Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to Bill an act to amend the Copyright Act which concerns access to copyrighted works or other subject-matter for persons with perceptual disabilities.
Over 800,000 Canadians live with blindness or partial sight, and around three million Canadians are print disabled. This includes impairments related to comprehension, such as autism, and impairments related to the inability to hold or manipulate a book, such as Parkinson's. Around the world, there are more than 314 million people living with blindness or visual impairments, 90% of whom live in developing countries.
I am one of those people. I am very significantly visually impaired. In fact, I am legally blind, which means that I have less than 10% corrective vision. That is not a lot of vision and one cannot read a lot when one has that vision. That is why I am so very pleased to be personally speaking to this very important piece of legislation.
Persons with print disabilities need to be able to read and access information to participate in society, including in the job market. However, there is a significant shortage of accessible books. Of the million or so books published each year, less than 7% are made available in formats accessible to visually impaired persons. What that means for somebody like me is that when I walk into a bookstore or a library, I do not get to choose what I read. My decisions are motivated by what material is available for me to read.
While there are audio books and e-books on the market, these formats are not typically accessible for someone who lives with blindness or print disabilities. For example, many commercial audio books or e-books are not easily navigable by a person with a print disability.
The shortage is also caused by the fact that copyright laws are inconsistent among countries, making it difficult to share accessible books across borders.
The Marrakesh treaty was negotiated to address this problem. This treaty establishes international standards for exceptions in national copyright laws to permit the making, distributing, importing, and exporting of accessible books. The goal is to facilitate the global exchange in accessible materials for the benefit of persons with print disabilities all over the world. Following the negotiation of the treaty, over 80 countries signed it. To date, 16 countries have either ratified or acceded to the treaty. These include Israel, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, Argentina, Uruguay, Australia, Brazil, Mali, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Peru, Paraguay, Mexico, India, El Salvador, the Republic of Korea, and Mongolia. The treaty will not come into force until 20 countries have ratified or acceded to it.
I am proud to say that we have introduced legislation in the House that would bring our copyright law in line with the Marrakesh treaty. Canada is playing an important role in working with other countries to bring the treaty into force internationally. The first step in Canada's domestic process is to pass this legislation, which will position us for the next step: accession to the treaty.
The legislation will make several targeted but important changes to Canada's copyright law to ensure that we meet the requirements of the treaty. For example, the bill will permit users to make large-print books subject to certain safeguards such as commercial availability limitations. In addition, the bill will expand the scope for making and providing, or providing access to, accessible copies outside of Canada by removing the limitations with respect to the nationality of the author.
Another important change the bill will make is to the technological protection measures, or digital locks, in the legislation. The bill clarifies that circumvention of digital locks will be acceptable as long as it will be for the purpose of providing access to persons with perceptual disabilities, and to permit persons with perceptual disabilities, or those helping them, to benefit from the exceptions for persons with perceptual and print disabilities.
The bill will also provide for exporting accessible format copies directly to beneficiary persons outside of Canada. The law will be clarified to indicate that organizations such as libraries could provide or provide access to accessible format copies directly to the beneficiary persons outside of Canada. However, they could only do so on the condition that the beneficiary person had made a request through a non-profit organization in the country to which the accessible format copy would be sent.
Another area of protection for copyright owners is the provision of moral rights. The amended act will continue to provide protections for these important rights, ensuring that users will respect the integrity of the work and reputation of the creator when making and providing adapted copies.
I would like to take this opportunity to highlight the benefits that will result from the coming into force of this treaty.
First, there will be greater access to books for persons with visual impairment or print disabilities, for example, in Braille and audio formats. This will include improved access to materials in Canada's minority languages and in French, reflecting the diversity of our Canadian culture.
Many different groups of Canadians with disabilities will benefit from this initiative. Students will have better access to print materials, helping them continue with their studies and better engage in the Canadian workforce. According to recent survey data, approximately 30% of students with visual impairments discontinue their education, which is significantly higher than the national average. They do not have access to books. They do not have access to printed materials.
Many Canadians will have the opportunity to enter in the labour force because of this legislation. Current data suggests that approximately one-third of Canadians with a visual impairment are not in the labour force.
Seniors, the group with the highest rate of visual impairment, will have better access to reading materials, which will help them maintain their quality of life.
Canadians from minority language groups will have better access to books in a variety of languages.
Schools, libraries and charitable organizations that work with Canadians with disabilities will benefit from reduced duplication in the production of accessible material.
I will pause here to talk briefly about the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. What this would do for the CNIB, and those of us who are clients of the CNIB, is quite frankly revolutionary.
There are innovations that we can bring to bear to facilitate the making and sending of accessible materials, thus increasing access through a global network.
Second, while the legislation would expand the exceptions for accessible materials for persons with perceptual disabilities already in our law, it would also include safeguards so that copyright owners would be encouraged to provide commercially available versions and continue to be able to enforce their copyrights against copyright pirates.
Once the Marrakesh treaty is in force, organizations that make accessible format copies of books, such as Braille and audio versions, will benefit from resource sharing. According to the CNIB, the cost of creating an accessible format version of a book can range from $1,500 to $5,000 per title. Allowing organizations to exchange copies across borders would result in access to a wider range of books in a variety of languages. It would also result in a more efficient use of resources. These benefits would not just apply in terms of access to the arts. It would support access to a greater variety of books, including textbooks and for research, expanding opportunities for people with perceptual disabilities.
Implementing the Marrakesh treaty is a priority for our government because we realize that creating a more inclusive environment for Canadians with disabilities reflects our collective values and fosters greater opportunities for all Canadians. Libraries, education institutions and organizations that help persons with visual impairment or print disabilities would benefit and be better able to support the education and employment of persons with disabilities.
Canada has an opportunity now to be one of the first 20 countries to ratify or accede Marrakesh, the number required to bring the treaty into force.
I encourage all hon. members to support the swift passage of this important legislation. There is no reason that Canadians with disabilities should have to wait for access to literature that will enable them to better participate in our economy and in our society. More can be done to ensure that copyright laws do not create additional barriers for those with a print disability and that users have access to the latest and best published materials from around the world.
Let us be leaders, not just in Canada but also on the international stage. Let us show the world how persons with disabilities are treated in Canada, which is with respect and dignity. Let us continue to forge a path toward an active and inclusive Canada.
Mr. Speaker, it is great to rise today on this special occasion when the House of Commons rallies in unanimity to adopt an excellent piece of legislation, which would unlock the potential of thousands of Canadians to enjoy the blessing of literature.
One of the most inspiring parts of this job is that one gets to learn about the great genius that is held in each and every person in their own way. I think of the time when I bumped into a lady in the grocery store who was with her autistic daughter. The lady thanked me for a birthday card I had sent her and asked me when my birthday was. I said that it was June 3, which was four or five months away. Her daughter turned suddenly and said “That's a Tuesday”. I opened my BlackBerry and looked forward, and it turned out she had accurately predicted the day of the week on which my birthday would fall, without even thinking.
I also think of my time visiting the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, where I learned of this massive inventory of audio, large-print, and Braille books being assembled every single day. Those books are sent to visually impaired Canadians across the country. Staff informed me there that some visually impaired readers can actually complete seven or eight books a week in audio format. I asked how that was possible, because one cannot play seven or eight audio books in a week even if one is listening eight or nine hours a day. The truth is that some are now able to listen to them on fast forward, and as a result, absorb more literature and content than a sighted person reading out of a book in a conventional format.
I share these stories to impart to the House and Canadians that, as I said at the outset, there is a very special genius in each of us, especially in those people who have had to overcome disabilities. This is why I am so passionate about this particular piece of legislation.
To simplify what the bill would do, I turn the attention of the House to clauses 1 to 4, which introduce the following text.
It is not an infringement of copyright for a person with a perceptual disability, for a person acting at the request of such a person or for a non-profit organization acting for the benefit of such a person to
(a) make a copy or sound recording of a literary, musical, artistic or dramatic work, other than a cinematographic work, in a format specially designed for persons with a perceptual disability;
That sounds very legalistic, but here is what it means very simply.
It means that, if somewhere else in the world a book were produced in accessible format, large print, Braille, or audio, it would no longer be an offence under the Copyright Act for a Canadian to make a copy of it, to provide it to a visually impaired person.
This has massive implications. It means that Canadians who are visually impaired would have access to over one-quarter of a million published works around the world at no additional cost to them or Canadian taxpayers. Essentially, if we think of it in a traditional sense versus a modern sense, this is the implication of technology.
It used to be that, if I had a book and my friend in London had a book and we decided to trade books, we would each still have one book. However, in the modern digital world, if we decided to trade books, we would now each have two books. Taken more broadly, if all of the people of Britain had 100,000 accessible books and we had 100,000 accessible books, now both our countries would have 200,000 accessible books. The result here in Canada is that almost 300,000 additional works would be available through the use of technology and by breaking down legal barriers that previously prevented the sharing of those works.
That means that highly literate Canadians with visual impairments would now have a new cornucopia of reading opportunities, and the minister can take great pride in having brought forward the legislation that would make this development possible.
This is very important because there is something called a book drought for people who suffer from visual impairment. Only 7% of literature is translated into an accessible format at present, which means that if people are avid readers and suffer from a visual impairment, their opportunities to read, learn, and enjoy the great wonders of literature and research are dramatically curtailed. We should work hard to smash all of the barriers that stand in the way of intellectually curious people of all backgrounds who want to read and learn and expand their knowledge.
That is what the bill would do. I think of Diane Bergeron who is with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, a constituent of mine from Manotick, and her love of reading and literature and how many new opportunities she would have to read different books, reports, studies, and other literature that would make her life richer because this legislation would tear down barriers.
The good news is that Canada would be the 14th country to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty and implement this legislation. We need to get to 20. It will require a vigorous effort by the minister herself and other members of the cabinet, including the foreign minister, to encourage other countries to quickly follow Canada and get this ratification in 20 countries so that Marrakesh can achieve full force. However, we are making progress and we are definitely moving in the right direction toward that goal of 20 countries.
If I can broaden the perspective now, this is an example of a low-cost free-enterprise solution to a social problem. Historically we have thought whenever there is a social problem we need a gigantic, expensive bureaucratic solution. The Marrakesh Treaty is like a gigantic free trade agreement for books, and it brings no extra cost to Canadian taxpayers or to taxpayers anywhere in the world. It simply removes a legal obstacle and lets the marketplace and our charitable organizations do the rest. I would like to see us expand our imagination in this area.
For example, there are still roughly 9% of households in this country that do not have access to the Internet. One-third of them say it is because they cannot afford it. Both Rogers and Telus have indicated that they are prepared to provide $10-a-month Internet to families in need. The challenge, though, is to find which families are actually in need.
Telus came up with a very innovative solution. It said why not include an information slip in the child benefit mailer that goes out from the Government of Canada twice every year. That slip would go to families with income below $33,000 a year. It would include a pass code and instructions on how each of those families could gain access to low-cost Internet at the expense of Telus in its philanthropic efforts.
Those families who do not have a computer could get one from the computers for success program, which Industry Canada already runs. It takes donated computers, refurbishes them, and gives them to people in need. Telus is prepared to offer free technological instruction to families that might need it. Again, this would cost almost nothing to the Government of Canada, because we already send this mailer twice a year to inform families of their benefits and CRA already has the income data that would be necessary to do it. At the same time, it would connect families in need with low-cost Internet and ensure that all children have access to the Internet when doing their homework. Imagine trying to do homework today as a school child without access to the Internet. All of a child's classmates would have access to the biggest library in the history of the world and he or she would be stuck with a few textbooks from school.
Telus and Rogers and others are looking to solve these problems through philanthropic initiatives that cost almost nothing to Canadian taxpayers and rely on free enterprise as the engine of knowledge sharing.
I think of brilliant social entrepreneurs, like Nick Noorani who came here as a highly successful advertising representative for McCann Erickson in Dubai. When he came to Canada he found it very hard, being an immigrant, to integrate into our economy. As a result, he ended up working for a long time at minimum wage jobs. He eventually built a successful life here, but it took him a long time to get there.
He has decided now to build a business that has the sole mandate of helping immigrants integrate into Canada before they even get here. He provides online instruction on how best to rent a home, how to get a job, and how foreign-trained professionals or trades people can get their licence to work in a regulated occupation in Canada, so that when they land in Canada they hit the ground running.
He gets no funding from the Government of Canada or from any government, and he does not charge any amount to the immigrants he is helping. How does he pay for it? He actually runs an advertising service. He gets sponsorship from banks, and in exchange, those banks open up a bank account for the newcomer, which means they get a future customer and the potential to make a good return on their social investment by helping finance social integration for newcomers. Construction associations, mining industries, and food processing companies all pay Mr. Noorani as well, so that he can connect skilled future Canadian employees with their industries and they can fill vacancies in their sectors. He then collects a very small fee in exchange for the service he provides.
He is providing a social service directly to Canadian immigrants so they can maximize their success when they arrive here on Canadian soil. He is doing it at no cost to them and no cost to taxpayers, but is doing it as a commercial enterprise, which is paid for by industry and corporations who are, admittedly, acting in their own interests, but doing so at the same time as advancing the interests of others. This is what Benjamin Franklin called doing well by doing good.
I share all of these stories today because I am hoping that Marrakesh can be an occasion where we look for free-enterprise solutions to problems that afflict the underdogs among us, the people who suffer and are held back by injustices, unfairness, or circumstances. We need to look for opportunities to help them springboard ahead and realize their full genius here in our great country.
I think of the Immigrant Access Fund in Calgary, which noticed that there were foreign-trained professionals who would immigrate to Canada and, despite their qualifications as engineers, doctors, and architects, would work in minimum wage jobs because they could not get their licence to practise. Immigrant Access Fund asked why not help them get loans, and financial institutions said they were not prepared to lend to them because they had no collateral or credit history.
The Immigrant Access Fund then went to philanthropic leaders in Calgary and asked them if they would be prepared to sign a loan guarantee to help these promising foreign-trained professionals who are now Canadians get time off work so they could do the study and exams necessary to get the licences to practise in their professions. These Calgarians agreed to sign the loan guarantees. The loans went out. The foreign-trained professionals worked hard to get their credentials recognized in Canada through testing and training in places across western Canada.
The result was that incomes of participants rose, in some cases by over 100%, because they went from having a minimum wage job to a high-paying position in a regulated profession that was in high demand within their local economy. They did this with the investment of Calgary business leaders who wanted to give those people the opportunity to realize their full potential and share their true inner genius with the local Calgary economy and with Canada in general.
This was essentially the merging of philanthropy and commercial lending to help promising new Canadians make a maximum contribution.
By the way, the default rate on these loans was less than 1%, which demonstrated that when we invest in an ambitious, hard-working newcomer to Canada, they will pay back the money and they will pay back the country for the rest of their lives because they are so grateful for the opportunity to be full participants in the Canadian economy.
There is a whole plethora of opportunities for us as Canadians to unleash the power and the genius of every single Canadian through the free market economy, which of course has been the most powerful tool in the history of humanity to fight poverty and lift up the standard of living of every single person.
I think of Mark Wafer, in the Toronto area, who has hired dozens of intellectually disabled young people to work at his Tim Hortons locations. He says he has done this strictly as a business decision because they are, by far, his best employees. He wants to work with governments in order to transition toward market-based employment where disabled Canadians are given the opportunity to make the same money, doing the same jobs, and making the same contributions as everybody else. This is the essence of unlocking the genius that is in each one of us, in each Canadian.
It is our role to, as legislators, as business leaders, as community activists, to continue to work together in order to see more of this happen. I encourage the government to remember that, as in this case, where the government has done exactly the right thing, it is not always necessary to create new bureaucracies and new programs, new costs, and new regulations. Sometimes free enterprise, itself, is the solution.
I hope that over the course of this term in office, I can work with members of the government in order to realize that vision for visually impaired Canadians, for disabled Canadians, for new Canadians, for every Canadian who wants to make the maximum contribution to this country and realize their full potential as part of our economy.
Mr. Speaker, that really disappoints me. Friday was the 14th year that I have spent in this House. I came here with a variety of different experiences. I worked on behalf of persons with disabilities at Community Living Mississauga and then at the Association For Persons With Physical Disabilities. I was also a board member at the CNIB.
I can say that the member for would add significantly to this debate. Although I have served in occupations and positions that helped support people with disabilities, as well as being a board volunteer, that does not do justice to those who have to live with young people and help grow them through a society that is inaccessible in many ways. I am saddened to hear that we did not have unanimous consent on that issue alone, given the fact that his voice would be empowering. It would be part of what we are trying to achieve, which is to have other nations support this bill, as we still do not have full support to accomplish that. That type of testimony would add value, substance, and help us put a case forward to deliver this. Unless we can get those supporting factions and countries to agree upon this, nothing will change. I am saddened by that.
Hopefully, we will see better days in the House than moments like this, as it takes away from the sincerity of trying to get something accomplished in a bipartisan way and demeans all of us with respect to the causes we seek here.
This is an important bill, and the member for took carriage of it in the past. We have also had Peggy Nash, the former member for Parkdale—High Park from our party, who brought forward a motion which stated:
That, in the opinion of the House, the government should immediately sign and ratify the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled.
I know that the current member for is taking up this challenge as well for persons with disabilities.
It is important to note that one of my heroes with respect to this battle was my late grandmother Marion Masse, who lived to over aged 90. She had to have her knees replaced. She had macular degeneration. Despite all of that, although she lost her vision, except for shadows at the end, she still won the bowling tournament for her rest home and was very much an active person. She was involved in creating the low vision for the blind group, an organization in Windsor and Essex County, that worked on issues that many of us would perceive as mundane, yet are truly important for social, economic, and cultural integration. One of the projects it worked on was menus being printed in large print or Braille to assist people when they would go out to eat to read the menu. Also, it was about the fact that they could go to safe places where they could be with their friends. They knew that the customer service they would receive was supportive and understanding. It was part of a culture where their disabilities were not pointed out and barriers were not created.
One of the most frustrating things is that we are still creating barriers today, despite having the economics and the ability to not do so. We even experience that in the House. For a number of years, I have been using Braille cards, as a member for my constituency and in my work here. The House of Commons will not allow my staff to have those because it is a resource issue. Therefore, the House of Commons is denying that accessibility and support provision.
Our constituency offices had been placed on hold for funding improvements. That has been cancelled with respect to upgrading. After years of putting aside some budgetary allotments, I was finally able to make my office accessible. That is not provided for us as members. Funds for upgrades were made available, so we were able to put in a door for accessibility, an accessible washroom, and those types of things. I would like to see an audit done of the offices of all members of Parliament, including my own. We would quickly discover that they are deficient with respect to accessibility, whether that be with respect to visual or mobility impairments. These different measures are not provided.
In fact, even without my previous employment experience as a job specialist, I can say that Ottawa is one of the most inaccessible cities in many respects around the Hill, because of the curbs. Even for those with a child, it is like off-roading when it comes to Sparks Street and other places. We build inaccessibility in as part of our due diligence of construction, and it is not necessary.
This treaty will be very important in Canada, in setting aside some battles on the cost and the compensation with regard to increasing accessible print, books, and audio. We see that happening with format sharing when we go to purchase a movie now. We can actually purchase it in formats that are different than what we would assume is one version. We can purchase it so it is available on a mobile device, on a computer, and as part of a video consul. We can purchase it online. We can go into the store and purchase it. There is a series of ways that we can do so.
We think about the same context with books and information and cultural development that we have. For those who think that the age of books is done, it has recently had a resurgence. There are many applications for people with visual disabilities, of any sort, who can take advantage of these materials. It is important.
I can also argue that there are people who may not qualify for the official recognition of a disability but who have some type of visual challenge. Obviously, I have one with my glasses here. However, there are others who have to switch between vision products and use some of these print versions, depending on the stage of their life. Macular degeneration, for example, is a condition of transitioning to a degradation of vision, and a person might need multiple formats.
This treaty will allow for some compensation to be extended, but under a specific format that, more importantly, would also allow the universal sharing of this information, whether that be a book on politics, culture, betterment, or children's material. All of those different things are looked at and taken care of. That is important, because it does tend to lead to a safe environment for persons with disabilities with visual impairments to explore different types of subject matter, which can also lead to different formats.
When I worked for the Association for Persons With Physical Disabilities, I worked with an individual who was blind and required modifications on the job. At that time, it was the beginning of allowing translation devices on computers. This was before Rosetta Stone and all of the different ones. The Dragon was before that, and there was a series of others that came into place. The devices would actually read back to people what they were typing. We were able to get into that type of technology in the early 1990s. It was not perfect, but it worked well. This individual could have a job, and it was very important.
I have had other important experiences over the years. I can mention this person's name because she is a dear friend and she was a client of mine. Lynn Fitzsimmons became a clerk in the insurance industry. What was required for Lynn was the simple identification of files. We had them in larger print and they were colour-coded. At dental offices and other types of medical offices, there are systems in place that are colour-coded to make it easier for the administrators to select those files off the counter. We did a similar type of system for Lynn, and she became gainfully employed. She is very much a leader in the disability field, and a wonderful mother and active person in our community, with her husband Phil.
We were able at that time to do the colour-coding system because we had to look for something that was economical. Working for a not-for-profit agency, we had very limited resources. It was at a time when there were cutbacks to all of these programs. It was the first program in Ontario that allowed support on the job for persons with physical disabilities.
The simple accessibility of these materials, which were not expensive to begin with, allowed for someone to be employed for approximately 10 years in that one position. It was an excellent system of colour-coding that enabled her to do the administrative work. Also, it allowed the individual for the insurance company to be extremely successful in this model environment, because he then hired her as an administrative assistant who could accomplish all of these goals.
The reason that this is important is because work defines us in many respects. However, this country is woefully inadequate with regard to the supports for persons with disabilities and work.
Work brings up a number of issues that are very important. One does not just get an income, but health, wellness, and mental and physical abilities are affected by work in a very positive fashion. We meet people, friends, and have relationships that we would not otherwise have, which brings us out of a closed environment. Therefore, when we see those opportunities emerge for persons with disabilities, it is quite important in the overall picture for Canada to be an equal society.
Sadly, we are not anywhere near that in Canada, hence my question previously with regard to upcoming matters. I do not think there needs to be consultation on certain issues. We should move the lower-hanging fruit off the tree right away to improve it.
I came from an era where we had employment equity. There were those who backlashed against it, but it opened a door for me to at least plead the case for why an employer could benefit from hiring a person with a disability, whether it be Lynn or other persons with physical challenges. We were able to say that they have less employee absenteeism. They have fewer work-related accidents. They stay longer on the job. Their training retention is a benefit that an employer would receive, as opposed to the expense of people rotating through a job. Most importantly, they also prove to be a product-quality person at the end of the day, versus many other workers getting the job done. Also, one of the indirect benefits is the fact that it is a morale boost for companies.
There was an individual with a physical disability who I had helped to work at Costco. I took in shopping carts with him for four to five months. He stayed there, and the job accommodated him six or seven years later. He had worked in a workshop until the age of 48 and was now employed at Costco. When he finally became physically challenged by the snow and the weather, Costco moved him inside and found a job for him there. It was a wonderful experience for everybody involved. He is an incredible individual.
My point is that socially, he would remember everyone's birthday, bring in a birthday card and all of those different things. People loved that. The fact is, he had his own employment, his own gainful experience, and friends who followed afterwards, which is important.
When we look at Bill , we have Canada joining with nations, many that have not valued persons with disabilities previous to this particular effort and maybe in a holistic way. When we measure Canada's results on this issue, it is not very good, given the fact that we have been active and have had not-for-profit organizations opened in Canada for decades. We are still fighting the good fight, and we still do not have that type of support system in place. Therefore, hopefully the bill will push many other organizations and countries to make sure that we have it.
I have some statistics on poverty for persons with disabilities, because I want to show the increase in poverty for persons with different types of disabilities. There is the aging and poverty rate at 15% of Canadians, mobility at 15.2%. There is the “any disability” area, which is around 14.4%; and seeing poverty, compared to that, is 17.1%. Therefore, we have a heightened challenge there.
Some of the things we have done have been piecemeal across the country. My good friend and former councillor, Ron Jones, who was previously a district fire chief, became a city councillor when I became a member of Parliament. One of his last gestures on council was to make the west end of the city, basically the area I represented, accessible for street corners and cuts. It included new technology for visual disabilities and others, to make it more accommodating than in the past. This was just a few years ago. It is something that should have been done years previous, but it just was not. We do not have any centralized approach for these things.
I cannot believe some of the mistakes. I am a hockey coach and a hockey dad to my daughter and son, and I cannot count how many arenas I have been to that are inaccessible for all types of disabilities, including the hockey players' bags. I just cannot believe the way some of the arenas are built, with no regard for persons with disabilities or an aging population that wants to watch their grandsons and granddaughters play hockey. I just cannot believe some of the barriers in places built with money that has come from federal grants.
When I was on city council I served on the disability committee for a number of years. There was a group of individuals who had different types of challenges and disabilities. My good friend Dean LaBute, was among them. He was very active in the CNIB for a number of years, for decades, actually. They would audit proposed municipal projects based on the disability format. The projects had to pass, whether it was a fountain area, like the memorial fountain built in honour of the late member of city council and mayor, Bert Weeks, who was involved with work on the waterfront. A waterfront clock was placed there. The committee audited that.
There were still some challenges afterward, but at least we took care of some of them. The projects had to be audited that way. Why do federal infrastructure grants and programs not have to be audited for disability accommodation as well? It is very important. If government money, grants, and support are going to be provided, why are projects not being looked at through some type of disability lens?
The fact of the matter is that despite the issues that pose challenges to persons with disabilities, including visual disabilities, they make contributions to society and they are taxpayers. Their money is quite literally going to projects that are inaccessible to them. It makes no sense whatsoever and it is a real concern. How fair is it that? They get up and go to work in challenging environments. There are less constraints in the private sector.
Try being a person with a disability, who is underemployed right now because the jobs don't match the person's skills, and having to raise the inaccessibility issue at work. Think about the challenge of having to do that as a worker. How many workers do I know today who are scared to question the practices of their employer under health and safety acts because they are fearful of losing their jobs or being blackballed? That happens every single day.
We just had May Day for injured workers. How many went through that process at work, where it was not safe, and they did not return to their sons and daughters at home one night because the workplace was not safe? Think about that for persons with disabilities, who are fearful about raising inaccessibility at the workplace. They pay their taxes. Government projects are put in place by federal, provincial or municipal governments, and accessibility is not built into the process. It is supposed to be. It is supposed to meet municipal codes. I have been there and done that, but it does not go through the necessary auditing processes.
There are a number of issues regarding persons with disabilities that are clearly important and need to be addressed. The New Democrats have called on the Conservatives and Liberals to move on this file and we appreciate most of the co-operation we have had, but unfortunately, there was none on splitting my time.
As a result, I would like to ask for unanimous consent to move the following motion: That, notwithstanding any standing order or usual practice of the House, Bill an act to amend the Copyright Act (access to copyrighted works or other subject matter for persons with perceptual disabilities), be deemed to have been read a second time and referred to the committee of the whole, deemed considered in committee of the whole, deemed reported without amendment, deemed concurred in at report stage, and deemed read a third time and passed.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise to speak to this subject. I will be splitting my time with the member for who also serves as our party's critic for disabilities. She is doing a phenomenal job in that role, standing up for vulnerable people.
This is a great bill. It is a bill that all parties as well as unrecognized parties agree on, but it is important to express some disappointment about the reality of the process and how this debate has come up today. We had Bill on the Notice Paper. Then we had a vote to concur in Bill . Then we had closure on Bill . Now we are on to Bill without notice.
I say this precisely because of the importance of the bill. It is a bill that we should all be coming together not only on substance but on process. Had we the notice, had we been able to plan this debate at a time when all parties were ready and organized for it, we would have been able to get so much more out of this conversation. There would have been an opportunity to bring in stakeholders perhaps, to listen to and to observe this debate. This would have given all parties the opportunity to ensure that those who really wanted or needed to speak to this were in a position to do so.
Instead, this very important substantive legislation is being used as a procedural weapon, it seems. The government tabled the bill on March 24. As much as the minister has mentioned the urgency of moving this forward, the Liberals could have at least given notice that they were going to do it today. We could have had the bill debated earlier. This is a missed opportunity.
In the previous time slot, my colleague from the NDP, the member for , wanted to split his time and a government member blocked that from happening. We have these missed opportunities of collegiality, missed opportunities to work together to put our best foot forward as a House. It is unfortunate, because we agree with the issue and can work together on it. Yes, there are times for partisanship in this place, but the bill should not have been one of those times.
I do not blame the minister for this. I have spoken to the minister at committee and I know she is committed to working across party lines on important issues. However, this speaks to the House leadership on the government side and how it views absolutely nothing it seems as beyond partisanship.
I want to get that out of the way because it is important to put on the record.
Let us talk about the bill. I am very proud to be speaking in favour of it.
Just to highlight for those who may be just joining the debate, the bill has three substantive different parts to it.
The bill would allow not-for-profit organizations acting on behalf of a person with a disability to convert books and other works into an accessible format without first seeking the permission of the copyright holder. It would instantly allow books that were currently not in accessible format to be converted into those formats. That is an important change, one that would make a positive difference.
Also, as part of the treaty that the bill would operate under, the Marrakesh treaty, which was signed in 2013 and would now through this legislation be ratified, it would allow the sharing of those works between different countries participating in that treaty. There is the domestic element of allowing people to have access to this important information. There is also that international element, encouraging sharing between different countries of this vital material.
Finally, the bill would make important related amendments to digital lock provisions.
Obviously we are going to support the bill. It is getting a lot of consensus. This is the conclusion of a prior process of which the previous government was certainly a part. Budget 2015 set out a plan to implement this treaty. Page 286 of budget 2015, stated:
The Government will propose amendments to the Copyright Act to implement and accede to the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled.
The ability to access printed information is essential to prepare for and participate in Canada’s economy, society and job market. According to Statistics Canada, approximately 1 million Canadians live with blindness or partial sight. The Government will propose amendments to the Copyright Act to implement and accede to the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled (the Marrakesh Treaty).
Aligning Canada’s copyright limitations and exceptions with the international standard established by the Marrakesh Treaty would enable Canada to accede to this international agreement. Once the treaty is in force, as a member country, [Canada] would benefit from greater access to adapted materials.
It is worth nothing that this process has been in place. Certainly, this was the plan laid out in Canada's economic action plan 2015. However, we are very pleased to see the new government continue on with this important work. This work needed to be done.
I would like to specifically motivate the philosophy behind the bill. It is essential that every person has access to books. Books are a major part of all of our lives, and they are an important part of every child's life.
My daughter, Gianna, and I read books all the time. I read books to her on Skype when I am in Ottawa. I cannot imagine what it would be like to have a child who has a visual impairment and who is unable to get books which he or she can read. My daughter is a voracious reader. I brought four books with me and we went through them all in one evening. I need to bring more books with me next time I come to Ottawa, clearly. It is great to see how important books are to us all, especially kids. We need to ensure that people of all ages, including children, have access to reading material of all kinds.
As has been discussed in the House, people's reading decisions are not limited by the availability of books.
Again, I cannot imagine what it would be like to really want to read a particular book, whether a novel or a work of non-fiction, and be told that because of a disability, I cannot read that book, that the book is not available to me, that the knowledge is not available to me. I think that would be a very difficult thing for anyone to deal with. That is why this legislation is important for ensuring that everyone has access to books, that there can really be the full sharing of knowledge that takes place.
Everyone in every situation should have access to as much knowledge, as many books as possible. There can be nothing but good that would come from more access to books for more people.
I also want to talk about the international dimension of this. One of the things we know about Canada is that many people maybe have come here from other places or maybe were born here, but who like to read books in other languages. They might be more comfortable in a language other than English or French, or they simply enjoy reading works from a range of different languages. Specifically, the international dimension of this treaty would allow Canadians to have greater access to books in other languages that may be in a better format which they can make more use of.
Some of the countries that have signed the treaty so far are Argentina, El Salvador, India, Mali, Paraguay, Singapore, UAE, and Uruguay. In a multicultural Canada that likely means more access to materials in languages like Hindi, Punjabi, and Spanish. It is important that through those international sharing takes place for all Canadians, not just those who want to access things in English or French, have access to them.
Noting the countries that have signed the treaty so far, it does not look like there are that many Francophone countries. In addition to us ratifying this, there is a lot of value in Canada playing a role, encouraging other countries to ratify and, in particular, seeing if we can use our relationships through the Francophonie to encourage more Francophone countries to ratify this and therefore ensure we have good access to more French-language materials.
We need to get to 20 countries. It is important that we get those 20 countries ratifying. I understand from the minister that we only have three more to go. This is an important leadership role Canada can play and the continuing advocacy we have to do.
I mentioned this during questions and comments, but I have had a constituent raise with me the importance of ensuring those tools people access that allow them, as people with disabilities, to operate in the world, to read, and to do other things, it may be an iPad or a speech app on a phone, are tax deductible. I see measures that address those issues as aligning well with the measures in this legislation.
I look forward to supporting the bill.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to reiterate what my hon. colleague said when he mentioned that this is a missed opportunity to work together as colleagues in the House. Back in my riding, people have told me many times that they are looking for us as parliamentarians to take those opportunities where we can collaborate and work together to make legislation better, to serve Canadians from coast to coast to coast. This was one of those opportunities, and unfortunately, it was missed today because of the rush that was put on Bill , a bill that would amend the Copyright Act.
I would like to thank the hon. member for for his hard work on this piece of legislation when the Conservatives were in power. The member can be assured that there is support from this side of the House with regard to this legislation, because we can see how it would enhance the quality of life for those with a visual impairment and therefore do not have the access they need to library services. Canadians who are print disabled should have the same level of access as all Canadians, and so again, I will reiterate that we do support this legislation going forward.
This legislation would build on that which was introduced previously by the Conservative government to allow for charities and not-for-profits to produce alternative formats for copyrighted material. The important limitation is that this is a not-for-profit exemption, so no one would be able to make a profit off an artist's or a writer's intellectual property. This is a key point, because the legislation would be for the betterment of all Canadians. It would serve our nation as a whole and not profit.
The bill addresses a barrier to inclusion for those with a visual or comprehension disability, which is why we support this legislation for building a more inclusive society.
We all support efforts to bring into effect the World Intellectual Property Organizations' Marrakesh Treaty, as it is known. This treaty is designed to remove barriers to the access of alternative format print materials through changes to domestic copyright laws on an international basis, while also facilitating the sharing of literary materials among nations.
I agree that reading material should be accessible to all. Growing up in my home, I had parents who put a lot of emphasis on the importance of reading. Before I was able to read, my mom spent a lot of time reading to me, believing that it helped with development. I do see where it has had a positive impact. I learned to read at a very young age and I enjoyed it tremendously. I learned much through my reading. I can only imagine what it would be like for someone who does not have access to reading materials to take advantage of the opportunities for learning, enjoyment, and cultural engagement in the same way that I was able to.
We can all agree that this legislation is important and that it would address a pressing need of those with visual or comprehension disabilities. However, the minister overstates how this legislation would increase the employment opportunities for persons with a disability. There are other factors that have to be understood on this matter.
We have all heard the personal stories of those living with a disability, how difficult it is for them to secure and maintain employment, or how difficult it is for them to have a sustainable income. These individuals are looking for the leadership from the present Liberal government that they saw under our previous Conservative government. Unfortunately, the government appears to be going after the low-hanging fruit on this file, with legislation that was already in motion, introduced under the previous government and largely in the same format as we see it today.
The Liberal government promised in its platform to introduce a national disabilities act, and unfortunately we have not seen any movement forward on that. The focus of such an act would be to address the systemic barriers to accessing employment and community services that are faced by persons with disabilities.
Bill is a much-needed piece of legislation for Canada. It is a much-needed initiative going forward. Persons with disabilities in this country are asking the present government for a real plan and sustained leadership. They are asking for employment opportunities and for equality in all things having to do with life.
While this legislation before us today is a good step, it is not adequate and it does not show leadership in the way Canadians need.
It is unfortunate that there was no mention of persons with disabilities in the Speech from the Throne or in the Liberals' 2016 budget, again reiterating that the current government is not taking seriously those persons with disabilities.
Our Conservative government had a strong record of providing new tools and programs to give persons with disabilities control over their future. Under the initiatives brought in by the late Jim Flaherty, we increased training for employment, increased accessibility for those who have a disability, and ensured they are able to join employment forces. We funded community projects to make facilities more accessible to those with a physical disability. We created a registered savings plan so that parents were given new tools to financially plan for their child with a disability.
While we support this legislation that is before the House today, we are left asking some very significant questions. We wonder where the ambition of the current government has gone, where its promises lie. We wonder if the current government is going to follow through on its commitments to a national plan with regard to those with disabilities. Again, not having seen it in the 2016 budget and not having heard of any sort of plan in the Liberals' throne speech, we are left wondering these things. Why is it that the Liberals have not made inclusion of persons with a disability a top priority?
What I have heard on the ground from those people living with a disability is that they want to work so that they can provide for themselves. They want opportunities to seek employment and to not be discriminated against as they do so. Again, they are looking to the current government to take leadership in this regard. We know that among us it is often disabled individuals who are the most impoverished. Because they cannot find the type of employment that perhaps others can, they are left with a rather meagre income. As a result, they are living in poverty and do not have access to the services and the lifestyle that perhaps the rest of Canadians have. They want to be able to access public spaces, to participate in their communities, and to be contributing members. Once again, they are looking to the current government to provide some leadership in these areas.
I have not heard of this bill, Bill , as being a top-of-mind concern for constituents when so many of those persons with a disability are in fact living in poverty because they cannot access employment. Once again, I would reiterate that the minister is overstating that this bill that is before the House today would create greater employment opportunities to the extent that she has implied. Although it would be a helpful step in that direction, once again I implore the government to take adequate steps in this direction.
While we support this legislation and the intent that it holds, we are left asking this. Where is the plan to address the more serious issues that face the Canadians among us who have a disability? Where is the leadership that the current government promised for the sake of all Canadians, to have an inclusive place within Canadian society?