I call the meeting to order.
Good morning, everybody.
I have a preamble that I need to go through at the beginning of each of these meetings, so please bear with me.
We are meeting on Bill . The objective of today's meeting is to continue the committee's thorough review of the bill.
I would 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 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.
For those who would like to watch the American sign language interpretation, please sit in the benches to my left. For those who would like to watch the Quebec sign language interpretation, please sit in the benches to my right.
In addition, please note that the first two rows of benches have been reserved for those who wish to avail themselves of these interpretation services.
Screens displaying the near real-time closed captioning have also been set up, with the English text to my left and the French text to my right. The sign language interpreters in the room are also being videorecorded for the eventual broadcast of the meeting through 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.
The last meeting was our first meeting with the sign language interpretation. You can tell from my tone and pace that I am trying to slow things down a little bit, so please take your time. I won't be as strict with the timing as usual.
We did have some issues at the first meeting with the interpretation having trouble keeping up with the speed of the speakers. If I get an indication that you do need to slow down, I will do this. I'm not saying to stop; I'm just saying slow down.
I'd like to welcome all of the witnesses here today. We have a very large group, so we'll get right to it.
From the Treasury Board Secretariat, we have Yazmine Laroche, deputy minister, public service accessibility; Alex Benay, chief information officer of the Government of Canada; and Carl Trottier, assistant deputy minister, governance, planning and policy sector, office of the chief human resources officer.
From the Canadian Human Rights Commission, we have Marie-Claude Landry, chief commissioner, and Marcella Daye, senior policy adviser, policy and legal services branch.
From Canada Post Corporation, we have Jessica L. McDonald, chair of the board of directors and interim president and chief executive officer, and Susan Margles, senior vice-president, corporate affairs.
Welcome again to all of you. I believe we are going to start with Yazmine Laroche, deputy minister, public service accessibility, for seven minutes.
Good morning, Mr. Chair.
Thank you for the invitation to appear before your committee to discuss Bill . I am delighted to be here with my colleagues to speak about this bill.
The goal of of Bill C-81 is to vastly improve the quality of life for Canadians with disabilities through the progressive realization of a barrier-free Canada. Currently, barriers to accessibility continue to adversely impact Canadians with disabilities and their families.
The bill, if passed, would require organizations under federal jurisdiction to identify, remove and prevent barriers to accessibility in six key areas: the built environment, employment, information and communications technologies, the procurement of goods and services, the delivery of programs and services, and transportation.
Chief among these organizations is the Government of Canada. As such, the accessible Canada act has the potential to significantly change the way that the federal public service does business and serves Canadians, as well as to improve the lives of federal employees with disabilities. As the largest employer in Canada, the government must lead by example.
Our goal is a simple one: to make the public service of Canada the gold standard of an accessible and inclusive public service.
But we have our work cut out for us.
Among the 12,000 respondents to the PSES, the public service employment survey, who self-identified as a person with a disability, too many report facing more challenges in the workplace than those without disabilities.
Public servants with disabilities report higher rates of harassment, feeling emotionally drained after their work day and that their work-related stress is high or very high. They also report being less engaged, less empowered and less respected than people without disabilities.
To address this, Treasury Board is taking action in its capacity as employer of the core public administration.
Today I'd like to briefly outline some of the work that's currently taking place at the secretariat.
As the first-ever deputy minister of public service accessibility, just appointed in August, I have charged my team with developing an overarching strategy and an implementation plan. Our work will be based on consultation with partners and stakeholders that will help the federal public service show leadership in meeting the requirements in the accessible Canada act.
My office will act as a hub, providing strategic advice on accessibility issues for all Government of Canada departments and agencies. We will leverage the expertise of partners in other levels of government, as well as both the private and non-profit sectors.
One of the goals set by the Government of Canada is to hire 5,000 new employees with disabilities by 2025. Beyond recruitment, we will also lead initiatives to remove barriers to inclusion and full participation in the workplace, and ensure employees with disabilities can access the adjustments they need in a timely manner.
Our goal is to optimize productivity and maximize every employee's contributions.
We will also take an active role in supporting departments and agencies in publicly reporting on their progress through multi-year accessibility plans. In this way, we can be held to account.
While our office is new, much work is already underway thanks to my colleagues, like Carl Trottier, in the office of the chief human resources officer.
This office within TBS has been developing the diversity and inclusion strategy and action plan for the public service, to be launched this fall.
On recruitment, TBS is developing a strategy to address gaps and barriers for equity seeking groups, including persons with disabilities.
One of the components of this strategy will be to examine opportunities to reach Canadians with disabilities, and further understand and address barriers to recruitment, retention and engagement once in the public service.
The secretariat will build on its own experience with successful pilot programs, such as the youth accessibility summer employment opportunity for students with disabilities and its partnership with LiveWorkPlay for people with intellectual disabilities.
The secretariat has identified the need to train and support managers and human resources professionals early in the recruitment process and to provide timely access to services such as the accessibility, accommodations and adaptive computer technology program at Shared Services Canada.
Mr. Chair, allow me to turn to the work now currently being led by my colleague Alex Benay, Canada's chief information officer.
In a modern workplace, information and technology are key enablers that support collaboration, innovation and mobility.
However, in today's public service, information and communications technologies are not as accessible as they should be. Many work tools can pose accessibility and usability barriers to employees with disabilities.
To address this, TBS is evolving the current suite of collaboration tools into an open and accessible digital workspace for public servants.
Using modern open-source technology and tools, this workspace will be accessible by design, ensuring that all of our employees can bring their diversity and passion to the table to provide better services to Canadians.
As well, the Government of Canada recently released the digital standards, which include accessibility by design. As the government continues to transition towards digital, a key focus will be keeping user needs, including accessibility, at the forefront of the design of all government services and operations.
In closing, let me plainly say that the public service should reflect the diverse nature of the citizens it serves. We know that diverse and inclusive organizations are more creative, innovative and productive.
Our goal is to create a workplace where every federal public servant has what they need to do their very best work so that they can do their best for Canada and for its citizens.
Thank you so much. We'd be pleased to answer any questions.
Thank you for inviting the Canadian Human Rights Commission to take part in your study of Bill . With me is Marcella Daye, senior policy adviser at the commission.
The commission is an independent agency of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal and Canada's human rights watchdog. Bill is a positive step toward ensuring that everybody can live free from barriers: barriers in the buildings we work in, barriers built into the technology we use, and barriers created by attitudes and stigma that prevent people from contributing fully to society. This bill will improve accessibility, and so we congratulate the government on this very important initiative.
For the CHRC, the bill provides for a new accessibility commissioner and a new accessibility unit. It also designates the CHRC as the monitoring mechanism for the UNCRPD, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and we welcome this designation. The Canadian Human Rights Commission supports this bill, and we urge you to pass it.
I would like to highlight two sets of changes that the CHRC believes will have a positive impact on the success of the bill's implementation.
Our first suggestion is about making sure the legislation begins to work immediately. This comes in two parts.
First, the bill states that the government may choose to put regulations in place. We believe that the legislation should require government to make regulations. It needs more. It needs a kick-start to action. We recommend in subclause 117(1) changing “may” to “shall” and adding the words “which may include” at the end of this subsection. We therefore propose that subclause 117(1) would read as follows: “Subject to sections 118 to 120, the Governor in Council shall make regulations which may include”.
Two, we also recommend that the bill require timelines to be set for organizations to meet any standard that is passed into regulation. We propose to add to the end of subclause 117(1)(c) the words, “and timelines for their implementation”. With our proposal, subclause 117(1)(c) would read as follows: “establishing standards intended to remove barriers and to improve accessibility in the areas referred to in section 5 and timelines for their implementation”.
With these changes, we believe the legislation will inspire and compel concrete action. It will ensure that neither the government nor organizations will be able to let good intentions gather dust, and it will embed accountability.
Our suggestion is about the lack of clarity around the application of this legislation in first nations communities. They are not excluded, but they are also not specifically included. We are concerned that this lack of clarity may lead to a gap in human rights protection for indigenous peoples. This is why we welcome the government's commitment for more robust consultation with first nations, the Inuit and the Métis nation. The commission is familiar with the consequences of excluding a group of people from human rights protections. Prior to 2008, section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act excluded persons living on first nations reserves. It was intended as a temporary measure. It remained for 30 years. We must ensure that such a gap does not happen again.
Bill has the potential to bring about incredibly positive changes for those living with disabilities in first nation communities. We urge the government to work quickly in consultation with first nations towards the effective implementation of the on reserves. Such work must of course take into accounts their rights, unique interests and circumstances. We also encourage the government to provide adequate resources to first nation governments to meet the urgent needs that exist in far too many communities.
On a last note before I conclude, during your review of the bill, you will likely hear many concerns, including those about the very broad exemption powers in the act and the lack of recognition of American sign language and la langue des signes québécoise. We believe that concerns of civil society such as these merit consideration by this committee.
The CHRC is committed to putting in place the people, tools, expertise and partnerships needed to play our part in this ambitious legislation. This includes our setting up of working groups with the CTA, the CRTC, the FPSLREB and the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.
I want to thank you again. Marcella Daye and I look forward to answering your questions.
Thank you, Chair and committee members, for inviting Canada Post to participate in this important discussion on Bill .
My name is Jessica McDonald. As you said, I'm chair of the board of directors. I'm joined today by my colleague, Susan Margles, senior vice-president of corporate affairs. It's a pleasure to be here today and to speak to the committee.
Identifying, removing and preventing physical and non-visible barriers in the workplace and society is an incredibly important issue for our country, but also for Canada Post. We fully support Bill as proposed and embrace the goals of the legislation.
Canada Post recognizes the significance of this legislation to Canadian citizens, the Government of Canada and parliamentarians, including our , who is a champion for accessibility and removing barriers. We also know that as a Crown corporation we can and must always do more in this area. Identifying, removing and preventing barriers is a continuous evolution. Canada Post takes very seriously its obligations under the Canadian Human Rights Act, as well as the Employment Equity Act.
We strive to ensure that our services and facilities are accessible to all Canadians. In the next few minutes, I will outline our approach for helping to improve accessibility for our customers and employees.
First, it's important to understand the size and scope of our operations. More than 50,000 people, full- and part-time employees, work for Canada Post, not including our subsidiaries. That makes us one of Canada's largest employers. We have the country's largest retail network, with nearly 6,200 post offices across Canada. Most of these are operated in urban centres, but many are operated out of very diverse locations, such as pharmacies, corner stores, or people's homes.
Often in remote reaches of the country, we've learned from experience that a one-size-fits-all approach doesn't work when it comes to providing services. We deliver to more than 16 million residential and business addresses in every corner of the country. We're proud to partner with small businesses across Canada, and we understand their importance to the Canadian economy.
We recognize the need for our services to be as accessible as possible to help small business owners and customers with disabilities. It's our job to serve Canadians, and we're proud to do so. Because of our size and scope, we're keenly aware of the importance of removing barriers for Canadians with physical and non-visible disabilities. We understand that the nature of disabilities can be as diverse as the people who experience them.
In supporting the legislation, we also know it will take some time to fully grasp how it will affect Canada Post. We're looking forward to better understanding the impacts and the opportunities from Bill . Being a large organization with legacy infrastructure in communities across Canada, we recognize it will require significant effort and resources to make improvements going forward, but we are absolutely committed to respecting the legislation and regulations, once adopted.
As you may recall, the Government of Canada launched a review of Canada Post to better position us for the future. Based on feedback from the public and stakeholders, the government announced a new vision for Canada Post earlier this year. One of those pillars was to enhance our existing accessible delivery program. Canada Post is committed to ensuring that all customers, including seniors and persons with disabilities, have access to their mail and parcels. This specifically includes persons living on first nations reserves. We have a dedicated team in place to respond to each customer's needs on a case-by-case basis and together determine appropriate accommodation options. Again, we know we can do more and improve our processes.
We take our duty to remove barriers and accommodate disabilities and mobility issues very seriously. We're working diligently to ensure that our operations and services respect Canadians' right to dignity, autonomy and privacy, and that everyone has equal opportunity to access our services and compete for a job.
In all aspects of our operations, when a situation of inaccessibility is brought to our attention, we take action to address the situation as quickly as possible.
For Canada Post, Bill is an opportunity to improve accessibility to our services and facilities to meet the needs and expectations of an aging population. The 2016 census showed that for the first time in Canadian history, seniors now outnumber children in Canada. There are now nearly six million seniors in Canada, and by 2031, close to one in four Canadians could be 65 years of age or older. We absolutely recognize the need to adjust our operations accordingly.
We have also been working hard on creating an accessibility advisory panel. This panel will provide ongoing input and be a forum for dialogue that will help us make delivery services more accessible to persons with disabilities and to seniors. We're very delighted that some leading experts and strong advocates with lived experience have agreed to sit on the panel and take on this important role. We expect to announce the accessibility advisory panel very soon.
I wanted to quickly share some of the other services we currently provide that make it easier for people with disabilities to access our postal products and services.
In our retail locations, examples include access ramps, electronic doors, accessible payment devices and the welcoming of service animals.
To support the visually impaired, we provide a literature for the blind service that allows specific items used by blind persons to be mailed for free, such as materials impressed in Braille and sound recordings, such as CDs. For the hearing-impaired, we have a dedicated toll-free TTY customer service line. We also provide instruction to our employees on how to deal with customers with visual or hearing impairments.
We are also committed to making our website accessible to all Canadians. Some of the accessibility features include keyboard shortcut options for navigating without a mouse, an ability to change text size, and quick-access links.
We also have a disability management team. Canada Post provides training for employees on how to accommodate physical and non-visible disabilities in the workplace. Our collective agreements with our unions all address accessibility. We collaborate with unions and have joint decision-making on how to remove barriers. Each union also has a specific committee with Canada Post on respecting human rights.
As a major federal employer, service provider, and procurer of services, Canada Post recognizes that this legislation and its regulations will impact many aspects of our organization going forward. The legislation will require us to identify, remove, and prevent barriers in six key areas identified in the bill.
Recognizing that we have much work to do in this area, I also want to note that Canada Post is in the process of hiring a director of accessibility policy. This is an important step as we work to improve accessibility at Canada Post.
We know that this work will require a lot of resources, but as I mentioned earlier, we welcome this important legislation and we embrace its goals.
We hope that our efforts and continued commitment to doing more demonstrate the importance Canada Post places on improving accessibility for our customers and employees.
On behalf of Canada Post, I'd like to thank the committee for inviting us to appear.
We applaud the government and members of the committee for working to remove barriers and improve accessibility for all Canadians through Bill . This is an important conversation, and we are very happy to contribute to it.
Our approach to improving accessibility has evolved over many years and aligns with the goals outlined in the bill. We look forward to further understanding what the legislation will mean for Canada Post going forward.
We would be very happy to take your questions.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thanks to all our witnesses for being here this morning. The end of the table is very full. I appreciate your time, certainly.
I'm going to direct a couple of questions. If I direct them to the wrong place, if you don't mind, could you just shuffle them off? I'm not exactly sure how everybody.... Also, you can share.
One of the questions I had, which came up, really, with the 's presentation on Tuesday, is about the different levels of departments and officials who are going to be overseeing this bill and the implementation of this bill. We have the accessibility commissioner, the Canadian Human Rights Commission, the Canadian accessibility standards development organization, and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. There seem to be a lot of different layers.
I'm wondering, Ms. Laroche or Ms. Landry, if you can explain to me the hierarchy of this implementation and the long-term overseeing of this legislation. Who's going to be in charge of what?
I think all of us around this table agree that this is the right direction to go, but sometimes more does not help. I'm concerned that there are going to be so many different layers of bureaucracy and departments overseeing this that it's not going to be implemented as efficiently and as quickly as we would certainly like.
Perhaps one of you could explain to me how this is going to work.
Why don't I start, and then my colleague will maybe speak a little more about the accessibility commissioner, since that relates more specifically to her?
I can't really speak to the architecture that's in the legislation, because it is and the Department of ESDC who are the policy leads for that and who designed it. However, what I can tell you is that in my own case, in my job, I am not another layer of bureaucracy. We're actually a small, tasked team. We're going to be about 10 people, and our job is to actually help connect some of the dots, because there are so many players involved.
Take a look at the six different pillars that are contained in the legislation. On procurement, well, Treasury Board has a policy responsibility for procurement. On built environment, Treasury Board has a policy responsibility for built environment. It's the same thing with information and communications technologies, but Public Services and Procurement Canada has a huge role to play in the actual procurement and the actual acquisition and management of our built environment. There is by necessity a need for coordination. Part of my job, in terms of helping get the federal public service ready, is making sure that we are working in a coordinated way as we start to develop the strategy, so that we know who's accountable for what, and by when, and what they're expected to do.
That's a bit about how we're going to be organizing.
Perhaps Ms. Landry could tell us a bit about the commissioner.
Thank you for the question.
What I would say about governance overall is that this is a complex system, but that does not mean it cannot be a very effective system. It is really critical to harmonize the interplay between the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the domestic charter and human rights provisions, and this bill does that. It takes those three governing statutes and says they should work to complement each other. Then it recognizes the complexity that exists partly in the federal system, which includes the sectoral bodies regulated by the CTA and the CRTC, but it also recognizes that some folks won't be able to reach out to those because they work in the federal public service, for example, or they work in areas that are in private industry and are not governed by those two bodies.
The complexity that you are seeing in the bill is, partially, simply a representation of the complexity in society, but what this bill does do is try to harmonize that complexity. It does so in very specific ways, which our chief commissioner can speak to. It requires us to harmonize all of the complaint systems at the front door and to collaborate on policies and practices.
It also offers very welcomed oversight in the system. Those three layers of international and domestic legislation, governance that recognizes the diversity of sectoral bodies in Canada, and the very appropriate oversight role may at first glance appear as a bureaucracy, but they can actually drive this country to better accessibility because they will be able to lean on each other for their various roles.
I'll let the chief speak on that.
Thank you for the question.
Before I took on this job, I was the deputy minister champion for public servants with disabilities. In fact, I was the first deputy minister with an actual disability to serve as the champion for public servants with disabilities. One of the things I wanted to do when I took on that job was to actually try to understand the status quo.
We now do an annual—it used to be triannual—public service employee survey, and I wanted to understand the data. Carl, my colleague in OCHRO, and his team do an excellent analysis of that, and you can actually disaggregate the data by how people have self-identified. You can do it by gender, by language group and by occupational group, and by people who have self-identified as having a disability.
In successive surveys, we see that people with disabilities report much higher levels of harassment and discrimination than the norm for other public servants. When you try to unpack that a little bit and actually talk to public servants about what could be driving that, one of the key issues is a feeling that the environment isn't designed to support people with disabilities, so whether our buildings are not accessible, whether washroom facilities are not accessible, or whether our technology works for employees....
If it takes you six months to get access to a piece of technology that can actually help you do your job properly, we can understand your response when that annual survey comes around and asks if you feel you've been discriminated against, if you feel harassed. That might help to explain a little bit about that.
In thinking about the strategy we're designing, we're trying to understand how we could change that. Do we need to put a first focus on building a welcoming environment? How do we then track the changes? The good thing is we do annual surveys, because they will allow us to measure our progress and ask whether the actions we're taking are making the difference we need. We're using that data piece to actually help us measure our results.
As I said in my opening remarks, we have a tremendous amount of work to do. Stated another way, we have a tremendous amount of opportunity in this area.
As you say, with 50,000 employees, we have a great representation of people with challenges at work. The legislation in its intent addresses what I will call—as a civilian, not a professional expert in this area—mental health issues and non-visible disabilities.
Think about the diversity of challenges that people may have in the workplace and about how the workplace can contribute to those, about the more standard way in which some people may look at disabilities in the workplace, and about addressing the physical disabilities, an area where we also do put attention but can put more attention. There's just a tremendous diversity of understanding that we need to gain inside the organization about how we can better support employees in a very demanding field of work.
As you may be aware, we have tremendous change happening in terms of what it means to be a delivery company that had been focused on letter mail and is now on parcels. When it comes to either physical or non-visible challenges, there's a lot more we need to understand so that we build future systems in a supportive way for employees.
That is where there is a tremendous amount of collaborative work needed with our employees. In order to bring out the discussion properly, it's my view that we need better processes of talking with our employees and understanding how they feel today. Introducing employee surveys, for example, is something that we need to do more of. Changing the language inside the organization in terms of how we refer to disabilities and how we respect people's challenges is another area.
People with disabilities are under-represented in our workforce. We need to understand if we have exhausted the efforts of ensuring that we provide appropriate accommodations, but we must also appear to be a welcoming employer for people who could be very productive employees and great contributors if they were supported in the right way.
Obviously, this is a very broad question. When I talk about our physical infrastructure, we have a tremendous amount of work to do there. When we talk about the organization itself—its culture, its processes, its understanding of its employees, and its employees' level of confidence that the workplace is supportive and will adapt—that's also an area where we have a tremendous amount of work to do.
The key for me as interim CEO is the immediate hiring, which is under way, of a director of accessibility policy. That's key for us in terms of having a champion and somebody with the responsibility to drive all of this forward and ensure that we're not missing any opportunities and can report back on very specific progress.
I can give more details and perhaps a story.
The way the system works now is that people who have been discriminated against have to file complaints and then get individual remedies. That is the only complaint process that exists right now. If 100 people fail to get into a building, 99 will leave and one might have the wherewithal to file a complaint and get a resolution. Sometimes those resolutions result in systemic changes, but sometimes they are individual remedies.
What this act will do is give us two new tools. Number one, it will require organizations to change things, so that hopefully 100 people can get into that building and there is no need for a complaint. The requirements for compliance have teeth, and that goes back to the inspection powers. We can inspect, and we can make judgements on whether someone is meeting a standard or not. If they are not, they can be found in violation, and they can face large fines if they are in violation. It is an encouragement to do better.
The new system also creates a complaint process. Let's say somebody, maybe that 99th or 100th person, tries to get in, but they still can't get in. What they discover is that the organization has not implemented the standard. In the new system, there's only one type of complaint, and that's a complaint over a standard not being implemented. The resolution of that complaint is to implement the standard and remedy the harm.
It gives us two robust new tools to identify and address issues. It places less of a burden on those 99 people who couldn't get in and less of a burden on the one person who had to shoulder the complaint under the act.