I call the meeting to order.
Good morning, everyone. Welcome to today's meeting on Bill .
The objective of today's meeting is to continue the committee's thorough review of this bill. 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. Screens displaying the near real-time closed captioning have also been set up. The sign language interpreters in the room are also being videorecorded for the eventual broadcast of the meeting on ParlVU via the committee's website. 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. If a member of the audience requires assistance at any time, please notify a member of the staff or the committee clerk.
I would just like to add that we have found throughout these meetings that at times witnesses and committee members alike will often speak at a pace that is a little too fast. I will be interrupting if the interpreters give me either a thumbs up or a thumbs down if we are going a bit fast, so I apologize in advance. Please take your time with your opening remarks and in the questions and answers.
I'd like to welcome this panel here today. First of all, from Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, we are pleased to have Mr. David Lepofsky, chair. He is joined by Faith Cameletti, a student from Osgoode Hall Law School, and Connor Campbell, also a student from Osgoode Hall Law School. Welcome to all three of you.
From the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association, we have Mr. Christopher Sutton, national executive director. Welcome, sir.
From the CNIB Foundation, we have Angela Bonfanti, vice-president, Ontario and Quebec, and Robbi Weldon, program lead, peer support and leisure. Thank you as well for being here today.
We're going to get started this morning with Mr. Lepofsky. Go ahead, sir.
Our society has for too many years—indeed, decades—been designed on the ridiculous assumption that for the most part it's there for people without disabilities. It's not that people wanted us excluded, but we have just never been part of the thinking, much of the time, when our buildings are built, our public transit is created, our workplaces are designed, and the goods and services we use are designed and sold.
It's a ridiculous idea, because more than five million of us now have a disability—but even that number underestimates us, because, you see, every one of us in this room, and every voter who voted for you or against you, either has a disability now or is bound to get one later in their life. We are the minority of everyone, and no politician or political party can go soft on the minority of everyone.
We commend the federal government for committing to bring forward Bill , and for undertaking a good public consultation on it. However, the bill that is now before you is very strong on good intentions but very weak on implementation and enforcement. The groups that have come before you have provided a road map of how to fix it, and that can be done. When you come to vote on amendments before this committee and when you go back to your caucuses to decide what position you're going to take, we urge you not simply to think of the immediate political expediency of today; we do urge you to think about the imminent election a year from now and the needs of the minority of everyone, for whom no party or politician can go soft.
We urge you to think about what you would say to you, 20 years from now. If you don't already have a disability now but you get one later, what would you come back in time and say about your reluctance to support strong amendments? We urge you to come together and unanimously support strong amendments.
You've heard many groups focusing on very common themes. Our top priorities are in a brief that is being circulated to you in Braille and in a brief that spells much more out in detail. Let me use my time to focus on two, which other groups have supported, but they have not been discussed as much at this committee.
First, Bill wrongly splinters the creation of accessibility standards and their enforcement among multiple federal agencies. This is a formula for a weak bill. Please unsplinter it. This bill provides that accessibility standards can be enacted—and that's good—but it divides the power to make them among the federal cabinet, which should have all that power; the Canadian Transportation Agency for transportation providers; and the CRTC for broadcasters and telecom companies.
That is a formula for confusion, contradiction, delay and weak standards. All standards should be made by one body alone, and that is the politically accountable federal cabinet. Giving the power over public transit to the Canadian Transportation Agency will have the effect of weakening the measures you take on transportation. That agency, like the CRTC, has no demonstrated expertise on accessibility for people with disabilities. Moreover, both the CTA and the CRTC have substantially inadequate track records in the use of the power on accessibility that they've had for years.
If you go to folks who have a bad track record, you have a predictable future of more bad track records. Let me give you one example that says it all.
The Canadian Transportation Agency has had the power to make accessibility standards for people with disabilities in federally regulated transportation providers for over three decades. They're so excited and so eager to use that power that they've made absolutely none. Giving them that power now can give us no enthusiasm that they'll be any more willing to use it and to use it well in the future.
You might think I'd be upset that they haven't used it, but in fact I'm happy they haven't used it, because the legislation now—and as this bill is written, the legislation in the future—would provide that if they make a federal accessibility standard, it can actually cut back on the rights that the legislation now provides, because once a regulation is made, it is fully dispositive of the right to accommodation under the transportation legislation. That is really bad.
We need you to first remove that feature in the Transportation Act so that a standard, if enacted, can only extend our rights and never cut them back. Second, we need you to concentrate all power to make accessibility standards in the federal cabinet.
As well, this bill splinters the power to enforce this legislation among four federal organizations: the accessibility commissioner, the CTA, the CRTC and the tribunal that regulates federal employment. Again, this is a formula for confusion.
The federal government response to date has been inadequate. It simply said, “We'll have a policy that there will be no wrong door. Whichever agency you go to, no matter how confusing it is to figure it out—and believe me, it is confusing—if you go in the wrong door, we'll send you to the right door. Problem solved.” No, it isn't, because all that does is fix the problem of which door you go in. It does not solve the substantial problem that happens once you're inside that door. It means we have to lobby four agencies to get them up to the necessary level of expertise. It means we have to learn four different sets of procedures, because they may all use different procedures once you get inside the door. It means we have to go to agencies that may not have any expertise in disability and accessibility.
It makes far more sense to simply mandate the new accessibility commissioner with all accessibility enforcement under this act. The fact is simply that the design of this bill, splintering among these agencies, serves only two interests: the bureaucracies that want to preserve their turf and those obligated organizations that would rather this law have weaker standards, slower implementation and weaker enforcement. That is not consistent with the federal government's commendable motivations and intentions under this legislation.
Let me conclude by turning to one other point we'd like to emphasize. Members of this committee have asked what could be done to ensure that on day one, this law will make a real difference. Here's the answer, and it's not now in this bill.
This bill should be amended in accordance with the proposals in our brief to ensure that whenever federal money is spent, it can never be used to create a new barrier or perpetuate an old barrier against people with disabilities. It's commendable that the bill allows the making of access standards for federal procurement of goods and services, but that's not the only way the federal government spends money. The federal government right now spends a lot of money on infrastructure, and not only federal infrastructure, but money is transferred to communities or provinces for local projects such as public transit, hospitals and so on. We urge that any federal spending on procurement, infrastructure, loans or grants to business or otherwise have strong accessibility strings attached, monitored and enforced, so that federal money is never used to make things worse for us.
On day one, that could start making a difference.
In conclusion, I have a really strong sense of personal history today, because 38 years ago, when the Charter of Rights was only a proposal, it did not include equality for people with disabilities. I had the privilege of being one of the many people who came here to argue that the charter be amended to include equality for people with disabilities.
Working together, we succeeded then. Working together now, we can succeed with this bill, which is strong on intention but weak on enforcement and implementation. We now have the opportunity to work together with you again to create a strong law that will make the victory of 38 years ago—equality for people with disabilities—not only a legal guarantee, but a reality in the lives of all of us.
Thank you very much.
Good morning, and thank you for the honour of inviting the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association here today as you learn more about Bill .
The Canadian Hard of Hearing Association was established in 1982 and is the leading consumer advocacy organization representing the needs of nearly four million Canadians with hearing loss. With a network from coast to coast to coast, we work co-operatively with professionals, service providers, government and others to provide life-enhancing information, support and advocacy to ensure that people with hearing loss can overcome barriers in all aspects of their lives.
My name is Christopher Sutton. I'm the national executive director of the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association. Like most of my colleagues here before you today, I've had the privilege to work on behalf of people with disabilities and have worked in corporate, not-for-profit and government sectors. Even with my advanced level of education and professional success, as a person who lives with an invisible disability, I live with barriers on a daily basis.
The Canadian Hard of Hearing Association supports Bill C-81. While we acknowledge that laws and standards are only one part of breaking down barriers, we see this as a positive step towards ensuring that everyone can live in a barrier-free society. As an individual who has lived in the United States, where they have the Americans with Disabilities Act, I am hopeful about what this legislation will accomplish.
The Canadian Hard of Hearing Association congratulates the Government of Canada for its work on developing this legislation and the process they undertook to consult with people with disabilities to ensure that this legislation meets our needs. Our organization was a partner in this consultation process and continues our work through our engagement with the Federal Accessibility Legislation Alliance. We are pleased to see that so many of the recommendations we provided are included in this critical legislation.
We see some areas in which there could be improvements to ensure that this legislation is the best possible and allows Canada to lead globally in making sure we live in a barrier-free society. As one of the partner organizations working with the Federal Accessibility Legislation Alliance, we support the recommendations that were provided to this committee and would like to stress the following recommendations.
First, regarding timelines for achieving a barrier-free Canada, our recommendations are similar to those used in Ontario with the AODA. With the goal of having a barrier-free Ontario by 2025, we recommend that specific timelines and deadlines be built into the legislation so that people have a vision and a goal to work towards. We know a barrier-free society will not happen overnight, but we have a vision and a commitment that's critical. We believe that specific timelines and deadlines must be created for establishing the infrastructure to implement the act. This also needs to be done for the Accessibility Standards Development Organization, for standards and regulation committees, for the chief accessibility officer and office, and for the accessibility commissioner and office. We also need to make sure that we set timelines and deadlines for studying and implementing these standards and regulations and for making progress reports.
Second, we recommend that disabled people have access to communication accommodations and supports. While most people think of accommodations and supports as access to a building with a ramp and so forth, it's really much more than that, and understanding a fully accessibility-built environment is very important. We strongly encourage the use and adoption of innovative solutions that provide access to communication accommodations and support. These communication accommodations include things such as CART captioning, ensuring that service counters, conference rooms and other facilities are looped for those with hearing assistive devices, text communications, sign language, and other forms of communication supports. Communication and supports must be made mandatory through standards and regulations.
Third, we recommend that funding be made available so that people with disabilities and the organizations that work to represent them are properly compensated for their contributions to the design and implementation of this legislation. Too often, people with disabilities are asked for their expertise and lived experience and are given no financial compensation for their contributions. Funding is also needed to develop tool kits, guidelines, training and education programs, and other things to ensure a successful implementation of this legislation.
Also, additional funds need to be provided to organizations like mine that work on behalf of people with disabilities, so that we can continue to provide resources to these individuals so that they can learn more about their disabilities and how to live barrier-free lives.
Probably one of the most important things is to create a culture of inclusion and equity. All people employed by the federal public sector, including staff, must engage in intensive education programs to ensure that they understand and demonstrate inclusive attitudes. It's important that we show at all levels that accessibility is critical. All employees should be examples and role models for creating a culture of inclusion and equity. We must develop policies and practices that must be set and followed and that change attitudes. We also need to have people with disabilities at all aspects and levels of employment. People with disabilities need to be present, and they need to be seen so that we're part of this change.
While I am here to address disability issues as a whole, and not specifically hearing loss, I do want to bring your attention to the rising number of people with hearing loss and the associated economic burden, which causes a problem in Canada and globally. Hearing loss has rarely been an issue that captures public support, and while some strategies for hearing health care have been implemented in some provinces, awareness and resource allocations for hearing heath care remain scarce. This is of concern. Unaddressed hearing loss puts affected Canadians at significant risk for unemployment and for developing other serious conditions, such as depression and anxiety, at further cost to our health care system.
You may be already aware. Last week I provided you and your office with an invitation to have an opportunity to address these issues in a separate conversation, and I look forward to receiving your response.
The Canadian Hard of Hearing Association is committed to continuing its work with this committee and the government as they develop this legislation to ensure that it meets the needs of all people with disabilities.
I thank you again, and I look forward to answering any questions you may have.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thanks for giving CNIB an opportunity to speak here today.
As you mentioned, I am joined here by my colleague, Robbi Weldon, who is our program lead for peer support and leisure for eastern Ontario, and she'll be sharing this presentation with me today.
I'd like to start off with a brief overview of CNIB's history and why we are here today. We were founded in 1918. We just celebrated our 100th anniversary. We were founded by wounded war veterans who were coming back and looking for help for those who had lost significant sight through their journey serving Canada in the war.
Throughout the last 100 years, CNIB has done a number of things that have helped to fill gaps that are around societal inequities that people with sight loss face every day. Employment is the one that we have tried and tried again and have yet to succeed on.
We believe that a piece to this puzzle is really around the accessibility of our procedures, of our legislation and of our buildings, and, to Christopher's point, not just the bricks and mortar and the physical space. Our presentation here today will focus on what we mean when we say “accessible” and what this means for people with sight loss.
Today, CNIB's mission is to have a bolder, brighter future. We are an advocacy organization that is here to boost engagement in the world of work, to unleash the power of technology, and to drive achievement and equality for the next century of work that we are going to be in.
I'm going to turn it over to Robbi now to present her portion of the presentation.
As part of this consultative process since 2016, whether it be through government consultation, public town halls, thematic round tables, the Prime Minister's youth forum, or an online survey, we at CNIB applaud the federal government for this legislation. CNIB was also part of two disability consultative groups funded by the federal government to consult with Canadians with disabilities from coast to coast to coast.
After Bill C-81 was tabled this June, CNIB analyzed the legislation, and we conducted our own nationwide survey on the legislation with people who have sight loss and with sight-loss advocates. Our recommendations and testimony today are based on what we heard over the past three years and are also based on our experience over the last 100 years.
As my colleague Robbi started to indicate, CNIB believes that substantial amendments are needed to strengthen Bill . We agree with many of the recommendations that other disability organizations have brought forward. We would like to highlight a few recommendations we believe are key to a truly barrier-free Canada.
We agree with the need to create a new accessibility commissioner and a chief accessibility officer. As David Lepofsky has mentioned, there is a fear among Canadians with sight loss that a splintering effect will make enforcement and compliance with this legislation, future regulations and standards more onerous for Canadians with disabilities. We advise against further creation of bureaucratic processes in fear that a bottleneck, as it has in the past, may occur when the office of the chief accessibility officer is up and running. We have many years of experience advising and making structures more accessible and straightforward. We urge the government to consult with us when these new offices are being set up.
We believe that to create a society free of barriers, products and goods that are accessed by taxpaying Canadians should be accessible to all. That is why CNIB urges the scope of Bill to be broadened to require the federal government to procure materials, technologies and services. This will also help to facilitate a shift in the private sector, which will want to do business with the federal government and hopefully by extension do better business themselves.
Frankly, many procured materials are inaccessible. If the government creates a procurement strategy with accessibility in mind, everyone will benefit.
As Minister currently has ministerial oversight regarding this legislation and Canada's procurement strategy, she is in a prime position to ensure barriers are removed.
For example, point-of-sale terminals are often inaccessible for persons with sight loss and other disabilities. They have to ask a stranger to indicate whether they've put in the right PIN. They have to give a stranger their personal financial information to ensure that their groceries are bought and paid for. If the government procured a point-of-sale terminal that was accessible and mandated that all point-of-sale terminals used by the federal government, such as those used at Canada Post, were accessible, this could greatly shift the use of point-of-sale terminals that non-federally regulated entities utilize.
The world is changing quickly. New technologies are being created daily, and old practices are being modernized. Organizations and companies are changing the way business is done. People can print wirelessly. Documents are now saved on the cloud instead of on wired networks and in filing cabinets.
I hold in my hand a smart phone, something many federal organizations already provide for their staff. Robbi and I have used the same piece of technology to help us get our jobs done. This is through the use of artificial intelligence and other applications that are built into this device. It's not the only solution, but it is an economical solution, and frankly, it is already being done.
Finally, if the federal government wants a society without barriers, then all future legislation, policy, regulations and funding should be reviewed through a disability lens: “nothing for us without us”. This is consistent with the federal government's gender-based analysis plus that was done in the past few budgets. As Canadians get older and live older, they are more likely to develop a disability. The government's policies, legislation and regulations should not perpetuate further barriers.
The sight-loss population unemployment rate is three times the size of the national average. We believe this could be key to helping us to finally close that gap in employment.
With the amendments stated today, as well as others you have heard from the disability community, Bill can be a strong piece of legislation and ultimately create an accessible Canada.
We thank the committee for inviting CNIB to appear before you, and we look forward to answering your questions. Thank you.
Timelines are needed in two contexts.
First, the bill is lacking an ultimate deadline for achieving full accessibility.
You've heard from many groups that have said we need that, and I don't know if you've heard from any groups that said we don't. The only person who's come before this committee, I believe, to make a case against doing that, and correct me if I'm wrong, is , who may have said, or someone may have said, “Well, we don't have a timeline in the Criminal Code to be crime free.” It's a wrong comparison.
We have a criminal code because we know that unfortunately in our society, there will always be violence and so on. We need laws to protect us when that happens. On the other hand, we can achieve full accessibility by a deadline if we set the deadline.
We do have a society now in which we manage to ensure that we have women's washrooms in public buildings. We don't have to even think about that anymore.
You heard yesterday from Marie Bountrogianni, who wrote Ontario's accessibility law. She talked about how in the design of Ontario's law, the idea of an end deadline was hers and her government's, not ours. They were very clever in doing that. It was a great move.
She said we're doing this so that we reach a point where we can think about accessibility in our environment for people with disabilities the way we think about women's washrooms. It just happens, and we don't even have to think about it anymore.
That's the first thing. We need an end deadline. Without it, progress will be slower. While progress in Ontario hasn't been fast enough, the end deadline has played a very important role in any progress we've made. If this bill has an end deadline, it will be stronger. If it doesn't, it's basically telling people with disabilities, “We'd like accessibility, but don't expect it, ever. There may be some progress, but we're not prepared to say when or even if a world you can fully participate in will ever really happen.”
The other deadlines that need to be built in are concrete deadlines by which various implementation measures in the bill must be taken by government—when standards must be made by, when public officials and agencies like the accessibility standards development organization must be established, and those kinds of timelines.
What we know about government, regardless of party, as we've learned in Ontario, in Manitoba and elsewhere where legislation exists, is that unless there are timelines by which public servants must take certain actions to get the bill and the measures it requires up and running, they will fall behind. It's not because they're bad people, but because they have competing pressures.
To put it simply, folks, you guys are in the political biz, and in the political biz, your timeline is usually the crisis of next week, and the distant future for you is next year's election. Beyond that, it's really out of the spectrum of what people even think about.
We need legislative timelines that go beyond that, and a process to implement it. As in Ontario, if a government fails to meet one of those deadlines, there's a place we can go and an order we can get for the measure they were obliged to take.
] Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for inviting us to appear before this committee to study Bill , the accessible Canada act.
My name is Frank Folino, and I am the president of the Canadian Association of the Deaf.
This is my colleague, James Roots, executive director of the Canadian Association of the Deaf.
The CAD-ASC is a national non-profit organization that promotes accessibility for deaf people who use American Sign Language, ASL, and
Quebec sign language.
CAD-ASC works with the Federal Accessibility Legislation Alliance, FALA, to advise and improve Bill C-81, the accessible Canada act. Bill C-81 is very important for persons with disabilities and deaf persons, as it would lead to an improvement in their quality of life. The Honourable , Minister of Public Services and Procurement and Accessibility, has stated that 5,000 new jobs will be created for people with disabilities and for deaf, blind and hard-of-hearing persons in Canada.
We commend the Government of Canada for introducing Bill , which is the right step towards becoming an accessible Canada. CAD-ASC and the deaf community want Bill C-81 to be improved and to become law.
We would like to recommend the recognition of ASL and LSQ as official languages of deaf people in Canada because they do actually provide full accessibility to information, communication and services. It will make a huge difference for deaf Canadians, and you will be in compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, CRPD, that Canada ratified in March 2010, which has five different articles that mention the specific rights of sign languages.
Currently, there are 45 countries whose governments have recognized their national sign languages, including Ireland, Greece, Scotland, Italy, Mexico and New Zealand. Canada is not on this list. Such recognition in Canada would ensure the removal of barriers and ensure equal access, which is an important step towards becoming an inclusive, accessible Canada.
As we integrate both English and French societies, this means that deaf people in Canada would finally have equal access to federal government services. Examples would be production of accessible videos on federal government websites, provision of ASL and LSQ video interpreting at federal government services—Service Canada would be one example—provision of picture-in-picture ASL and LSQ interpretation services for broadcast television and digital communications such as federal leadership debates or emergency alert announcements, and any other kind of accessibility services.
Let's imagine for a moment how Bill will improve the lives of deaf people in Canada. Let's say that a deaf person is at the Ottawa International Airport and his or her seat needs to be reassigned due to an overbooking by the airline. The deaf person approaches the airline customer service representative at the gate, and they connect by video interpreting services. Immediately, they are able to communicate in ASL or LSQ through a video interpreter to resolve the overbooking issue and to reduce stress and confusion.
A second example would be a deaf person who is watching a federal political leaders' debate with sign language interpretation. For English, the debate has ASL interpreters, and for French, it has LSQ interpreters, picture-in-picture on screen, with closed-captioning in English and in French so that we as deaf people can participate and be privy to what is happening during the debate in order to have a good understanding of the different platforms that the candidates have.
Therefore, we believe amendments are needed for Bill to achieve its stated purpose. Today we highlight several recommendations.
One, we recommend that Bill include an amendment that will recognize ASL and LSQ as official languages of deaf people in Canada. This will allow Canada to join other countries that have already included in their national accessibility legislation recognition of their national sign languages, following the requirements of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Second, timelines are essential for ensuring that Bill will advance accessibility. We recommend dates and timelines of up to five years for development and implementation of accessibility standards and regulations for each targeted area.
Third, CAD-ASC agrees with the Federal Accessibility Legislation Alliance, or FALA, recommendation that the six targeted barrier areas must be expanded to include communication. This change will bring focus to barriers, accommodations and supports for people with communication disabilities, as well as for people who are deaf.
Fourth, Bill does not designate a single point of access to oversee the complaints process. We recommend standardization of process for timely resolution of complaints, and a single point of access that supports deaf people and people with disabilities who present complaints, which will avoid unnecessary barriers, delays, and inefficiencies to the process. To avoid these problems, the accessibility commissioner should receive all complaints about violations of accessibility standards.
Fifth, financial support must be available to assist with legal fees for individual complaints.
Sixth, we recommend that the proposed Canadian accessibility standards development organization, CASDO, include a minimum of two-thirds of deaf people and people with disabilities on its board, staff, executives and committees.
Seventh, we recommend that any entity that receives funding from the federal Government of Canada comply with federal accessibility standards and regulations.
Eighth, Bill must be provided with sufficient and permanent funding to enable people with disabilities and organizations of people with disabilities, including deaf people, to achieve significant advances in accessibility and inclusion in all federal jurisdictions.
Ninth, we recommend that the legislation must mandate the use of comprehensive annual performance reports conducted by the chief accessibility officer based on outcomes achieved.
Finally, we recommend that legislation create, develop and support programs that improve the employment and prospects of people with disabilities and deaf people in Canada.
Our materials include several more recommendations to address other important accessibility issues, for an inclusive, accessible Canada that includes 3.5 million deaf, blind and hard-of-hearing Canadians, to ensure that they have equal rights to participate in Canadian society. It will allow Canada to better meet its human rights obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
We would be pleased to answer your questions.
Thank you very much.
It's my sincere honour and pleasure to appear before this esteemed committee this morning.
Thank you, Chair, Mr. May, for giving me the opportunity to make this presentation.
The Conference Board of Canada estimates that by 2036 one in five Canadians will have a disability. This is not surprising, considering our demographics are changing. We're all getting older. The boomers cohort, of which I am a member, is getting older; they have expectations, they have wealth, they are vocal, and they need and expect accessibility.
Human rights commissions are at the front lines of dealing with the business, social and individual impact of not accommodating people with disabilities. Last year more than 57% of the complaints that came to the human rights commission in Saskatchewan were disability-related, and fully one-third of those complaints were disability in the area of employment.
In 2015, a study conducted by the Canadian Human Rights Commission in collaboration with the Canadian Association of Statutory Human Rights Agencies, CASHRA, representing all the human rights commissions in Canada, found remarkable consistency with this negative statistic. Almost half of all human rights complaints in Canada in these jurisdictions between the years 2009 and 2013 were disability-related.
Canadians with disabilities experience systemic discrimination and inconsistency in the built environment, employment and access to services within and across all jurisdictions. Canadians with disabilities deserve a systemic response to systemic discrimination. That response must be common, consistent and continuous. In my view, it must use restorative justice principles to create a restored relationship in a positive way.
If I draw a criticism of Bill —and it is really a reminder more than it is a criticism—it is that we must remind ourselves of the intersectionality facing individuals with disabilities. Particularly, number one, women with disabilities, children with disabilities and indigenous people with disabilities are disproportionately impacted. I am mindful that governments are working to support these groups I've just identified, but I think leadership is required, and existing good governance through legislation enables the federal government to take up that leadership role. It's very necessary in this country. The government, the minister and this legislation have the capacity, in my opinion, to leverage change through strategic use of grants and with the sharing of best practices through, for instance, a federal-provincial-territorial table in the future.
In the present, Bill is significant because, first, it is a first strong effort to provide consistency to the rubric of accessibility in our country and because there is a strong business case for greater accessibility. There is a moral as well as a demographic urgency for doing so, because people with disabilities are the largest minority group in Canada that anyone can join. They deserve consideration.
Let me take you through these points.
First, let us consider the need for a consistent rubric for accessibility. Our country has a national building code and CSA standards that set out minimum standards for accessibility, and some provinces and many municipalities have moved well beyond those standards. All provinces have human rights codes or acts, and they are considered quasi-constitutional, meaning there is a paramountcy to that legislation. That legislation in each province and territory trumps or is paramount over any other legislation, meaning that all acts must comply with the human rights code.
The courts have stated that building codes and human rights codes are, in many cases, complementary. They work together to provide accessibility. Because their quasi-constitutionality is very important, human rights codes trump building codes. Putting people first before systems, as human rights codes do, makes very good sense.
I say this to emphasize that connecting the proposed legislation, Bill , to the Canadian Human Rights Act makes sense at this point. First, it puts people first, before some significant, complex and powerful systems. Second, the bill represents a significant step in our country's evolution concerning disability rights. I use the word “evolution” on purpose, because positive change comes in increments, and I believe we can learn in Canada from the American experience in this regard.
Chai Feldblum, one of the architects of the Americans with Disabilities Act, told me that she and others faced push-back and uncertainty at the time that legislation came into force in the United States. What we can learn from that is, first, there is likely to be some controversy with this introduction, and second, there's likely to be litigation, but frankly, that is to be embraced.
Up front, Bill contemplates the need to resolve competing interests in a considerate way. Human rights commissions in Canada deal with balancing those interests on a daily basis. It's nothing to fear. It's part of our business, and I think it's done very well.
When I was given the opportunity to comment on the path forward during the consultation process, I suggested that the accessibility commissioner should have a statutory right to intervene in matters that involve accessibility issues that are not before the accessibility commissioner or the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal—in other words, issues that are before other administrative tribunals that have jurisdiction on accessibility issues. By “intervention” I mean that the accessibility commissioner should have the right to bring evidence and to bring legal argument at those other places, those other administrative tribunals.
I also suggested that the accessibility commissioner should have a statutory right to launch a systemic complaint in matters that involve accessibility issues. That is an efficient way to resolve disability issues, in my opinion, because it provides resolution for a large cohort of individuals, as opposed to a one-off situation. It provides an opportunity, for example, to deal with issues for all Canadians who are blind or partially sighted or all Canadians who are deaf or hard of hearing. What it would bring is a certainty, a consistency and a uniformity to all rulings with respect to accessibility that come from administrative tribunals in the federal context.
I reflect for a moment on the consultation process that was used to inform Bill . I think it's worth remembering that the process excited the imaginations of people with disabilities in this country. It raised expectations. It dealt with a sea of frustration and emotions and the marginalization that people with disabilities have had in this country for 50 years or longer. It also excited the imaginations of those who advocate on behalf of people with disabilities. There was a sense that things could change, that things would change. This represented an incredible opportunity to make long-needed change and to have much-needed recognition.
In recognizing that Bill has fundamental application to significant areas of life for people with disabilities—I'm thinking about the federal jurisdiction in transportation, communications and banking—we must also recognize that there is a strong business case for accessibility. The Conference Board of Canada suggests that getting accessibility correct in the workplace could have a positive $16.8-billion impact on the Canadian economy. In 2013, the panel on labour market opportunities for persons with disability reported that despite an aging population and a looming skills shortage, this significant talent pool of persons with disability is being overlooked.
Now let's look at the intersection of the business case and the moral imperative.
Bill is proposing a framework from which to discuss disability and accessibility. It recognizes the need to create and apply standards to deal with a social reality. At the same time, it implies a business cost—buildings, spaces and services require resources—yet it also implies that the needs of an often unconsidered yet growing cohort need to be given top priority.
The creation of best practice standards will inform the practices in all jurisdictions.
In my experience in accommodating disability, I have found that human rights commissions and the courts aim to resolve inaccessibility based on what is reasonable and the best practice. Fundamentally, I am saying it will be difficult to ignore the existence of well-reasoned research and well-reasoned arguments on accessibility standards, particularly when those standards have application throughout Canada.
I believe that human rights commissions, labour standards, and health and safety organizations will regard Bill , the work of the Canadian Accessibility Standards Development Organization and the work of the accessibility commissioner as giving significant guidance to the work those agencies are currently doing on the ground, on the front line, in provinces and territories. There's a significant political and economic influence, then, that will be available through the wise actions of the incumbent accessibility commissioner.
It has been said that disability is “the last bastion of prejudice”. Bill offers a substantial support against that notion. It affirms and supplies teeth to the notion that people with disabilities deserve equal moral consideration.
Bill C-81 in part legislates the equal moral consideration contemplated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Article 9 of the CRPD requires Canada to identify and eliminate obstacles and barriers for persons with disability. Bill partially meets the obligation of these commitments, and it amplifies the need for equality, fairness, equity and the respect for human dignity that exists in all human rights acts and codes in this country.
Fundamentally, accessibility is crucial to the inclusion of citizens with disabilities in the social, cultural and economic life of our country. Increasing accessibility in buildings, businesses, and the public and community spaces we all use makes good sense from a business perspective. It is also a best practice for inclusion of people with disabilities, so that all people in Canada are able to participate to the fullest extent in the life of Canada.
We need a barrier-free Canada. We need legislation to ensure a barrier-free Canada and to eliminate these barriers faced by people with disabilities currently. I believe the legislation is a significant and bold step for a better future for Canadians with disabilities.
Thank you for allowing me to make this presentation to you this morning, and for your time.
Good morning to our witnesses.
The testimony continues to be very, very informative.
Mr. Roots and Mr. Folino, I'm so sorry for the challenges you faced this week on the voting. That's not acceptable, and our hope is that Bill will go a long way to removing and tearing down those barriers and opening up your worlds.
Mr. Arnot, thanks for your testimony. My first question is to you.
The underlying theme, from the comments we have heard about timelines and reporting in the study thus far, seems to be one of concern regarding insufficient accountability mechanisms.
Contrary to an assertion made during the previous session, the accessibility commissioner would be required to report to Parliament by submitting an annual report to the minister, who is then required to table that report in Parliament.
In addition, clauses 131 and 132 also require independent reviews of this legislation: after the first five years under clause 131, and every 10 years thereafter under clause 132.
Mr. Arnot, based on your experience in Saskatchewan, are these accountability mechanisms adequate? Can you also suggest ways that they could be improved? Thank you.
Focusing on the role of the accessibility commissioner, I believe that person could interpret their role in a very significant way, which would continue to educate all Canadians.
The mechanism of reporting to Parliament could be accelerated if that person were an independent officer of Parliament. That's something that we suggested. It's currently not going to be part of this bill.
I believe that role and those timelines will be adequate. We can learn from them. It's really about the uptake and the support from the community, the stakeholders, that is taken once those reports are made, and making sure that all Canadians have access to the reports, whether it's through social media or other means.
In my opinion, the timelines may be a good start. We'll be informed on whether they're adequate or not by the success of the role of the accessibility commissioner.
Fundamentally, the focus should be on that commissioner making all Canadians aware of these issues. The majority of Canadians, I believe, would like to support the inclusiveness for all persons with disability, but there are many unintended consequences. We see that in the built environment and the to-be-built environment. There are big issues on transportation, provincially and municipally, that need to be addressed, because transportation is a barrier for a person whether they need to seek employment or get to employment or get to health care, education, etc.
I want to reiterate a point that was made earlier on voting. Voting municipally and provincially is a huge issue. The barriers are significant, and they haven't been cured. Again, we need a systemic response to those—