I call this meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting number 12 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. Pursuant to the orders of reference of March 24, April 11 and April 20, 2020, the committee is meeting for the purpose of receiving evidence concerning matters related to the government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Today's meeting is taking place by video conference, and the proceedings will be made available via the House of Commons website. The webcast will always show the person speaking rather than the entirety of the committee.
Before speaking, please wait until I recognize you by name. When you are ready to speak, please click on the microphone icon to activate your mike.
Before we get started, I would like to remind everyone to please use the language channel of the language they are speaking.
I would now like to thank the witnesses for joining us today. With us, appearing as an individual, we have Dr. Tammy Schirle, professor, department of economics, Wilfrid Laurier University; from Moodys Tax Law, Kim Moody, CEO and director of Canadian tax advisory; and, we're on the lookout for our third witness, who may be joining us while the opening statements are being presented, and that is, from Guardian Law, Michelle Guy, managing partner.
Dr. Schirle, please proceed with your opening remarks.
Good morning, Mr. Chair. I thank you and the members of the committee for the opportunity to join you today.
As context for my statement, I am a labour economist. My research and teaching involve income support programs, the experience of women in the labour market, retirement decisions and the relationship between work and health.
Today I will focus on two related items. First, I will discuss the medium-term policy response needed over the next few months with concern for that part of the workforce bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 shutdown. Second, I will discuss long-term investments needed to strengthen our caregiving infrastructure in the interest of coming out of this recession with better support for Canada's long-term economic growth.
On the first point, I hope the April job numbers represent the depth of the COVID-19 impact on the loss of paid work. Moving forward, we need to think about the duration of joblessness and where jobless durations will be the most severe. I expect those who first lost paid work in COVID-19 shutdowns will also be the last to return to paid work. Those losses were predominantly experienced by women in public-facing jobs. Moreover, those losses were felt by those with the lowest wages, the lowest seniority, with hourly paid work, and by often the youngest workers.
As provinces move to reopen, we expect some industries to recover quickly. For example, I do not anticipate the April losses in manufacturing and construction to persist. Some services will rebound partially as health and safety requirements will prevent full reopening. Other services will struggle to find sufficient demand for reopening until customers feel confident with regard to their own health and their own financial security. Ultimately, this means some sectors will be delayed in offering paid work to former employees. Of course, some paid work will never rebound. Some jobs are gone. I don't expect a full recovery to come quickly.
For the jobs that become available, decisions to return to work are not always simple. First and foremost, workers must trust their employers to offer safe working conditions and will need to find safe transportation. With significant workplace outbreaks in mind, people will weigh the risk posed to themselves and ultimately to their families when deciding if it is worth taking a job.
Second, many families will have to find ways to manage their caregiving roles, whether that is child care, elder care or caring for other family members unable to care for themselves. We know this work falls primarily to women. With this in mind, we need to ensure policy in the coming months is designed to offer continued support to those unable to return to work when the CERB benefits run out. For some, this may happen in July. Support could come in a form similar to EI, while recognizing EI's coverage gaps, and be paired with services that support job searches and training for those permanently displaced. That training could focus on moving many women from low-paid work in female-dominated occupations to higher-paid work in comparably skilled, male-dominated occupations.
Income supports need to be designed with partial return to work in mind. Allowances for partial returns will facilitate the sharing of caregiving responsibilities across family members, allowing both mom and dad, for example, to take some time away from work to juggle kids' schedules rather than mom having to take the full departure.
Current CERB structures do not facilitate this type of transition. This brings me to the second item I will discuss today. I think the impact of the crisis on women and their work, both paid and unpaid, has made it clear to more people that our caregiving infrastructure is inadequate. We need to build modern, efficient and reliable infrastructure to manage this part of our economy if we want to see further productivity gains and speed up our recovery.
What do I mean by infrastructure? After previous recessions, we promoted shovel-ready infrastructure projects like road building to help stimulate the economy. Roads are part of our transportation infrastructure allowing us to more easily get people to work and move goods to market, trading beyond our own communities. No single individual or firm would build this infrastructure independently because individual benefits are not large enough to incentivize their construction. We build the roads with public funds precisely because it supports the entire economy and promotes economic growth. We then hire people, train them and pay them well to maintain that infrastructure. It is a large, long-term investment with ongoing costs that supports a well-functioning economy.
Historically, Canadian caregiving infrastructure was designed as a highly decentralized system. Individuals, mostly women, were responsible for providing care to family members and neighbours unable to care for themselves. This was done at a very high cost. Economists agree that opportunity costs are just as important as any other, and forgone wages for each person involved in caregiving quickly add up. With no training for many caregivers, many vulnerable people lack sufficient care. Those without family members available to help would simply go without.
Today we have built a small system for caregiving, the scale of which varies by province, but it remains highly decentralized and continues to constrain the work opportunities of many women. We can do better.
With serious investments in child care and long-term care centres we can assure a stable and reliable network of caregivers. This would allow those previously constrained by caregiving responsibilities to specialize where they are most productive, whether that is in a caregiving field or other field of work.
A shift towards specialization in each person's field of comparative advantage, combined with potential economies of scale, would boost Canadian productivity of labour and ultimately of economic growth.
I do not pretend this is a small investment. It's huge, but the current cost of our decentralized, inefficient and often substandard caregiving system is also huge. We need to fully recognize the costs associated with that system.
I also do not pretend this is simple, but I think that building this infrastructure with our provinces, territories and indigenous communities is worth the effort.
I thank you for your time and would appreciate any questions from the members.
Good morning, committee members. Thank you for the opportunity to appear to discuss the government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
My name is Kim Moody. I'm a chartered professional accountant and the CEO and director of Canadian tax advisory services for Moodys Tax Law and Moodys Private Client in Calgary, Alberta. I have a long history of serving the Canadian tax profession through a variety of leadership positions, including chair of the Canadian Tax Foundation, co-chair of the joint committee on taxation of the Canadian Bar Association and CPA Canada, and chair of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners Canada.
I intend to use my opening remarks to briefly comment on some of the challenges that we are experiencing with the Canada emergency response benefit, to provide some straightforward suggestions to address those challenges, and to briefly discuss some additional benefits for seniors.
To begin, I would like to commend the government for responding quickly to implement the CERB. It's obvious that a quick response, as compared to a perfect response, was the preferred approach, and I certainly agree with that. The CERB has definitely put money into the pockets of Canadians who are in a very challenging spot to provide for themselves and their families. With no rule book on how to respond to such an unusual challenge, the government, again, needs to be commended for its quick response.
However, now that we are two months into this crisis, with the overall picture certainly more clear than it was at the beginning, the simplicity, ease and quickness of the receipt of funds is also exposing challenges and unintended consequences. While some of these challenges have been widely reported, here are some that we are experiencing with clients and friends.
People are receiving double CERB payments. Within our firm, we know of numerous children and friends of clients who are receiving $4,000 per month, and they're wondering what to do about that.
People who are clearly not eligible to receive the CERB, usually because they did not meet the $5,000 total income requirement for 2019 or the previous 12 months from the date of application, or have not met the requirement of being out of work for at least 14 consecutive days for reasons related to COVID-19—there are some buddies of my son who were working and who applied for the CERB—are receiving the funds. They are often being encouraged to apply by someone they know.
People who were temporarily laid off are refusing to go back to work after being offered their jobs back, and instead want to continue to receive the CERB. While I'm not an employment lawyer, it seems to me that such people may have quit their employment voluntarily, which is the statutory language that I'll refer to in a second. If that is correct, then such a person would not be eligible to continue to receive the CERB, pursuant to subsection 6(2) of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit Act. Some employment lawyers I know have confirmed such treatment; however, I'm not seeing any enforcement of this provision whatsoever.
The CERB is appearing to be a real barrier and competition to hiring employees as employers start hiring. We have had numerous reports amongst our clients and friends of former employees preferring to be on a CERB vacation rather than return to work. We are seeing and experiencing this especially with part-time employees.
For example, my sister and brother-in-law own and operate a successful bakery in the Calgary Farmers' Market. At the beginning of the crisis, they laid off most of their staff because of the expected decline in revenues. As the crisis progressed, the demand for bread increased and far exceeded expectations. Accordingly, they needed to hire back some of their employees and/or hire new employees. Suffice it to say, it has been a difficult process to hire the required employees when the business is competing with the CERB. That's real.
Media outlets have recently reported on a memo written to Employment and Social Development Canada staff who process CERB applications that suggests they should approve the applications, even if a person has quit voluntarily, if a person was fired for cause, or if the overall application was contentious. It appears that such applications will be later reviewed. This is shocking to me and to many Canadians. While speed over perfection was clearly the preferred approach, it is not clear why a purposeful eye-closing to a review of contentious or even possibly fraudulent applications should occur. Based on our firm's experience, one could assume, reasonably, that 10% of applications may have issues.
With the PBO estimating that the CERB program will cost Canada $35.4 billion, 10% of that amount is $3.54 billion. That is a large number by any measure. Let's put it into perspective.
In 2019 the Canada Revenue Agency released its fifth report on the so-called tax gap, focusing on corporate taxes. Other reports released by the CRA examined sales tax fraud, domestic tax evasion and the use of offshore tax havens. The 2019 corporate report estimates that in the 2014 taxation year, Canadian corporations managed to pay somewhere between $9.4 billion and $11.4 billion less than they should have in taxes.
Personally, I have real trouble with those estimates. Anecdotally, I believe those are wildly high, but that's just me. Let's adjust that estimate down to something in the more believable category, somewhere in the range of $3 billion to $5 billion.
The fourth tax gap report, released in June 2018, discussed the international tax gap and personal taxes. The CRA stated as follows:
Based on international audits completed between 2014 to 2015 and 2016 to 2017, almost $1 billion in income was uncovered and assessed from 370 individuals, 200 corporations and a small number of trusts. The additional tax identified was $284 million. Of this, 23% was attributed to individuals and 77% to corporations and trusts linked to those [individuals].
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to address the government with respect to the response to COVID-19.
As a matter of introduction, I'm a family law lawyer in Vancouver, B.C. I own the firm called Guardian Law. I've been practising family law for 12 years. I'm concerned about the impact on families that depend on child and spousal support for the purpose of meeting their day-to-day needs and about what is happening, because there is no federal program in order to fill that gap of income.
In my practice, nearly all of my files end up in some sort of child or spousal support. As you may know, child support arises from and is prescribed by the federal child support guidelines. Spousal support is determined, in almost all cases, under the federal spousal support advisory guidelines. Under paragraph 11(1)(b) of the Divorce Act, the court actually cannot grant a divorce if there isn't child support in place and being paid.
As a matter of public policy, spousal and child support are critical tools to ensure equality between households and ensure that the household bearing greater responsibility for the care of children, which in most cases is the household where there's a woman, has a stable income and is compensated for the limits that parenting places on the parent's ability to engage in the workforce. Spousal and child support are widely accepted by society as necessary in ensuring fairness of income distribution.
Due to COVID-19, many employees have been furloughed, or people having businesses have suffered significant reductions in their incomes due to business closures. As a result, payers are in a position where they are significantly reducing or terminating spousal support and child support altogether. Unfortunately, clients have been coming to me, and they are completely desperate. There is no help available to them, because with CERB, the definition of income does not include child support or spousal support.
As well, the wage subsidy doesn't consider the payment of child support or spousal support to be any sort of wage—
I can be quite brief in my submission, because the issue is fairly simple.
As I said before, I've been a family law lawyer for the last 12 years in Vancouver, and all of my files result in some sort of child or spousal support. Child and spousal support arise from federal legislation and are deemed to be necessary components of our social support fabric.
I've had a number of clients who have come to me who are in desperate situations. They rely heavily on child or spousal support as part of their operating budget to be able to make ends meet, but the payer has lost their main source of income, whether from being furloughed from their employment or from facing a significant reduction to their own business income due to closures or loss of revenue. As a result, they are turning around and terminating or significantly reducing the spousal support or the child support they are paying.
The problem with that is that the person who is relying on that income to be able to pay expenses for children, who are the most vulnerable members of our society, has no program they can turn to to try to replace that income. CERB does not define income to include child or spousal support, and the wage subsidy program does not consider the payment of child or spousal support to fall under the payment of salaries or wages.
These parents, who are normally women, are coming to me desperate because they have no way to make ends meet. Even if they negotiate with their landlords or their mortgage holder to have a cessation of payments, bills are just piling up. They still need to put food on their table. They still need to pay for those things at the end of the day. As it stands, in most cases, they're living paycheque to paycheque to get by anyway.
My submission is that there needs to be a reconsideration of the definition of income for the purpose of the CERB on a retroactive basis so that we can get some funds into the pockets of these people, or we need to redefine salaries and wages for the purpose of the subsidy program so that the payer has some incentive to continue to meet their obligation and can turn to a program to get some indemnification for their outgoing costs.
That's essentially my submission, and if there are any questions, I would appreciate the opportunity to answer.
I suspect the interpreters are having challenges right now, but I will try to answer.
We know our that students are going to struggle going forward as they try to enter the labour market. If they try to enter the labour market during any normal recession, they take a huge cut to their potential earnings, which usually takes about 10 years to recover from.
This is a scenario where they do not get that first ideal job. They're looking at trying to get any job at all, and many of the jobs they could get right now will not contribute to their career path. That is a huge concern we have for the students who are graduating.
What we have seen at many universities is an increase in enrollments for the summer, so we suspect that many will choose to continue their education, building some further skills before going into the labour market. That seems to be a best-case scenario for them, but eventually they're going to have to get out there and try to compete. As many workplaces appear to be moving to more permanent work-from-home scenarios, it's not obvious how they're going to start the networking that also comes with starting their first career and learning in those jobs, so they have many challenges coming up.
For the students who are returning to school in the fall, my sense is that they're fairly well covered by the existing policies that have been brought forward, but I am very concerned about those who are graduating and trying to start their careers.
Mr. Chair, honourable members of the committee, ladies and gentlemen, thank you. It is an honour to be with you today.
As we've come to grips with the impact of COVID-19 on our lives, we all wish that we could just get back to normal, but then reality sets in, and we sense with some trepidation that we'll have to grudgingly accept a new normal.
As it pertains to people with disabilities, as it relates to recovering Canada's economy and as it applies to then building even greater economic prosperity for the future, I believe we should not settle for a new normal. I believe we should instead consciously develop a new, improved and accessible normal, one that embraces the Accessible Canada Act in both its spirit and its legislative letter, not as a burden, but as one with the myriad, serendipitous benefits we hitherto haven't even been able to consider until now.
Among other things, unless we all want to wear gloves all year round, the need to create no-touch automatic doors wherever possible throughout our society should no longer be considered as just an accessibility add-on. There will be many more options to consider.
Tuesday was Personal Support Worker Day in Ontario. Yesterday was Global Accessibility Awareness Day. May 31 marks the start of National AccesAbility Week, a welcome federal government initiative.
These dates are significant, as they encompass in a general way the three types of disabled persons who, according to StatsCan, represent 22% of our people. First, there are people like me who are disabled but, with the use of assistive devices, live essentially an independent life. Second, there are those who require daily assistance from a personal support worker, PSW, to participate in society either at school or in the workforce. Third, there are seniors with mobility issues and those younger adults whose disability is severe enough that the only option is to reside in a long-term care or seniors home irrespective of age. We have a family member who fits that exact category.
It is the latter two groups who are most affected today by COVID-19. In terms of PSWs, I note that the government is looking at creating a training program for unemployed Canadians to help long-term care homes. has said that, despite these homes being a provincial responsibility, the initiative would be available to any province seeking help in those facilities during the outbreak.
I applaud the minister for adding that the crisis is not just hitting LTCs but all collective situations, including residential care facilities for people with disabilities. She said, “Any collective living situation needs to be really, honestly dissected, and we need a better way forward in Canada on this.” I wholeheartedly agree with her 100%.
On May 5, my comrade in arms, Jeffrey Preston, disability studies professor at King's College, addressed your committee and underscored the need for a better way forward when he said the following to you:
We must secure our long-term care facilities to prevent the spread of the virus from unit to unit and from facility to facility. Supporting provincial efforts to care for the caregivers is critical, including increasing PSW staffing numbers and providing regular paid time off for recharging of batteries or fighting off sickness. Scaling up the number of people working in these roles, I believe, is critical. This also means, though, a need to re-examine past practice where we warehoused disabled people of all ages in medical facilities...because of a lack of affordable accessible housing.
This pandemic is perhaps the greatest societal challenge our nation has ever faced, without exception, so I refer you all to a May 14 article in theconversation.com on the coronavirus in Canada's long-term care for people with disabilities, a brilliant article written by professors Gillian Parekh of York and Kathryn Underwood of Ryerson.
Of the catastrophe in our long-term care facilities—and it truly is a catastrophe—they say:
When we look at who is disproportionately affected by this pandemic, we can’t help but ask how ableism shapes notions of whose lives are valued and whose are not. As governments plan for a “return to normal” while serious systemic issues remain in long-term living facilities, is normal really what we want to return to?
No, it is not. We need a better way forward. Ableism is a kind of benign neglect. As Parekh and Underwood conclude, citing disability justice activist Mia Mingus, “it undergirds notions of whose bodies are considered valuable, desirable and disposable.”
We've been told repeatedly to trust the science as we navigate forward. Certainly, that is important. But now that we are 76 days from the first Canadian COVID-19 fatality, it is time to do the math as well. Our population is 37,500,000. As of yesterday, over 6,150 Canadians have died of COVID, and we rank 11th in the world. A full 80% of those people, or 4,920, were in LTC homes or seniors homes, most with disabilities.
We all remember the Humboldt bus crash. Sixteen people died, our nation grieved. In the 76 days of COVID deaths, the death toll for our disabled seniors has been the equivalent of four Humboldt crashes per day for 76 days. Those are the numbers, and there are more.
What can we learn from them? Let's consider that with a population of 126,000,000 people, 25% of which is seniors, the COVID death toll for the nation of Japan, as of yesterday, is 771. They rank 73rd in the world. Canada's death toll for seniors alone is six times greater than Japan's total death toll as a nation. Their population is 3.3 times greater than Canada's, but their COVID death toll is 13% of Canada's. Why? There are detailed reasons, but, briefly, they do not shake hands as a society and have not for centuries. They bow instead. Since the Fukushima nuclear accident of 2011, mask and hand sanitizer use has become widespread if not completely accepted.
Closer to home, New Brunswick—
I'm Bill Adair, executive director of Spinal Cord Injury Canada. I'm pleased to be speaking with you today about the Government of Canada's response to COVID-19. I'm especially glad to be doing so as our organization celebrates its 75th anniversary.
Spinal Cord Injury Canada was founded by World War II veterans with spinal cord injuries, who were determined to return to Canada and make it a more inclusive and accessible place to live. I'm proud to be here with the same intentions, representing our organization and our founders.
There are an estimated 68,000 people living with spinal cord injuries in Canada. About one a day is added to that number. It is Spinal Cord Injury Canada's job to support this journey as people return to an independent and fulfilling life.
COVID-19 brings many challenges for people with spinal cord injuries. The best medical advice is to wash our hands and social distance to stay healthy. People with high-level quadriplegia—limited function below the neck—might find that handwashing isn't a simple task, nor would it be easy to put on gloves or a mask. As well, many people with spinal cord injuries use the services of a personal support worker to assist them in the activities of daily living. Social distancing is impossible in that situation.
For those with a spinal cord injury in a hospital or rehabilitation setting, COVID-19 is a serious threat due to increased exposure and because people often have a harder time with breathing and lung functions. When these people are discharged, a severe shortage of affordable and accessible housing leaves them with no choice but to move into long-term care facilities, which, as we know, puts them in grave danger. Because of scarce availability of personal protective equipment, PSWs sometimes arrive at people's homes without gloves and masks. This puts people receiving the service in a very vulnerable situation. The person can refuse service, but then how do they eat, go to the bathroom, get to bed, or get up in the morning? PSWs in the community need protective equipment just as hospitals and long-term care residences do.
Thankfully, PSWs are now considered essential workers and have received extra pay in recognition. Spinal Cord Injury Canada fully supports this change, but there have been ripple effects with the changes. Some PSWs could suddenly no longer provide services to people in the community. This change put pressure on family and friends for support, and people scrambled to try to find new PSWs in the middle of a pandemic. As well, some people tried to match the higher salary or even pay more to keep their PSW. For people on a fixed income, this was near impossible.
There have been extra out-of-pocket expenses too for services such as garbage pickup, grocery delivery, accessible equipment repair, or bulk buying of medical supplies because of availability.
To date, the Government of Canada has provided support to workers, parents, corporations, small and medium-sized-business owners, workers, families, children, students, indigenous peoples, homeless people, women facing violence, seniors, youth, seafood processors, dairy farmers, agriculture suppliers, energy companies, tourism companies, sports organizations and cultural organizations. Without a doubt, Canadians can be proud that we live in a country in which the government is responsive to our core values, and we do look after one another.
Although some people with spinal cord injuries qualify for the financial support our government has been announcing, people receiving disability benefits do not and are being left behind.
In 2019, the average CPP disability benefit was just over $1,000 a month, and the maximum benefit anyone could get was just over $1,300 a month. Even with access to other provincial and territorial funding programs the reality is that many people on disability supports live in severe poverty.
Furthermore, Spinal Cord Injury Canada is challenged to sustain our support for people in need. One of our provincial organizations has had to close and another is dangerously close to doing so because fundraising dollars were not able to be realized. Canadians are tightening their purse strings and people will not attend fundraising events. Yes, $350 million was announced in April, but the application process started only this week, and now we are faced with a more complex process to request this assistance, which we will be pursuing, but this leaves our federation in a very perilous situation. More importantly the people we serve are being penalized.
That being said, there are changes that have happened because of COVID-19 that Spinal Cord Injury Canada hopes will continue into the future. Video health conferencing is an amazing option. For people with spinal cord injuries who can't get out of the house or who have difficulty getting around, this is a real benefit and should continue.
Canadians have adjusted to working from home. We hope that in the future, more jobs will be advertised as operating from a home office, increasing the employment rate of people with disabilities.
Women with disabilities are twice as likely as women without disabilities to experience emotional, physical or sexual violence by a current or former partner. As we all shelter at home, women facing violence are in isolation with their abuser. COVID-19 has brought to the surface this horrific systemic issue that, as a country, we must fix.
People with spinal cord injuries and disability supports have been kept in financially desperate situations, literally having to make choices between getting food and buying medication, between rent and rehabilitation.
When Canadians lost their jobs during COVID-19, the CERB offered a basic living income of $2,000. We are calling for a universal basic income for people with spinal cord injuries and other disabilities who receive disability supports. There is no benefit to society in keeping people poor and vulnerable.
I'd like to conclude with the recommendations that follow.
The first is to develop a coordinated emergency response plan for people with disabilities, to be implemented across Canada, so that we are ready to respond when local, provincial, territorial and nationwide emergencies arise in the future.
The second recommendation is to increase the amount of accessible and affordable housing across Canada.
The third is to supply community-based health care workers with personal protection equipment.
The fourth is to continue to pay personal support workers what they are worth now and into the future.
Next is to ensure that payments made through direct funding programs—funding that supports people living in the community—increase, to ensure that people can live safely and independently in the community.
Another is to give people on disability supports the financial aid needed to cover extra disability-related costs associated with this pandemic.
Another is to continue video conferencing health services after COVID-19.
Another recommendation is to implement a national strategy to address violence against women.
Another is to implement a universal basic income for all Canadians, including people with disabilities.
Finally, we recommend implementing a nationwide strategy for disability and work to increase workforce participation.
Since March 11, when the World Health Organization first assessed COVID-19 as a pandemic, the most vulnerable among us have waited for support. All Canadians want to live with respect and with dignity. We're all in this together, and nobody should be left behind.
Good afternoon, everyone.
My name is Olivier Villeneuve, and I am the director of the Mouvement personne d'abord de Sainte-Thérèse organization, whose primary mission is to collectively defend the rights of individuals with intellectual disabilities.
Our philosophy is to put individuals first. They are the ones who decide what our major policies will be and what cases we will handle. That is why I will provide a brief explanation. Afterwards, Louise Bourgeois, who is living with an intellectual disability, will speak to you about her experience during the pandemic.
During a pandemic, the various levels of government have a vested interest in every citizen having access to information whose format and content are accessible with regard to their condition. In that context, information comes before everything else. If I am well informed, my behaviours will reflect the best practices in terms of prevention and contagion, and I will tend to go to the right place to get tested, depending on my situation. What is even more important is that being well informed will alleviate Canadians' feelings of uncertainty and their distress, and it will help them maintain good mental health.
As a society, we have a duty to do everything possible so that every citizen, regardless of their condition, would have an equal opportunity to access understandable information at the same time. This is a right to equality protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
For people who speak English, the content will be translated into their language. For people who are blind, a Braille version will be provided. A person with an intellectual disability will also need the content and format of the information they receive to be adapted, so that they could play their role of responsible citizen.
Someone living with an intellectual disability will learn better if the right communication strategies are used, just as sign language is a good strategy to support a deaf person. They will understand the message content better if the information is spoken or written in their language. Verbally, it is recommended to use short sentences with concrete and simple words to convey one idea. Speaking to them slowly without, however, patronizing them, is a winning strategy.
As for written information, it should be pointed out that some people cannot read or have low literacy. For example, posters or information texts on the pandemic should always contain sentences that use simple and concrete words, as well as images supporting the content of the information.
We have surveyed some 50 individuals with intellectual disabilities over the past few weeks, and it is clear that COVID-19 is negatively impacting their quality of life significantly. Their safe haven has collapsed in the wake of radical changes to their routines. The safe haven of their feeling of control over their life has also collapsed, given the difficulty in processing all that complex and contradictory information. We currently all feel like we are living on another planet. Imagine the tremendous feeling of emptiness experienced by those for whom processing information as it becomes available is a bigger challenge.
With the stage set, we respectfully submit to you two potential solutions related to the issue of availability of accessible and understandable information for all Canadians, including those with an intellectual disability.
First, the federal government should constantly have the reflex to provide information in plain language. Second, federal officials who are experts in dealing with people with an intellectual disability must ensure that communications, regardless of their format, are aligned with the good communication strategies I have just outlined.
On behalf of our organization's members, we want to sincerely thank you for this highly noble exercise of making Canada more inclusive.
In conclusion, here is the testimony of Ms. Bourgeois, an adult who is living with an intellectual disability in the context of this pandemic.
I yield the floor to her.
Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for inviting me to testify before the committee.
At first, I was scared. I had a lot of concerns. I was wondering whether the Mouvement personne d'abord de Sainte-Thérèse would be closed forever. I did not know where things were going. I felt alone and isolated. I was worried about the pandemic because, for me, it was something unknown. I did not know what COVID-19 was. It was the first time I had heard of it, and I was confused.
I had a very hard time obtaining information. It was not clear. It was not reassuring to hear that we had to stay at home. Did this mean that we had to stay inside and never go out again? The information was arriving very late. I would hear the information and, two minutes later, simplified information would arrive.
What is more, access to protective equipment is difficult for our members, who do not have a lot of money to purchase it. So the Mouvement will provide all the protective equipment, including masks.
In addition, when it comes to information and explanations, big words should not be used because our members have a hard time understanding. The information must be clear and accompanied by images, pictograms. That could be an image with three tables and an individual at each table, with an arrow between two people and the number 2 to indicate that there should be a distance of two metres between them.
Thank you for having me and for allowing me to provide my testimony.
I'll be splitting my time with MP Vaughan, so I'm going to try to time myself and stick to about two minutes here.
Thank you, panellists. I admire all of you and the work you do every day.
Mr. Onley, one thing we've been hearing is that some people living with disabilities are concerned about provincial clawbacks to their social assistance. Those who qualify for the CERB are obviously getting the $2,000, but they're worried about those provincial clawbacks.
Our government has stated very clearly that it believes the CERB needs to be considered exempt from the clawbacks provinces and territories often employ. in particular has been working with her provincial and territorial counterparts to ensure that the CERB and provincial and territorial social assistance programs work together and support Canadians so they're not penalized for receiving the CERB.
To date, there's a mixed review from provinces and territories. Some are clawing back partially, while some are clawing back the same amount.
I wonder, Mr. Onley, if you could tell us about how those clawbacks might hurt people living with disabilities. Can you please share the impact it may have on them?
Thank you for your question, Ms. Chabot.
There is actually extensive literature on the issue. In Quebec, there have been numerous partnerships among universities, the health industry and the community to seek out evidence and to do what is best.
There is a website called Infos-accessibles, which provides strategies for that purpose. It provides references on good practices to simplify texts, and it provides examples on good writing practices and those that aim to use images to support the message.
So it is extremely important to keep in mind the condition of individuals with an intellectual disability. From 1% to 3% of people are living with an intellectual disability—so about 500,000 Canadians.
Even without a diagnosis of intellectual disability, many people have what is referred to as low literacy. By keeping in mind that many struggle to interpret the information provided to them, the authorities would be helping those people out. Especially during COVID-19, information is coming from all over the place. One day, it's white, and another day, it's black, and that is normal. It's an inexact science, and an attempt is being made to explain it.
To answer your question, Ms. Chabot, there are indeed websites for an organization or a country that wants to seek out content and know how to make its communications accessible. The website Infos-accessibles is one good example of that.