Good morning. Welcome to the committee's first meeting on Bill . The objective of today's meeting is to start the committee's study on the bill. We will begin this process today as we are joined by the Minister of Public Services and Procurement and Accessibility and her officials.
Bear with me, I've got a bit of a preamble here. I'd like to take a moment to remind both those participating in the proceedings as well as those observing the proceedings of the committee in person and on video that the committee adopted a motion on September 18 that included instructions for the clerk to explore options to allow for the full participation of all witnesses and members of the public on this study.
As a result, the committee has made arrangements to make all meetings in relation to the study of Bill as accessible as possible in a variety of ways. This includes providing sign language interpretation and near real-time closed captioning in the room. Please note that both American Sign Language and Quebec Sign Language are being offered to those in our audience. The sign language interpreters in the room are also being videorecorded for eventual broadcast of the meeting on ParlVU via the committee's website.
In light of these arrangements, the committee would ask that if you need to leave the room during the meeting, please do not walk in front of the sign language interpreters. Instead, please use the extremities of the room. In addition, we would ask that those in the room remain seated as much as possible during the meeting so that everyone in the audience can clearly see the sign language interpretation.
Finally, if a member of the audience requires assistance at any time, please notify a member of the staff or the committee clerk.
Thank you very much, everybody, and without further ado, I would like to welcome the Honourable Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Public Services and Procurement and Accessibility, as well as James Van Raalte, director general of the accessibility secretariat, and Erik Lapalme, senior policy analyst, accessibility secretariat.
Welcome to all of you, and Minister, I believe you have some remarks. The next 10 minutes are all yours.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you for your intentional and deliberate efforts and success at making these committee meetings inclusive and accessible for everyone. I know that the members of the disability community certainly appreciate it, as do I.
Good morning, everyone. Thank you for inviting me here today to present Bill , an act to ensure a barrier-free Canada, the accessible Canada act.
It was an honour to stand up in the House of Commons two weeks ago and open debate for this proposed act. The bill, should it be enacted, will allow for the identification, removal and prevention of barriers that keep all Canadians from participating in society. Bill would significantly transform how Canada addresses accessibility. It would allow us to become proactive instead of reactive. It would allow for a fundamental shift in the way the Government of Canada does business.
We need to ensure equality for all from the start. It's time for broad organizational and cultural change. There is no reason to wait for people to be discriminated against before we act. We know discrimination exists. We know that over 50% of the complaints to the Canadian Human Rights Commission are on the basis of disability.
Canadians with disabilities deserve better, to be valued as civic, social and economic contributors to Canadian society with the full rights of citizenship.
An incredible amount of dedicated work and public consultation went into the drafting of this bill. We heard from over 6,000 individuals and organizations from all across the country.
This extensive consultation allowed us to better understand the needs of the disability community.
We came to the conclusion that policies and practices currently in place simply do not adequately take into account the barriers faced by Canadians with disabilities in their day-to-day lives. Canadians with disabilities do not want to be treated as a burden, but as full, equal members of society. They should have the same rights and the same opportunities as everyone else, and accessibility is about addressing the barriers created by society that prevent people with disabilities from enjoying their human rights on an equal basis with others.
Bill will lead to the establishment of accessibility standards in the areas of employment, the built environment, information and communication technologies, the delivery of programs and services and transportation. It will apply to Parliament, the Government of Canada, crown corporations and federally regulated entities, including organizations in the transportation, telecommunications, broadcasting and banking sectors.
Thanks to Bill , Canadians with disabilities, who are valued and contributing members of society, would have greater opportunities to participate in their communities and in the workplace. It would make it easier for them to get a job and stay in that job, to travel, to communicate with friends and family, and to access products, programs and services on an equal basis with others.
Bill would create a framework and new organizations for developing accessibility standards, establishing and enforcing accessibility requirements, and monitoring implementation. It would establish the Canadian accessibility standards development organization, or CASDO, in order to create standards that work for both industry and the disability community.
The majority of CASDO board members would have lived disability experience. Once accessibility standards are developed, they would need to be adopted into regulations by the Government of Canada to become law. Standards would change over time with changes in technology and best practices. Having standards in regulations, rather than in the proposed act, would mean they can be updated more readily to reflect these changes.
Our intention is to allow the government to move more quickly to improve accessibility by adopting recognized and established standards that have been developed and validated by technical experts, industry and people with disabilities.
What would all this mean for Canadians with disabilities? An example I like to use involves the accessibility of a bank ATM for a person with a visual impairment. In our current system, if a customer is blind and can't use the ATM and this isn't addressed by the bank, the person would need to file a discrimination complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission. Once a decision was made—and this could be years later—in favour of the complainant, it would be applicable only to the specific ATM in question and not to all banks and certainly not all ATMs across the board.
To compare this with what the scenario would look like under the proposed legislation, it would be CASDO— through a technical committee comprising persons with a disability, industry representatives and technical experts—that would define the standards for accessible ATMs. The standard would then come to the minister of accessibility for adoption through the regulatory process, after which time the regulation would apply to all banks in Canada. The accessibility commissioner would monitor compliance with the regulation and would have the ability to impose monetary penalties if the banking sector was not adhering to the regulation.
This example shows how this important change in framework and process shifts the burden from the individual to the system and also allows for a more comprehensive and consistent application of accessibility within areas of federal jurisdiction.
This is a very tangible example of how this legislation will positively impact Canadians.
The proposed legislation would require organizations to think about how to integrate accessibility into their day-to-day operations. However, there may be circumstances, albeit exceptional, in which it would be appropriate for a regulated entity to be exempted from certain requirements under Bill .
For example, it may be appropriate to exempt, on a case-by-case basis, a small business, because it might be more productive for this organization to focus its resources and efforts where it can have the biggest impact on accessibility.
To ensure transparency and accountability, the exempting authority—the designated minister, the CRTC or the CTA—would be required to make exemptions public by publishing them in the Canada Gazette.
The bill also provides real teeth to ensure meaningful and lasting change among organizations under federal jurisdiction. Compliance, enforcement and complaints would be processed through the accessibility commissioner, with the exception of those under the jurisdiction of the CRTC, the CTA and the Federal Public Service Labour Relations and Employment Board.
This model builds on existing sector-based mandates for the purposes of efficiency and takes advantage of accessibility experience and expertise. Bill includes provisions for a "no wrong door" approach to ensure collaboration and coordination across organizations for efficient and expeditious referral of accessibility-related complaints.
If passed, this legislation will also be a significant step in Canada's ongoing implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, to which Canada is a proud state party. Once Bill receives royal assent, the Canadian Human Rights Commission would become responsible for monitoring the Government of Canada's implementation of the convention.
Make no mistake. There is still a lot to be done to create a Canada without barriers and it's imperative to do things right from the get-go. As proposed, the legislation includes a number of foundational elements. It's anticipated that new organizations such as the Canadian accessibility standards development organization, CASDO, the accessibility commissioner and the chief accessibility officer would be up and running within six to 12 months of the legislation coming into force and that the first set of regulations under the legislation would come into force in 2020-21.
I'm being told to slow down.
How will Canadians know that organizations are taking steps to improve accessibility? Under Bill , regulated entities would be required to prepare and publish accessibility plans in consultation with persons with disability. These plans would describe the organizations' strategies for improving accessibility and meeting their legal obligations. The organizations would also have to establish feedback processes on their accessibility from employees and members of the public, and prepare and publish annual progress reports on the implementation of their plans.
Moreover, a new position, called the “chief accessibility officer”, would be established. The person appointed to this role would be responsible for monitoring and reporting on the overall outcomes achieved by the act and in respect of systemic and emerging accessibility issues.
These measures would allow for Canadians to monitor progress on accessibility and the implementation of Bill in a very transparent manner.
If adopted, Bill C-81 will bring broad organizational and cultural change.
Through the creation and enactment of new accessibility standards, new planning and reporting requirements, and strong proactive enforcement tools, Bill C-81 will lead to greater accessibility for everyone in Canada, especially persons with disabilities.
Bill would set a standard worthy of Canadians and Canada's place in the world.
Thank you. I would be happy to answer questions, and I promise to speak more slowly.
Thank you to the committee for welcoming me here today.
Also, certainly, thank you, Minister Qualtrough, for your presentation this morning. After I gave you the notes on consultation, I also sent a version to you digitally to ensure that I, too, was respectful of accessibility standards.
Minister, I'm just going to quote a couple of items from your presentation. You said:
It's time for broad organizational and cultural change. There is no reason to wait for people to be discriminated against before we act.
When I read that, I think about the three years that have gone by before this bill finally came to the floor. I'm by no means blaming you, Minister. That is not the intent. But a lot of language we're seeing around the marketing of this bill is that “we can't wait any longer”, yet the government has waited three years and is now onto its fourth minister, who was also its first minister. It's a little frustrating in terms of the stop-and-start that we've seen. I've heard that from consultations within the different communities.
This also goes on to talk about the extensive consultation. This consultation that's taken place.... I don't have the time to be able to read through it piece by piece, but essentially the first question I have is on something that we've been able to speak about and that your staff have been able to speak about with me as well. In terms of the consultation that's been taking place and people wanting immediate action—and I think the government is saying that it wants immediate action—the language that's used in your presentation today and is contained within the bill doesn't say that there are going to be changes in accessibility standards. This says it “will lead to”, and that's an exact quote.
In fact, it says that the first regulation changes would take place in 2021. If we use the timeline and the success of the timeline's place in terms of how six months after the government took its place it said it would have a bill related to the accessibility act, that 2021 could be much further out. I believe what the staff have said is that it's somewhere within the six-year time period from the point that this receives royal assent.
Could you demonstrate to the committee what actual practical changes affecting people with disabilities will go into effect—besides the creation of new bureaus and new departments—on day one?
Thank you, and thank you for having me.
It's a pleasure to be here to advocate for Bill , which has some meaningful amendments to it. I think we all celebrate the act.
To use our time effectively, I just want to jump in with the minister, who has really been a champion. I love the way, Minister, you just articulated that we wanted to see with this a profound change in how we look at or how we take a medical or prescriptive approach rather than a social and inclusive approach. That's the disability lens aspect of it that is so extremely important.
I see lacking—and this also came from the consultations—that we're not requiring federal laws or policies or regulations to be studied through a disability lens. I think maybe it's implied. I could make that argument on the other side, that it's implied, but I would make the argument that it needs to be articulated. This is our historical achievement with this national act. Although it does not bring us far enough to comply with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities—I will say it falls short of that—we can make amendments and bring it in that direction.
I believe, Minister, some of your comments were about government being nimble in reassessing and looking at this in the future, so I'm hopeful for that.
I'd like to hear a little bit of what you think the potential might be now for us to actually anchor this a bit more, this looking through a disability lens.
I notice that your title, Minister, includes “public services, procurement and accessibility”. Can you imagine if we had a federal directive to look through a disability lens for procurement? I just feel that if we're going to do this, we have some tangible ways that we really can anchor this just a little bit more. I'd like to hear some of your thoughts, your takeaways, what you are thinking we can move forward on and what some of the potential opportunities are for us to look at here with the committee.
Thank you, and thanks for your work on this file. It's wonderful to be working with you again.
One of the principles in the act—and as you all know, the principles are interpretive guidelines or how we are supposed to be looking at this law in the future—very clearly says that laws, programs, policies, services and structures must take into account the abilities and needs of Canadians with disabilities.
To me, that means that every time we put in place a law, a policy, a program, a service or a structure, we have to look at it through the lens of accessibility.
I do think that in specific departments.... I'll use my own because I think procurement is an incredibly powerful tool to address accessibility. We are establishing a centre or an office of accessible procurement with the idea being that the Government of Canada will not procure products that aren't accessible.
The has appointed a deputy minister responsible for an accessible public service, whose job is to prepare the Government of Canada to be an accessible employer and to offer services accessibly to Canadians. There are machinery of government things going on right now, in parallel with this legislation going through the House of Commons.
I would suggest absolutely that we cannot realize a barrier-free Canada unless the Government of Canada makes decisions taking into account the accessibility needs of Canadians with disabilities.
I think this is an important question going forward for the public service. It's a very horizontal piece of legislation, and that whole-of-government governance issue will be important in terms of tracking the progress of the implementation.
I think that at the first level, the has appointed a new deputy minister, Yazmine Laroche, who I believe will be appearing on Thursday morning. You'll have an opportunity to hear from her, and she can provide her views on her role. She is the deputy minister of public service accessibility and will be responsible for the development. Her first job is a Government of Canada strategy for making the Government of Canada a leader on accessibility. She has some initial support in that strategy; the government announced a number of initiatives to support her.
The first is the hiring of 5,000 persons with disabilities within the public service, over the next five years. Those are not incremental hires. Those are hires within the normal hiring process, within the government. Number two is a centralized accommodation fund to support the hiring, the promotion and the retention of persons with disabilities with any accommodations that they may require. Also, as the minister talked about, Public Services and Procurement Canada will be creating a centre of excellence for procurement, as well as undertaking accessibility audits of government buildings.
The other part is that each deputy head within the Government of Canada will be required to submit accessibility plans for over 133 organizations, Crown corporations, agencies and traditional departments like my own—Employment and Social Development Canada. There will be an opportunity to monitor the progress that each department is making, both on an individual basis and across the Government of Canada. We will have a line of sight on that progress or lack of progress. Again, those accessibility plans must be made in consultation with persons with disabilities.
Finally, the legislation sets out a new office—the chief accessibility officer—and the role of that office is to have a broad line of sight on how the system is working or not working. They have to report annually to the minister on how well we are doing. As well, that office can conduct special reports, either by a question from the minister or through its own motion powers.
I am pleased to respond to this question, because I think it speaks to quite a bit of work the public service has undertaken, also in consultation with the disability community across the country and internationally.
I think it's important to give credit where credit is due in terms of some of the provincial leadership that has been undertaken over the past decade—namely Ontario, Manitoba and Nova Scotia—and that has allowed us to build on that foundation.
There's quite a bit of similarity between and what it sets out to do and the legislative frameworks within those three jurisdictions I mention, in four areas in particular: the development and enforcement of standards; the concept of the accessibility plans; issues related to compliance; and then review mechanisms, again at the end to make sure the legislation is meeting its needs.
I am referencing the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, which was passed in 2005; the Accessibility for Manitobans Act, which was passed in 2013; and most recently, the Accessibility Act in Nova Scotia in 2017.
From a standards development perspective, it varies somewhat amongst how the provincial accessibility laws generally provide for the creation of standards through standard development committees and/or an accessibility advisory board that may create committees to develop standards.
By contrast, proposes CASDO as that arm's-length independent standards-setting process and the technical committee piece. I'm happy to answer questions about CASDO and its ability to set model standards.
From an accessibility plan perspective—again, similar to provincial laws— sets out that planning and reporting requirement. One of the big differences, however, is including persons with disabilities in that process in terms of, as well, having a feedback mechanism.
Provincial accessibility laws and all include provisions to ensure compliance, including provisions for inspections, compliance orders and administrative monetary penalties. In the provinces, these are undertaken by designated directors and inspectors. These individuals are housed within the government departments responsible for administering the act, whereas Bill C-81 establishes unique remedies in relation to the contravention of accessibility requirements that result in harm.
Finally, in terms of that review process, similar to provincial accessibility acts provides for periodic reviews of the provision and operation of the act, to make sure the act is—
Looking at the preamble and the purpose with respect to the legislation, I see there are values and principles that we would all in a free, positive and progressive democratic society support. I look particularly at the reference made that Canada, being a state party to the United Nations convention, “has agreed to take appropriate measures respecting accessibility and to develop and monitor minimum accessibility standards”. A little further on it's referred more effectively to the vision or the mission statement, which says:
...Parliament considers that it is essential to ensure the economic, social and civic participation of all Canadians, regardless of their abilities or disabilities, and to allow them to fully exercise their rights and responsibilities in a barrier-free Canada;
It's talking about right across Canada.
Yet when we look at this, we see the bill will only affect organizations within federal jurisdictions, including the federal government and federally regulated industries. As a federal government, how do we envision taking this set of principles and values and being able to ensure that we can, I don't know if “inculcate” is the word, but make that a principle, a vision, a statement that is going to be taken on by provinces, local governments, society, all of those things that are not contained within the regulatory provisions of this legislation?
If we're wanting to really change the intent and wanting to really change our country in a positive way around this with all of the things that are laid out here, what types of levers do we have? We often talk about the federal government wanting to use different methods to encourage or incentivize provinces and local governments to be more actively engaged. What do you see as the disconnect? How do we deal with that disconnect between that great set of values and principles and the application of those?
I'm happy to answer this. It's a fundamental question of culture change. The minister speaks of this frequently. I think there are three levers, if I can use those words. One of them is quite formal and then two are more on the informal side.
On the formal side, Bill , again, contemplates the creation of CASDO. The independence of CASDO is very important in terms of its ability to establish model standards that any organization can use. From an ideal perspective, the minister can ask CASDO to establish standards, but other organizations can work with CASDO to establish model standards as well. A province, a municipality or an international organization can approach CASDO and ask it to develop a model standard on—let's pick open spaces, not the built environment, but parks and recreational areas. They could say, we want a model standard, and we want you to form a technical committee. Could you do that for us? CASDO has that ability under the proposed legislation to do that.
Model standards, once they're developed, as I said, can be used by any organization. Having that independence and that model standard means that any jurisdiction, province, territory or municipality can use that model standard to have that coherent approach across Canada.
On the informal side, there is the regular ongoing conversation at a political and officials' level with our provincial and territorial counterparts. For the past two years, as an example, I've been co-chair with my Ontario and Saskatchewan colleagues of an open forum on accessibility, to set the groundwork for a more formal consultation with the provinces and territories, should Bill be adopted.
How are we going to work together in terms of accessibility coherence across jurisdictions? As I indicated, there is the leadership from Ontario, Nova Scotia and Manitoba. Also active at the table, I would say, are Newfoundland and Labrador and British Columbia with lots of interest in what we're doing and how we're going to work together. I know the minister has had a number of occasions to talk to her provincial and territorial counterparts going forward.
The final informal piece is behaviour change. That is the conversation about how you can do better and how you can take it to the next level. The legislation is just one part of that conversation change. It's a lever to ensure that organizations are talking about accessibility. I think the minister, especially in her business case for why it makes sense to hire persons with disabilities, is also a big, important part of that conversation.
When you match that against the fact that 14% of the Canadian population are persons with a disability, while we are meeting our employment equity targets, it still falls quite short of representativeness across the country.
The 5,000 additional hires over the next five years will bump that 5.6% up to somewhere between 7% and 8%.
Again, there's a lot more that can be done in terms of recruitment within the public service to make the public servants representative of persons with disabilities. I'm sure Deputy Minister Laroche will have a lot to say about that on Tuesday. It's something that is near and dear to her heart.
In terms of the new organizations that are contemplated under Bill , just at a high level, I've explained that the Canadian accessibility standards development organization will have a mandate for developing standards on an ongoing basis for the government to consider from a regulatory perspective. It will also have a technical assistance mandate, in terms of being able to help organizations translate what a model standard actually means for an organization. It also has a research mandate, in terms of contemplating and getting ahead of the standards that are needed for the next generation, so that we're not in a reactive mode in standards building or standards development. We'll be looking at and leading on the next range of standards that are going to be needed.
The chief accessibility officer, as I believe I've explained, has that systemic monitoring role. The person will be required to report annually on the progress and implementation of the legislation across the system. Again, it will have that special reporting capacity, should either the minister or somebody from the outside signal that there are problems with the system.
Then finally, there is the accessibility commissioner, who will be housed within the Canadian Human Rights Commission. It is intended to take advantage of the infrastructure that already exists in place within that commission, and will have the proactive compliance and enforcement as well as the complaints-handling mandate that my colleague has explained for the committee.