otherwise regulated entity’s duty to accommodate.

Several witnesses stated that it was important that Bill C-81 not lessen the federal government’s existing human rights obligations. Experts from the community of people living with disabilities noted that experience with provincial accessibility legislation suggests that regulated entities could fail to provide accommodations because they mistakenly believe that compliance with accessibility regulations fulfils or eliminates their duty to accommodate.

[English]

(1500)

The legislation is amended to modify section 172(2) of the Canada Transportation Act, with the goal of removing the Canadian Transportation Agency’s ability to dismiss a complaint about inaccessibility in the federal transportation system if the transportation provider has complied with regulations made by the agency.

Some witnesses expressed concern that the regulations made by the Canadian Transportation Agency may not meet the legal duty to accommodate up to the point of undue hardship and may not address individual requirements of people with disabilities.

[Translation]

Finally, two committee amendments, to clauses 94(4) and 143, bring Bill C-81 in line with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act. With the adoption of the accessible Canada act, members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police will be able to file complaints with the accessibility commissioner and receive compensation, just like other public servants.

Your committee also made two observations to the federal government, which are appended to the report. The committee encouraged the government to ensure that public money is never used to create or perpetuate disability-related barriers when it is reasonable to expect that such barriers can be avoided. Furthermore, the committee strongly encouraged the government to create standardized, effective training that will ensure that all Canadians can expect the same level of access to all government services.

Honourable colleagues, the Senate’s legal counsel discovered a technical error in the French version of amendment 5(b) of the report that the committee tabled on May 7, 2019. The report states, “remplacer les lignes 22 et 23.” However, it should state, “remplacer les lignes 22 à 26.” The word “et” should be replaced by “à,” and the number “23” should be replaced by “26” in the French version. This is a human error that must be fixed so that we can immediately start building a barrier-free Canada for the 6.2 million Canadians living with a disability.

Motion in Amendment Adopted

Hon. Chantal Petitclerc: Therefore, honourable senators, with leave of the Senate, in amendment, I move:

That the thirty-fourth report of the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology be not now adopted, but that it be amended in amendment 5b), in the French version, by replacing the instruction line with the following:

“b) remplacer les lignes 22 à 26 par ce qui suit :”.

The Hon. the Speaker: Honourable senators, since Senator Petitclerc moved the adoption of the report, she cannot amend it without leave.

Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion in amendment?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

(Motion in amendment of the Honourable Senator Petitclerc agreed to.)

[English]

(Later that day in the Senate)

Thirty-fourth Report of Social Affairs, Science and Technology Committee Adopted

On the Order:

Resuming debate on the motion of the Honourable Senator Petitclerc, seconded by the Honourable Senator Verner, P.C., for the adoption of the thirty-fourth report, as amended, of the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology (Bill C-81, An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada, with amendments and observations), presented in the Senate on May 7, 2019.

Hon. Judith G. Seidman: Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology’s thirty-fourth report on Bill C-81, An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada.

Our committee studied this piece of legislation extensively and heard testimony from 20 advocacy groups and umbrella organizations. These included the Federal Accessibility Legislation Alliance, a network comprised of 85 organizations; the Canadian Association of the Deaf; Barrier Free Canada, advocates for accessibility legislation; AGE-Well, Canada’s technology and aging network; March of Dimes Canada, an organization that offers a wide range of programs and services to persons with disabilities; the Canadian National Institute for the Blind; the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, a national human rights organization of people with disabilities; Confédération des organismes de personnes handicapées du Québec; and the Canadian Human Rights Commission, all who bring representation of Canada’s disability communities.

Although virtually all of the testimony we heard called on us to pass this bill with a degree of urgency, without exception witnesses expressed concerns about certain omissions they asked us to address. While the reflected desire for this legislation was strong, the desire to improve it was even stronger.

After much deliberation and discussion, our committee adopted 11 amendments. Today, I rise to speak to two of these amendments in particular that were raised with consistency throughout our committee hearings.

First, the amendment that addresses the issue of timelines. What we heard from many advocacy groups is that timelines are an essential accountability measure and are necessary if we are to achieve the purpose of this legislation. For example, Ms. Donna Jodhan, the President of Barrier-Free Canada, said during her testimony on May 1:

Bill C-81 requires timelines. Timelines are essential to ensure that key accessibility measures are taken. Timelines are also required so that progress on accessibility can be measured. In particular, we support recommendations for the bill to include a timeline for achieving a Canada without barriers and timelines with which accessibility standards are developed and enacted by law.

As another example, Ms. Zinnia Batliwalla, the National Manager, Government Relations and Advocacy for March of Dimes Canada, said during her testimony on April 11:

To enable organizations like ours to measure progress and urge change, timelines allow us to better work with our government partners to ensure we are actively moving toward an accessible and inclusive Canada.

Steven Estey, the Government and Community Relations Officer for the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, said during his testimony on April 10:

Bill C-81 is silent on those timelines. That concerns us, not because we feel there is a lack of good intention, not because we feel that officials don’t want to move forward, but because five or ten years down the road, we can begin to have meetings. If there is no backstop or wall against which we can say the time has come, people can say, “We’re working very hard. We’re doing good things.” There is no way to say that we’re going to get there by a certain time. We are concerned about that.

The former Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, the Honourable David Onley, who has been long involved in developing Ontario’s accessibility legislation, made an interesting point. He said that if we make only one amendment to this legislation, it must be around timelines. During his testimony on May 1, the Honourable Mr. Onley stated:

I was part of the discussions at the very beginning in 2005 and the first chair of the minister’s advisory committee on the implementation of the act. I, along with most of the members of the first advisory committee, felt that moral suasion and goodwill would be sufficient to achieve the objectives . . . .

Having listened, as I mentioned, to hundreds of people from across the province and taken submissions via email and in person, my views changed. I now believe quite firmly that the only way we’re going to achieve true and full accessibility is for the various standards and objectives to have a definable date in place and a government that is willing to enforce the implementation of these measures.

(1510)

This is the type of consistent testimony that led the committee to support the date of January 1, 2040, for Canada to become barrier-free. This will give the federal government and the obliged federally regulated entities 21 years to take the necessary steps to reach their accessibility requirements, a time frame that is neither too far nor too near. It was said to be one that is realistic and will be seen in our lifetimes.

However, we also made an amendment to ensure that accessibility measures would not be delayed or postponed but enacted as soon as possible. In fact, we added a new clause to the bill, clause 5.2, which states:

Nothing in this Act, including its purpose of the realization of a Canada without barriers, should be construed as requiring or authorizing any delay in the removal or implementation of measures to prevent new barriers as soon as is reasonably possible.

The other amendment I would like to address is the recognition of sign languages as the language of the deaf community. Many organizations that represent Canada’s deaf community spoke about the importance for Bill C-81 to recognize sign languages as a way to ensure that deaf persons have equal access to information, communication, employment, government services, transportation and other federally regulated sectors.

As an example, Bill Adair, the Executive Director of the Federal Accessibility Legislation Alliance, said during his testimony on April 10:

. . . we want Bill C-81 to recognize ASL and LSQ as the languages of people who are deaf in Canada. We are not asking for official language status. We are asking that sign languages be included as an integral part of Bill C-81.

This is why. If it were not for the use of signing here today, any person in this room who is deaf would not be privy to my remarks and to the discussions that will follow. This is true of all public hearings. Indeed, the very name implies that these meetings are for those who can hear.

More importantly, if catastrophe were to suddenly strike us, a person who is deaf would not have access to potentially life-saving information. This was the case recently in Pearson Airport when a fire broke out.

Please ensure that ASL and LSQ are written right into Bill C-81 so that there is an expectation for federally regulated entities to provide resources and newsworthy information in sign languages.

Frank Folino, President of the Canadian Association of the Deaf, said during his testimony on May 1:

We commend the Government of Canada and the minister for introducing Bill C-81, which is an important and positive step toward becoming an accessible Canada. However, an integral part of Bill C-81 will achieve its purposes of a barrier-free Canada with legal recognition of ASL and LSQ as the languages of deaf people because this does make a tremendous difference for deaf Canadians, through accessibility, information, communications and services.

Our committee learned about the deaf culture, one which has its own defining characteristics and includes sign languages, cultural norms, historical traditions and heritage. For all of us, this new understanding was very significant and led us to amend the bill to recognize the important role that sign languages play in the lives of Canada’s deaf community.

Honourable colleagues, I am extremely proud of the collaboration of our committee members. We have weighed and considered very carefully the passionate testimony we heard from the disability communities. Although the needs of the disability communities are broad and unique, we believe we were able to focus on a few clear amendments that will add value to Bill C-81 without endangering its passage. Through our work, we are convinced that we have both reaffirmed our committee to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and made a meaningful piece of legislation even better in response to overwhelmingly consistent requests from the disability communities to the benefit of all Canadians.

Honourable colleagues, I hope that you will support the report of our Social Affairs, Science and Technology Committee on Bill C-81. Thank you.

The Hon. the Speaker: Are honourable senators ready for the question?

It was moved by the Honourable Senator Petitclerc, seconded by the Honourable Senator Verner that this report, as amended, be adopted now.

Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

(Motion agreed to and report, as amended, adopted.)

The Hon. the Speaker: Honourable senators, when shall this bill be read the third time?

(On motion of Senator Munson, bill, as amended, placed on the Orders of the Day for third reading at the next sitting of the Senate.)



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More Specifics on the Amendments to Bill C-81 (the Proposed Accessible Canada Act) that the Senate’s Standing Committee Passed and that We Want the House of Commons to Ratify – Still No Commitment by the Federal Government to Ratify All the Senate’s Amendments


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

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

www.aodaalliance.org  [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance

More Specifics on the Amendments to Bill C-81 (the Proposed Accessible Canada Act) that the Senate’s Standing Committee Passed and that We Want the House of Commons to Ratify – Still No Commitment by the Federal Government to Ratify All the Senate’s Amendments

May 9, 2019

          SUMMARY

Here’s the latest news regarding Bill C-81, the proposed Accessible Canada Act. It has reached the final stage in its debates in Canada’s Senate, Third Reading debates. That is expected to wind up by May 16, which happens to Be Global Accessibility Awareness Day. the Federal Government has still not committed to pass all the amendments that the Senate’s Standing Committee made to the bill at the disability community’s request to improve it.

  1. We now have the exact wording of the amendments to Bill C-81 that the Senate’s Standing Committee passed on May 2, 2019. Below we set out the formal report of that Standing Committee to the Senate. That report lists the specific amendments.

These amendments improve the bill. However, they do not include all the improvements that disability organizations and advocates sought, including the AODA Alliance.

The amendments include:

* Setting 2040 as the end date for Canada to become accessible;

* Ensuring that this 2040 timeline does not justify any delay in removing and preventing accessibility barriers as soon as reasonably possible;

* Recognizing American Sign Language, Quebec Sign Language and Indigenous Sign Languages as the primary languages for communication used by Deaf people;

* Making it a principle to govern the bill that multiple and intersectional forms of discrimination faced by persons with disabilities must be considered;

* Ensuring that Bill C-81 and regulations made under it cannot cut back on the human rights of people with disabilities guaranteed by the Canadian Human Rights Act;

* Ensuring that the Canadian Transportation Agency cannot reduce existing human rights protections for passengers with disabilities when the Agency handles complaints about barriers in transportation; and

* Fixing problems the Federal Government identified between the bill’s employment provisions and legislation governing the RCMP.

  1. The ARCH Disability Law Centre has posted online a helpful explanation of these amendments. We set it out below.
  1. When a Senate Standing Committee reports back to the whole Senate on a bill it has studied, it can include in its report “observations” about the bill. These set out the Committee’s advice to the Federal Government. They are not binding on the Government, but are meant to put real pressure on the Government to address them.

The Senate Standing Committee’s report, set out below, included two observations about Bill C-81. The first observation, under the heading “Federal Contracts,” commendably raises a concern that the AODA Alliance has raised for some time. It states:

“Your committee heard concerns that despite this legislation, federal funding may continue to be spent on projects that do not always meet accessibility standards. Therefore, we encourage the federal government to ensure that when public money is spent or transferred, the funding should never be used to create or perpetuate disability-related barriers when it is reasonable to expect that such barriers can be avoided.”

The Committee’s second observation “…strongly encourages the government to create standardized, effective training that will ensure that all persons in Canada can expect the same level of access to all government services.”

  1. The Federal Government has still not publicly said whether it will pass all the Senate’s amendments to Bill C-81. On May 6, 2019, we wrote federal Disabilities Minister Carla Qualtrough to ask her Government to commit to do so. She has not yet responded to us.

Of special importance are the Senate’s amendments that set 2040 as the end timeline for Canada to become fully accessible to people with disabilities. The minister has in the past spoken in opposition to amendments that would make this change to the bill.

Of interest, the minister yesterday was asked about this in the House of Commons. On May 8, 2019, she appeared before the House of Commons’ Standing Committee on Human Resources (the HUMA Committee). Conservative MP (and Committee vice-chair) John Barlow asked Minister Qualtrough whether she would support passage of all the amendments that the Senate made to Bill C-81. We express our thanks to MP  Barlow for raising this with the minister.

In this request, MP Barlow specifically mentioned the amendments setting 2040 as the time line for reaching accessibility.

In her response, the Minister said:

“I certainly was open, as I told senators, to amendments within their process, but I’m very mindful that of course that is their process to run. I’m looking at their suggestions, looking at what the government thinks would be the best for this law and I’m open to many of their amendments, yes.”

It is not news that the Minister is open to “many” of the Senate’s amendments. Of the 11 amendments passed, a majority of them were proposed in the Senate by the Government’s own sponsor of the bill, Senator Jim Munson, or had been the subject of prior Government signals of support for them.

The only real open question is over setting the 2040 timeline. Four of the amendments speak to this.

The Minister did not say that she is open to all of the Senate’s amendments. That is why we need as many of you as possible to now email or tweet the Federal Government to press for the Government to support all the Senate’s amendments to the bill.

To get action tips on how you can help press the Federal Government to agree to pass ALL the amendments to Bill C-81 that the Senate passed, and to read our May 6, 2019 letter to federal Disabilities Minister Carla Qualtrough (explaining why we need all these amendments passed), visit https://www.aodaalliance.org/whats-new/help-our-new-blitz-to-get-the-house-of-commons-to-swiftly-ratify-all-the-amendments-to-bill-c-81the-proposed-accessible-canada-act-that-the-senate-standing-committee-has-passed/

To find your MP’s email address or Twitter handle, visit https://www.ourcommons.ca/en and search for their contact information.

          MORE DETAILS

Text of the Report to the Senate of Canada on Bill C-81 by the Senate’s Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities

Originally posted at https://sencanada.ca/en/committees/report/74724/42-1

May 7, 2019

The Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology has the honour to present its

THIRTY-FOURTH REPORT

Your committee, to which was referred Bill C-81, An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada, has, in obedience to the order of reference of March 21, 2019, examined the said bill and now reports the same with the following amendments:

  1. Preamble, page 1: Replace line 15 with the following:

“bility without delay complements the rights of persons with disabil-”.

  1. Clause 5, page 3: Replace line 13 with the following:

“ers, on or before January 1, 2040, particularly by the identification and removal of bar-”.

  1. Clause 5.1, page 4: Replace lines 1 to 5 with the following:

5.1 (1) The area of communication referred to in paragraph 5(c.1)

(a) includes the use of American Sign Language, Quebec Sign Language and Indigenous sign languages; and

(b) does not include broadcasting as defined in subsection 2(1) of the Broadcasting Act or telecommunications as defined in subsection 2(1) of the Telecommunications Act.

(2) American Sign Language, Quebec Sign Language and Indigenous sign languages are recognized as the primary languages for communication by deaf persons in Canada.”.

  1. New clause 5.2, page 4: Add the following after line 5:

5.2 Nothing in this Act, including its purpose of the realization of a Canada without barriers, should be construed as requiring or authorizing any delay in the removal of barriers or the implementation of measures to prevent new barriers as soon as is reasonably possible.”.

  1. Clause 6, page 4:

(a) Replace lines 12 to 14 with the following:

“wish to have regardless of their disabilities;”; and

(b) replace lines 22 to 26 with the following:

“must take into account the disabilities of persons, the different ways that persons interact with their environments and the multiple and intersecting forms of marginalization and discrimination faced by persons;

(f) persons with disabilities must be involved in the development and design of laws, policies, programs, services and structures; and

(g) the development and revision of accessibility stan-”.

  1. Clause 11, page 6: Replace line 6 with the following:

“Canada without barriers on or before January 1, 2040.”.

  1. Clause 18, page 7: Replace line 14 with the following:

“tribute to the realization of a Canada without barriers, on or before January 1, 2040,”.

  1. Clause 94, page 54:

(a)  Replace lines 9 to 17 with the following:

(4) An individual is not entitled to file a complaint in re-”; and

(b) replace line 22 with the following:

(5) The Accessibility Commissioner must cause a written”.

  1. New clause 121.1, page 67: Add the following after line 21 :

121.1 For greater certainty, nothing in any provision of this Act or the regulations limits a regulated entity’s duty to accommodate under any other Act of Parliament.”.

  1. Clause 143, page 77: Replace line 10 with the following:

“subsection 94(5), 96(1), 100(2), 101(2) or 103(3), the Ac-”.

  1. Clause 172, pages 88 to 91:

(a) On page 88, replace line 37 with the following:

172 Section 172 of the Act is replaced by”;

(b) on page 89,

(i) replace lines 3 to 12 with the following:

(2) On determining that there is an undue barrier to the”, and

(ii) replace lines 34 and 35 with the following:

(3) If the Agency is satisfied that regulations made under subsection 170(1) that are applicable in relation to a matter have been complied with or have not been contravened, the Agency may determine that there is an undue barrier in relation to that matter but if it does so, it may only require the taking of appropriate corrective measures.”;

(c)  on page 90, replace line 25 with the following:

172.2 (1) For the purpose of paragraphs 172(2)(d) and”;

(d) on page 91, replace line 5 with the following:

“graphs 172(2)(b) and (c) and 172.1(2)(b) and (c) may in-”; and

(e) renumber the remaining clauses and amend all references to them accordingly.

Your committee has also made certain observations, which are appended to this report.

Respectfully submitted,

JUDITH G. SEIDMAN

Deputy Chair

Observations

to the thirty-fourth report of the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology (Bill C-81)

Federal Contracts:

Your committee heard concerns that despite this legislation, federal funding may continue to be spent on projects that do not always meet accessibility standards. Therefore, we encourage the federal government to ensure that when public money is spent or transferred, the funding should never be used to create or perpetuate disability-related barriers when it is reasonable to expect that such barriers can be avoided.

Training:

Your committee is concerned that while the goal of this legislation is to prevent, identify and remove disability-related barriers, this legislation does not sufficiently emphasize how important the education and training of front-line personnel is in accomplishing that end. Your committee strongly encourages the government to create standardized, effective training that will ensure that all persons in Canada can expect the same level of access to all government services.

ARCH Disability Law Centre Analysis of the Senate Standing Committee’s Amendments to Bill C-81

Originally posted at https://archdisabilitylaw.ca/update-se

May 7, 2019

Update: Senate Committee Adopts Amendments which Strengthen Bill C-81- Accessible Canada Act

Introduction

Bill C-81, An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada, continues its journey through the legislative process. If it becomes law, this Act may lead to new requirements for advancing accessibility in federal employment, transportation, services, information and communications, and other areas.

On May 2, 2019 the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology (SOCI) made a number of amendments to Bill C-81. Many of these amendments were adopted in response to the written and oral submissions that the Senate received from disability groups and members of disability communities across Canada. ARCH supported disability communities in their advocacy, and made our own oral and written submissions to the Senate. A common theme among these submissions was the need for the Senate to make changes to strengthen Bill C-81 and ensure that it achieves its purpose of a barrier-free Canada.

What Amendments Did the Senate Committee Adopt?

Including Timelines: SOCI adopted amendments which add a timeline of 2040 for realizing a barrier-free Canada. Amendments also clarify that this timeline does not authorize any delay in removing or preventing barriers to accessibility, and that action to advance accessibility should be taken as soon as reasonably possible. Including timelines is an important accountability mechanism, which many disability organizations advocated for, including the AODA Alliance, the Council of Canadians with Disabilities and ARCH.

Taking Intersectionality Into Account: SOCI adopted an amendment which incorporates intersectionality into the principles of Bill C-81. Laws, policies, programs, services and structures must take into account disability and the multiple and intersectional forms of discrimination faced by persons with disabilities. This change means that organizations will have to take into account intersectionality when developing their accessibility plans. Throughout the legislative process, ARCH and other disability organizations have consistently advocated for incorporating barriers related to intersectionality into Bill C-81. Persons with disabilities and disability communities have been firm that laws, policies and programs about disability and accessibility must address the lived experiences of whole persons, not just their disabilities.

Protecting Existing Human Rights of People with Disabilities: SOCI adopted an amendment which clarifies that nothing in Bill C-81 or its regulations limits the legal obligations that organizations already have to accommodate persons with disabilities under the Canadian Human Rights Act and any other federal laws. ARCH and other disability advocacy groups highlighted to SOCI the importance of this amendment.

Protecting Existing Human Rights of Passengers with Disabilities at the Canadian Transportation Agency:  Under Bill C-81, we expect that most complaints by passengers with disabilities about barriers in air travel, train travel, and every other kind of transportation that the Federal Government regulates, will go to the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA). The Bill gives the CTA power to make regulations to set enforceable standards on what barriers these transportation providers must remove and prevent.

However, subsection 172(2), a provision that is currently in the Canada Transportation Act, effectively means that once the CTA make these regulations and transportation providers, like airlines, comply with these regulations, they do not need to do anything more. This is problematic because the regulations that the CTA sets may not meet the duty to accommodate protections that people with disabilities have under human rights law. Under subsection 172(2), if a passenger with a disability complained to the CTA that an airline or other transportation provider should have accommodated their disability, their case would fail if the airline complied with the CTA regulations. A more detailed analysis of this issue is in ARCH’s Final Report: Legal Analysis of Bill C-81, available by going to: https://archdisabilitylaw.ca/initiatives/advocating-for-accessibility-in-canada/arch-reports-and-recommendations/  ARCH and the AODA Alliance highlighted to SOCI the importance of repealing the problematic section 172(2) of the Canada Transportation Act.

SOCI did not repeal subsection 172(2), but adopted an amendment which changes it. The amendment allows the CTA to find that there is a barrier to accessibility, even if the transportation provider has complied with all the CTA regulations. For passengers with disabilities, this means they could file a complaint with the CTA that they faced an undue barrier in the federal transportation system, and insist that the transportation provider do more than what the CTA regulation requires. The passenger with a disability could win their case, even if the transportation provider has complied with all the CTA regulations. However, the CTA could only order the transportation provider to take “corrective measures”. The CTA could not order the transportation provider to pay the person damages or money compensation. This is different than for other complaints to the CTA about inaccessibility of the federal transportation system. Generally for these other complaints, the CTA can order the transportation provider to take corrective measures and to pay damages to the person who complained.

Recognizing Sign Languages: Communication is one of the areas in Bill C-81 for which new accessibility standards may be created. SOCI adopted an amendment that explains that communication includes the use of American Sign Language, Quebec Sign Language and Indigenous Sign Languages. Another amendment recognizes that sign languages are the primary languages for communication by Deaf persons in Canada.

Legal recognition of sign languages is an issue that Deaf communities in Canada have long advocated for. ARCH and other disability advocacy groups supported the Canadian Association of the Deaf in calling for Bill C-81 to recognize sign languages as an important acknowledgement that sign languages are not just disability accommodations, but are important for cultural and linguistic reasons.

These are some of the amendments that the Senate Committee adopted. While the amendments made address many of the issues raised by ARCH and other disability groups, they do not deal with all of our concerns and recommendations. A number of weaknesses remain in Bill C-81. One such weakness is the use of permissive language “may” rather than directive language “shall” or “must”. This language gives government and other bodies power to make and enforce accessibility requirements, but does not actually require them to use these powers. For example, the Bill allows the Government of Canada to make new accessibility regulations but does not require them to do so. Therefore, there is no assurance that such regulations, a cornerstone for advancing accessibility, will ever be made.

In addition to the amendments, the Senate Committee reported 2 observations to Bill C-81. The first addresses the concern expressed by many in the disability community that federal funding may continue to be spent on projects that perpetuate barriers. The observation encourages the federal government to ensure that any federal public money should not be used to create or perpetuate disability related barriers when it is reasonable to expect that such barriers can be avoided. The second observation emphasizes the importance of training in achieving a barrier-free Canada. It encourages the government to create standardized, effective training to ensure that all persons in Canada can expect the same level of access to all government services.

What Happens Next?

In the coming weeks, the amended Bill C-81 will come before the Senate for Third Reading. At that time, Senators will vote on whether to pass the Bill with the amendments adopted by SOCI. If the Bill passes Third Reading, it will return back to the House of Commons for approval. If it gets approval from the House, the Bill will then enter the final stages of the process to become a law.

ARCH is pleased that in response to submissions by disability communities across Canada, the Senate made a number of important amendments to strengthen Bill C-81.

Now, the Senate and the House of Commons must both act quickly to allow enough time for the Bill to finish it journey through the legislative process, before the Fall federal election is called.

If you support Bill C-81 becoming law with the changes that the Senate Committee has made, write to or tweet Minister Carla Qualtrough and Members of Parliament. Let them know they should pass Bill C-81 with all the amendments. For practical tips and information on how to do this, go to the AODA Alliance’s website: www.bit.ly/2vKXmV2

More Information

Recorded video of the Senate Committee’s study of Bill C-81, with sign language interpretation, and the written submissions made by disability groups to the Senate can be found by going to: https://sencanada.ca/en/committees/soci/studiesandbills/42-1  and clicking on Bill C-81.

To read ARCH’s analysis of Bill C-81, and submissions ARCH made to the House of Commons and Senate, go to: https://archdisabilitylaw.ca/initiatives/advocating-for-accessibility-in-canada/

ARCH Disability Law Centre

55 University Avenue, 15th Floor, Toronto, ON, M5J 2H7

Phone: 416-482-8255  1-866-482-2724

TTY: 416-482-1254  1-866-482-2728

www.archdisabilitylaw.ca

 @ARCHDisabilityLawCentre

@ARCHDisability

Excerpt from the Hansard of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources on May 8, 2019

Mr. John Barlow: Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

My first question is to Minister Qualtrough. You were talking about the importance of barrier-free and we certainly heard from almost every single stakeholder as part of the discussion at committee on Bill C-81 on the concerns raised that the bill does not go far enough, that it does not have the metrics to ensure success or teeth to ensure that federally legislated businesses adhere to it.

Now there were dozens of amendments that we brought forward that every opposition party agreed with. None of them were supported by the government. However, many of those amendments have come forward and been accepted at the Senate. I’m just curious and I would like to know if you’re going to be supporting those amendments that have come forward from the Senate specifically adding a timeline of 2040 for Canada to be barrier-free? Are you going to support those amendments?

Hon. Carla Qualtrough: Thank you for the question. I certainly was open, as I told senators, to amendments within their process, but I’m very mindful that of course that is their process to run. I’m looking at their suggestions, looking at what the government thinks would be the best for this law and I’m open to many of their amendments, yes.

Mr. John Barlow: Thank you very much, Minister. I appreciate that.



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Help Our New Blitz to Get the House of Commons to Swiftly Ratify All the Amendments to Bill C-81(the Proposed Accessible Canada Act) that the Senate Standing Committee Has Passed


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

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

www.aodaalliance.org  [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance

Help Our New Blitz to Get the House of Commons to Swiftly Ratify All the Amendments to Bill C-81(the Proposed Accessible Canada Act) that the Senate Standing Committee Has Passed

May 6, 2019

Summary

The AODA Alliance has just launched a new blitz to get Canada’s House of Commons to swiftly ratify all the amendments to Bill C-81 (the proposed Accessible Canada Act) that the Senate’s Standing Committee passed on May 2, 2019.

Please email, tweet, phone or send a note by carrier-pigeon to your Member of Parliament. Ask them to commit to vote to pass all the amendments to Bill C-81 that the Senate’s Standing Committee approved. To find out how to contact your MP, visit https://www.ourcommons.ca/en.

We’ll soon provide you with more details on the amendments that the Senate’s Standing Committee passed.

MORE DETAILS

What’s Happening and How You can Help

The Senate is expected to hold its final or “Third Reading” vote on Bill C-81 on or before May 16, 2019. It is widely expected that the Senate will pass Bill C-81 as amended by the Senate Standing Committee. We’re now focusing on what comes next after that.

Once the Senate as a whole passes the amended Bill C-81, the bill comes back to the House of Commons. The House of Commons then gets to vote on the Senate’s amendments. If the House of Commons passes all the Senate’s amendments, then Bill C-81 becomes a law, complete with these amendments. If the House of Commons does not pass some or all of the Senate’s amendments, Bill C-81 does not become a law. It is sent once again back to the Senate, for a vote on the bill without any of those Senate amendments.

What does all this mean for you? After the Senate passes Bill C-81 with the Senate Committee’s package of amendments, we want the House of Commons to hold a swift vote on those amendments, and to pass all the Senate’s amendments. This would improve the bill, (though not as much as we had wanted). As noted above, it would also make Bill C-81 become a law.

For that reason, we’ve now unleashed a campaign to get all MPs in the House of Commons to commit to a swift vote on Bill C-81, and to also commit that during that vote, they will vote to pass all the Senate’s amendments.

We’ve done four things to get this blitz started.

  1. We’ve already started a campaign on Twitter to tweet to as many MPs as possible. We’re asking them to commit to vote for all the Senate’s amendments to Bill C-81. We invite you to retweet these tweets, or send your own. Include the hashtag #AccessibleCanada in your tweets. You may want to use this wording in your tweet, in which you should also include the MPs Twitter handle:

The Senate amended Bill C-81 (proposed #AccessibleCanada Act) to improve it. Please commit to vote in the House of Commons to swiftly pass all the Senate’s amendments to Bill C-81 https://www.aodaalliance.org/whats-new/senates-standing-committee-passes-amendments-to-strengthen-the-weak-bill-c-81-the-proposed-accessible-canada-act-now-its-time-for-the-full-senate-and-house-of-commons-to-pass-all-those-amendmen/ #accessibility #CRPD #AODA #canpoli #a11y

For example, if you want to tweet to Minister Qualtrough, you start the tweet with her Twitter handle: @CQualtro.

To find your MP’s Twitter handle, visit https://www.ourcommons.ca/en and search for their contact information.

  1. We’ve given a media interview to the Canadian Press on the importance of the Senate’s amendments. CP’s Michelle McQuigge quoted the AODA Alliance in a great article, which has been run in City News Vancouver, and elsewhere in the media. We set that article out below. Please circulate it to others.
  1. On May 6, 2019, we wrote federal Disabilities Minister a short letter, set out below. It asks her to commit to a swift vote in the House of Commons on the Senate Standing Committee’s amendments to Bill C-81, and to vote to pass all those amendments. It also explains why the Federal Government should agree to these requests. We invite you to circulate that letter widely, and share it with your MP.
  1. On May 3, 2019, we sent the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs a short submission, set out below. It recommends that the Senate Standing Committee attach three “observations” to the bill in its report to the Senate. A Standing Committee’s “observations about improvements needed in connection with the bill are not the same as actual amendments to the bill. They are suggestions that are not binding on the Federal Government. However they can trigger further Senate oversight of the Government’s implementation and enforcement of the bill.

Text of the AODA Alliance’s May 6, 2019 Letter to Federal Disabilities Minister Carla Qualtrough

ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE

1929 Bayview Avenue,

Toronto, Ontario M4G 3E8

Email [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance www.aodaalliance.org

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

May 6, 2019

To: The Honourable Carla Qualtrough, P.C., M.P.

Minister of Public Services and Procurement and Accessibility

Place du Portage, Phase III, Room 18A1

11 Laurier Street

Gatineau, Quebec K1A 0S5

Via email: [email protected]

Dear Minister,

Re: Seeking the House of Commons’ Swift Ratification of the Senate Standing Committee’s Amendments to Bill C-81, the Proposed Accessible Canada Act

We write to ask you to commit to vote to pass all the amendments to Bill C-81, the proposed Accessible Canada Act, that the Senate’s Standing Committee on Social Affairs passed on May 2, 2019. We ask the Federal Government to commit to pass all these amendments as soon as possible after the Senate passes Bill C-81 on Third Reading, expected to be on or before May 16, 2019. We have every reason to expect that the Senate will pass Bill C-81 as amended, and no reason to doubt this.

There are compelling reasons for you and your Government to pass all these amendments, and to commit now to do so. There are no good reasons for you not to do so.

The Senate only passed a short, limited package of amendments. A good number of them were presented and requested by the Federal Government’s official sponsor of the bill, Senator Jim Munson. He clearly presented them on the Government’s behalf. The other amendments were all presented by Senators at the request of disability organizations and advocates who requested them both at the Senate’s public hearings, and last fall, during public hearings before the House of Commons’ HUMA Committee.

There is substantial disability community support for these amendments, as needed to improve the bill. To that end, it was very helpful that during your April 3, 2019 appearance at the Senate’s Standing Committee on Social Affairs, you committed that you were open to the Senate making amendments to the bill, and that you wanted the bill to be “the best it possibly can be”. You also committed:

“I would certainly defer to your process and recommendations”.

The Senate’s amendments are all completely in tune with the bill’s overall structure and design, and your goals for the legislation. The Senate’s Standing Committee arrived at these amendments after careful non-partisan study and, in the classical Canadian sense, sober second thought.

This is a very modest amendments package. These amendments are far, far fewer and less than many of us sought at the House of Commons during its public hearings last fall. They are much less than the much narrower requests that we placed before the Senate during its hearings.

Within the short amendments package that the Senate Standing Committee passed, the only small group of three amendments that the Senate passed and that reflected a different approach than yours were those that specified the end date for achieving a barrier-free Canada as 2040. Both in the House of Commons and the Senate, you had expressed a reluctance to include this in the bill. The Senate’s Standing Committee was keenly aware of and alert to your perspective. It took your perspective very seriously. The Senate Standing Committee also carefully weighed the strong message from so many in the disability community, to the effect that that the lack of such time lines in the bill was a significant shortcoming that hampered the bill’s effectiveness.

The Senate Standing Committee was especially alert to your primary concern that if such an end date were included in the bill, this might lead some to delay efforts on accessibility. For our part, we too were alive to your expressed concerns. As you know, for that reason and to address your concern, the Committee passed a specific amendment which we had proposed, that was specifically designed to ensure that setting a time line for accessibility in the bill could not be used to delay progress on accessibility. According to the senate Standing Committee’s new section 5.2:

5.2 Nothing in this Act, including its purpose of the realization of a Canada without barriers, should be construed as requiring or authorizing any delay in the removal of barriers or the implementation of measures to prevent new barriers as soon as is reasonably possible.”.

We are in the unique position of having worked at the front lines of Ontario’s advocacy efforts on accessibility for a quarter a century. From our actual hands-on experience, we know that the twenty-year deadline in the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act has played an important role in helping us make progress on accessibility in Ontario. It has not had the adverse impact that you had feared.

The widespread view that this time line is needed was eloquently articulated at the Senate Standing Committee’s public hearing on May 1, 2019 by Ontario’s former Lieutenant Governor david Onley (to whom you have turned for advice on this legislation). His input was based on his consultation with Ontarians with disabilities last fall while conducting the third mandatory Independent Review of the AODA. Mr. Onley and three other deputants before the Senate Standing Committee on its last day of hearings were asked to identify their top priority for a reform to Bill C-81, if only one change could be added. Mr. Onley, supported by the three other deputants at the hearings’ final panel, said that this priority would be to add to the bill the 2040 deadline which the Senate Standing Committee was later to adopt. The Senators saw that this was consistent with other feedback from the disability community that they had heard throughout this process.

When you spoke to the Senate Standing Committee on April 3, 2019, you said that a ten year period would not be long enough. The 2040 date which the Senate Standing Committee adopted is 21 years.

We hope and trust that the opposition parties in the House of Commons will support this amendment. During clause-by-clause debates in the House of Commons’ HUMA Committee, the opposition parties supported the inclusion of an end date. Both the Conservatives and NDP proposed a ten year period. We will be urging them to approve the 2040 deadline, and know that if they thought ten years was enough, they should surely accept 2040 as not being too short.

Minister, it is so commendable that you have many times said that at the core of your Government’s approach to this bill has been to honour the disability community’s message: “Nothing about us without us!” Senator Chantal Petitclerc, Chair of the Standing Committee, concluded the committee’s debates by noting that her Committee’s amendments are the very embodiment of that principle. This is because those amendments are the direct result of the strong feedback that the Standing Committee received from disability organizations and advocates. We therefore ask you and the Federal Government to honour the principle “Nothing about us without us,” by agreeing now to pass all the amendments that the Senate Standing Committee passed to Bill C-81.

We have made it clear to all political parties in the House of Commons that we want to ensure that a swift vote is held on the Senate Standing Committee’s amendments to Bill C-81. We are calling on all the political parties to reach an agreement among themselves to schedule that swift vote. We don’t want the scheduling of that vote to be impeded by any other issues that may be occupying Parliament’s attention.

Minister, for the Federal Government to oppose any of these amendments, and particularly the 2040 time line, would be to weaken this bill. We urge you and the Federal Government not to vote to weaken this bill. The Senate, like the House of Commons, heard about the importance of adding such time lines to this bill. We urge the Federal Government not to vote against such time lines.

As always, we welcome the opportunity to work with you and all parties in Parliament to achieve these important goals.

Sincerely,

David Lepofsky CM, O. Ont

Chair Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance

CC: The Right Honourable Prime Minister Justin Trudeau [email protected]

CITY News Vancouver May 3, 2019

Originally posted at https://www.citynews1130.com/2019/05/02/senate-committee-votes-to-strengthen-federal-accessibility-law/

Senate committee votes to strengthen federal accessibility law

BY MICHELLE MCQUIGGE, THE CANADIAN PRESS

A Senate committee proposed changes to Canada’s first federal accessibility law Thursday that members of the disability community said addressed some of the most pressing concerns about the legislation, though some worried the bill may still be too weak to be effective.

Nearly a hundred disability organizations and advocacy groups had been calling on the committee to introduce major changes to Bill C-81, also known as the Accessible Canada Act, arguing it lacked teeth.

Following a detailed hearing, the Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology voted to propose the government include a timeline in the bill that would require it to be fully implemented by 2040 rather than leaving the date open-ended.

“We are dealing with a bill that is very important for Canada and is going to make our country a better country,” said Sen. Donna Dasko. “The issue of a timeline has come up many times … this is an important thing, this gives accountability to the bill, this gives a goal to the actions being undertaken.”

The committee also voted to recognize various forms of sign language as an official language of deaf Canadians and see it included among government services. That amendment also included Indigenous sign languages among those that should be acknowledged.

The committee’s proposed amendments will now go to the full Senate for a vote.

David Lepofsky, a long-time disability rights advocate, said the full impact of the committee’s proposed amendments won’t be known until they’ve been formally incorporated into the act. He noted that the House of Commons could vote to reject any steps the Senate may suggest to strengthen the law.

But he said the committee’s moves signal hope the existing bill, which he had previously described as “inadequate,” could be improved.

“We do know that the amendments do, to some extent, strengthen this bill,” Lepofsky said. “Any improvement is welcomed.”

Lepofsky said adopting a timeline would mark a significant step forward, adding that doing so would bring the federal government in line with the three Canadian provinces that have put accessibility legislation on their books.

Senators on the committee said during Thursday’s meeting that the absence of a timeline was the unifying issue that emerged from hours of testimony from disability rights groups.

It was also one of the core issues activists raised in an open letter to the committee last year that detailed concerns about the power and scope of the proposed law. The October 2018 letter also said the bill should enshrine American and Quebec sign language as the official language of the deaf community.

While the committee tackled those concerns, it did not address others raised in the letter signed by 95 organizations including the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, National Network for Mental Health and March of Dimes Canada,

The letter had criticized the bill for granting the government broad powers to exempt people from the new rules, spreading enforcement over numerous agencies, and opting not to withhold federal funding from organizations that don’t comply with accessibility measures.

Advocates also raised concerns about the way the bill was written. The bill repeatedly uses “may” rather than “shall” or “must” when describing initiatives, meaning the government is empowered to take actions but never required to follow through on them, they argued. An amendment brought before the committee addressed that concern but was defeated.

The Council of Canadians with Disabilities, who helped spearhead the letter, focused on what it viewed as positive developments from the committee vote.

“These proposed reforms did not get much traction at the time (the bill was passed through the House of Commons), So today, we are very pleased to learn that the Senate’s Social Affairs Committee has been more responsive to our calls for reform,” it said in a statement.

But Gabrielle Peters, a Vancouver-based wheelchair user, expressed disappointment at the committee’s unwillingness to change the bill’s language from “may” to “must.”

Not addressing the issue of federal funding, she added, risks allowing governments and those supported by them to continue treating disability rights and accessibility as a perk rather than a basic human right.

“They keep using the word ‘historic,’” Peters said of the government. “Historic means you create legislation that will fundamentally shift the direction we continue to be on … (The Accessible Canada Act) is not … a historic document.”

The office of Accessibility Minister Carla Qualtrough did not respond to request for comment.

Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press

May 3 AODA Alliance Submission Asking the Senate’s Standing Committee on Social Affairs to Attach Three Key “Observations” to Bill C-81

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance

Proposed Observations for the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs to Attach to Bill C-81

May 3, 2019

We respectfully propose that the following observations be attached to Bill C-81:

  1. Because the bill’s centerpiece is the enactment and enforcement of accessibility standards as enforceable regulations but the bill does not require any of those regulations to ever be enacted, and because the bill gives the Federal Government a range of powers that it may use but does for the most part not provide that the Government must use those powers, the Committee recommends that

(a) the Federal Government should report back to the Senate in one year on its action to date, its plans and time lines for enacting accessibility standards regulations and for deploying its other discretionary powers under the bill, and

(b) within five years after the bill comes into effect, at least one regulation should be enacted that sets enforceable accessibility standards in each of the areas in section 5, namely employment, the built environment, information and communication technologies, communication, procurement of goods, services and facilities, the design and delivery of programs and services, transportation and any other areas that are designated by regulations under the bill.

  1. Because of concerns expressed by the disability community about the bill splintering its implementation and enforcement, the Committee recommends that:

(a) the Federal Government should report to the Senate in one year on the effectiveness and impact of splintering the bill’s implementation and enforcement among four federal agencies, for further study by the Senate, and

(b) within six months, the Canadian Transportation Agency, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, and the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board should establish policies, practices and procedures for expeditiously receiving, investigating, considering and deciding upon complaints under this Act which are the same as or as reasonably close as possible to, those set out for the Accessibility Commissioner in sections 94 to 110 of the bill.

        1. Since the Federal Government spends billions of dollars of the public’s money on procurement of goods, services and facilities, on new infrastructure projects, and on business development loans and grants, the Federal Government should establish, implement, monitor and publicly report on policies to effectively ensure that public money is never used to create or perpetuate disability barriers and should report to the Senate within one year on its actions in this regard and the results achieved.



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Senate’s Standing Committee Passes Amendments to Strengthen the Weak Bill C-81, the Proposed Accessible Canada Act – Now It’s Time for the Full Senate and House of Commons to Pass All Those Amendments


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

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

www.aodaalliance.org [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance

Senate’s Standing Committee Passes Amendments to Strengthen the Weak Bill C-81, the Proposed Accessible Canada Act – Now It’s Time for the Full Senate and House of Commons to Pass All Those Amendments

May 2, 2019

          SUMMARY

Today the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs passed a short list of amendments to Bill C-81, with the aim of strengthening it. The Senate must next vote to pass Bill C-81 on Third Reading, and then send the amended bill back to the House of Commons.

The House of Commons then gets to decide if it will approve these amendments. We call on the Senate to quickly pass the amended bill on Third Reading. We then call on the House of Commons to quickly schedule a vote and approve these amendments. We will comment more fully on the amendments after we get their exact wording and can study them. From what we observed during the web-streamed Committee discussion, the amendments are helpful improvements, but do not cover all the concerns with the bill that we raised with the Senate.

          MORE DETAILS

During a 2.5-hour meeting on the morning of May 2, 2019 that was streamed live on the internet and that the AODA Alliance live-tweeted, the Senate’s Standing Committee on Social Affairs passed a short list of amendments to the weak Bill C-81, the proposed Accessible Canada Act. The bill now goes back to the full Senate for Third Reading debate and vote. We understand the Senate is set to hold its final vote on the bill on or before May 16, 2019.

We don’t yet have the precise wording of the Standing Committee’s amendments to study. We therefore cannot comment fully on them. We have written the Clerk of the Standing Committee to ask for the text of the amendments. We know that the Committee passed only some of the short list of amendments that we requested.

From what we could glean from observing the Committee debates, the amendments have improved the bill to some extent by addressing some of the serious concerns that we and many others have raised. Any improvement is welcomed.

We know that the Senate passed a helpful series of amendments to the bill that sets a 2040 deadline for Canada to become accessible to five million people with disabilities, and that this deadline does not and cannot justify any delay in working on achieving this goal. This is an important and welcome improvement to the bill. Before these amendments, the bill set no end date or time line for achieving accessibility. Many witnesses before the Senate’s Standing Committee this spring, and before the House of Commons Standing Committee last fall, pointed out that a deadline like this is vital. The specific 2040 deadline was proposed by the AODA Alliance. It was strongly endorsed during the hearings last night by former Ontario Lieutenant Governor David Onley. He invoked his experience conducting the most recent mandatory Independent Review of the implementation and enforcement of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.

Speaking for the Federal Government, Disabilities Minister Carla Qualtrough earlier had strongly resisted setting any such deadline in this bill. The Senate’s Standing Committee heard her on this issue, carefully questioned her, explored this issue with many witnesses, and formed its own judgment. The Senate is the place where such issues are supposed to get “sober second thought.” That is exactly what happened here.

We also know that the Standing Committee passed an amendment that, at least to some extent, weakened the harmful and unjustified power of the Canadian Transportation Agency to pass regulations that cut back on the human rights of passengers with disabilities. We cannot fully assess that amendment until we get its exact wording. The Standing Committee amended the harmful s. 172 of the bill. We had wanted s. 172 to be completely repealed.

We were heartened that Senator Donna Dasko, among others, was set to propose an amendment that would have repealed s. 172. However, before she could, the Government’s sponsor of the bill, Senator Jim Munson, brought forward an amendment that would retain but weaken s. 172. Clearly, the Federal Government had crafted the wording that he presented. Once we can study its wording, we can and will say more about it. When he advanced this amendment, he said he was doing so in response to concerns raised by the AODA Alliance and the ARCH Disability Law Centre.

In addition to awaiting the text of all amendments that were passed, we also await the text of the “observations” that the Standing Committee will attach to the bill. A Senate Standing Committee can attach editorial comments or suggestions to a bill outside the text of the bill itself. These can, for example, call on the Federal Government to take certain actions or to report back to the Senate within a specific time line, on a matter that the Committee spells out.

It is important for the Senate to very quickly pass this bill as amended and to send it back to the House of Commons. We will now launch a strong campaign to get all parties in the House of Commons to quickly schedule a vote on these amendments and to pass them all. Our focus is especially on the federal Liberals, who had resisted amendments like these last fall. On the eve of a federal election, they won’t want to find themselves in the unpalatable position of voting against the rights of people with disabilities.

We also will now focus attention on the opposition parties in the House of Commons. It is good that they supported amendments to strengthen this bill last fall (at the request of the AODA Alliance and numerous other disability organizations), even when the Federal Government was not on side. We want those opposition parties to support the Senate Standing Committee’s amendments now. We also want the opposition parties to agree to an early debate and vote on Bill C-81 once it returns to the House. We know that with an election looming, the parties at times get into scheduling squabbles regarding bills. We don’t want Bill C-81 to get caught up in or impeded by that process.

The federal Disabilities Minister often said that this bill was meant to embody the principle: “Nothing about us without us.” Senator Chantal Petitclerc, Chair of the Standing Committee, concluded the committee’s debates by noting that these amendments are the embodiment of that principle, because they are the result of feedback that the Standing Committee received from disability organizations and advocates. We call on the Federal Government to adhere to the principle of “Nothing about us without us,” by agreeing now that it will pass all the amendments that the Senate Standing Committee passed today.

Today’s events show that tenacity by people with disabilities and their advocates pays off. Anything that strengthens accessibility legislation helps us along that journey. For us, this is just one important step along our long journey. We’re ready for what lies ahead.

We are indebted to the Senators and their staff members who invested so much time in their review of this bill. This was our first experience with the Senate. Our Senators have to plow through bills on many complex topics, along short time lines, without the full policy resources that the Government and the political parties have at their disposal. We thank all the Senators who took time to take our phone calls, answer our emails, review our written submissions, listen to our April 11, 2019 evidence, and support amendments as a result.

As always, we welcome your feedback. Email us at: [email protected]

To watch the captioned video of AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky’s opening statement at the Senate Standing Committee on April 11, 2019 (10 minutes), visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FERCAljHbrw&feature=em-uploademail

To watch a captioned video of the portion of the Senate Standing Committee’s question-and-answer after that opening statement, where the AODA Alliance answers questions directed to us (26 minutes), visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dr0fCtB_cyw&feature=em-uploademail

You can read the specific amendments we asked the Senate to make to Bill C-81, and the short brief we submitted in support of those amendments, and our most recent (and even shorter) supplemental brief. You can also visit the AODA Alliance website, Canada page to see in one place all our efforts over the past four years to campaign for the enactment of a strong and effective national accessibility law.



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New Toronto Star Guest Column by AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky Shows How and Why the Senate Should Strengthen Bill C-81, the Proposed Accessible Canada Act, Before Passing it this Spring


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

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

www.aodaalliance.org [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance

New Toronto Star Guest Column by AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky Shows How and Why the Senate Should Strengthen Bill C-81, the Proposed Accessible Canada Act, Before Passing it this Spring

April 30, 2019

          SUMMARY

Just three days before the Senate’s Standing Committee on Social Affairs will meet on May 2, 2019 to decide what amendments to make to Bill C-81, the proposed Accessible Canada Act, the Toronto Star online ran a guest column by AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky, set out below. It shows why five million people with disabilities in Canada need the Senate to strengthen Bill C-81 before the Senate passes it.

Please circulate our guest column to your friends and family. Also forward it to your member of Parliament and as many Senators as you can. You can find contact information for Canada’s Senators at https://sencanada.ca/en/senators/

Our guest column refers to the widely-viewed online video that the AODA Alliance made public last fall. That video documents serious accessibility problems at new and recently renovated public transit stations in Ontario. You can watch a 16-minute version of that video at https://youtu.be/za1UptZq82o

The new Toronto subway stations with accessibility problems, shown in that video, were built in part with federal money. Unless Bill C-81 is strengthened, the Federal Government will remain free to do that again and again with our money.

Before May 2, 2019, please send the Senate Standing Committee a short email to express your support for the amendments to Bill C-81 that the AODA Alliance has requested. Email the Senate at: [email protected]

To watch the captioned video of AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky’s opening statement at the Senate Standing Committee on April 11, 2019 (10 minutes), visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FERCAljHbrw&feature=em-uploademail

To watch a captioned video of the portion of the Senate Standing Committee’s question-and-answer after that opening statement, where the AODA Alliance answers questions directed to us (26 minutes), visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dr0fCtB_cyw&feature=em-uploademail

You can read the specific amendments we asked the Senate to make to Bill C-81, and the short brief we submitted in support of those amendments, and our most recent (and even shorter) supplemental brief. You can also visit the AODA Alliance website, Canada page to see in one place all our efforts over the past four years to campaign for the enactment of a strong and effective national accessibility law.

On April 22, 2019, the Globe and Mail ran a guest column by Rick Hansen entitled “Make Canada accessible for everyone,” available at https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-passing-bill-c-81-is-critical-to-making-canada-accessible-for-all/ Mr. Hansen argued why Bill C-81 should be passed, even though it may not be “perfect.”

We all know that the Senate will pass Bill C-81. The only real question is whether the Senate will first amend it, to strengthen it. We and others have been emphasizing for months that Bill C-81 is far too weak, and that people with disabilities in Canada need it strengthened.

What Mr. Hansen’s column had to say ultimately rests on one key sentence. He wrote that Bill C-81 (the proposed Accessible Canada Act), now before Parliament “…will require the Government of Canada and organizations under its jurisdiction to ensure that public spaces, workplaces, employment, program, services and information be accessible to everyone.”

Unfortunately his description of Bill C-81 in that sentence is incorrect. Bill C-81 does not require any disability barriers to ever be removed in public spaces, workplaces, employment, program, services or information. It doesn’t require the Federal Government to ever enact any accessibility standards as enforceable regulations. It sets no deadlines for progress towards accessibility. It doesn’t stop the Federal Government from continuing to use our money to subsidize the creation of new accessibility barriers.

We swiftly sent a letter to the editor of the Globe and Mail. In it we explain why Mr. Hansen’s description of the bill is incorrect. We regret that as far as we can tell, the Globe did not publish our letter to the editor. We set that letter to the editor out below, right after our Toronto Star guest column.

Last weekend we emailed Mr. Hansen to bring this inaccuracy in his column to his attention. Given his public profile and the circulation of the Globe and Mail, we emphasized the importance of his publicly correcting his description of Bill C-81. We have not received a response.

The question is not whether the bill is “perfect.” No bill ever is. As our guest column in the Toronto Star (below) shows, the bill lacks key features that people with disabilities need and have been requesting for months, if not years.

          MORE DETAILS

Toronto Star Online April 29, 2019

OPINION

Originally posted at

https://www.thestar.com/opinion/contributors/2019/04/29/liberals-failing-to-strengthen-disability-laws-as-promised.html

Liberals failing to strengthen disability laws as promised

By David Lepofsky

When it comes to ensuring accessibility for 5 million Canadians with disabilities, Canada lags far behind the U.S., which passed the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act 29 years ago. Canadians with disabilities still face far too many barriers in air travel, cable TV services, and when dealing with the federal government. For example, as a blind traveller, I’ve faced these barriers. I dread returning to Canadian airspace.

It’s great that the Trudeau government promised in the last election to enact a national accessibility law. However Bill C-81, the proposed Accessible Canada Act that the House of Commons passed last fall, is much weaker than what we people with disabilities need. The bill is strong on good intentions, but weak on implementation. We’re calling on the Senate to strengthen it.

The bill is called “An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada” for people with disabilities. Yet, it doesn’t require a single disability barrier to ever be removed or prevented anywhere.

The bill gives the federal government helpful powers to advance the goal of accessibility. However, it doesn’t require the government to use almost any of them, or set time lines for the government to act (with a minor exception). The government could drag its feet indefinitely.

It’s good that the bill lets the federal government create enforceable national accessibility standards to set accessibility rules. However, the bill doesn’t require the government to ever create any. If the government doesn’t, the bill will largely be a hollow shell.

Unlike Ontario’s 2005 accessibility legislation (which cannot regulate federal areas like air travel), this federal bill doesn’t set a deadline for Canada to become disability-accessible. Under Bill C-81, Canada may not become accessible to people with disabilities for hundreds of years, if ever.

The bill assigns key responsibilities for this bill to the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) and CRTC. Both agencies have faltering track records for advancing disability accessibility. Both have slow, labyrinthian processes that are hard for people with disabilities to navigate.

It’s inexcusable that the bill lets the federal government continue to contribute our tax money to infrastructure projects with accessibility problems, like hospitals and subways.

For example, federal money helped finance the recent TTC subway extension up to Vaughan. Those new subway stations, like the York University stop, have real accessibility problems. Our YouTube video documents this. We need the bill to require the federal government to attach accessibility strings to projects when it uses our money to help finance them.

It’s unfair for the bill to let the CTA pass regulations that cut back on disability human rights. The CTA is now proposing new transportation regulations that threaten to cut back on the rights of passengers with disabilities in air and train travel. Thanks, but no thanks.

Federal Disabilities Minister Carla Qualtrough recently told the Senate that she’s open to the Senate amending the bill, and that she wants the bill to be the best it possibly can be. Sen. Jim Munson, sponsoring the bill in the Senate, also confirmed that there will be amendments. We’re taking them up on this. We’ve proposed a short, focused set of amendments that would improve this weak bill.

If the Senate now strengthens this bill, the House of Commons has time to ratify those improvements before this fall’s election. In hearings at the House of Commons last fall, the Greens, Tories and NDP supported strengthening this bill. It’s sad that the Federal Government defeated many important amendments we sought.

With a federal election now looming closer, the Liberals have good reason to see the light, and to support amendments that strengthen this bill. They wouldn’t want to head into the fall election having just voted down measures that would help 5 million people with disabilities, many of whom are voters.

I’ve battled as a volunteer in the trenches for a quarter century on this issue, I’ve learned what accessibility legislation needs to include. Bill C-81 is weaker in some ways than Ontario’s 2005 accessibility (for whose enactment I led the decade-long campaign). A recent independent review of Ontario’s accessibility law by former Lt.-Gov. David Onley shows that Ontario’s law has not produced the progress we need.

Let’s learn from those lessons and strengthen Bill C-81. Everyone will need it, whether you have a disability now, or get one later as you get older.

David Lepofsky is the chair of Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance.

Letter to the Editor Submitted by the AODA Alliance to the Globe and Mail on April 22, 2019

Via email to; [email protected]

Rick Hansen is right. Canada has a long way to go to become accessible to 5 million people with disabilities and we need federal legislation to achieve this. (Make Canada accessible for everyone April 22, 2019). He’s incorrect to state that Bill C-81 (the proposed Accessible Canada Act), now before Parliament “…will require the Government of Canada and organizations under its jurisdiction to ensure that public spaces, workplaces, employment, program, services and information be accessible to everyone.” Sadly it doesn’t.

The bill is called “An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada” for people with disabilities. Yet, it doesn’t require a single disability barrier to ever be removed or prevented anywhere. Canadians with disabilities in Canada deserve better.

The bill is strong on good intentions, but weak on implementation. It lets the Federal Government create enforceable national accessibility standards to set the rules, but doesn’t require the Government to ever pass any. It lets the Federal Government continue to contribute our tax money to infrastructure projects lacking proper accessibility, like hospitals and subways. It lets the Canadian Transportation Agency pass regulations that cut back on disability human rights.

That’s why so many of us in the disability community grassroots call on Canada’s Senate to strengthen this weak bill.

If the Senate strengthens this bill, the House of Commons has time to approve those improvements. The Greens, Tories and NDP supported strengthening this bill in the House’s hearings last fall. Hopefully the Liberals will come around and support us now, with a federal election looming.

Battling as a volunteer in the trenches for a quarter century, we’ve learned what accessibility legislation needs to include. We need Bill C-81 amended now, before it is passed, to ensure it does what Rick Hansen expects.

David Lepofsky CM, O. Ont

Chair Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance

Visiting Professor, Osgoode Hall Law School



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AODA Alliance’s Short Supplementary Brief to the Senate Focuses on the High Priority of Surgically Removing from Bill C-81 A Troubling Provision that Lets the Canadian Transportation Agency Pass Regulations that Cut Back on the Human Rights of Passengers with Disabilities


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

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

www.aodaalliance.org [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance

AODA Alliance’s Short Supplementary Brief to the Senate Focuses on the High Priority of Surgically Removing from Bill C-81 A Troubling Provision that Lets the Canadian Transportation Agency Pass Regulations that Cut Back on the Human Rights of Passengers with Disabilities

April 24, 2019

          SUMMARY

On April 23, 2019, the AODA Alliance sent the Senate of Canada a short 2-page supplementary brief. It emphasizes as a priority the pressing need for the Senate to remove a harmful and outdated provision that is perpetuated in Bill C-81, the proposed Accessible Canada Act. That provision, section 172, lets the Canadian Transportation Agency pass regulations on accessibility in transportation that can cut back on the human rights of passengers with disabilities. There is no reason for Parliament to leave that harmful provision in place. It flies in the face of the federal Disabilities Minister’s statement to the Senate that she doesn’t want anything in the bill to reduce the human rights of people with disabilities. We set this supplementary brief out below.

There is still a week left for you to help our campaign before the Senate’s Standing Committee on Social Affairs decides what amendments to make to Bill C-81. Before May 2, 2019, please send the Senate Standing Committee a short email to express your support for the amendments to Bill C-81 that the AODA Alliance has requested. Email the Senate at: [email protected]

To watch the captioned video of AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky’s opening statement at the Senate Standing Committee on April 11, 2019 (10 minutes), visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FERCAljHbrw&feature=em-uploademail

To watch a captioned video of the portion of the Senate Standing Committee’s question-and-answer after that opening statement, where the AODA Alliance answers questions directed to us (26 minutes), visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dr0fCtB_cyw&feature=em-uploademail

You can read the specific amendments we asked the Senate to make to Bill C-81, and the short brief we submitted in support of those amendments. You can also visit the AODA Alliance website, Canada page to see in one place all our efforts over the past four years to campaign for the enactment of a strong and effective national accessibility law.

 

          MORE DETAILS

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance

www.aodaalliance.org Email: [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance

Supplemental Brief to the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs Regarding Bill C-81

April 23, 2019

This supplements our March 29, 2019 brief, our April 8, 2019 short list of amendments, and our April 11, 2019 oral presentation to the Standing Committee. We elaborate on one of the 11 amendments we requested. Our proposed Amendment #7 (set out below) asks this Committee to remove s. 172 from the bill. That would remove the identically-numbered 172 from the Canada Transportation Act.

Section 172 lets the CTA cut back on the human rights of passengers with disabilities. The CTA should have no power to dilute our human rights. This is a top priority for us that would benefit all passengers with any kind of disability.

What’s the problem? On April 3, 2019, Minister Qualtrough told the Standing Committee:

“I have to emphasize that as a former human rights law practitioner, it is very important to me, and it has been, to preserve the duty to accommodate.”

Contradicting this, s. 172 lets the Canadian Transportation Agency pass regulations that cut back on the human rights of passengers with disabilities. Section 172 provides:

“in relation to a matter have been complied with or have not been contravened, the Agency shall determine that there is no undue obstacle to the mobility of persons with disabilities.”

For example, if the CTA passes a regulation to set accessibility requirements in air travel, that regulation is the final word on what airlines must do to accommodate passengers with disabilities, in the specific areas it regulates. The regulation sets the maximum of the airline’s human rights obligations. Passengers with disabilities cannot bring an accessibility complaint to the CTA to demand anything more of the airline in that area, even if the passenger can show that they needed more to accommodate them, and even if it poses no undue hardship to the airline.

Assume the CTA regulation said the airline can take up to 5 hours to guide a blind passenger from the check-in desk to their airplane. That means the airline could tell passengers with disabilities that they must show up to the airport 5 hours before their flight. A passenger is not permitted to show the airline could easily accommodate this need in 2 hours and doesn’t need 5 hours. All the passenger can thereafter complain about is a delay that is longer than 5 hours.

This is not a far-fetched hypothetical risk. Last month, the CTA posted proposed transportation accessibility regulations that threaten to reduce the existing human rights of passengers with disabilities. After our Senate presentation we filed a brief with CTA objecting to this.

The proposed CTA regulations would impose a new duty on passengers with disabilities to give an airline 48 hours advance notice of a request for certain listed accommodations that they now can get without any advance notice. An airline can unilaterally expand this to a 96 hour advance notice requirement in some situations. An airline does not have to let passengers know they will demand 96 hours’ notice.

If a passenger does not give this new required advance notice, the airline only has to make “reasonable efforts” to provide the listed accommodations. This reduces the airline’s existing human rights duty to provide such needed accommodations except where the airline can show that it is impossible to do more to accommodate without undue hardship to the airline. “Undue hardship” is a much tougher test for the airline to meet than mere “reasonable efforts”.

This new legislated barrier applies to important accommodations, such as assisting passengers with disabilities to go through airport security, to get to the departure lounge and onto the airplane, telling a blind passenger on the plane where the bathroom is, letting passengers with disabilities use a larger business class bathroom on the plane if it is larger than the economy class bathroom, or telling a passenger what food options are offered on the plane.

48 hours’ advance notice is not justified for these accommodations. For them, an airline uses existing staff. If any advance notice were justified, which we dispute, two days is not.

This discriminatory new barrier especially hurts last-minute travelers, for business, for an emergency or funeral. Passengers without disabilities are not similarly burdened.

Minister Qualtrough told the Standing Committee that the CTA aims for transportation in Canada to be the most accessible in the world. These draft regulations, which the minister trumpeted, fall far short. Especially because of s. 172, we oppose the enactment of these regulations, even if they elsewhere have some helpful measures for passengers with disabilities.

The outdated s. 172 only serves the interests of transportation providers who want the CTA to dilute their human rights duties. Neither the Minister nor the CTA presented any need for s. 172. The CRTC has no corresponding provision when it enacts regulations.

We therefore ask this Committee to amend Bill C-81 to remove s. 172 of the bill, which in turn would surgically excise the identically numbered s. 172 from the Canada Transportation Act.

Amendment 7 of the AODA Alliance Amendments Package

Subsection 172(2) of the bill should be removed from the bill. As well, the bill should repeal its counterpart, s. 172(2) of the Canada Transportation Act, which provides:

“in relation to a matter have been complied with or have not been contravened, the Agency shall determine that there is no undue obstacle to the mobility of persons with disabilities.”

Note: s. 172(2) of the bill uses the word “barrier “instead of the word “obstacle”, but is otherwise the same as s. 172(2) of the Canada Transportation Act.



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At the Senate, Federal Disability Minister Carla Qualtrough Answers Senators’ Questions on the Weak Bill C-81 (Proposed Accessible Canada Act) – Read the AODA Alliance’s Commentary on the Minister’s Key Answers


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

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

www.aodaalliance.org [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance

At the Senate, Federal Disability Minister Carla Qualtrough Answers Senators’ Questions on the Weak Bill C-81 (Proposed Accessible Canada Act) – Read the AODA Alliance’s Commentary on the Minister’s Key Answers

April 23, 2019

          SUMMARY

Here is a rare glimpse into how the Federal Government is thinking about the concerns that we and many others have expressed about the weak Bill C-81, the proposed Accessible Canada Act.

On April 3, 2019, the federal minister responsible for people with disabilities, Carla Qualtrough, appeared before the Senate’s Standing Committee on Social Affairs to kick off that committee’s study of Bill C-81, the proposed Accessible Canada Act. Minister Qualtrough made an opening statement to explain and defend Bill C-81. The Senators then took turns questioning her and her senior public service official, the Director General of the Office of Disability Issues James Van Raalte.

Many of the Senators’ questions sound like they were inspired in whole or in part by the AODA Alliance’s March 29, 2019 brief to the Senate and feedback from other disability organizations with similar concerns about the bill. We express our appreciation and gratitude for the Senators doing so.

Below we set out a series of 17 important excerpts from Minister Qualtrough’s presentation, with our comments on these statements. We will post her entire presentation to the Standing Committee on our website once it becomes available.

In our comments, set out below, we respectfully disagree with some of the minister’s statements, and explain why. In other cases, we identify key comments she has made which support the narrow package of amendments to Bill C-81 that we placed before the Senate last week, and asked for their adoption.

To watch the captioned video of AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky’s opening statement at the Senate Standing Committee on April 11, 2019 (10 minutes), visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FERCAljHbrw&feature=em-uploademail

To watch a captioned video of the portion of the Senate Standing Committee’s question-and-answer after that opening statement, where the AODA Alliance answers questions directed to us (26 minutes), visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dr0fCtB_cyw&feature=em-uploademail

You can read the specific amendments we asked the Senate to make to Bill C-81, and the short brief we submitted in support of those amendments. You can also visit the AODA Alliance website, Canada page to see in one place all our efforts over the past four years to campaign for the enactment of a strong and effective national accessibility law.`

 

Please help our campaign. Before May 2, 2019, please send the Senate Standing Committee a short email to express your support for the amendments to Bill C-81 that the AODA Alliance has requested. We are so appreciative of the individuals and organizations that have already done so. Email the Senate at: [email protected]

 

          MORE DETAILS

Excerpts from Federal Disabilities Minister Carla Qualtrough’s April 3, 2019 Presentation to the Senate’s Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Plus AODA Alliance Commentary on Those Remarks

Excerpt 1

Minister Qualtrough: Bill C-81 complements the Human Rights Framework in Canada. It does not take anything away from existing human rights obligations under the Canadian Human Rights Act or the duty to accommodate.

Our Comment: This is not correct. Section 172 of the bill re-enacts section 172 of the Canada Transportation Act. That provision provides that when the Canada Transportation Agency enacts an accessibility standard regulation, it in effect prevails over and can water down or cut back on the duty to accommodate passengers with disabilities.

If a CTA regulation says that Air Canada has an excessive five hours to help a passenger with a disability off an airplane when it arrives, that passenger cannot complain to the CTA that Air Canada could easily have accommodated them more quickly without undue hardship.

This is not a hypothetical fear. The Canadian Transportation Agency has proposed new accessibility regulations that, if passed, threaten to cut back on disability human rights. We explain this in detail in the AODA Alliance’s April 18, 2019 brief to the CTA.

We’ve been asking the Federal Government for months to remove s. 172 from the bill. The AODA Alliance’s proposed amendments to Bill C-81, now before the Senate, would remove s. 172 from that bill. That would help make the minister’s statement here become true. However the Federal Government has not yet publicly said that it would agree to a repeal of s. 172. Our 7th proposed amendment to Bill C-81, placed before the Senate, is as follows:

Subsection 172(2) of the bill should be removed from the bill. As well, the bill should repeal its counterpart, s. 172(2) of the Canada Transportation Act, which provides:

“in relation to a matter have been complied with or have not been contravened, the Agency shall determine that there is no undue obstacle to the mobility of persons with disabilities.”

Note: s. 172(2) of the bill uses the word “barrier “instead of the word “obstacle”, but is otherwise the same as s. 172(2) of the Canada Transportation Act.

As well, our 8th proposed amendment to Bill C-81 that we placed before the Senate provides as follows:

Section 6 should be amended to add the following to the principles set out in it:

“(2) For greater certainty, in the event of any inconsistency between the provisions of this Act and the provisions of the Canadian Human Rights Act, the provisions of that Act prevail to the extent of the inconsistency.”

Excerpt 2

Minister Qualtrough: I’m extremely proud to say that the proposed accessible Canada act enjoys widespread endorsement and support from so many in the disabilities community.

Our Comment: The Federal Government has received widespread feedback from Canada’s disability community that Bill C-81 is too weak and needs to be strengthened. For example, see the Open Letter to the Federal Government which fully 95 disability organizations co-signed, and which was sent last October. See also the extensive feedback on Bill C-81 which disability organizations presented to the House of Commons’ Standing Committee. Disability organizations there repeatedly pressed for this bill to be strengthened.

Excerpt 3

Minister Qualtrough: As part of our whole-of-government approach, Bill C-81 builds upon the existing work done by regulators and, if passed, will strengthen their mandates to ensure accessibility in their sectors. This was demonstrated at the recent CTA announcement I attended, where the publication of draft accessibility regulations was announced, with the intention of making Canada’s transportation system the most accessible in the world.

Our Comment: It may at first sound good that the Canadian Transportation Agency wants to make Canada’s transportation system the most accessible one in the world. However, after a closer look, it falls far short of what people with disabilities in Canada need and deserve.

What people with disabilities deserve and are entitled to is an accessible transportation system. Bill C-81 is entitled an Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada. The CTA’s much more diluted objective would be fulfilled if Canada’s transportation system were to become slightly more accessible than all others – no matter how inaccessible all others are. In other words, by the CTA’s impoverished approach to accessibility, people with disabilities in Canada could end up having to put up with many accessibility barriers in transportation forever.

As well, we noted earlier that the CTA has proposed new transportation accessibility regulations that threaten to reduce the human rights of passengers with disabilities, a very troubling development to which the AODA Alliance’s April 18, 2019 brief to the CTA objects.

Excerpt 4

Minister Qualtrough: This approach ensures that accessibility is everyone’s responsibility and that we can’t waste any time once the bill receives Royal Assent.

Our Comment: Regrettably, Bill C-81 does not ensure that we don’t waste any time once this bill receives Royal Assent. To ensure this, a series of mandatory time lines must be added to the bill.

Excerpt 5

Minister Qualtrough: Finally, the development of regulations has begun, with the CTA posting their first draft of accessibility regulations, and the consultation process has started for the development of the multi-year accessibility plan regulations.

Our Comment: This may seem a bit technical, but the regulations that the Canadian Transportation Agency are now finalizing are not being created under Bill C-81. They are being developed under the existing national transportation legislation that has been on the books for years. It is our understanding that these regulations have been under development for the past three years, well before Bill C-81 was introduced into the House of Commons in June 2018 for First Reading.

The Canadian Transportation Agency has had the power to make such regulations for many years. We anticipate that it was the fact that the Federal Government promised national accessibility legislation in the 2015 federal election that helped motivate the Canadian Transportation Agency to finally take a serious look at using its decades-old power to make comprehensive accessibility regulations in the transportation field.

Moreover, the CTA’s posting of those draft regulations is a matter of concern, as noted earlier, since they threaten to reduce human rights protections for passengers with disabilities, as the AODA Alliance’s April 22, 2019 brief to the CTA demonstrates.

Excerpt 6.

Minister Qualtrough: The Canadian Human Rights Act absolutely imposes a duty to accommodate. Nothing in this act changes that obligation on employers, on service providers and on program deliverers within the federal jurisdiction. There was confusion in provincial jurisdictions that had enacted accessibility legislation, and we’ve made every effort to avoid such confusion. Whatever standard is created by CASDO will not necessarily create any kind of defence for an employer, service provider or program deliverer in terms of their individual duty to accommodate a specific individual.

I have to emphasize that as a former human rights law practitioner, it is very important to me, and it has been, to preserve the duty to accommodate.

Our Comment: We repeat our comments for Excerpt 1, above, where we disagree with the minister’s similar earlier statement.

We also respectfully disagree with the minister’s statement that “…we’ve made every effort to avoid such confusion” When this bill was before the House of Commons last fall, we asked the Federal Government to amend Bill C-81 to include language akin to the strong language on point in the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. The Federal Government did not do so. Unlike this bill, section 38 of the AODA provides:

” 38. If a provision of this Act, of an accessibility standard or of any other regulation conflicts with a provision of any other Act or regulation, the provision that provides the highest level of accessibility for persons with disabilities with respect to goods, services, facilities, employment, accommodation, buildings, structures or premises shall prevail.”

We are troubled by the minister’s equivocal statement as follows:

“Whatever standard is created by CASDO will not necessarily create any kind of defence for an employer, service provider or program deliverer in terms of their individual duty to accommodate a specific individual.”

Compliance with a voluntary, non-binding standard recommended by the proposed new Canadian Accessibility Standards Development Organization should simply not be a defence to a human rights complaint. Here the minister more equivocally said it is not “necessarily” a defence. That means that it could be a defence, in some situations.

It may be that the minister simply inadvertently misspoke here. However, her statement can contribute to the very confusion about the duty to accommodate that she wants to avoid.

Excerpt 7

Senator Munson: As you well know, the Senate is a chamber of sober second thought and we take looking at these bills very seriously. I am sure there will be an appetite for amendments by the time we are done our hearings.

On this particular sign language and other aspects of the bill, there are people in the community who feel it doesn’t go far enough. Yes, we’ll have it for the first time, and yes, it’s history in the making and that sort of thing, but it just doesn’t go far enough. Would you be open to amendments?

Minister Qualtrough: I would certainly defer to your process and recommendations, but yes, I want to make this bill, this eventual law, the best it can possibly be.

Our Comment: This is a very helpful, positive and important statement by the minister. The minister herself is open to the Senate making amendments to Bill C-81 to make it the best law it can possibly be. This should lay to rest any fear that by making such amendments, the Senate would thereby jeopardize the bill’s passage.

This is further reinforced by the statement by Senator Munson (the bill’s sponsor in the Senate) during the Committee’s April 10, 2019 hearings:

“We’re here for a reason. There are going to be amendments…”

Excerpt 8

Senator Forest-Niesing: With respect to deadlines, provinces with an Accessibility Act, their own Accessibility Act, have an implementation deadline, especially for total accessibility. What was the reasoning in not having a deadline in Bill C-81?

Minister Qualtrough: To be honest, this is one of the more difficult differences of opinion as we have had as a disability community in this law and in this whole process. This is because there is a very honest and staunch belief within the community that we need a deadline, that we need to make a statement saying Canada will be barrier free by X or Canada will be accessible by X. And there is an equally passionate group of individuals who believe that setting a timeline in the distant future will give people excuse to wait to take action and also believe that because accessibility is always changing and evolving as a concept, and as technology changes and as we grow in our understanding and evolve around accessibility, we won’t know what a barrier-free Canada looks like.

If we decided in this law to say by 2030 Canada will be barrier-free, first of all, I’m not sure we could achieve that, quite frankly. Second, we don’t know what barrier-free will mean and look like then.

I heard everyone, and we took back that feedback, and there are still some us of who are agreeing to disagree on this one. While we don’t disagree that we need to work towards a barrier-free Canada, we don’t agree about the need for that deadline.

Instead, we’ve chosen to focus on getting things started. Let’s get the first regulation made within two years. Let’s do a review of the act within five years of the first regulation. Let’s put the board of CASDO in place this summer. Let’s have the space for CASDO. Let’s get things going.

That seemed to be the broader consensus. It certainly ended up being where we landed as a government.

Quite frankly, it’s not necessary legislative practice to create these kinds of statements. We don’t have a criminal code that says we will be crime free by X date. We don’t have a Human Rights Act that says we will be discrimination free by this date. I’m not sure other jurisdictions have found it to be beneficial to have these timelines.

Every regulation that is established will have a timeline, so as soon as we have a standard, the regulation will say employers have to have this standard in place by X.

There will be built-in timelines. Some will be quick because we’re adopting an existing standard. Some will take longer because it’s a more complex issue.

At the end of the day, after listening to everyone, the decision was not to put that deadline in place. You will hear from stakeholders opinions that disagree with me and our government, but I assure you it has been thought out and considered. I respect their opinion, and this is where we landed.

Our Comment: We respectfully disagree with the minister. Our responses to her remarks are largely found in the April 11, 2019 presentation to the Standing Committee by AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky. We add a few points here.

Yes, new kinds of barriers will no doubt crop up in the future. That is a marginal factor. We nevertheless need this legislation to set an end date to reach full accessibility. A resilient flexible law can be designed to identify and adapt to address those new kinds of barriers as they come up.

The Federal Government’s repeatedly referring to accessibility as some sort of amorphous moving target is unhelpful. Overwhelmingly, we know what accessibility is and what is needed. Obligated organizations don’t need any further reasons to be reluctant to act in this area.

Contrary to the minister’s statement, there is substantial support among people with disabilities for including in this legislation an end date for reaching full accessibility. This is not a matter of a dispute among people with disabilities at the grassroots. Rather there is a dispute between the disability community on the one hand, and the Federal Government on the other.

The minister here repeated the Federal Government’s weak reasons for rejecting this request last fall when the bill was before the House of Commons. She again stated at the Senate:

“We don’t have a criminal code that says we will be crime free by X date.”

Sadly, we know that there will always be crime. The Criminal Code is there to help reduce it, and to protect the public when it occurs. That is no comparison to disability barriers. Were it so, then the Government that is sponsoring a bill “to ensure a barrier-free Canada” is conceding before we even begin that we in reality will never achieve a barrier-free Canada. We believe Canada can do better than that.

The minister said that instead of including an end date in the bill for reaching full accessibility, they decided to focus on getting the bill’s machinery up and running over the next weeks and months. She said:

“Instead, we’ve chosen to focus on getting things started. Let’s get the first regulation made within two years. Let’s do a review of the act within five years of the first regulation. Let’s put the board of CASDO in place this summer. Let’s have the space for CASDO. Let’s get things going.”

This creates the incorrect idea that we have a false choice that we must make. We must either decide to add an end date to the bill for achieving full accessibility, or we must instead choose to work on getting the bill’s machinery up and running quickly now.

The Federal Government did not have to choose one or the other, to include an end date for reaching full accessibility in the bill, or instead, to get started right away on getting the bill’s implementation up and running. The Federal Government can do both.

It is very commendable that the minister is so eager, active and enthusiastic about getting the bill’s implementation up and running so quickly. We caution that in 2005, her Ontario counterpart was just as energetic and enthusiastic just as the AODA was being enacted. A few years later, things started to dramatically slow down in Ontario. We have never gotten it sped up again. We need this bill to include strong time lines, tied to an end date, to prevent that from recurring at the federal level.

We have provided the Senate with a complete solution to the minister’s concern that the addition of an end date for full accessibility to this bill might lead obligated organizations to delay taking action on accessibility. We have recommended that the Senate add the following to the bill:

“Clarification

5.2. Nothing in this Act, including in its purpose of the realization of a Canada without barriers on or before January 1, 2040, should be construed as authorizing or requiring any delay in the removal or prevention of barriers as soon as reasonably possible.”

Excerpt 9

Minister Qualtrough: Employment is definitely one of the seven areas recognized as an area of priority in the bill, and the bill applies to all areas of federal jurisdiction. It doesn’t apply to areas of provincial jurisdiction. Other provinces do have accessibility legislation. I’m encouraged by the fact that a number of provinces have basically put on hold their intention to create provincial legislation that parallels ours, waiting to see ours and then wanting to create something that’s seamless in terms of the experience for the everyday Canadian.

Our Comment: We would consider it a backwards step for people with disabilities if any provincial government put on hold its consideration of developing a provincial accessibility law pending the passage of Bill C-81. We need provinces to speed up action in this area, not slow it down. We know the since-defeated BC Liberal Government had used the development of Bill C-81 as its excuse for continuing to dodge the development of a BC Disabilities Act.

If any provincial government has its planning efforts on hold, we would urge them to get right back to work now on developing provincial accessibility legislation.

Excerpt 10

Senator Moodie: Thank you, Minister Qualtrough, for your presentation today. As a physician and a Canadian, I’m proud that we’re leaders in this space and that this bill is going to take us to the fore in continuing to demonstrate to the rest of the world that Canadians understand the needs of people with disabilities.

My question, though, challenges the bill a bit. The concerns I’m hearing are around the notion that the federal government and various federal agencies will have, with this bill, the sweeping power to exempt organizations from a number of these important accessibility obligations. The government can even exempt itself; is that correct?

Can you speak to the extent to which the federal government and federal agencies can exempt organizations from accessibility obligations, and can you explain why you felt it necessary to exempt organizations from the obligations that are stated in Bill C-81?

Minister Qualtrough: Thank you for the question, senator. Again, this is not the first time I have heard this concern.

In this legislation, we had to balance wanting to encourage innovation — so organizations that are already doing things very, very well — with holding to account organizations that aren’t doing so well. Creating the opportunity for an exemption allows organizations that already have innovative and comparable accessibility practices to what we may create as a standard to get an exemption, because they’re already doing something that effectively has the same end results. At the same time, an organization that may need a little more time to get up to that standard is allowed the opportunity to be granted an exemption for a period of time.

This is not kind of an exclusion or a get-out-of-jail-free card. The reasons for granting the exemption have to be published publicly. It is not as though we are going to exempt you from ever having to be accessible. It is a recognition that, one, your practices are already akin to what is contained in a given standard, or two, you need a little bit more time to get up to the standard that has been established for a justifiable reason that will be made public and reviewed three years.

Senator Moodie: So I’m hearing you say that in three years, even if I get an exemption the first go-around, I will be reviewed again.

Minister Qualtrough: Absolutely. The reason is technical.

Mr. Van Raalte: You’d actually have to reapply. It’s not just a review. You have to initiate the fact that —

Minister Qualtrough: It expires.

Mr. Van Raalte: It expires, and you would have to reapply, justify and demonstrate that you still require an exemption, from your perspective. Then there’s still an approval process.

Our Comment: We disagree with the minister’s justification for the bill’s current exemptions powers. An exemption from this legislation’s requirements is not needed to encourage innovation.

If an organization is already meeting or exceeding the requirements of an accessibility standard, they have no need for an exemption. If they are close, but need a bit more time, that is typically and easily dealt with through the flexibility in the enforcement process.

Moreover, the minister spelled out the specific situations when exemptions are to be granted. Yet the bill does not limit the Government to only granting exemptions in those situations. For example, the Government could exempt itself for any reason it wishes, not just for the reasons that the minister gave (i.e. they need a little more time or are already in substantive compliance with the results that the standard seeks to achieve).

Excerpt 11

Senator Omidvar: You’ve described the bill as a first or an incremental step. There are critics who say it is unnecessarily timid. I’m going to read a portion of an email that I got that deals with splintering — with a multitude of agencies being responsible for enforcement, regulation-making and overseeing complaints.

So the concern is that the bill’s implementation and enforcement are therefore less effective, it is more confusing, it’s more complicated, it’s more costly, and there is a variability of decision-making and possibly of standards. I hear this when the advocates say that this will make it much harder for people with disabilities to navigate the system, to find out what rights they have and to get violations fixed.

So I understand the no-wrong-door approach, but I also understand that too much of a GPS with variability will make it completely confusing. Will you respond to this criticism?

Minister Qualtrough: I will. I, too, have received email — maybe that same email and maybe more than once.

Senator Omidvar: We all did.

Minister Qualtrough: If I had a blank piece of paper, and I could design the system of my liking and choosing, it might not look like this. However, we didn’t start out with a blank piece of paper; we started out with a fully functioning, complicated system of federal government that included regulators that were already doing this work — regulators that, to be honest, we didn’t always hear good things about and regulators whose powers we have beefed up.

But it became very clear very quickly as the design of the system started to take hold that we were in a position of having to either pull out from the CTA and CRTC. There are three at play here: the CTA, the CRTC and then the Canadian Human Rights Commission does everything else. In terms of the number of regulators, we’ve got the CTA doing transportation, the CRTC doing telecommunications and broadcasting; and then the Human Rights Commission doing everything else. Taking it out of the CTA or the CRTC would be costly. In some ways, at the end of the day, it wouldn’t recognize the expertise they had built up and that they absolutely can and will improve upon.

But we heard very concretely — and I’m sure you’ll hear yourselves from the kind of more technically minded regulators that are the CTA and the CRTC — that when you’re designing and responsible for safety — CTA airplane seat design comes to mind. The CTA is responsible to design an airplane seat, and the first consideration is safety, of course, and what has to be built into that seat design.

For an outside regulator to come in and say, “Yes, you have to design a seat, but you have to take into consideration all of these accessibility needs,” it was deemed better for the CTA to be the one to include and incorporate accessibility considerations into the design of that seat.

To be very clear, the non-technical aspects of the business of the transportation sector in Canada will be under the purview of the CHRC. So if there’s a customer service standard, an employment standard, built environment standard — those are all going to be imposed on the VIA Rails, the Air Canadas, et cetera. It’s the more technical sides of those sectors that will be the purview of those specific regulators.

It was a compromise, because I recognize it makes the system more complicated for the complainant and the end user. That’s why we’ve taken the efforts we have even now. There are committees. The heads of the CTA, the CHRC and the CRTC are already meeting to figure out how they’re going to work together to make sure that from the complainant’s point of view it is seamless, but we know it’s more complicated. It was a sectoral approach that we chose as a compromise, recognizing we weren’t starting from scratch and recognizing the complicated technical nature of the business in which these two established regulators are in.

I’m confident that there will be bumps along this road, but we will get to a place where whenever someone files a complaint, it will end up where it needs to be, and the chief accessibility officer and the chief accessibility commissioner will make sure of that.

Our Comment: Contrary to the minister’s suggestion, the Canadian Transportation Agency and the CRTC do not have demonstrated expertise in disability accessibility. Their insufficient performance in this area for many years suggests much the opposite.

We have warned that this splintering of the bill’s implementation and enforcement among different federal agencies is very confusing. It is hard to figure out from the bill who does what, as between the Accessibility Commissioner, the Canadian Transportation Agency and the CRTC.

The minister’s presentation reinforced this concern. She incorrectly described the division of responsibility between these agencies. She stated:

“To be very clear, the non-technical aspects of the business of the transportation sector in Canada will be under the purview of the CHRC. So if there’s a customer service standard, an employment standard, built environment standard – those are all going to be imposed on the VIA Rails, the Air Canadas, et cetera. It’s the more technical sides of those sectors that will be the purview of those specific regulators.”

The minister here is saying that the Canadian Transportation Agency will be responsible for technical issues regarding transportation, but not things like the built environment. In fact, under Bill C-81, the Canadian Transportation Agency and not the Canadian Human Rights Commission is responsible for setting standards for the built environment in places like airports and train stations. Section 120 of the bill provides in part:

“120 The only regulations made under subsection 117(1) that apply in respect of a regulated entity that is required to comply with any provision of regulations made under subsection 170(1) of the Canada Transportation Act are those that relate to the identification and removal of barriers, and the prevention of new barriers, in the following areas: …

…(b) the built environment, other than a passenger aircraft, passenger train, passenger bus, passenger vessel, aerodrome passenger terminal, railway passenger station, bus passenger station or marine passenger terminal;”

We sympathize with the minister’s confusion. This bill is itself very confusing and difficult to understand, even for those with extensive expertise in this area.

The minister said the Government is splintering the bill because of the costs of not splintering the bill. To our knowledge, this is the first time that the Federal Government has claimed that it would be more costly to have this bill’s accessibility regime all enforced by one federal agency, the new ,Accessibility Commissioner , rather than splintering it among four agencies. It is the first time the Government has claimed it would be more costly to have all regulations made by the Federal Cabinet, rather than splintering this responsibility among three agencies, the Cabinet, the Canadian Transportation Agency and the CRTC.

The Government offered no specifics on what these supposed added costs would be. It did not offset these against the greater costs under this bill, as written, to the Government, to people with disabilities and to obligated organizations of having this bill’s implementation and enforcement so splintered. For example, under the bill as now written, it will cost the airlines more to produce two separate accessibility plans and to deal with two different regulatory agencies, the Accessibility Commissioner and the Canadian Transportation Agency, than if they only had to prepare one plan and file it with one federal agency.

Excerpt 12

Senator Poirier: On Bill C-81, it does not include a deadline for achieving full accessibility, compared to the different provincial accessibility legislation, like the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. This act has clear deadlines for achieving the full accessibility for Ontarians on or before January 1, 2025.

Can you explain to us why you have not put a deadline established in Bill C-81?

Minister Qualtrough: Absolutely, senator. As I said, that was a topic of rigorous debate and discussion, and sometimes disagreement, over the course of going through this whole journey with respect to this legislation. Where we landed, as I said, was focusing on getting things started, not imposing a deadline that in any way would disincentivize organizations to get going on this. It was about recognizing that what we consider accessible today will not be good enough 10 years from now and knowing, quite frankly, that we’re a long way off from being accessible or barrier-free.

We concluded that it just wasn’t the best way to get going on this. I don’t know if I could elaborate further. At the end of the day, we figured putting in place the requirement that regulations and standards be put in place within two years by each of the regulators and that a review of the law happen within five years of the first regulation coming into force — taking the steps in parallel now to get this thing off the ground and going was the better course of action.

Our Comment: We repeat our comments under Excerpt 8, above.

Excerpt 13

Senator Dasko : I guess another thing that I’ve heard from some people who think this bill should go farther than it does has to do with the federal government’s lack of intention here to take a stronger role when it comes to direct federal spending on infrastructure projects or spending in many areas where the federal government funds projects and creates projects and so on, the critique being that it doesn’t go far enough in insisting that barriers are not there when these projects are undertaken. So just at the beginning, I suppose, before federal money is given to these projects, not enough is being done in this bill to ensure that those projects are barrier-free. It’s a critique I’ve heard, and I’d like to hear what you might have to say about it.

(Procedural discussion omitted)

Minister Qualtrough: At the end of the day, what I would say is we’ve pushed the language in the law as far as we can go while still respecting federal jurisdiction. James is probably better to answer the technical side as to how far we can go, but this will apply to federal policies and federal programs. It won’t apply to financial transfers like the health transfer because that’s effectively a provincial jurisdiction that we’re helping to fund, but it doesn’t give us authority, as I understand it, to actually impose that condition down that far. Maybe I’m not explaining it right. I apologize. It’s jurisdictional.

To be very clear, though, this will transformatively change the Government of Canada in terms of every department and agency will have to have an accessibility plan. We have already established in my office, for example, a centre for accessible procurement, meaning we will be having policies and processes. We won’t procure things that aren’t accessible.

The Prime Minister has appointed a deputy minister responsible for an accessible public service, whose job it is every day to figure out how we are going to have to be ready and how we will be ready in our government with its employees to adhere to this law.

Can you talk to more about how far we can go down, please? Because I can’t remember the language in the law.

Mr. Van Raalte: I think you’ve covered it, minister. Departments will have to be able to report on their programs, policies and services. They will have to do that reporting in consultation with people with disabilities. They are at the table for that. So that will actually give both the government and the public forward-looking perspective on the plans of those organizations, such as planned spending and program priorities in a forward-looking way that will allow us to have those discussions. You want to be thinking about the accessibility measures included in those investments.

Ms. Qualtrough: Having said that, in terms of what’s in the law, we’ve taken a number of steps in parallel to embed accessibility into our new programs and our new processes. I’ll give you an example. With the National Housing Strategy or our infrastructure program, accessibility is baked into these initiatives.

A fun example I like to give is around our infrastructure. Transit is a priority for our government. Historically, for whatever reason, whether it be oversight or intention, upgrades with respect to making buses more accessible have not been included as eligible expenses for communities to claim and use infrastructure dollars for. We literally added a box on a piece of paper three years ago where we told communities that they could use this money to make their community buses more accessible. In that one year, $810 million was spent on accessible transit. We didn’t advertise it. We didn’t highlight it anywhere. We changed the form, and communities recognized the values of accessible transit and invested in their communities.

I could give you so many examples, as we’ve pursued this law, of the things that we’ve done in terms of government policy, programs and initiatives to make the way we govern a more accessible experience, both for the people who work in government and the people we serve.

Our Comment: As the AODA Alliance presentation to the Senate’s Standing Committee on April 11, 2019 shows, we respectfully disagree with the minister’s claims that the Federal Government cannot do more here. The minister’s statements make it sound like the Federal Government is powerless to attach accessibility strings when it gives federal public money to a local or provincial government to help build a hospital, subway station, or university building.

This is incorrect. The Federal Government has a significant “spending power” which lets it attach federal conditions to federal money that it gives out. If a provincial government or other local organization doesn’t want to comply with those strings, it is free to simply refuse to accept the federal money.

For over three decades, the Canada Health Act, a federal law, has attached federal strings to federal money that is given to provinces to help finance their health care systems. One of those legal requirements is the accessibility of health care services (not in the disability sense of accessibility) If the minister is correct – that the Federal Government has no power to attach strings to federal money that is spent in provincial areas of responsibility – then she is admitting that the Canada Health Act is unconstitutional. That would be a surprising thing for a federal cabinet minister to claim.

We believe that the Federal Government could include in Bill C-81 a requirement that no federal cabinet minister or department may agree to give federal public money to any organization, federal or provincial, to contribute to the building or renovating of infrastructure, unless the recipient agrees to meet federal accessibility requirements. If the minister were correct, then the Federal Government is simply powerless here. It can give money to help fund the construction of a local subway station, but is powerless to say that the subway station must have elevators, and not just stairs, to reach the subway. We disagree.

This too is not a hypothetical issue. The AODA Alliance has produced a widely-viewed online video that shows serious accessibility problems at new Toronto subway stations, recently opened, that were built in part with federal money.

The minister gave examples of commendable new policies that the Federal Government has adopted to promote the procurement by the Government of accessible goods, services and facilities. We applaud these. However, they are merely policies, not legal requirements. A subsequent minister or Government could abolish or disregard them with the stroke of a pen, without requiring any public debate. That is why we want such requirements embedded in the bill.

Excerpt 14

Senator Kutcher: Thank you, minister, for your very clear and well considered answers to these questions. Our task is to try to assist in making the bill the best it can be. You mentioned one area that I think you suggested we could dive a little bit deeper on and that was the sign language domain. So my question is: Are there any other areas that you or your team —

Minister Qualtrough: Boy, am I allowed to answer this question?

Senator Kutcher: — would like to highlight as something we could have a more intensive focus on as we study the bill?

Minister Qualtrough: I think some sort of recognition, as you say, of sign languages as being the first language of Canadians who are Deaf is certainly what we have all heard and you will hear.

Senator Munson asked a question about the duty to accommodate, and perhaps to avoid confusion that could be explicit. I know it is at law and I would suggest case law has already clarified that point but I think it might be worth . . . nobody usually asks me that question.

Yes, I mean, if there are things that you think can be improved, certainly please explore that. My concern is getting it passed. I think it’s a really good piece of law and I wouldn’t want anything to get in the way of that. Sorry to be so direct. The community has done such good work and I feel a real heightened obligation to deliver this for them. This is once in a generation and people have fought for a long time before me to have this conversation nationally. This is a genie we are not putting back in the bottle. It’s pretty exciting. Sorry I don’t have further feedback for you but those two would be at the top of my mind.

Our Comment: The minister here again indicates that she is open to amendments to the bill. That is helpful.

As areas that the Senators might focus on as part of their study of the bill, the minister referred to possible recognition that Sign Language is the first language of people who are deaf, and something explicit about the duty to accommodate. She said that those two items are at the top of her mind. She did not specifically commit to passage of amendments to that end. She commendably invited the Senate to explore things in the bill that “can be improved.”

Excerpt 15

Minister Qualtrough: May I add something on the duty to accommodate piece because it’s really important and kind of something I’m obsessed with. We need to make it very clear to Canadians that this is a really important legally enshrined tenet of human rights law in this country and nothing we are doing here takes away any organization’s obligation to accommodate individuals. In some cases, a small business who has complied with the standard might say, “We have complied,” and that might meet their duty to accommodate but the Government of Canada it might not. We need to be very clear and I need it on the record from me so I can sleep tonight that this in no way, in any way negates any organization’s obligation to accommodate individuals on the grounds of disability.

Our Comment: We repeat our comments under Excerpts 1 and 6 above.

Excerpt 16

Senator Eaton: Minister, is there another country who does this better than we are going to do it? Is there another country that is an example to us?

Minister Qualtrough: Our neighbour to the south has the Americans with Disabilities Act, which has an anti-discrimination component which would be covered off in our country by the human rights legislation and an accessibility standards component. So we have spent a lot of time looking at their model. It’s obviously a different kind of structured country, federal, state, but what I’m hoping, because I’m at heart a competitive athlete, is that this becomes the international standard that has built upon what other countries have been doing. The States has been doing it for 30 years, but I would like to believe ours will be better.

Our Comment: We commend the minister for wanting Canada’s new accessibility legislation to be better than the American legislation, and better than other laws around the world. However, as now written, Bill C-81 regrettably falls well short of that goal. It is also in some key ways weaker than Ontario’s AODA, which itself has run into significant implementation and enforcement problems over the past 14 years.

Excerpt 17

Senator Omidvar: Very quickly, you have talked about the fact that there is a timeline, that within two years agencies have to enact one regulation. However, what is the quality of that regulation? Is there a concern that it could be an inconsequential one, a minor procedural matter without actually embracing the spirit of what you are trying to propose?

Minister Qualtrough: I don’t think the law provides the safeguard that you are asking about. What I do think, though, is that CASDO is that safeguard. So having CASDO created with a board of directors with a majority of individuals with lived experience, and they get to decide which regulations take priority and what comes first and what comes second and who does what and what the priorities are. That group of individuals will be tasked with making sure there are substantive regulations in place as quickly as possible based on their agreed upon priorities.

Our Comment: We respectfully disagree with parts of the minister’s description of this legislation. The minister correctly stated that the bill does not ensure that the regulation that must be enacted within two years is something more than an inconsequential procedural regulation.

However, she is incorrect in stating that the new Canadian Accessibility Standards Development Organization is a safeguard to ensure that substantive regulations are enacted as soon as possible. CASDO has no such power under this bill. CASDO has no authority to enact any regulations whatsoever. It can only give advice. It can recommend what should be included in accessibility standard regulations. The Federal Government, the CRTC and the Canadian Transportation Agency need never listen to CASDO’s advice, and need never give a reason for refusing to act on CASDO’s advice.

As for the regulation that must be enacted within two years, that regulation is NOT an accessibility standard regulation. As the Senator’s question mentions, it is a procedural regulation that the Government must enact in the first two years. CASDO has no control over those procedural regulations. Contrary to the minister’s suggestion, CASDO is therefore not an effective safeguard to ensure that those regulations are meaningful.



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