Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update
United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities
AODA Alliance Submits A Short Brief to the Senate of Canada, Calling for Amendments to Strengthen the Weak Bill C-81, the Proposed “Accessible Canada Act”
March 29, 2019
The Senate of Canada is about to embark on public hearings on Bill C-81, the proposed Accessible Canada Act. We want the Senate to strengthen this weak bill. The AODA Alliance has applied to make a presentation at those hearings, and has submitted a 6-page brief to the Senate. We set that brief out below.
In our brief we again endorse the Open Letter which 95 disability organizations from across Canada sent to the House of Commons last fall. It seeks nine key amendments to Bill C-81.
Different disability organizations may of course emphasize different issues in that Open Letter. For our part, our brief reiterates our endorsement of that Open Letter, and addresses the need to amend the bill to:
- Impose clear duties and deadlines on the Federal Government when implementing this law.
- Set a deadline for Canada to become accessible.
3 Unsplinter the bill So that only the Federal Cabinet makes all the accessibility regulations and only one agency enforces the bill.
- Ensure federal public money is never used To create or perpetuate disability barriers, and
- Ensure that the Federal Government won’t be able to exempt itself from any of its accessibility obligations under the bill.
Please email the committee of the senate that will be holding hearings on Bill C-81. Tell them if you support the AODA Alliance’s brief on Bill C-81. You can write the Senate’s Social Affairs Committee by emailing [email protected]
Please contact any senators in Canada that you can. Send them our brief. Tell them to support the amendments to Bill C-81 that we are seeking. You can find the names, email addresses and other contact information for all senators on the Senate of Canada website.
You can get tons of background on the campaign to get Bill C-81 strengthened, of which the AODA Alliance is a proud participant, by visiting our website.
Ever wondered what steps a bill must go through in Canada’s Parliament in order to become a law? Check out the AODA Alliance’s introductory guide on passing federal laws.
Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance
United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities
Vital Changes Needed to Make the Weak Bill C-81, the Proposed “Accessible Canada Act”, Into a Good Law
A Brief to the Senate of Canada
March 29, 2019
Submitted To: [email protected]
We call on the Senate of Canada to strengthen the weak Bill C-81 (the proposed Accessible Canada Act) that the House of Commons passed last fall. The bill 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. Over five million people with disabilities in Canada deserve better.
We thank the Federal Government for committing in the 2015 election to enact national accessibility legislation, for widely consulting the public on it in 2016-2017, and for bringing a bill to Parliament in June 2018. We thank the opposition Conservative, New Democratic and Green Parties for supporting the need for strong national accessibility legislation, and for bringing forward much-needed amendments to this bill in the House of Commons last fall to fix the bill’s serious problems, identified by many people with disabilities.
We deeply regret that last fall, in the House of Commons, the Federal Government defeated many of the necessary amendments we sought. The Senate now has the opportunity to give this bill sober second thought, as is its constitutional role, and to substantially strengthen the bill so that it is worthy of people with disabilities.
It is commendable that Bill C-81, the proposed Accessible Canada Act, aims to eradicate the many barriers that impede accessibility for people with disabilities. The Federal Government can address such things as air travel, banking, the post office, TV and radio broadcasts, telecommunications (like telephone and cell phone services), Federal Government Services, and anything that anyone does using money they get from the Federal Government.
When Bill C-81 was debated in the House of Commons last fall, many disability organizations and advocates called for it to be substantially strengthened. Last fall, fully 95 disability organizations (including the AODA Alliance ) co-signed an Open Letter to the Federal Government. It called for nine essential amendments to the bill. The Federal Government rejected those amendments, but supported other helpful but less important ones. In this brief, we focus on some of the nine amendments in that Open Letter, while reaffirming our support for the entire Open Letter.
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. We are the successor to the community coalition that successfully campaigned from 1994 to 2005 for the AODA’s enactment. We have advised many, including several provinces, a United Nations conference, the European Union, Israel and New Zealand.
Good Ingredients in the Bill
The bill creates several important new federal officials and agencies to promote accessibility. This includes a new federal Accessibility Commissioner to enforce the bill in part, a new federal Canadian Accessibility Standards Development Organization to create model voluntary accessibility standards that the Federal Government can choose to enact as enforceable regulations, a new federal Chief Accessibility Officer to advise and report on progress and needed improvements, and a minister to be responsible for some key functions under the bill.
The bill permits the development of non-binding federal accessibility standards. These are meant to guide organizations across Canada in what they need to do to tear down accessibility barriers, and to avoid creating new barriers. The bill allows for the enactment of these standards as federal laws, called regulations. If enacted as regulations, these become enforceable, not voluntary.
The bill requires federally-regulated organizations to create multi-year accessibility plans and to update these over a period of years. The bill aims to provide enforcement, including a complaint process. The bill also means to provide some degree of public accountability for organizations that must obey it.
Some Key Amendments Needed to Make this Bill Become a Good Law
1. Impose Clear Duties and Deadlines on the Federal Government When Implementing this Law
The bill gives the Federal Government and federal accessibility agencies/officials helpful powers to promote accessibility. However, the bill imposes no duty on them to ever use those powers, with one inconsequential exception.
The bill also sets no deadlines for taking many of the major implementation steps that the Government must 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. 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.
We ask that the bill be amended to impose duties on the Federal Government and its accessibility officials and agencies to use the bill’s key powers, such as these. The bill should also be amended to set time lines within which the Government must use these powers. It is not good enough for the bill to say that the Government “may” take action. It should be amended to require that the Government shall take those required actions, and to set deadlines for the Government to act.
2. Set a Deadline for Canada to Become Accessible
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.
We ask for the bill to be amended to set a deadline for Canada to become accessible. We have urged the Federal Government without success to work with us and others to arrive at a workable and achievable deadline to enshrine in the bill.
3. Unsplinter the Bill So that Only the Federal Cabinet Sets All the Accessibility Rules and Only One Agency Enforces the Bill
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 less effective, more confusing, more complicated and more costly. It will take longer to get accessibility regulations enacted. It risks weak, contradictory or unnecessarily complex regulations.
This splintering makes it much harder for people with disabilities to navigate the system, to find out what rights they have, and to get violations fixed. People with disabilities are burdened to learn to navigate as many as three or four different sets of accessibility rules, enforcement agencies, procedures, forms and time lines for presenting an accessibility complaint. That weakens the rights and voices of people with disabilities.
This splintering only helps existing federal bureaucracies that want more power, and any large obligated organizations that want to dodge taking action on accessibility. Those organizations will relish exploiting the bill’s confusing complexity to delay and impede its implementation and enforcement.
It is wrong for the bill to give almost exclusive powers over accessibility 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.
The CTA and CRTC are too close to the industries they regulate. They lack expertise in disability accessibility. The industries the CTA and CRTC regulate would love to have those agencies stay largely in control of their accessibility obligations, given their inadequate regulatory track records on accessibility.
We ask for the bill to be simplified, to get rid of its harmful splintering of federal accessibility oversight responsibilities. Only the Federal Cabinet should make accessibility regulations. Only the new federal Accessibility Commissioner should enforce the bill. This ensures clearer, smoother, lower-cost, easier-to-access one-stop-shopping for people with disabilities, and easier implementation for the Federal Government and obligated organizations.
Under the bill, transportation organizations, broadcasters and telecommunication companies must make two concurrent accessibility plans, one supervised by the Accessibility Commissioner and the other supervised either by the CTA or CRTC. That also makes compliance and enforcement more costly and confusing. We ask for the bill to be amended so that all obligated organizations will only have to make one accessibility plan, not two, all supervised by the new federal Accessibility Commissioner.
It is no solution to the bill’s “splintering” problem for the Federal Government to say that there will be “no wrong door” for a person to file a complaint. The problem is not just the four different doors that a person with a disability must choose to enter. There are also as many as three or four different procedures they must figure out, even after they enter the right door. That is a formula for confusion, and for tripping up people with disabilities.
4. Ensure Federal Public Money Is Never Used To Create or Perpetuate Disability Barriers
The bill does not require that the Federal Government use its readily-available levers of power to promote accessibility across Canada. For example, it does not require the Federal Government to ensure that federal money is never used by any recipient of those funds, to create or perpetuate disability barriers. 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.
The bill lets the Federal Government impose accessibility requirements when it buys goods or services. However it doesn’t require the Federal Government to ever do so.
Moreover, 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. 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.
This all allows for a wasteful and harmful use of public money. We request an amendment to the bill that would require the Federal Government to attach and enforce accessibility strings to any federal public money that it spends or transfers, e.g. for procurement of goods, services or facilities, for new infrastructure anywhere in Canada, or for business development loans or grants. For example, when the Federal Government provides funds for the construction of a hospital, public transit line, or university building, the recipient should no longer be free to use that money to build a building or facility that has accessibility barriers.
5. Don’t Let the Federal Government Exempt Itself from Any of Its Accessibility Obligations
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 be able to exempt itself. We request an amendment to close the bill’s loopholes, such as the Federal Government’s power to exempt itself from some of its duties under the bill.
People with disabilities are a highly vulnerable and disadvantaged minority. They need the Senate to strengthen this bill.
The Senate should not simply defer to the Federal Government and accept the bill “as is”, no matter how weak it is. This bears directly on the equality rights and human rights of over five million people with disabilities.
In defence of this weak bill, the Federal Government says this is enabling legislation. That is no excuse. We need strong enabling legislation, not this weak enabling bill.
It would be wrong to think that the bill’s serious weaknesses can later be corrected by passing strong regulations. The bill does not give the Federal Government the power to enact the regulations that would remove all these serious problems.
For example, the bill does not permit the Federal Government to pass regulations that would unsplinter this bill’s implementation and enforcement. Regulations cannot direct that only the Accessibility Commissioner will enforce this bill and only the Federal Cabinet will pass regulations under this bill. Only an amendment to the bill can achieve this.
Our concerns are amply reinforced by the recent blistering final report of the Independent Review of the implementation and enforcement of the stronger Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, by former Ontario Lieutenant Governor David Onley. For example, our years of grassroots experience prove that when a Government lacks the political will to make a bill strong and effective, it can’t be expected to later have the political will to pass strong regulations.
To ensure a barrier-free Canada, Bill C-81 must be strong, clear and easy to navigate, not complex and confusing. The Government’s duties to act must be mandatory not optional.
It would be wrong to give up any effort here, and just accept this bill “as is”, no matter how deficient, because it might not otherwise be passed before the fall federal election. We will press all federal parties to commit that if this bill dies before the election, or is not amended to fix these serious problems, they will bring the bill back before Parliament after the 2019 election, and will correct these major flaws. That should not be difficult, since all parties supported this bill. In the House of Commons, the national opposition parties echoed the core concerns with the bill that we here outline.
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.
Contact the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance care of its chair David Lepofsky CM, O. Ont. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance
Visit our website: www.aodaalliance.org