The Ford Government Issues a Very Weak Policy Directive to Ontario School Boards on Addressing Requests by a Student with a Disability to Bring Their Service Animal to School


There Is No Assurance It Will Make It Easier for Students with Disabilities to Bring a Service Animal to an Ontario School

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities http://www.aodaalliance.org [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance

September 10, 2019

SUMMARY

On September 9, 2019, the Ford Government issued a palpably weak policy direction to Ontario school boards on how to handle requests by students with disabilities to permit them to bring a service animal to school. It is good that this policy direction requires every Ontario school board to develop a policy for dealing with such requests. However, it falls far short of what students with disabilities and their families need. It does not require those school board policies to be good. It does not ensure that students with disabilities will be more readily able to bring a service animal to school than has been the case in the past, even though the Tories talked about making that easier, during the 2018 Ontario election campaign.

The Ford Government’s new policy direction to school boards, set out below, reads as if the school boards themselves wrote it, in order to require little of them, while appearing to show provincial leadership. The provincial policy wastefully requires each of over 70 school boards to reinvent the wheel. It burdens students with disabilities and their families with having to once again lobby every one of those school boards. Doug Ford’s policy directive provides no assurance of consistency across the province.

There are several deficiencies with the new provincial policy directive. For example:

* The provincial policy directive ultimately leaves it to over 70 school boards to invent their own rules on when they will permit a student with a disability to bring a service animal to school. In that regard, it largely sets no provincial standards at all. Each school is to decide each case, on a case-by-case basis. That really says nothing new.

* While the new provincial policy directive refers in brief and summary terms to the duty to accommodate students with disabilities under the Ontario Human Rights Code, Doug Ford’s policy new directive ultimately leaves it to school boards to decide when it is “appropriate” to allow a student to bring a service animal to school. The Ontario Human Rights Code does not, however, make the test a sweeping open-ended and unpredictable one of “appropriateness”.

* The provincial policy erroneously does not direct school boards that they should allow for trial periods with a service animal before refusing this accommodation outright for a student.

* The provincial policy directive erroneously focuses on requiring or considering documentation from “medical professionals.” Of course, it should be open to a student with a disability or their family to bring forward medical documentation if they wish. However, doctors likely have no expertise in this area. People with disabilities have for years battled against the undue medicalization of their disability accessibility and accommodation needs.

Two years ago, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario rendered a seriously flawed decision in this area. The Waterloo Catholic District School Board had wrongly refused to let a student with autism bring his autism service dog to school. The family took the case to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. Shockingly, the family lost the case.

In a detailed article to be published in the National Journal of Constitutional Law, AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky shows that the human rights ruling is riddled with errors. Doug Ford’s new provincial policy directive does not address and solve those problems. That article can be downloaded by visiting https://www.aodaalliance.org/whats-new/how-ontarios-human-rights-tribunal-went-off-the-rails-in-an-important-disability-accessibility-case-read-the-new-article-by-aoda-alliance-chair-david-lepofsky-on-the-tribunals-ruling-against-an/

Here, the Ford Government had a great opportunity to do much better that it has done. For years, Ontario has had a patchwork of different practices from school board to school board. Some allow service animals. Some do not. Some have no policy. The Ford Government could and should have surveyed the policies of those Ontario school boards that allow service animals, and drawn on the best of them to create a strong, inclusive provincial policy for all school boards to follow, that would be more favourable to meeting the needs of students with disabilities . Instead, the Ford Government dropped the ball and did a tremendous disservice to students with disabilities.

Perhaps the most stunning illustration of the deficiency in this new provincial policy is that under it, the family that fought the Waterloo Catholic District School Board a few years ago in that human rights case could well have ended up with the same refusal from that school board, had this provincial policy been in place at that time. It is a matter of public record that the mother of the student in that case, Ms. Amy Fee, has since won a seat in the Ontario Legislature, as a Conservative MPP. The Ford Government should have been prepared to do better for her and for the other families in her situation.

The Ford Government should quickly issue a supplemental policy to strengthen its weak September 9, 2019 provincial directive to school boards. It will also now be up to the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee to try to set strong provincial accessibility standards in this area. The Ford Government had frozen its work for over one year. It is having its first preliminary conference call this afternoon to initiate the resumption of its work. MORE DETAILS
New Ford Government Policy Direction to Ontario School Boards on Allowing Students with Disabilities to Bring A Service Animal to School in Ontario

Originally posted at: http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/extra/eng/ppm/ppm163.pdf Policy/Program Memorandum No. 163
Date of Issue: September 9, 2019
Effective: Subject: Until revoked or modified
Application: School Board Policies on Service Animals
Directors of Education
Supervisory Officers and Secretary-Treasurers of School Authorities Executive Director, Provincial and Demonstration Schools Principals of Elementary Schools
Principals of Secondary Schools

Purpose
All school boards1 in Ontario are required to develop, implement, and maintain a policy on student use of service animals in schools.2 The purpose of this memorandum is to provide direction to school boards on the development and implementation of their policy. The ministry’s expectations regarding the components of a board’s policy are identified in this memorandum as well as the implementation and reporting requirements.

School boards are expected to:
* allow a student to be accompanied by a service animal in school when doing so would be an appropriate accommodation to support the student’s learning needs and would meet the school board’s duty to accommodate students with disabilities under the Ontario Human Rights Code;
* make determinations on whether to approve requests for a service animal on a case-by-case basis, based on the individual needs of each student;
* put in place consistent and transparent processes that allow for meaningful consideration of requests for service animals to accompany students in school.

This memorandum applies to all publicly funded elementary and secondary schools, including extended-day programs operated by school boards. However, this memorandum does not apply to licensed child-care providers, including those operating on the premises of publicly funded schools.

Context

The Ministry of Education is committed to supporting school boards in providing appropriate accommodations to all students with demonstrable learning needs, including special education programs and services in Ontario’s schools.

The term “service animal” refers to any animal that provides support to a person with a disability. Traditionally, service animals have been dogs, and dogs remain the most common species of service animal; however, other species may also provide services to individuals with disabilities. The types of functions performed by service animals are diverse, and may or may not include sensory, medical, therapeutic, and emotional support services.
In Ontario, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (the “AODA”) sets out a framework related to the use of service animals by individuals with a disability. The Blind Persons’ Rights Act sets out a framework specifically for the use of guide dogs for individuals who are blind.

People with disabilities who use service animals to assist them with disability-related needs are protected under the ground of “disability” in the Ontario Human Rights Code. Under the Human Rights Code, school boards have a duty to accommodate the needs of students with disabilities up to the point of undue hardship. The Ontario Human Rights Commission’s Policy on Accessible Education for Students with Disabilities (2018) states that: “Depending on a student’s individual needs and the nature of the education service being provided, accommodations may include . . . modifying ‘no pets’ policies to allow guide dogs and other service animals.”3

Nothing in this memorandum detracts from other legal obligations of school boards under applicable law, including the Ontario Human Rights Code.

Definition of “Service Animal”

In the context of this memorandum, “service animal” means an animal that provides support relating to a student’s disability to assist that student in meaningfully accessing education. Due consideration should be given to any documentation on how the service animal assists with the student’s learning needs, and disability-related needs (e.g., documentation from the student’s medical professionals).

School boards must make a determination, on a case-by-case basis, as to whether a service animal may accompany a student taking into account all the circumstances, including the needs of the student and the school community and a school board’s obligation to provide meaningful access to education.

School boards may also consider including service animals in training in their service animal policies.

Components of School Board Policies on Service Animals
When developing their policy on student use of service animals, school boards must respect their obligations under the Ontario Human Rights Code, the AODA, the Blind Persons’ Rights Act, and collective agreements as well as other applicable laws and government policies. When developing their policies on student use of service animals, school boards are encouraged to consult with local partners, as appropriate.

Each school board policy on student use of service animals must contain, at a minimum, the following components:

Communication Plan. The school board policy should say how the school board will inform the school community about the process by which parents4 can apply to have their child’s service animal in the school. It should also say how it will inform the school community of the presence of any service animals at the school.

Process. The school board policy should lay out how requests for students to be accompanied by service animals in schools can be made and the steps in the school board decision-making process. School board processes must be timely, equitable, and readily available, and decisions must be based on a student’s individual strengths and needs.

Policies should include the following:
* a clearly articulated process for a parent to follow when making a request for a student to be accompanied by a service animal in school, including: o a primary point of contact;
o supporting materials for initiating requests(e.g., templates);
* information around the process through which a determination is made about whether or not a service animal is an appropriate accommodation. This could include:
o a meeting or meetings for all appropriate parties(e.g., parents, school staff) to discuss the request for a service animal; o a list of documentation that a parent must provide;
o a list identifying who must be consulted in making the determination;
* information about the factors the board will consider when making a case-by-case determination, including:
o any documentation on how the service animal supports the student’s learning needs and/or disability-related needs, including documentation from the student’s medical professionals; o the disability-related needs and learning needs of the student; o other accommodations available;
o the rights of other students and the needs of the school community; o any training or certification of the service animal;
o any special considerations that may arise if the animal is a species other than a dog;
* consideration of privacy rights of the student seeking to bring a service animal to school;
* information about how the school board will document its decision regarding a request. For example, if a school board approves a request, that information could be recorded in the student’s Individual Education Plan (IEP), if one exists;
* if the school board approves a request for a service animal: a process for developing a plan that addresses:
o the ongoing documentation required for the animal(e.g., annual vaccination records); o the type of support the service animal will provide to the student; o who will be the handler of the service animal while at the school;
o a plan for how the care of the animal will be provided(including supporting the safety and biological needs of the animal); o how the animal will be readily identifiable;
o transportation of the animal to and from school;
o time line for implementation;
* if the school board approves a request for a service animal: strategies for sharing information with members of the broader school community who may be impacted by the decision (e.g., other students, parents, educators, school staff, volunteers, Special Education Advisory Committees) and organizations that use the school facilities (e.g., licensed child-care providers operating in schools of the board), while identifying how the student’s privacy will be considered;
* if the school board denies a request for a service animal: a statement that the school board will provide a written response to the family that made the request in a timely manner.

Health, Safety, and Other Concerns. The school board policy should include a protocol for the board to hear and address concerns from other students and staff who may come in contact with a service animal, and from parents of other students, including health and safety concerns such as allergies and fear or anxiety associated with the animal. Wherever possible, school boards should take steps to minimize conflict through cooperative problem-solving, and/or other supports which may include training for staff and students.

Roles and Responsibilities. The school board policy should clearly outline the roles and responsibilities of students, parents, and school staff regarding service animals at school, taking into account local circumstances.

Training. The school board policy should consider strategies for providing training related to service animals, as appropriate, for school staff who have direct contact with service animals in schools.

Review of School Board Service Animal Policies and Data Collection. The school board policy should be reviewed by the board on a regular basis.

School boards are expected to develop a process for data collection and to collect data regularly, including, but not limited to:

* total number of requests for students to be accompanied by service animals; * whether requests are for elementary or secondary school students; * the number of requests approved and denied;
* if denied, the rationale for the decision, including a description of other supports and/or services provided to the student to support their access to education; * species of service animals requested and approved;
* types of needs being supported (e.g., medical, physical, emotional).

School boards should use this data to inform their cyclical policy reviews.

Implementation

School boards must implement and make publicly available on their websites their newly developed or updated policies and procedures on student use of service animals by January 1, 2020.

School Board Reporting
School boards are required to report to the Ministry of Education, upon request, regarding their activities to achieve the expectations outlined in this memorandum. This could include specific data collected.
1 In this memorandum, school board(s) and board(s) refer to district school boards and school authorities. This memorandum also applies to Provincial and Demonstration Schools.
2 2. This policy is established under the authority of paragraph 29.5 of subsection 8(1) of the Education Act and school boards are required to develop their policies on service animals in schools in accordance with this policy.
3 Policy on Accessible Education for Students with Disabilities (Ontario: Ontario Human Rights Commission, 2018), pp. 5960.
4 4. In this memorandum, parent(s) refers to parent(s) and guardian(s).




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The Ford Government Issues a Very Weak Policy Directive to Ontario School Boards on Addressing Requests by a Student with a Disability to Bring Their Service Animal to School – There Is No Assurance It Will Make It Easier for Students with Disabilities to Bring a Service Animal to an Ontario School


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

The Ford Government Issues a Very Weak Policy Directive to Ontario School Boards on Addressing Requests by a Student with a Disability to Bring Their Service Animal to School – There Is No Assurance It Will Make It Easier for Students with Disabilities to Bring a Service Animal to an Ontario School

September 10, 2019

          SUMMARY

On September 9, 2019, the Ford Government issued a palpably weak policy direction to Ontario school boards on how to handle requests by students with disabilities to permit them to bring a service animal to school. It is good that this policy direction requires every Ontario school board to develop a policy for dealing with such requests. However, it falls far short of what students with disabilities and their families need. It does not require those school board policies to be good. It does not ensure that students with disabilities will be more readily able to bring a service animal to school than has been the case in the past, even though the Tories talked about making that easier, during the 2018 Ontario election campaign.

The Ford Government’s new policy direction to school boards, set out below, reads as if the school boards themselves wrote it, in order to require little of them, while appearing to show provincial leadership. The provincial policy wastefully requires each of over 70 school boards to reinvent the wheel. It burdens students with disabilities and their families with having to once again lobby every one of those school boards. Doug Ford’s policy directive provides no assurance of consistency across the province.

There are several deficiencies with the new provincial policy directive. For example:

* The provincial policy directive ultimately leaves it to over 70 school boards to invent their own rules on when they will permit a student with a disability to bring a service animal to school. In that regard, it largely sets no provincial standards at all. Each school is to decide each case, on a case-by-case basis. That really says nothing new.

* While the new provincial policy directive  refers in brief and summary terms to the duty to accommodate students with disabilities under the Ontario Human Rights Code, Doug Ford’s policy new directive ultimately leaves it to school boards to decide when it is “appropriate” to allow a student to bring a service animal to school. The Ontario Human Rights Code does not, however, make the test a sweeping open-ended and unpredictable one of “appropriateness”.

* The provincial policy erroneously does not direct school boards that they should allow for trial periods with a service animal before refusing this accommodation outright for a student.

* The provincial policy directive erroneously focuses on requiring or considering documentation from “medical professionals.” Of course, it should be open to a student with a disability or their family to bring forward medical documentation if they wish. However, doctors likely have no expertise in this area. People with disabilities have for years battled against the undue medicalization of their disability accessibility and accommodation needs.

Two years ago, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario rendered a seriously flawed decision in this area. The Waterloo Catholic District School Board had wrongly refused to let a student with autism bring his autism service dog to school. The family took the case to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. Shockingly, the family lost the case.

In a detailed article to be published in the National Journal of Constitutional Law, AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky shows that the human rights ruling is riddled with errors. Doug Ford’s new provincial policy directive does not address and solve those problems. That article can be downloaded by visiting https://www.aodaalliance.org/whats-new/how-ontarios-human-rights-tribunal-went-off-the-rails-in-an-important-disability-accessibility-case-read-the-new-article-by-aoda-alliance-chair-david-lepofsky-on-the-tribunals-ruling-against-an/

Here, the Ford Government had a great opportunity to do much better that it has done. For years, Ontario has had a patchwork of different practices from school board to school board. Some allow service animals. Some do not. Some have no policy. The Ford Government could and should have surveyed the policies of those Ontario school boards that allow service animals, and drawn on the best of them to create a strong, inclusive provincial policy for all school boards to follow, that would be more favourable to meeting the needs of students with disabilities . Instead, the Ford Government dropped the ball and did a tremendous disservice to students with disabilities.

Perhaps the most stunning illustration of the deficiency in this new provincial policy is that under it, the family that fought the Waterloo Catholic District School Board a few years ago in that human rights case could well have ended up with the same refusal from that school board, had this provincial policy been in place at that time. It is a matter of public record that the mother of the student in that case, Ms. Amy Fee, has since won a seat in the Ontario Legislature, as a Conservative MPP. The Ford Government should have been prepared to do better for her and for the other families in her situation.

The Ford Government should quickly issue a supplemental policy to strengthen its weak September 9, 2019 provincial directive to school boards. It will also now be up to the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee to try to set strong provincial accessibility standards in this area. The Ford Government had frozen its work for over one year. It is having its first preliminary conference call this afternoon to initiate the resumption of its work.

MORE DETAILS

New Ford Government Policy Direction to Ontario School Boards on Allowing Students with Disabilities to Bring A Service Animal to School in Ontario

Originally posted at: http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/extra/eng/ppm/ppm163.pdf

Policy/Program Memorandum No. 163

Date of Issue: September 9, 2019

Effective: Subject: Until revoked or modified

Application: School Board Policies on Service Animals

Directors of Education

Supervisory Officers and Secretary-Treasurers of School Authorities Executive Director, Provincial and Demonstration Schools

Principals of Elementary Schools

Principals of Secondary Schools

Purpose

All school boards[1] in Ontario are required to develop, implement, and maintain a policy on student use of service animals in schools.[2] The purpose of this memorandum is to provide direction to school boards on the development and implementation of their policy. The ministry’s expectations regarding the components of a board’s policy are identified in this memorandum as well as the implementation and reporting requirements.

School boards are expected to:

  • allow a student to be accompanied by a service animal in school when doing so would be an appropriate accommodation to support the student’s learning needs and would meet the school board’s duty to accommodate students with disabilities under the Ontario Human Rights Code;
  • make determinations on whether to approve requests for a service animal on a case-by-case basis, based on the individual needs of each student;
  • put in place consistent and transparent processes that allow for meaningful consideration of requests for service animals to accompany students in school.

This memorandum applies to all publicly funded elementary and secondary schools, including extended-day programs operated by school boards. However, this memorandum does not apply to licensed child-care providers, including those operating on the premises of publicly funded schools.

Context

 

The Ministry of Education is committed to supporting school boards in providing appropriate accommodations to all students with demonstrable learning needs, including special education programs and services in Ontario’s schools.

The term “service animal” refers to any animal that provides support to a person with a disability. Traditionally, service animals have been dogs, and dogs remain the most common species of service animal; however, other species may also provide services to individuals with disabilities. The types of functions performed by service animals are diverse, and may or may not include sensory, medical, therapeutic, and emotional support services.

In Ontario, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (the “AODA”) sets out a framework related to the use of service animals by individuals with a disability. The Blind Persons’ Rights Act sets out a framework specifically for the use of guide dogs for individuals who are blind.

People with disabilities who use service animals to assist them with disability-related needs are protected under the ground of “disability” in the Ontario Human Rights Code. Under the Human Rights Code, school boards have a duty to accommodate the needs of students with disabilities up to the point of undue hardship. The Ontario Human Rights Commission’s Policy on Accessible Education for Students with Disabilities (2018) states that: “Depending on a student’s individual needs and the nature of the education service being provided, accommodations may include . . . modifying ‘no pets’ policies to allow guide dogs and other service animals.”[3]

Nothing in this memorandum detracts from other legal obligations of school boards under applicable law, including the Ontario Human Rights Code.

Definition of “Service Animal”

 

In the context of this memorandum, “service animal” means an animal that provides support relating to a student’s disability to assist that student in meaningfully accessing education. Due consideration should be given to any documentation on how the service animal assists with the student’s learning needs, and disability-related needs (e.g., documentation from the student’s medical professionals).

School boards must make a determination, on a case-by-case basis, as to whether a service animal may accompany a student taking into account all the circumstances, including the needs of the student and the school community and a school board’s obligation to provide meaningful access to education.

School boards may also consider including service animals in training in their service animal policies.

Components of School Board Policies on Service Animals

When developing their policy on student use of service animals, school boards must respect their obligations under the Ontario Human Rights Code, the AODA, the Blind Persons’ Rights Act, and collective agreements as well as other applicable laws and government policies. When developing their policies on student use of service animals, school boards are encouraged to consult with local partners, as appropriate.

Each school board policy on student use of service animals must contain, at a minimum, the following components:

Communication Plan. The school board policy should say how the school board will inform the school community about the process by which parents[4] can apply to have their child’s service animal in the school. It should also say how it will inform the school community of the presence of any service animals at the school.

Process. The school board policy should lay out how requests for students to be accompanied by service animals in schools can be made and the steps in the school board decision-making process. School board processes must be timely, equitable, and readily available, and decisions must be based on a student’s individual strengths and needs.

Policies should include the following:

  • a clearly articulated process for a parent to follow when making a request for a student to be accompanied by a service animal in school, including:
    • a primary point of contact;
    • supporting materials for initiating requests(e.g., templates);
  • information around the process through which a determination is made about whether or not a service animal is an appropriate accommodation. This could include:
    • a meeting or meetings for all appropriate parties(e.g., parents, school staff) to discuss the request for a service animal;
    • a list of documentation that a parent must provide;
    • a list identifying who must be consulted in making the determination;
  • information about the factors the board will consider when making a case-by-case determination, including:
    • any documentation on how the service animal supports the student’s learning needs and/or disability-related needs, including documentation from the student’s medical professionals;
    • the disability-related needs and learning needs of the student;
    • other accommodations available;
    • the rights of other students and the needs of the school community;
    • any training or certification of the service animal;
    • any special considerations that may arise if the animal is a species other than a dog;
  • consideration of privacy rights of the student seeking to bring a service animal to school;
  • information about how the school board will document its decision regarding a request. For example, if a school board approves a request, that information could be recorded in the student’s Individual Education Plan (IEP), if one exists;
  • if the school board approves a request for a service animal: a process for developing a plan that addresses:
    • the ongoing documentation required for the animal(e.g., annual vaccination records);
    • the type of support the service animal will provide to the student;
    • who will be the handler of the service animal while at the school;
    • a plan for how the care of the animal will be provided(including supporting the safety and biological needs of the animal);
    • how the animal will be readily identifiable;
    • transportation of the animal to and from school;
    • time line for implementation;
  • if the school board approves a request for a service animal: strategies for sharing information with members of the broader school community who may be impacted by the decision (e.g., other students, parents, educators, school staff, volunteers, Special Education Advisory Committees) and organizations that use the school facilities (e.g., licensed child-care providers operating in schools of the board), while identifying how the student’s privacy will be considered;
  • if the school board denies a request for a service animal: a statement that the school board will provide a written response to the family that made the request in a timely manner.

Health, Safety, and Other Concerns. The school board policy should include a protocol for the board to hear and address concerns from other students and staff who may come in contact with a service animal, and from parents of other students, including health and safety concerns such as allergies and fear or anxiety associated with the animal. Wherever possible, school boards should take steps to minimize conflict through cooperative problem-solving, and/or other supports which may include training for staff and students.

Roles and Responsibilities. The school board policy should clearly outline the roles and responsibilities of students, parents, and school staff regarding service animals at school, taking into account local circumstances.

Training. The school board policy should consider strategies for providing training related to service animals, as appropriate, for school staff who have direct contact with service animals in schools.

Review of School Board Service Animal Policies and Data Collection. The school board policy should be reviewed by the board on a regular basis.

School boards are expected to develop a process for data collection and to collect data regularly, including, but not limited to:

  • total number of requests for students to be accompanied by service animals;
  • whether requests are for elementary or secondary school students;
  • the number of requests approved and denied;
  • if denied, the rationale for the decision, including a description of other supports and/or services provided to the student to support their access to education;
  • species of service animals requested and approved;
  • types of needs being supported (e.g., medical, physical, emotional).

School boards should use this data to inform their cyclical policy reviews.

Implementation

School boards must implement and make publicly available on their websites their newly developed or updated policies and procedures on student use of service animals by January 1, 2020.

School Board Reporting

School boards are required to report to the Ministry of Education, upon request, regarding their activities to achieve the expectations outlined in this memorandum. This could include specific

data collected.

[1] In this memorandum, school board(s) and board(s) refer to district school boards and school authorities. This memorandum also applies to Provincial and Demonstration Schools.

[2] 2. This policy is established under the authority of paragraph 29.5 of subsection 8(1) of the Education Act and school boards are required to develop their policies on service animals in schools in accordance with this policy.

[3] Policy on Accessible Education for Students with Disabilities (Ontario: Ontario Human Rights

Commission, 2018), pp. 59–60.

[4] 4. In this memorandum, parent(s) refers to parent(s) and guardian(s).



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How Ontario’s Human Rights Tribunal Went Off the Rails in an Important Disability Accessibility Case–Read the New Article by AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky on the Tribunal’s Ruling Against an 8-Year-Old Student With Autism Who Wanted to Bring His Autism Service Dog to School


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

How Ontario’s Human Rights Tribunal Went Off the Rails in an Important  Disability Accessibility Case–Read the New Article by AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky on the Tribunal’s Ruling Against an 8-Year-Old Student With Autism Who Wanted to Bring His Autism Service Dog to School

July 5, 2019

          SUMMARY

Two years ago, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario rendered a controversial and deeply troubling decision about the rights of students with disabilities in Ontario schools. An 8-year-old boy with autism wanted to bring his certified autism service dog to school with him. The school board refused. His family filed a human rights complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. The Tribunal ruled in favour of the school board and against the student.

Many reacted with surprise or shock at this ruling. Now you have a chance to delve deeper and see what went wrong. AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky has written a 28-page article analyzing this human rights decision. He found that there are several problems with the decision. His article is entitled “Ontario’s Human Rights Tribunal Bungles the School Boards’ Human Rights Duty to Accommodate Students with Disabilities – J.F. v Waterloo District Catholic School Board – An Erroneous Rejection of A Student’s Request to Bring His Autism Service Dog to School.”

In the fall of 2020, this article will be published in volume 40.1 of the National Journal of Constitutional Law. You don’t need any legal training or background to read this article.

Below we set out this article’s introduction. You can download the entire article in an accessible MS Word format by clicking here https://www.aodaalliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/ASD-Dog-Article-by-David-Lepofsky-Accepted-for-Publication-in-the-NJCL-dated-july-4-2019.docx

The published text of this article next year may have minor editorial changes.

The AODA Alliance has pressed the Ford Government for over a year to get the Education Standards Development Committee back to work, developing recommendations for what should be included in an Education Accessibility Standard to be enacted under the AODA. Among other things, we plan to propose detailed standards to bind all schools on letting students with autism bring their qualified service animal to school.

AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky is a member of the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee. On March 7, 2019, the Ford Government said it was lifting that freeze. Yet no date for the next meeting of that AODA Standards Development Committee is set.

There have been 155 days since the Ford Government received the final report of the Independent Review of the implementation and enforcement of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act by former Lieutenant Governor David Onley. That report found that Ontario is full of “soul-crushing” barriers that impede over 1.9 million Ontarians with disabilities. It calls on the Ontario Government to show new leadership and to take strong action on accessibility for people with disabilities. the Ford Government has not announced a plan to implement the Onley Report.

          MORE DETAILS

Excerpt from the Article ” Ontario’s Human Rights Tribunal Bungles the School Boards’ Human Rights Duty to Accommodate Students with Disabilities – J.F. v Waterloo District Catholic School Board – An Erroneous Rejection of A Student’s Request to Bring His Autism Service Dog to School” by AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky to be Published in Volume 40.1 of the National Journal of Constitutional Law

A child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can experience anxiety, challenges in self-regulating their mood and behaviours, and difficulty adjusting to transitions. Helpful measures to address these needs contribute to a child’s developmental progress. An autism service dog can help with these needs.

ASD’s emotional, behavioural and communicational impacts on a child cannot be measured, day-by-day, by a blood test or thermometer. It is typically not possible to isolate and quantify exactly when and how an intervention such as a service dog has helped, any more than an omelet can be unscrambled. This does not derogate from the benefits experienced from using such a service dog. For children with ASD, as with many others, trial and error is so often the best approach.

This article examines a troubling case where a school board, and then Ontario’s Human Rights Tribunal, each got it wrong when it came to accommodating a student with ASD. In J.F. v. Waterloo District Catholic School Board, an eight-year-old boy with ASD benefitted at home from a trained autism service dog. His family asked the school board to let him bring the service dog to school, to help accommodate his ASD. The school board said no. The Tribunal sided with the board.

There was no showing that board employees, addressing this issue, had prior knowledge, experience or expertise with autism service dogs, or that those officials tried to observe the boy outside school when using the autism service dog. There was no indication that the board took any proactive steps to learn about the benefits of these service dogs, or considered a trial period with this boy bringing his autism service dog to school.

In contrast, some other Ontario school boards let students with ASD bring a service dog to school. If other school boards can do so, the Waterloo District Catholic School Board could do the same, rather than putting barriers in the path of a vulnerable student.

The boy’s family filed a human rights complaint against the school board. It alleged a violation of his right to equal treatment in education without discrimination due to his disability, guaranteed by s. 1 of the Ontario Human Rights Code. The family argued that the board failed to fulfil its substantive duty to accommodate (its duty to provide a disability-related accommodation he needed), and its procedural duty to accommodate (its duty to adequately investigate his disability-related needs and the options for accommodating them). In a widely-publicized and erroneous decision, the Tribunal ruled against the boy on both scores.

The school board and the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario failed to properly apply human rights principles to a vulnerable student with an undisputed disability. This case provides a powerful illustration of a Human Rights Tribunal that failed to properly apply both the human rights procedural duty to accommodate and the substantive duty to accommodate. The school board’s failure to fulfil its procedural duty to accommodate this boy’s disability also serves to substantially weaken the board’s claim that it met its substantive duty to accommodate.

As well, this case illustrates unfair accessibility barriers that students with disabilities too often face in Ontario’s education system. It shows how families must repeatedly fight against the same barriers, at school board after school board. This case also highlights serious flaws in Ontario’s controversial system for enforcing human rights. It shows why Ontario needs a strong and effective Education Accessibility Standard under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, to remove such recurring disability accessibility barriers in Ontario’s education system.

Had this school board redirected more of its effort and public money towards working out a way to let this student bring his autism service dog to school, rather than fighting against him, a more positive outcome here was likely. Instead the Board marshalled its formidable legal resources to fight against this boy.

This article first delineates the case’s largely undisputed facts. It then explores the evolution of the procedural duty to accommodate in human rights law. The importance of the duty to accommodate in the education context is then investigated.

Attention next turns to problems in the Tribunal’s reasoning that led it to find that the school board did not violate the procedural duty to accommodate. After that, serious problems are identified with the Tribunal’s finding that the school board did not violate its substantive duty to accommodate.

This article concludes with a look more broadly at this case’s implications. This case typifies problems since 2008 with the way human rights are enforced in Ontario. This case also illustrates the need for the Ontario Government to adopt a reformed approach to the education of students with disabilities in Ontario schools as well as the need for an Education Accessibility Standard to be enacted under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.



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AODA Alliance Writes Federal Party Leaders Seeking Commitments to Strengthen Bill C-81, and to Bring It Back Before Parliament After This Fall’s Federal Election If It is Not Passed With Amendments to Strengthen It


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities http://www.aodaalliance.org [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance

April 5, 2019

SUMMARY

We are diving head-first into our blitz before Canada’s Senate to get much-needed amendments to strengthen the weak Bill C-81, the Federal Government’s proposed Accessible Canada Act. Bill C-81 is called “An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada” for people with disabilities. Yet it does not require a single disability barrier to ever be removed or prevented anywhere in Canada.

Last week, on March 29, 2019, we sent the Senate our punchy 6-page brief on Bill C-81. It describes five of the major amendments that are desperately needed to strengthen this bill. See also the Open Letter to the Federal Government that fully 95 disability organizations (including the AODA Alliance) sent to the House of Commons last fall. It called for essential amendments to the bill.

In parallel with our strategy before the Senate, we have today written the leaders of the major federal parties in the House of Commons. We set that letter out below.

In this new letter, we ask the federal parties to each make two important commitments to us. We want these commitments now. In short, we want them to support amendments to strengthen Bill C-81, if the Senate passes any, and returns the bill to the House of Commons for a vote on those amendments before the fall federal election. We also want the party leaders to commit that they will bring a stronger national accessibility bill before Parliament after this fall’s federal election, if this bill does not get passed before the fall election, or if it is passed this spring “as is”, without these much-needed amendments.

We want Canada’s senators to feel free to strengthen Bill C-81 over the next short period when they consider this bill. The Senate’s Standing Committee on Social Affairs will be holding hearings on this bill on April 10 and 11, and May 1. After that, that committee will only have one meeting to consider passing amendments to the bill. That will be on May 2. We are all operating under extreme time pressure.

We are delighted that individuals and organizations have already been emailing the Senate’s Standing Committee to support the AODA Alliance’s March 29, 2019 brief. They are calling on the Senate to strengthen this weak bill.

It is not too late for you to help with this effort! Please add your voice. Get others to do so as well. Use your own words. Email the Senate Standing Committee today, by writing this email address:

[email protected]

We will have more to share over the next days about this blitz. Over five million people with disabilities in Canada deserve a strong national accessibility law. We need not settle for a weak bill. Now is the time to be heard!

We are tenacious! Visit our website to learn all about the background to Bill C-81 and our efforts to get it strengthened. more details

ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE
1929 Bayview Avenue,
Toronto, Ontario M4G 3E8
Email aod[email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance www.aodaalliance.org United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities

April 5, 2019

To:

The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau
Via email: [email protected]
Office of the Prime Minister of Canada
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2
Twitter: @JustinTrudeau

The Hon. Andrew Scheer, Leader of the Loyal Opposition and the Conservative Party Leader of the Conservative Party; MP, Regina-QuAppelle
Via email: [email protected]
Leader of the Conservative Party
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6
Twitter: @AndrewScheer

The Hon. Jagmeet Singh Leader of the NDP
Via email: [email protected]
300 279 Laurier West
Ottawa, Ontario K1P 5J9
Twitter: @theJagmeetSingh

The Hon. Elizabeth May Leader of the Green Party; MP, Saanich-Gulf Islands Via email: [email protected]
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A6
Twitter: @ElizabethMay

The Hon. Rhéal Fortin Interim Leader of the Bloc Québécois
Via email: [email protected]
3730 boul. Crémazie Est, 4e étage
Montréal, Québec H2A 1B4
Twitter: @RhealFortin

The Hon. Maxime Bernier, Leader of the People’s Party of Canada Via email: [email protected]
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6 Canada
Twitter: @MaximeBernier

Dear Federal Party Leaders,

Re: Seeking Your Parties’ Commitments to Ensure that Canada Has A Strong and Effective National Accessibility Law

With a federal election this fall, we seek commitments from each federal political party now on the need for Canada to have a strong national accessibility law. Last fall, the House of Commons passed a weak bill, Bill C-81, the proposed Accessible Canada Act. It is now before the Senate.

We and others in the disability community are urging the Senate to strengthen that bill. It is unclear whether Parliament will finish with this bill before this fall’s federal election, and if so, whether the current weak bill will be strengthened before it is enacted. We seek your parties’ commitments now, as this will help ensure that the senators can feel free to amend this bill to strengthen it, without fearing that this will jeopardize the bill.

In this letter, we explain what we seek, who we are, and why over five million people with disabilities in Canada need Bill C-81 to be strengthened.

Commitments We Ask Your Parties to Each Make Now

We ask your parties to now make these two commitments:

1. If this spring, the Senate amends Bill C-81(the proposed Accessible Canada Act) to strengthen it, and returns the bill to the House of Commons before it rises for this year’s federal election, will your party support swift passage of amendments that strengthen the bill in the areas that we refer to in this letter and in our March 29, 2019 brief to the Senate?

2. If Bill C-81 does not finish its path through Parliament before this falls’ federal election, or if it is passed without the amendments needed to strengthen it in areas referred to in this letter and in our March 29, 2019 brief to the Senate, will your party commit to bring this bill, these needed amendments, back to Parliament to be enacted or strengthened, as the case may be, after the fall federal election?

Who Are We?

The AODA Alliance is a non-partisan community coalition that has advocated in Ontario since 2005 for the effective implementation and enforcement of Canada’s first comprehensive provincial accessibility law, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2005. In every Ontario election since 2005, each provincial political party that has made election pledges on Ontario’s provincial accessibility legislation has done so in the form of letters to our coalition.

We have given advice to many, including several provinces, a United Nations conference, the European Union, Israel and New Zealand. We are the successor to the community coalition that successfully campaigned from 1994 to 2005 for the AODA’s enactment.

We have been very actively involved in the campaign for national accessibility legislation in Canada. We have gathered input from our grassroots supporters and have actively worked with other key players in Canada’s disability community to forge common ground on what national accessibility legislation needs to include. We provided input to each successive federal minister responsible for this legislation, to federal parties, and to the Federal Public Service.

Why Canada Needs Strong National Accessibility Legislation

People with all kinds of disabilities in Canada face too many accessibility barriers when they try to get a job, use public or private services, or enjoy all the other things that the public ordinarily takes for granted. As the Federal Government has commendably recognized, it is unfair and ineffective to leave it to individuals with disabilities to have to bring their own legal proceedings to battle against these obstacles, one barrier at a time, and one organization at a time. We need comprehensive accessibility legislation to remove these barriers along reasonable timelines, and to prevent the creation of new disability accessibility barriers in the future.

Canada needs a national accessibility law to ensure accessibility for people with disabilities dealing with those operating in the realm that the Federal Government can regulate, such as banking, air travel, postal services, services offered by the Federal Government, as well as radio, television and telephone/cell phone services. We also need it to ensure that whoever receives federal funding never uses that money to create or perpetuate disability barriers.

How Does Bill C-81 Measure Up?

The bill has very serious problems. It is quite weak.

Bill C-81 is called “An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada” for people with disabilities. Yet it does not require a single disability barrier to ever be removed or prevented anywhere in Canada.

1. The bill gives federal accessibility agencies/officials helpful powers to promote accessibility. However, the bill imposes no duty on them to ever use those powers, with one inconsequential exception.

The bill sets no deadlines for taking many of the major implementation steps that the Government needs to take to implement this bill. The Government could drag its feet for years if not indefinitely.

For example, the bill lets the Government enact accessibility standards as enforceable regulations. This is the bill’s vital core. However, the bill does not require the Government to ever enact any. Without them, the bill is a hollow shell.

The bill gives the Federal Government enforcement powers. However it doesn’t require the bill to be effectively enforced.

During the first five years after this bill goes into effect, the Federal Government’s only mandatory duty under the bill is for Cabinet, the CRTC and Canada Transportation agency to enact one regulation within two years after the bill comes into force. However that regulation could be an inconsequential one on minor procedural matters, without ever requiring that any disability barriers be removed or prevented.

2. Unlike Ontario’s 2005 accessibility legislation, this bill does not set a deadline for Canada to become accessible to people with disabilities. Under Bill C-81, Canada may not become accessible to people with disabilities for hundreds of years, if ever.

3. The 105-page bill is far too complicated and confusing. It will be hard for people with disabilities and others to navigate it. This is because the bill splinters the power to make accessibility standard regulations and the power to enforce the bill among a number of federal agencies, such as the new federal Accessibility Commissioner, the Canada Transportation Agency (CTA) and the Canadian Radio, Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).

This makes the bill’s implementation and enforcement more confusing, complicated and costly. It will take longer and be harder to get strong, effective and non-contradictory accessibility regulations enacted.

It is wrong for the bill to give almost exclusive powers over accessibility to federally-regulated transportation organizations (like airlines) to the CTA, and almost exclusive powers over broadcasters and telecommunication companies (like Bell Canada and Rogers Communications) to the CRTC. The CTA and CRTC have had powers in this area for years. Their record on accessibility is not good.

4. The bill does not ensure that federal public money is never used by any recipient of those funds, to create or perpetuate disability barriers. Under it, the Federal Government can continue to sit idly by when those who receive federal money use that money to create new disability barriers. This allows for a wasteful and harmful use of public money.

The bill lets the Federal Government set accessibility requirements for instances when it buys goods or services. However it doesn’t require the Federal Government to ever do so.

The bill doesn’t require the Federal Government to attach accessibility strings when it gives money to a municipality, college, university, local transit authority or other organization to build new infrastructure. Those recipients of federal money are left free to design and build new infrastructure without ensuring that it is fully accessible to people with disabilities. That’s what happened when the Federal Government helped fund the construction of Toronto’s new Women’s College Hospital, which has accessibility problems.

Also, the bill doesn’t require the Federal Government to attach any federal accessibility strings when it gives business development loans or grants to private businesses.

5. The bill has too many loopholes. As one example, the bill gives the Federal Government the power to exempt itself from some of its duties under the bill. The Government should not ever be able to exempt itself. Will Bill C-81 Be Passed by Parliament by the Fall 2019 Federal Election?

The Senate is expediting its debates on Bill C-81. The Senate’s Standing Committee on Social Affairs is scheduled to complete its consideration of Bill C-81 on May 2, 2019.

We and others from Canada’s disability community are urging the Senate to make vital amendments needed to address Bill C-81’s serious flaws, such as those addressed in this letter. Our preference is for the Senate to make these amendments, and for Bill C-81 to be returned to the House of Commons for a vote on those amendments this spring, before Parliament rises for the fall general election. We are eager for the Senate and then the House of Commons to pass those amendments.

Should this bill not pass before the fall federal election, or if it is simply passed by Parliament before the election “as is”, we are eager to get commitments, sought earlier in this letter, that after the fall election, people with disabilities in Canada will have a chance to get a national accessibility law addressed in the next Parliament. We seek an assurance that after the fall federal election, a national accessibility bill will be returned to Parliament for debate one that includes the improvements to Bill C-81 that we seek.

People with disabilities should not be confronted with the unfair choice to have to accept this bill “as is”, no matter how deficient it is, just because it might not otherwise be passed before the fall federal election. Years of experience have also taught us never to settle for the palpably inadequate, without pressing for better, simply because that is all a government has offered. This is not a charitable hand-out to be gratefully accepted, no matter how inadequate.

This bill is about the fundamental equality and human rights of people with disabilities. All parties agreed in the House of Commons that there is a need for new national accessibility legislation. After all the effort that has gone into the public consultations on this bill, and with the widespread support in the disability community for the need for strong federal accessibility legislation, there is no reason why this effort should be treated by anyone as dead if it did not finish its travels through Parliament before the fall federal election.

We would be happy to answer any questions your party may have as it considers this request. We are eager to get an answer to our request as soon as possible. We want to ensure that the Senate is not deterred from making much-needed amendments to Bill C-81, out of any fear that doing so might jeopardize the bill’s future. A commitment that a national accessibility bill will be brought back before the House of Commons after the fall election, if needed, will remove that issue, and free Senators to do the right thing when they consider this bill over the next four to six weeks.

Sincerely,

David Lepofsky CM, O. Ont
Chair Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance



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AODA Alliance Writes Federal Party Leaders Seeking Commitments to Strengthen Bill C-81, and to Bring It Back Before Parliament After This Fall’s Federal Election If It is Not Passed With Amendments to Strengthen It


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 Writes Federal Party Leaders Seeking Commitments to Strengthen Bill C-81, and to Bring It Back Before Parliament After This Fall’s Federal Election If It is Not Passed With Amendments to Strengthen It

April 5, 2019

          SUMMARY

We are diving head-first into our blitz before Canada’s Senate to get much-needed amendments to strengthen the weak Bill C-81, the Federal Government’s proposed Accessible Canada Act. Bill C-81 is called “An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada” for people with disabilities. Yet it does not require a single disability barrier to ever be removed or prevented anywhere in Canada.

Last week, on March 29, 2019, we sent the Senate our punchy 6-page brief on Bill C-81. It describes five of the major amendments that are desperately needed to strengthen this bill. See also the Open Letter to the Federal Government that fully 95 disability organizations (including the AODA Alliance) sent to the House of Commons last fall. It called for essential amendments to the bill.

In parallel with our strategy before the Senate, we have today written the leaders of the major federal parties in the House of Commons. We set that letter out below.

In this new letter, we ask the federal parties to each make two important commitments to us. We want these commitments now. In short, we want them to support amendments to strengthen Bill C-81, if the Senate passes any, and returns the bill to the House of Commons for a vote on those amendments before the fall federal election. We also want the party leaders to commit that they will bring a stronger national accessibility bill before Parliament after this fall’s federal election, if this bill does not get passed before the fall election, or if it is passed this spring “as is”, without these much-needed amendments.

We want Canada’s senators to feel free to strengthen Bill C-81 over the next short period when they consider this bill. The Senate’s Standing Committee on Social Affairs will be holding hearings on this bill on April 10 and 11, and May 1. After that, that committee will only have one meeting to consider passing amendments to the bill. That will be on May 2. We are all operating under extreme time pressure.

We are delighted that individuals and organizations have already been emailing the Senate’s Standing Committee to support the AODA Alliance’s March 29, 2019 brief. They are calling on the Senate to strengthen this weak bill.

It is not too late for you to help with this effort! Please add your voice. Get others to do so as well. Use your own words. Email the Senate Standing Committee today, by writing this email address:

[email protected]

We will have more to share over the next days about this blitz. Over five million people with disabilities in Canada deserve a strong national accessibility law. We need not settle for a weak bill. Now is the time to be heard!

We are tenacious! Visit our website to learn all about the background to Bill C-81 and our efforts to get it strengthened.

          more details

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

April 5, 2019

To:

The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau

Via email: [email protected]

Office of the Prime Minister of Canada

80 Wellington Street

Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2

Twitter: @JustinTrudeau

The Hon. Andrew Scheer, Leader of the Loyal Opposition and the Conservative Party

Leader of the Conservative Party; MP, Regina-Qu’Appelle

Via email: [email protected]

Leader of the Conservative Party

House of Commons

Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6

Twitter: @AndrewScheer

The Hon. Jagmeet Singh Leader of the NDP

Via email: [email protected]

300 – 279 Laurier West

Ottawa, Ontario K1P 5J9

Twitter: @theJagmeetSingh

The Hon. Elizabeth May Leader of the Green Party; MP, Saanich-Gulf Islands

Via email: [email protected]

House of Commons

Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A6

Twitter: @ElizabethMay

The Hon. Rhéal Fortin Interim Leader of the Bloc Québécois

Via email: [email protected]

3730 boul. Crémazie Est, 4e étage

Montréal, Québec H2A 1B4

Twitter: @RhealFortin

The Hon. Maxime Bernier, Leader of the People’s Party of Canada

Via email: [email protected]

House of Commons

Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6 Canada

Twitter: @MaximeBernier

Dear Federal Party Leaders,

Re: Seeking Your Parties’ Commitments to Ensure that Canada Has A Strong and Effective National Accessibility Law

With a federal election this fall, we seek commitments from each federal political party now on the need for Canada to have a strong national accessibility law. Last fall, the House of Commons passed a weak bill, Bill C-81, the proposed Accessible Canada Act. It is now before the Senate.

We and others in the disability community are urging the Senate to strengthen that bill. It is unclear whether Parliament will finish with this bill before this fall’s federal election, and if so, whether the current weak bill will be strengthened before it is enacted. We seek your parties’ commitments now, as this will help ensure that the senators can feel free to amend this bill to strengthen it, without fearing that this will jeopardize the bill.

In this letter, we explain what we seek, who we are, and why over five million people with disabilities in Canada need Bill C-81 to be strengthened.

Commitments We Ask Your Parties to Each Make Now

We ask your parties to now make these two commitments:

  1. If this spring, the Senate amends Bill C-81(the proposed Accessible Canada Act) to strengthen it, and returns the bill to the House of Commons before it rises for this year’s federal election, will your party support swift passage of amendments that strengthen the bill in the areas that we refer to in this letter and in our March 29, 2019 brief to the Senate?
  1. If Bill C-81 does not finish its path through Parliament before this falls’ federal election, or if it is passed without the amendments needed to strengthen it in areas referred to in this letter and in our March 29, 2019 brief to the Senate, will your party commit to bring this bill, these needed amendments, back to Parliament to be enacted or strengthened, as the case may be, after the fall federal election?

Who Are We?

The AODA Alliance is a non-partisan community coalition that has advocated in Ontario since 2005 for the effective implementation and enforcement of Canada’s first comprehensive provincial accessibility law, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2005. In every Ontario election since 2005, each provincial political party that has made election pledges on Ontario’s provincial accessibility legislation has done so in the form of letters to our coalition.

We have given advice to many, including several provinces, a United Nations conference, the European Union, Israel and New Zealand. We are the successor to the community coalition that successfully campaigned from 1994 to 2005 for the AODA’s enactment.

We have been very actively involved in the campaign for national accessibility legislation in Canada. We have gathered input from our grassroots supporters and have actively worked with other key players in Canada’s disability community to forge common ground on what national accessibility legislation needs to include. We provided input to each successive federal minister responsible for this legislation, to federal parties, and to the Federal Public Service.

Why Canada Needs Strong National Accessibility Legislation

People with all kinds of disabilities in Canada face too many accessibility barriers when they try to get a job, use public or private services, or enjoy all the other things that the public ordinarily takes for granted. As the Federal Government has commendably recognized, it is unfair and ineffective to leave it to individuals with disabilities to have to bring their own legal proceedings to battle against these obstacles, one barrier at a time, and one organization at a time. We need comprehensive accessibility legislation to remove these barriers along reasonable timelines, and to prevent the creation of new disability accessibility barriers in the future.

Canada needs a national accessibility law to ensure accessibility for people with disabilities dealing with those operating in the realm that the Federal Government can regulate, such as banking, air travel, postal services, services offered by the Federal Government, as well as radio, television and telephone/cell phone services. We also need it to ensure that whoever receives federal funding never uses that money to create or perpetuate disability barriers.

How Does Bill C-81 Measure Up?

The bill has very serious problems. It is quite weak.

Bill C-81 is called “An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada” for people with disabilities. Yet it does not require a single disability barrier to ever be removed or prevented anywhere in Canada.

  1. The bill gives federal accessibility agencies/officials helpful powers to promote accessibility. However, the bill imposes no duty on them to ever use those powers, with one inconsequential exception.

The bill sets no deadlines for taking many of the major implementation steps that the Government needs to take to implement this bill. The Government could drag its feet for years if not indefinitely.

For example, the bill lets the Government enact accessibility standards as enforceable regulations. This is the bill’s vital core. However, the bill does not require the Government to ever enact any. Without them, the bill is a hollow shell.

The bill gives the Federal Government enforcement powers. However it doesn’t require the bill to be effectively enforced.

During the first five years after this bill goes into effect, the Federal Government’s only mandatory duty under the bill is for Cabinet, the CRTC and Canada Transportation agency to enact one regulation within two years after the bill comes into force. However that regulation could be an inconsequential one on minor procedural matters, without ever requiring that any disability barriers be removed or prevented.

  1. Unlike Ontario’s 2005 accessibility legislation, this bill does not set a deadline for Canada to become accessible to people with disabilities. Under Bill C-81, Canada may not become accessible to people with disabilities for hundreds of years, if ever.
  1. The 105-page bill is far too complicated and confusing. It will be hard for people with disabilities and others to navigate it. This is because the bill splinters the power to make accessibility standard regulations and the power to enforce the bill among a number of federal agencies, such as the new federal Accessibility Commissioner, the Canada Transportation Agency (CTA) and the Canadian Radio, Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).

This makes the bill’s implementation and enforcement more confusing, complicated and costly. It will take longer and be harder to get strong, effective and non-contradictory accessibility regulations enacted.

It is wrong for the bill to give almost exclusive powers over accessibility to federally-regulated transportation organizations (like airlines) to the CTA, and almost exclusive powers over broadcasters and telecommunication companies (like Bell Canada and Rogers Communications) to the CRTC. The CTA and CRTC have had powers in this area for years. Their record on accessibility is not good.

  1. The bill does not ensure that federal public money is never used by any recipient of those funds, to create or perpetuate disability barriers. Under it, the Federal Government can continue to sit idly by when those who receive federal money use that money to create new disability barriers. This allows for a wasteful and harmful use of public money.

The bill lets the Federal Government set accessibility requirements for instances when it buys goods or services. However it doesn’t require the Federal Government to ever do so.

The bill doesn’t require the Federal Government to attach accessibility strings when it gives money to a municipality, college, university, local transit authority or other organization to build new infrastructure. Those recipients of federal money are left free to design and build new infrastructure without ensuring that it is fully accessible to people with disabilities. That’s what happened when the Federal Government helped fund the construction of Toronto’s new Women’s College Hospital, which has accessibility problems.

Also, the bill doesn’t require the Federal Government to attach any federal accessibility strings when it gives business development loans or grants to private businesses.

  1. The bill has too many loopholes. As one example, the bill gives the Federal Government the power to exempt itself from some of its duties under the bill. The Government should not ever be able to exempt itself.

Will Bill C-81 Be Passed by Parliament by the Fall 2019 Federal Election?

The Senate is expediting its debates on Bill C-81. The Senate’s Standing Committee on Social Affairs is scheduled to complete its consideration of Bill C-81 on May 2, 2019.

We and others from Canada’s disability community are urging the Senate to make vital amendments needed to address Bill C-81’s serious flaws, such as those addressed in this letter. Our preference is for the Senate to make these amendments, and for Bill C-81 to be returned to the House of Commons for a vote on those amendments this spring, before Parliament rises for the fall general election. We are eager for the Senate and then the House of Commons to pass those amendments.

Should this bill not pass before the fall federal election, or if it is simply passed by Parliament before the election “as is”, we are eager to get commitments, sought earlier in this letter, that after the fall election, people with disabilities in Canada will have a chance to get a national accessibility law addressed in the next Parliament. We seek an assurance that after the fall federal election, a national accessibility bill will be returned to Parliament for debate – one that includes the improvements to Bill C-81 that we seek.

People with disabilities should not be confronted with the unfair choice to have to accept this bill “as is”, no matter how deficient it is, just because it might not otherwise be passed before the fall federal election. Years of experience have also taught us never to settle for the palpably inadequate, without pressing for better, simply because that is all a government has offered. This is not a charitable hand-out to  be gratefully accepted, no matter how inadequate.

This bill is about the fundamental equality and human rights of people with disabilities. All parties agreed in the House of Commons that there is a need for new national accessibility legislation. After all the effort that has gone into the public consultations on this bill, and with the widespread support in the disability community for the need for strong federal accessibility legislation, there is no reason why this effort should be treated by anyone as dead if it did not finish its travels through Parliament before the fall federal election.

We would be happy to answer any questions your party may have as it considers this request. We are eager to get an answer to our request as soon as possible. We want to ensure that the Senate is not deterred from making much-needed amendments to Bill C-81, out of any fear that doing so might jeopardize the bill’s future. A commitment that a national accessibility bill will be brought back before the House of Commons after the fall election, if needed, will remove that issue, and free Senators to do the right thing when they consider this bill over the next four to six weeks.

Sincerely,

David Lepofsky CM, O. Ont

Chair Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance



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