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View Bruce Stanton Profile
View Bruce Stanton Profile
2019-06-21 14:54 [p.29473]
I have the honour to inform the House that when this House did attend Her Excellency this day in the Senate chamber, Her Excellency the Governor General was pleased to give, in Her Majesty's name, the royal assent to the following bills:
C-71, An Act to amend certain Acts and Regulations in relation to firearms—Chapter 9.
C-81, An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada—Chapter 10.
S-203, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and other Acts (ending the captivity of whales and dolphins)—Chapter 11.
C-82, An Act to implement a multilateral convention to implement tax treaty related measures to prevent base erosion and profit shifting—Chapter 12.
C-59, An Act respecting national security matters—Chapter 13.
C-68, An Act to amend the Fisheries Act and other Acts in consequence—Chapter 14.
C-77, An Act to amend the National Defence Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts—Chapter 15.
C-78, An Act to amend the Divorce Act, the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act and the Garnishment, Attachment and Pension Diversion Act and to make consequential amendments to another Act—Chapter 16.
C-84, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (bestiality and animal fighting)—Chapter 17.
C-58, An Act to amend the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts—Chapter 18.
C-88, An Act to amend the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act and the Canada Petroleum Resources Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts—Chapter 19.
C-93, An Act to provide no-cost, expedited record suspensions for simple possession of cannabis—Chapter 20.
C-102, An Act for granting to Her Majesty certain sums of money for the federal public administration for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2020—Chapter 21.
C-101, An Act to amend the Customs Tariff and the Canadian International Trade Tribunal Act—Chapter 22.
C-91, An Act respecting Indigenous languages—Chapter 23.
C-92, An Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families—Chapter 24.
C-75, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, the Youth Criminal Justice Act and other Acts and to make consequential amendments to other Acts—Chapter 25.
C-48, An Act respecting the regulation of vessels that transport crude oil or persistent oil to or from ports or marine installations located along British Columbia's north coast—Chapter 26.
C-83, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and another Act—Chapter 27.
C-69, An Act to enact the Impact Assessment Act and the Canadian Energy Regulator Act, to amend the Navigation Protection Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts—Chapter 28.
C-97, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 19, 2019 and other measures—Chapter 29.
It being 2:55 p.m., the House stands adjourned until Monday, September 16, 2019, at 11 a.m., pursuant to Standing Orders 28(2) and 24(1).
(The House adjourned at 2:55 p.m.)
The 42nd Parliament was dissolved by Royal Proclamation on September 11, 2019.
Aboriginal languagesAboriginal peoplesAccess for disabled peopleAccess to informationAdjournmentAgriculture, environment and natural res ...British ColumbiaBudget 2019 (March 19, 2019)C-101, An Act to amend the Customs Tarif ...C-102, An Act for granting to Her Majest ...C-48, An Act respecting the regulation o ... ...Show all topics
View Don Davies Profile
View Don Davies Profile
2019-06-11 10:06 [p.28883]
moved for leave to introduce Bill C-456, An Act to Amend the Income Tax Act and the Canada Student Financial Assistance Act.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise today to introduce an important bill to Parliament, the post-secondary education financial assistance for persons with disabilities act, with thanks to the hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh for seconding it.
This legislation will provide tuition-free post-secondary education for all Canadians with disabilities. This bill is a result of the vision of a bright young man from my riding of Vancouver Kingsway, Sanjay Kajal. Sanjay is the 2019 winner of my annual create your Canada contest. He hopes that this bill will help all Canadians with disabilities reach their full potential, by eliminating tuition as a financial barrier to accessing post-secondary education. This is not only fundamentally just, but it is an investment in our citizens. It will level the playing field and help Canadians who need it the most.
I hope that all Parliamentarians will help Sanjay realize his vision for a better Canada.
View Cheryl Hardcastle Profile
View Cheryl Hardcastle Profile
2019-06-04 15:05 [p.28504]
Mr. Speaker, dozens of workers with developmental disabilities were fired from their jobs after the Liberal government shut down the National Archives program that employed them. Liberals have promised to find them meaningful work within government, but nothing has been done. When the Prime Minister was asked about the fate of these workers, he gave empty talking points.
These workers deserve better. They want to know, will the Liberals commit today to replace those jobs they took away?
View Carla Qualtrough Profile
Lib. (BC)
View Carla Qualtrough Profile
2019-06-04 15:05 [p.28505]
Mr. Speaker, on the eve of our third annual National AccessAbility Week, and of course with Bill C-81 having gone through this House last week, I can assure every Canadian that we will find jobs for these workers. In fact, we are showing them the dignity of giving them meaningful work so that they contribute to government operations.
I have been working with the organization. No one will be without a job.
View Jim Eglinski Profile
View Jim Eglinski Profile
2019-06-04 17:32 [p.28520]
moved that Bill C-206, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (abuse of vulnerable persons), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak about seniors and vulnerable persons in our society, whether they are physically handicapped, have a mental condition or other. Bill C-206 focuses on the sentencing of individuals who perpetrate crimes against people specifically because of who they are: vulnerable.
The bill would amend section 718.2 of the Criminal Code by bringing further protection to seniors and other vulnerable persons to ensure that they live in safety, dignity and without fear.
As a former Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer for many years, I have seen many horrific crimes, brutality, theft and suicide. Fortunately for me, I have been able to take all the bad, the ugliness and the violence and push it to the back of my mind and I can forget about it. How much good we did and the people we helped save and set on the right course in life is very important to me.
However, there was always one type of crime I felt I could not accept, the lack of appropriate penalties in our Canadian Criminal Code, specifically for crimes against vulnerable persons. My bill would introduce tougher penalties for those who consciously use the weakness of vulnerable groups to financially, physically, sexually or emotionally abuse them.
It is difficult for the abused to admit to people that they are victims of abuse, especially at the hands of someone they know and trust. When trust is abused, the penalties should be severe. Perpetrators should be held to account with firm punishment. We must have harsher sentences for these types of perpetrators.
Criminals who target the elderly should know that they will not get away with it. Older people should not have to fear being targeted. We need stronger penalties to deter and tackle criminals who target the elderly and the disabled. There are hundreds of cases of abuse in which the offenders did not, in my opinion, receive fair punishment for their actions.
We should not tolerate or express any sort of sympathy toward conscious cruelty against seniors and other vulnerable groups. Their security should be of concern to us in Canada and their abuse should be treated as a human rights issue of the utmost importance.
I must point out that technically a judge already considers the vulnerability of a victim, including age and disabilities, when deciding on a sentencing term. It is just not specifically stated on paper or in the act. The bill would simply add it on paper as a requirement.
As people grow older, they become more isolated, so the risk of abuse increases. Punishment fails to deter would-be abusers who see older people as a soft target and we must do more to protect older people and vulnerable people. Bill C-206 would change that.
A large part of the Canadian population is either a senior or will soon be one, including me. I am already there. The demographic data released by Statistics Canada in the 2016 census shows there are approximately 5.9 million seniors in Canada.
According to government statistics, by 2031, around eight million people will be aged 65 or older. That will be almost a quarter of Canada's population. Many Canadians require care and assistance, and that number is only growing.
Offenders who exploit their weaknesses for their self-benefit and decrease the self-worth and dignity of vulnerable adults and seniors must face greater punishments in law. Statistics provided by the Department of Justice state that approximately 24% of disabled persons were victimized at least one in their lives and about 45% of seniors aged 65 and older reported experiencing some form of abuse. This is scary, especially when a quarter of our population will be in that age bracket very shortly.
However, according to the Canadian Association for Retired Persons, only 20% of elder abuse comes to the attention of responsible authorities. Why? Because many of the victims do not want to report the abuse for various reasons. These reasons include the dependence upon a caregiver who is abusive, fear of not being believed or even deep shame and humiliation because of what happened to them.
Moreover, in 32% of the reported elder abuse cases, the offender is related to the victim as a child or an extended family member. That is shocking. We can only imagine how many cases of such abuse remain unreported as the elderly are reluctant to bring charges against their family members or relatives.
It is therefore the responsibility of all of us in the House of Commons to protect those who cannot stand up for themselves by adopting measures that would deter potential offenders from committing these crimes. This is exactly what my bill is designed to do. Adopting it would mean two things: prescribing tougher penalties for the offenders and justice for the victims.
Bill C-206 covers four forms of abuse: financial, physical, sexual and emotional. I will speak about each to show how they affect vulnerable people.
The first is financial abuse, one of the most common forms of abuse against vulnerable groups.
In 2014, CBC News reported that Toronto police arrested a wife and husband who defrauded a 94-year-old woman, within four years, of $25,000 in cash, jewellery and furniture. The wife was hired as a housekeeper and became involved in the everyday activities of this victim. At some point, she forced the elderly lady into a smaller room and moved into the apartment with her husband. If it were not for a courier from a local pharmacy who, during his weekly deliveries, noticed that something was wrong when an unknown person answered the door, the consequences for that woman could have been more grave than just the money.
Under the Department of Justice, not a single reported Canadian case contains a definition of “elder abuse”. In fairness, there are some cases where the extreme age of the victim was taken into the sentencing factor, which is very good. However, my bill, Bill C-206, would take away the use of discretionary decisions and make it mandatory for the sentence to be increased due to the fact the aggravated crime was committed against a vulnerable person. This is not new in Canadian law. It is missing in certain parts of the Criminal Code and I want it to be used more broadly, especially for the crimes about which I have been talking.
In another example in the same year, 3,000 kilometres away in Edmonton, Global News wrote an article on a man who was accused of defrauding his grandmother of $265,000. He acted as his grandmother's attorney under a power of attorney agreement.
Fraud and financial abuse in general can occur not only among family members, but also with people who the victims trust the most. These cases are connected to the victim's trust and dependancy on the caregiver who is abusing the victim and, due to the simple fear of being physically abused, the victim will not report the caregiver. This is not acceptable today. These abuses are happening because offenders do not get fair punishments. They rely on the vulnerability of others and take advantage of them.
Physical abuse is the second form of abuse I want to address.
Statistics show that people with disabilities are more likely to be assaulted compared to people with no disabilities. Another disturbing case happened in Ottawa involving a personal support worker who pleaded guilty to assault charges for an incident at a retirement home. He delivered 10 punches to an 89-year-old man suffering from Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
In my many years in law enforcement, this is one of the worst types of crimes I have ever encountered. Should such offenders be treated equally to those assaulting healthy and capable people? I do not think so. Their punishments should reflect the gravity of their crimes. Currently, those abusers, even if convicted, rarely get punished.
Advocates for people with disabilities have confirmed that vulnerable groups are often abused. If we look back at the report that came out yesterday, people who are vulnerable are being picked on.
In October 2014, the CBC posted a story about a 19-year-old mentally disabled woman being sexually assaulted on a bus in Winnipeg, while her support worker was sitting a couple of rows ahead. I am a father and a grandfather. To me, a 19-year-old is still a child. What this child experienced was traumatic for both her and her parents. She has a right to be safe. That is why we need a stronger law.
In the spring of 2017, a support worker in Ontario walked away with a guilty plea for only one count of assault and no criminal record in exchange for the court withdrawing 13 counts of sexual assault.
We need to be stiffer in our penalties. This is where my bill, Bill C-206, would come into play. The vulnerable in our society should enjoy an increased level of protection. They need to be confident in our legal system and must be assured that those who would try to use their vulnerability will always get a fair punishment.
The last but not least form of abuse I would like to cover today is the emotional or psychological form of abuse. I would like to add that all previously discussed forms of abuse are very much connected to emotional abuse in the sense that they have a great psychological effect on the victims.
There is no dignity in disrespecting a vulnerable person. There is no dignity in taking advantage of a vulnerable person. It is a crime and it must be punished in a greater way than it is being punished now. The cases I have talked about are not single cases; there are hundreds of them out there.
How do we change this? Canada needs harsher penalties for those who exploit vulnerable people and take advantage of their weaknesses. Tougher penalties for the abuse of vulnerable persons would make abusers think twice before committing these kinds of offences and would provide more safety for those who cannot protect themselves.
My bill would ensure that those criminals who would disrespect and use the weakness of others would not be able to get away with a simple conviction or a guilty plea, leaving the families and friends of victims desperate and disappointed in our criminal justice system.
View Arif Virani Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Arif Virani Profile
2019-06-04 17:51 [p.28522]
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join the second reading debate on Private Member's bill, Bill C-206, an act to amend the Criminal Code.
At the outset, I want to to acknowledge the laudable objective of the bill and thank the member from Yellowhead for giving us the opportunity to debate this important social issue this evening.
Bill C-206 amends the Criminal Code to specify that the physical, emotional, sexual or financial abuse of a person over the age of 65 or of a person 18 years of age or older who depends on others for their care because of a mental or physical disability is to be considered an aggravating circumstance for sentencing purposes.
The member for Yellowhead said that the bill seeks to give vulnerable seniors further protections to ensure that they can live safely and in dignity, while protecting them against exploitation.
The bill would fulfill that objective by imposing harsher sentences on offenders who abuse these vulnerable victims, whether financially, physically or psychologically.
I am in full agreement with the member for Yellowhead that we must do everything to address the physical, financial and emotional exploitation of our seniors and other vulnerable Canadians who depend on others for their care because of a disability.
I hear about this issue in my work here in Ottawa, in my work around the country and also in my riding of Parkdale—High Park. Constituents speak to me about the statistics, which are problematic. Those statistics show that seniors and Canadians with disabilities are at a higher risk of being victims of crimes.
For instance, while older Canadians have historically reported low victimization rates, the physical disabilities and cognitive impairments experienced by some seniors may increase their vulnerability and make them more prone to certain kinds of abuse, such as online financial crime, neglect, financial exploitation and family-related violence.
By 2036 the size of Canada's senior population will increase about twofold, and persons aged 65 and over will represent approximately one quarter of the Canadian population in total.
Given Canada's aging population, Statistics Canada notes that police-reported violence committed against seniors will continue to increase if it is left unaddressed.
According to police data, Canadian seniors were more likely to be the victim of family violence in 2017 than they were 10 years ago. In 2007, Statistics Canada reported that the overall rate of police-reported violence against seniors had increased by 20% between 1998 and 2005. From 2009 to 2017, the rate of police-reported family violence against seniors rose 7%.
In 2014, people with a disability were about twice as likely to be victims of a violent crime than people who did not have a disability, and women and men with cognitive disabilities or mental health-related disabilities reported violent victimization approximately four times more often than their counterparts who did not have a disability.
Elder abuse, senior isolation and the abuse of vulnerable persons are completely unacceptable. Our government is working hard to provide Canadian seniors with greater security and a better quality of life. That is what compelled us to appoint and name a Minister of Seniors to the federal cabinet.
We have also invested in the new horizons for seniors program, which, through budget 2019, will receive an additional $100 million over the next five years. One of the key initiatives of that program is to tackle elder abuse and fraud.
Several legislative amendments have been enacted by Parliament to address the problem of elder abuse. For instance, in 2011, the Standing Up for Victims of White Collar Crime Act enacted an aggravating factor to the fraud offence found at section 380.1 of the Criminal Code. This was referenced in the earlier part of tonight's debate.
This provision directs a judge to treat evidence that the offence had a significant impact on the victim, having regard to “their personal circumstances including their age, health and financial situation”, as an aggravating factor at sentencing.
In 2012, there was also legislation enacted called Protecting Canada's Seniors Act, which enacted a provision that directed courts to treat evidence that the offence had a significant impact on the victim, having regard to his or her age and other personal circumstances, including health and financial situation, as an aggravating factor at sentencing.
These two legislative amendments essentially codified the current sentencing practices. In other words, when these legislative amendments were proposed, the law already required the courts to consider all aggravating and mitigating circumstances related to the offence and the offender's degree of responsibility, including the effect of an offence on a particular victim under all circumstances. In a given case, this can obviously include the victims' age and their vulnerability.
In summary, by codifying the aggravating circumstances, parliamentarians clarified the sentencing law for all Canadians and sent a message to the courts that it is important to consider these aggravating circumstances in sentencing decisions.
The Criminal Code includes a broad range of offences that apply equally to protect all Canadians, including vulnerable and elderly Canadians, as well as specific offences that take into account the vulnerability of the victim. For instance, the offences of assault, assault with bodily harm and aggravated assault apply to protect everyone, regardless of age, health or gender. However, there are also specific offences that target the abuse of vulnerable persons, such as in section 153.1 of the Criminal Code, which applies to the sexual exploitation of a person with a disability. The code also lists several aggravating factors that can apply in cases involving abuse of an elderly or vulnerable person who depends on others for care because of a mental or physical disability.
There are four aggravating factors: one, evidence and offences motivated by bias, prejudice or hate or based on, for instance, age or mental or physical disability; two, the fact that the offenders abuse their spouse or common-law partner; three, the fact that offenders abused a position of trust or authority in relation to the victim; and four, evidence that the offence had a significant impact on the victim having regard to their age or other personal circumstance, including their health or financial situation.
Based on my interpretation of the aggravating circumstance proposed in Bill C-206, I have to wonder if the amendment proposed in the bill could overlap with the circumstances already set out in the Criminal Code. I wonder if the amendment fixes any flaws in the law regarding the abuse of seniors and other vulnerable persons.
I look forward to hearing other members' thoughts about whether this conduct is already covered by the Criminal Code and how this amendment would affect the criminal justice system. For example, if we were to adopt an aggravating circumstance that is similar to the ones already in the Criminal Code, would there be an increase in the number of cases related to determining the scope of the new provision and how it differs from the aggravating circumstances set out in the Criminal Code?
Moreover, I wonder about the implications of setting a chronological age distinction of above 65 as the hard limit in the Criminal Code for assessing a person's vulnerability. Witnesses who testified before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights as part of its study of former Bill C-36 emphasized that the impact of a crime on an elderly victim is not necessarily dependent on chronological age, but rather on the combined unique characteristics of that elderly victim.
This leads me to question whether an individual's vulnerability is not best assessed by weighing a combination of factors, such as mental and physical health, financial situation and degree of autonomy. I am sure members of this House can come up with examples of when age is not the best indicator of a person's level of vulnerability. For these reasons, I look forward to a thorough debate on these important policy questions.
During second reading debate of the former Bill C-36, the member for Pierrefonds—Dollard at the time said that if we focus only on legal measures, we will be missing a very important point. Non-legislative measures can also significantly help address the problem.
In total, I would underscore that the bill proposed by the member for Yellowhead targets a very important and laudable objective. I look forward to the important debate continuing on this issue and on the issue of combatting elder abuse.
View David Yurdiga Profile
View David Yurdiga Profile
2019-06-04 18:12 [p.28526]
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise in the House today in support of a very important piece of legislation, private member's bill, Bill C-206, an act to amend the Criminal Code to expand powers ensuring protection against the abuse of vulnerable persons, such as the elderly and people with various disabilities, put forward by my friend, the member of Parliament for Yellowhead.
Our criminal justice system needs to be strengthened to protect the most vulnerable in our society. This legislation looks to close some of the gaps in our system that negatively impact vulnerable Canadians across our country every day.
The physical, emotional, sexual or financial abuse of a person over the age of 65 or a person with a mental or physical disability should be considered an aggravating circumstance. This legislation would ensure criminals who take advantage of vulnerable persons get stricter sentences for their crimes.
First, I would like to discuss elder abuse. Elder abuse can take many forms, and both the mental and physical impairments seniors face increase their vulnerability in our society. Roughly 8% to 10% of seniors in Canada experience elder abuse. This means over 750,000 seniors have been subject to unfair physical, financial or psychological abuse. Elder abuse is severely under-reported in Canada, with an estimated 20% of abuse victims never coming forward and never receiving the justice they deserve.
Looking for the appropriate care in their later years, our elderly often unknowingly entrust their finances, health and futures into the hands of individuals who do not have their best interests at heart. I have heard stories of caregivers stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from the purses of their wards. I have heard of physical abuse cases going largely unreported. I have heard of elderly couples afraid to report their injustices for fear of losing their homes and their independence.
In my riding, an elderly gentleman living alone in a remote area had his home broken into. The robbers stole his precious belongings and beat him to the point where he had to be hospitalized. Though the perpetrators were later caught, they were released after only serving part of their sentence. After their release, those same criminals went back to the elderly man's home and beat him again to within an inch of death. That elderly man will now spend the rest of his life in a nursing home, as the injuries he sustained took away his independence entirely.
Our broken system does not have strict enough sentences for criminals, and it is failing victims. It is not just individuals perpetrating crimes of elder abuse. Studies show abuses are taking place in over 99% of care homes across the country. These bonds of both necessity and trust are too often taken advantage of by ill-fitted caregivers.
We need to put more legislation in place to protect our most vulnerable, as our elderly are our family and friends. Some victims are dependent on their caregivers, some fear retaliation and social shaming, some fear they will not be believed by resource providers and others do not nave the right tools at their disposal to report elder abuse, being impaired by their own disabilities to an extent to which they cannot reach out.
One day we will all be in their shoes. We need to act today to ensure a better future for all Canadians in their golden years.
Canadians who suffer from various mental or physical disabilities are also at risk of abuse. Imagine people living their lives, unable to fully care of themselves, having their independence stripped away at no fault of their own, and being forced to entrust their lives into the hands of others.
People with disabilities are twice as likely to be abused than any other group. In fact, people with disabilities are more likely to experience workplace, domestic, medical, financial and sexual abuse than any other demographic. Instances of abuse against Canadians with disabilities are on the rise. Forty per cent of incidents of violent crime happen to people with disabilities.
Much like elder abuse, people with disabilities are most often abused by people they know. Caregivers, spouses, common-law partners or other family members are the most common perpetrators of this crime.
Alberta's human services website provided testimony from a man living in an apartment building for persons with disabilities. He spoke on his experiences with assisted care. He wrote, “When the person who is supposed to be my care aide came in the morning to help me get up and dressed, we had a disagreement. We argued for a while. And then the care aide looked at me and said, 'So did you want to get out of bed today?'” Too many caregivers are using a victim's dependence as a bargaining tool to ensure they get what they want, rather than providing the best care possible.
There needs to be stricter punishment for the mental, physical and psychological harm this abuse leaves its victims. The abuse of vulnerable persons is too often overlooked at the national level and the signs of abuse are easily missed. Anyone can become a victim of abuse, including our mothers, fathers, children, neighbours and friends. We need the right tools to recognize abuse and put a stop to it now.
Aside from changing the culture surrounding the treatment for our most vulnerable, we also need stricter laws and punishments surrounding these heinous crimes. Often victims of abuse are forgotten and overlooked by our bustling society, as we are so consumed with the here and now. It is time we pause and recognize these largely forgotten victims.
My colleague and I in the House today are determined to get vulnerable persons the support and services they need to stay independent and stay safe. I am grateful for the member for Yellowhead's bill, which will hopefully shed more light on this important issue. It is time we give a voice back to the hundreds of thousands of people who have been silenced by the injustice of our broken system.
These vulnerable persons feel isolated and alone and often these caregivers are their only connection to the real world. However, we, the Canadian government, are also their caregivers and we have a duty to stand up and protect these people when they cannot protect themselves. Abuse can happen to anyone at any time, but it is far more dubious to commit abuses against individuals without the means to protect themselves.
As our society changes, our government needs to equip itself with the right legislation to confront our current issues and provide a safer future for all. Bill C-206 would provide just that: a method to provide a safer future for all Canadians, especially Canada's most vulnerable.
In closing, I would like to thank the member for Yellowhead and everyone who spoke today in support of this bill.
View Darrell Samson Profile
Lib. (NS)
Mr. Speaker, I am thankful for having an opportunity to speak on the second reading debate of Bill C-206, an act to amend the Criminal Code regarding the abuse of vulnerable persons.
I would like to begin by thanking my colleague from Yellowhead for giving us the opportunity to discuss this important social issue as well as for the excellent work he has done in his riding and here in the House of Commons over a number of years.
From what I understand about this complex social issue, we will need a multi-faceted approach to effectively address exploitative and abusive conduct toward seniors.
Bill C-206 proposes to amend paragraph 718.2(a) of the Criminal Code to list as an additional aggravating factor acts that target abuse toward seniors and vulnerable adults who depend on others for their care because of their mental or physical disabilities. The objective of the bill is to bring further protections to seniors and other vulnerable persons by imposing tougher penalties on offenders who commit crimes of abuse against these types of victims.
The Criminal Code presently includes a number of offences of general application that offer equal protection to all Canadians from abusive criminal conduct. Additionally, the Criminal Code directs a sentencing court to account for all aggravating and mitigating circumstances relating to the offence or the offender. It explicitly lists a number of aggravating factors that can apply in cases involving the abuse of elderly or vulnerable persons. These aggravating factors include evidence that an offence was motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on age or the mental or physical disabilities of the individual.
This last aggravating factor was enacted by Bill C-36, the Protecting Canada's Seniors Act, which essentially codified common law sentencing practices, because courts were already required by case law to consider the specific impact an offence had on a particular victim, given all their circumstances.
If a sentencing court is already required under the current law to consider all aggravating or mitigating factors relating to the commission of the offence and the offender, including consideration that the offence had a significant impact on the victim, having regard for his or her age or other personal circumstances, including, of course, health and financial situation, I am interested to hear from the member for Yellowhead what situations he is imagining would be covered by his proposed amendment that are not currently covered under the Criminal Code.
It is important to acknowledge that the investigation and prosecution of crime involving elder abuse or abuse of persons with disabilities in Canada is predominantly undertaken by the provinces. As such, it may be wise to consider the impact Bill C-206 would have on the provinces, including the potential for increased litigation relating to interpreting the scope of the proposed aggravating factor, in light of what is already in the Criminal Code.
While it is important to address any gaps in the law with respect to protecting offended seniors or other vulnerable persons, non-legislative responses, such as public education campaigns about the protection offered by the law and further investments in services and programs, are also important measures for Parliament to consider. Non-legislative measures can target the socio-economic factors that increase the susceptibility of these victims to be exploited or abused.
I recall the testimony of Ms. Susan Eng, a representative of the Canadian Association for Retired Persons, who testified before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights on Bill C-36, the Protecting Canada's Seniors Act, that the aggravating factors proposed in that bill, on their own, were “but one element in a comprehensive strategy needed to prevent, detect, report, investigate, and ultimately prosecute elder abuse.”
I agree with Ms. Eng. I know that there are a number of non-legislative initiatives the federal government has spearheaded to support the needs, and prevent the abuse, of the victims referred to in Bill C-206.
The federal victims strategy initiative, led by Justice Canada, aims to give victims a more effective voice in the criminal justice system. For instance, the victims fund, which is available through the federal victims strategy, is accessible to provincial and territorial governments and non-governmental organizations to support projects that address the needs of victims and survivors of crime in the criminal justice system. It is my understanding that the victims fund can support projects that meet the needs of the victims who are the focus of Bill C-206.
In 2016, Justice Canada issued a call for proposals, under the victims fund, to non-governmental organizations for projects that would help address gaps in supports and services, raise awareness or advance research to benefit victims and survivors of crime with disabilities, including seniors with disabilities. Seven projects are currently being funded.
In one project, researchers at the University of Toronto worked with three organizations, Womenatthecentre, DAWN Canada and Brain Injury Canada, to address existing gaps in supports and services for women with disabilities who are survivors of crime. The focus of the research project was women who experience intimate partner violence who have sustained disabling, permanent traumatic brain injuries. As a result of this work, a toolkit was developed to provide knowledge of intimate partner violence through educational materials for front-line staff who are supporting women survivors of intimate partner violence who have sustained traumatic brain injuries.
As well, the University of Toronto worked with indigenous organizations across Canada to raise awareness with respect to women with disabilities who are survivors of crime and to expand a toolkit that is specific to the indigenous context.
I am also aware that through the federal victims strategy, Justice Canada hosts knowledge-building events that are designed to provide information about elder abuse and supporting victims who are seniors.
In addition to commemorating the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on December 3, 2018, Justice Canada hosted an information session to explore various approaches in supporting and empowering women victims and survivors with disabilities, including senior women with disabilities who are victims of domestic violence. These knowledge-exchange information sessions are available to victims and survivors of crime, victims advocates, victims service providers, police officers and legal professionals.
I am also aware of the Justice Canada component of the federal family violence initiative, an initiative that is led by the Public Health Agency of Canada. It provides project funding to support the development of models, strategies and tools to improve the criminal justice system's response to family violence, including elder abuse.
The family violence initiative also addresses elder abuse by providing resources for the public. One helpful tool is the booklet published by the Department of Justice on its website entitled “Elder Abuse is Wrong”. The publication is designed for seniors who may be suffering from abuse by someone they know, such as an intimate partner, spouse, family member or caregiver.
Educating these vulnerable people about the resources available, as well as making investments in the services and programs that will address these victims' needs, can have an extremely positive impact on curbing these forms of abuse and exploitation.
The objective of protecting elders and other vulnerable victims is of great importance, and I look forward to hearing the views of other members as we continue to explore a full range of issues that come forward in considering Bill C-206.
View Sean Casey Profile
Lib. (PE)
View Sean Casey Profile
2019-06-03 14:07 [p.28403]
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to inform the House that Prince Edward Islander Hannah MacLellan will be representing Canada at a UN conference on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in New York next week.
At 20, Hannah has already made her mark in P.E.I. politics. She was the driving force in the adoption of a bill known as Hannah's Bill, which passed through the P.E.I. legislature in 2016.
While working toward a degree in human rights and disability studies, Hannah has been an active member of the Carleton University Young Liberals and is a valuable employee in my office. She has been a fixture in the gallery of this place, especially during the debate on the government's bill to create a barrier-free Canada. Hannah most recently represented the riding of Cardigan in Parliament for Daughters of the Vote, where she gave an impassioned speech on Bill C-81.
I am proud to say that persons with disabilities have a formidable advocate in Ms. MacLellan. Today also happens to be her birthday. I wish Hannah a happy birthday.
View Cheryl Hardcastle Profile
View Cheryl Hardcastle Profile
2019-06-03 14:43 [p.28410]
Mr. Speaker, Mr. and Mrs. Karki, age 66 and 69, missed their flight from Vancouver to Edmonton after being left in their wheelchairs without assistance for hours at the airport. They could not go to a washroom or even get a drink of water.
The Liberal government passed an accessibility act that exempts the Canadian Transportation Agency from enforcing it. How can we rely on airlines to include people with disabilities when Liberals failed to make it mandatory in Bill C-81?
View Terry Beech Profile
Lib. (BC)
View Terry Beech Profile
2019-06-03 14:43 [p.28410]
Mr. Speaker, we are focusing on making Canada more accessible, and we are sorry for the situation that happened to this couple. Our government takes accessibility and transportation in Canada very seriously, and we are standing up for Canadian air passengers to ensure they are treated with fairness and respect.
Through the accessible Canada act, we are taking concrete steps to move forward a barrier-free Canada for all Canadians. The Canadian Transportation Agency is an expert in passenger considerations and complaints, and I would very much recommend that these individuals approach that agency with any complaints they have.
View Julie Dzerowicz Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Julie Dzerowicz Profile
2019-06-03 14:46 [p.28411]
Mr. Speaker, thalidomide was used off-label in the 1950s and early 1960s to treat morning sickness in pregnant women. The drug had devastating consequences and led to miscarriages, birth defects such as missing organs and stunted limbs, and premature death.
Our national government has taken action in launching a new, more compassionate support program: the Canadian thalidomide survivors support program. Could the Minister of Health please give us an update on the status of this program and how it will help thalidomide survivors?
View Ginette Petitpas Taylor Profile
Lib. (NB)
Mr. Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the member for Davenport for her advocacy on behalf of thalidomide survivors.
Our government believes that thalidomide survivors deserve to live the rest of their lives in comfort and dignity. We have held a dialogue with the community and listened to their concerns with respect to the original program, which is why the new Canadian thalidomide survivors support program will use a probability-based medical assessment process to determine eligibility. I am very pleased to announce that the applications were officially launched today.
View Kyle Peterson Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Kyle Peterson Profile
2019-05-31 11:46 [p.28350]
Mr. Speaker, National AccessAbility Week is a week when we celebrate Canadians with disabilities and raise awareness of the need for greater accessibility and inclusion. For millions of Canadians, barriers to access and inclusion still exist. We know that society benefits when all Canadians are included and have access to their workplaces and communities.
Can the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Services and Procurement and Accessibility tell the House how our government is addressing and reducing barriers to inclusion for all Canadians?
View Kate Young Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Kate Young Profile
2019-05-31 11:47 [p.28351]
Mr. Speaker, our government believes that all Canadians deserve to have the same opportunities and chances at success. Bill C-81, the accessible Canada act, was passed with unanimous consent this week. Once it receives royal assent, it will allows us to transition from a system where Canadians with disabilities have to fight for every basic access, to a new system that systematically identifies and prevents barriers from the start. This legislation reflects the work and commitment of those in the disability community who, for years, have been tireless advocates of an accessible Canada. This success is theirs.
View Wayne Long Profile
Lib. (NB)
View Wayne Long Profile
2019-05-29 14:15 [p.28215]
Mr. Speaker, on Sunday I was honoured to help kick off Disability Awareness Week celebrations at key industries in Saint John.
Disability Awareness Week is a time for all of us to promote accessibility and inclusion, and to celebrate the incredible social and economic contributions that Canadians with disabilities make to our communities. It is also a time for us to redouble our commitment to the protection of the rights of persons with disabilities.
Our government is doing this by advancing Bill C-81, which represents the most significant advancement of rights of persons with disabilities in Canada since the advent of the charter. I was thrilled to be able to contribute to the strengthening of this historic legislation at committee, and I look forward to standing up for the rights of persons with disabilities by standing up for this legislation later this week.
I will always stand up for the rights of persons with disabilities in Saint John—Rothesay.
View Pierre Breton Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Pierre Breton Profile
2019-05-29 15:06 [p.28224]
Mr. Speaker, this week is National Accessibility Week, and I am proud of the investments our government has made and the work we have accomplished on accessibility in my riding of Shefford and across Canada since 2015. We are celebrating the accomplishments of Canadians with disabilities and the work being done across the country to give all Canadians the same opportunities to succeed.
Could the Prime Minister please tell the House what our government is doing to create meaningful change and to help eliminate barriers to inclusion?
View Justin Trudeau Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Justin Trudeau Profile
2019-05-29 15:06 [p.28224]
Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Shefford for his question and for his hard work.
In budget 2019, we made significant investments to better support Canadians with disabilities. Unlike the Conservatives, we are prioritizing the passage of our historic accessibility bill, which will help create a system to proactively identify and eliminate barriers. We are building a country in which all Canadians can fully participate in society. We hope to have the support of all political parties.
View Marc Garneau Profile
Lib. (QC)
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today at the last stage of debate on Bill C-81, an act to ensure a barrier-free Canada, also known as the accessible Canada act.
Dedicated and tireless work has gone into this bill ever since it was introduced in the House last June. Many, many people spent considerable time and energy on this historic bill, including people with disabilities, stakeholders and organizations that have a role to play in making Canada accessible. More specifically, the disability community was heavily involved throughout the parliamentary process, and thanks to their efforts these people now have a bill that reflects their voices and priorities.
We should all be very proud of the hard work that went into this bill. Everyone who took part in this process understands the particular significance of this legislation.
This bill represents a historic milestone for the rights of persons with disabilities in Canada. It builds on our country's strong human rights system and is a major step in the ongoing implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Canada has certainly come a long way on accessibility. However, for millions of persons with disabilities across this country who continue to face barriers every single day in their communities and workplaces, this bill is long overdue. The proposed accessible Canada act pursues a simple, but essential, goal: to realize a Canada without barriers.
What the accessible Canada act is proposing is a major culture shift. Right now, our current system requires persons with disabilities to fight for access and inclusion. We have all seen it. We all know somebody who is facing challenges with their mobility, people who cannot hear and people who cannot see, who yet want to make a contribution to our society and live their lives fully. We have to take them into account. We have to address their needs.
The proposed accessible Canada act sets out to change that and create a Canada that is inclusive and accessible for everyone from the get-go. Canadians with disabilities are tired of being treated as an afterthought. This is what Bill C-81 sets out to do: to transform our perceptions of disability and ensure accessibility and inclusion from the start.
Improving the quality of life of Canadians with disabilities is a priority of this government. That is why we are not even waiting for this legislation to be enacted before taking meaningful steps. The steps that we are taking to improve the Canadian Transportation Agency regulations are a good example of this. The goal of these regulations is an ambitious one: to create the most accessible transportation system in the world.
Here I want to take a minute to thank the Canadian Transportation Agency, which is playing a pivotal and extremely important role in addressing the issues related to transportation. That is the kind of ambition that we need and which Canadians living with disabilities deserve.
We are taking a sectoral approach with this legislation. The opposition has criticized us for this, but it makes sense to take this approach since accessibility is everyone's responsibility. All departments need to take accessibility into account as they make decisions, devise policies and prioritize spending. There must always be a focus, among all of the other priorities associated with legislation and regulations, on what those do with respect to accessibility. That is why, for example, in the transportation realm, we are strengthening the powers of the Canadian Transportation Agency. This will have a significant impact across the country for Canadians living with disabilities.
Our government has devoted special attention to accessibility in the transportation sector, which has been made a priority item in this bill. We are committed to protecting and promoting the dignity and human rights of people with disabilities by ensuring that we have a transportation system that is truly accessible from coast to coast to coast.
I myself take the train every week, I fly frequently, and I use other modes of transportation from time to time. We are very conscious of the fact that using the modes of transportation we take for granted can make travel very challenging, if not impossible, for certain people with disabilities.
In the federal transportation sector, service providers will be required to develop accessibility plans and provide progress reports, as well as respond to the feedback generated by the process. They will also be required to consult people with disabilities in the development of those accessibility plans so as to ensure that the community is reflected in the plans now and in the future. They will also have to implement meaningful organizational and culture change with respect to accessibility.
The bill sets out additional requirements to guarantee that the government proactively assumes its responsibilities when it comes to identifying, removing and preventing barriers. Where barriers do exist, we need to have stronger redress mechanisms.
This is our opportunity to achieve yet another historic milestone for disability rights in Canada. Here, I want to take a second to speak about the incredible leadership of our Minister of Public Services and Procurement on this particular file, as well as the leadership of our Prime Minister, who, for the first time in our history, has given the issue of accessibility the importance, the priority and urgency it deserves.
Accessibility and inclusion benefit everyone. The proposed accessible Canada act will not only improve the day-to-day lives of millions of people in Canada, but also have broader positive economic and social benefits. Ensuring accessible workplaces and employment practices means taking advantage of a large and untapped and talented labour market. Making goods, services, facilities and programs accessible means benefiting from the business of a major client base. Removing and preventing the barriers that stop persons with disabilities from fully participating in our communities means levelling the playing field so that every person can live a full and meaningful life. This is what Canada is all about.
We now have the chance to address the systemic barriers and inequity that still exist today. The barriers faced by persons with disabilities are real and tangible. To take down those barriers, we need to get Bill C-81, the accessible Canada act, passed as soon as possible. We cannot afford to wait. Persons with disabilities have so much to offer our society. They are willing, eager and able to participate and contribute and we need to insist on their much-needed social and economic participation.
We have the opportunity to make Canada truly accessible and inclusive. We must do our duty as the federal government and pass the accessible Canada act without further delay. Canadians expect an innovative and forward-thinking transportation system that is dependable, safe and accessible.
The bill ensures that these objectives are met, especially when it comes to promoting the human rights of persons with disabilities, and that Canada is recognized as a global leader.
Today we literally have an opportunity to make history. We have been extremely flexible and open to all the proposed amendments. By passing Bill C-81, we will take another step toward an inclusive society where everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed. We will no longer have a system where persons with disabilities have to struggle every day to obtain basic access.
It is essential that we pass this bill to bring down the barriers faced by persons with disabilities in Canada. We must get this bill passed as soon as possible to start working together for a barrier-free Canada. The real work will begin once the bill has been passed, and we must do it together.
I will conclude by asking all members of the House to take a few seconds to think about the following.
All members know somebody who is facing challenges with respect to a handicap. We all know people in that situation, and we all know they face barriers in society that they should not have to face. All members know that we have an obligation, as a responsible government, to do something about that.
I urge all members to pass the bill as quickly as possible. The time has come, and the discussion is over. This will be historic and important for all Canadians for years to come.
View Mike Lake Profile
View Mike Lake Profile
2019-05-29 18:46 [p.28250]
Mr. Speaker, as I am sure the hon. member knows, the bill will pass in about half an hour or less. After a couple more speeches, we will be at that point. It is a good day for Parliament.
I have had the opportunity to serve with the member on the industry committee in a previous life, prior to the last election, and I enjoyed the non-partisan conversations we had at that time, just as I enjoyed his speech today. He rightfully gave commendation to the minister, recognizing the work she has done in sharing her life experience to help people who have had similar life experiences.
I would also like to recognize our former minister of finance, who did the same thing for 10 years in the House, using his life experience to inform his policy decisions.
This is questions and comments, and I am going to sit down and leave this as a comment, thanking the Minister of Accessibility for her work on this file and thanking the Minister of Transport, who just spoke, for his non-partisan speech.
In the spirit of this day, as we work together to create a better world for Canadians living with disabilities, I will end my comments there.
View Marc Garneau Profile
Lib. (QC)
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for his comment. Indeed, he is right. We have had the opportunity to work together. In the old days before the last election, when I was the industry critic, I appreciated working with him and I appreciated his open-mindedness. We quite often agreed on a number of things, although not every time.
I want to commend my colleague for the example he has shown in this Parliament every year by speaking about his son and about autism. I think he has played an enormously important role in sensitizing all of us in the House. I commend him for his work and for his positive comments today.
View Alice Wong Profile
View Alice Wong Profile
2019-05-29 18:49 [p.28250]
Mr. Speaker, I would again like to thank all of the ministers who put this together and worked with all parties on this very useful and timely bill. As I mentioned earlier in another debate, I married a person who is very smart and who is going through challenges because he is losing his sight. As I have said, seniors also age into disabilities. That is something the two ministers could also look into. How can we help seniors who are not born disabled or do not have chronic diseases, but are aging into disabilities?
I was in Australia on my own time and dime looking at some of the job training programs there. One of the very successful things it has done is to train autistic adults, who have now, as a result, actually learned enough skills to become independent. I agree with my colleague, the shadow minister for finance, that creating jobs and training opportunities for these adults with autism or other challenges is utterly important. As soon as persons with disabilities have financial independence, then everything goes well with them. I wanted to bring that to all of our attention. We should look at training these adults so they can be able, rather than disabled, people.
View Marc Garneau Profile
Lib. (QC)
Mr. Speaker, my colleague is very right. Sometimes we have a tendency to think of persons with disabilities as having been born with those disabilities. That is sometimes the case, but she is quite right in pointing out that sometimes disabilities occur later in life as people age. People sometimes age into disabilities.
I certainly remember watching my mother very closely before she died, somebody I remember in my youth as being very active, a tennis player, somebody who skied and brought up four children, and I know the frustration she felt as she grew older and could not move around on her own but needed help to do so in the last three or four years of her life. She was also blind because of macular degeneration, which is a fairly common thing that happens when people get older. I sensed her frustration, and it closed her world.
Even though she was past the professional working age, it closed her world down. It is important to think not only about what we are doing with this bill to help people to participate in professional life, but also to think of the quality of their lives after their professional lives and as they get older. I thank the member for bringing that up.
View Bardish Chagger Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Bardish Chagger Profile
2019-05-29 18:53 [p.28250]
Mr. Speaker, I know this legislation has definitely shown leadership by this government and the minister responsible. What I would like to know, and I know my constituents in my riding of Waterloo would like to know, is how Transport Canada is getting ahead of the measures in this act to ensure that more Canadians will be able to benefit and be part of a more inclusive and accessible Canada.
View Marc Garneau Profile
Lib. (QC)
Mr. Speaker, one of the areas that is very much a responsibility of Transport Canada is passenger rail service. At the moment, the existing accessibility requirements are very basic. There is a position in a passenger wagon that can accommodate one wheelchair, and it can be challenging to get the person into the train itself.
The VIA fleet is being renewed and we knew ahead of time that accessibility was going to be an important consideration. As this VIA fleet is being replaced, we are providing a requirement that people be able to stay in their wheelchairs and be lifted into the train, and also that one of the passenger wagons be capable of accommodating two wheelchairs side by side. These are examples of things that we are thinking about ahead to time, so that in 2022, when the new fleet begins to come in, this kind of capability will be there.
We are also talking to the airlines and will be talking to the intercity bus services to look at what measures we need to put in place to satisfy accessibility requirements.
View Luc Berthold Profile
View Luc Berthold Profile
2019-05-29 18:55 [p.28251]
Mr. Speaker, I would really like to thank the minister for his speech.
I know that a lot of people are watching right now, including individuals who worked very hard on this bill, so I would just like to take this opportunity to tell them that this is a step in the right direction. It is a good bill.
Let's not forget that this should serve as a model to all other sectors. This bill covers only federal entities, but I hope many other organizations and large corporations will follow this example and adopt their own accessibility plans so as to make all workplaces and communities more accessible for people with mobility issues and other limitations.
That is the message I wanted to share. It is definitely a first step, but much more needs to be done. I think this bill, which will become law, can be used to set an example for all other Canadian industries and businesses.
View Marc Garneau Profile
Lib. (QC)
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his comments.
He is right. The proposed bill has federal jurisdiction. However, other levels of government and the private sector must follow suit to ensure accessibility everywhere.
The provinces are taking notice of our leadership. They want to model their policies after ours.
I believe it is important that this bill move forward because I am certain the provinces will follow our example in their own jurisdictions. We know that some municipalities are already taking action on this.
Momentum is building for accessibility and it is very encouraging. I believe that passing this bill will truly help focus attention on accessibility.
View Luc Berthold Profile
View Luc Berthold Profile
2019-05-29 18:57 [p.28251]
Mr. Speaker, I thank the ministers for the work they did on Bill C-81. I would also like to recognize the excellent work of the member for Edmonton Mill Woods, who motivated us and brought us together on this bill. My colleague who is here beside me also deserves a round of applause for his work.
It is an honour for me to speak to this bill, and I believe I may be the last one to do so. I have always cared about and been committed to the cause of people with reduced mobility and disabilities.
When I began my career, I was a young radio host and the very first volunteer work that I was called upon to do in that capacity was to host a radiothon, a telethon for cerebral palsy. I do not know whether Quebeckers or members of the House remember the major cerebral palsy telethon with well-known radio and television host Serge Laprade. Every year for many years, Quebeckers looked forward to this major televised event, which sought to raise money for people with disabilities.
It was a first. Once a year, on television, we were seeing people who had difficulty doing the same things as everyone else. We were seeing people who needed help and money from others to live. I do not know whether similar events were held elsewhere, so I will talk about Quebec.
Quebeckers were always very generous. Year after year, more and more people contributed to this cause. In addition to helping people with disabilities, this event began to raise awareness of the importance of meeting the accessibility needs of people with disabilities, who are people just like us. In the beginning, these telethons had a tendency to paint people with disabilities as people we should pity. That is how it was. The scenes that were shown depicted the challenges and hardship these individuals face. People with cerebral palsy sometimes have difficulty speaking and so those watching had to pay close attention to understand what they were saying.
Canadians and Quebeckers had a rather fraught relationship with disabilities. There were these telethons, but there were also telethons in small regions like my own. The Caisse populaire had hosted a small local telethon and brought in people with cerebral palsy. People found out that talking with them was very pleasant. The problem was that the people with disabilities could not actually get into the buildings where our telethons or radiothons were being held. They had to be picked up and carried in. Even the places hosting telethons or activities for people with disabilities were not accessible.
One of the first decisions that the volunteer organization made was to build a ramp. Now these people could get into the building where we were ready and willing to help them. We wanted to involve them so they could be there with us to help raise funds. That is one of the objectives of the bill that I am going to talk about later on.
I had so much fun at the telethon that I decided to become president of my riding's cerebral palsy association in Thetford Mines. It was a small association, yet it somehow managed to raise $50,000, $60,000 or $80,000 a year. It worked miracles with that money, mainly raising public awareness, because renovating buildings costs a lot of money, more than $60,000 or $80,000.
Anyway, I became president of the association, and one of the first things we did was increase the number of directors with cerebral palsy or other disabilities or conditions, so that we could make decisions with them, for them. That is one of the elements of the bill that really struck a chord with me. This is not a bill that is going to impose anything on people with disabilities. Instead, it focuses on working with them to find solutions.
A particular decision may sometimes seem like a smart one, but it could ultimately serve no purpose to persons with disabilities. They may not need it. The radiothon was more than just a first volunteer experience. It was an opportunity to interact with people who are different, who have things to say and who want to do things. These are extraordinary people.
My volunteer experience changed my perspective. Everywhere I go, every organization or public building I visit, anytime I play a sport or recreational activity, I always take some time to ask myself whether the space is accessible by all. I ask myself if everyone can participate in this sport or if everyone can work in this space. Unfortunately there is still a lot more work left to do.
Although I completely agree with this legislation, it really is just a first step. The bill allocates money, shows goodwill and proposes some plans, which all represent one small step. Although this step is a small one, it is still a step forward. This is something that had not yet been done and that was necessary.
As I said, I started doing volunteer work on the radio in 1985. It is now 2019 and we are still trying to implement accessibility plans. I have had the opportunity, and I truly consider it an opportunity, to work with persons with disabilities. It makes absolutely no sense to me that we are still having to introduce accessibility legislation. Accessibility should already be standard practice. We should not even have to ask the question. An accessibility plan should simply be the same thing as the architectural plan for all spaces, for all projects. This is why it is a great honour to speak to this bill this evening.
Volunteering gets in your blood. It is infectious. I was the mayor of Thetford Mines. One of the first things I did was check all the municipal buildings to make sure everything was okay. I was mayor of Thetford Mines for seven years. I did not manage to make the Thetford Mines city council chamber accessible. It is not an easy thing to do. It costs a lot of money and requires a lot of investment. We have to send a message: every infrastructure project should always include an envelope for making all public buildings accessible. If not, then we have to convince seven other people who did not have the same volunteering experience that I did to invest a significant amount of money to allow a person from the community to attend a municipal council meeting once a year. Trying to convince colleagues around the table is not always easy. I did not succeed.
We started making progress. We decided to move the council chamber. We gutted a building and decided that the next council chamber would be at that location on the ground floor and therefore accessible. We did not get that far because we did not manage to get the funding to build a new city hall, but that is another story.
In any case, that is where we are today. All elected officials, anyone who is in a position of authority, all departments, organizations and Crown corporations under the minister's responsibility must keep this in mind and steer policy in that direction. If a portion of infrastructure budgets is not dedicated to improving the quality of life of people who cannot access the full range of services they are entitled to, to the same degree as all other Canadians, then we will have failed.
I will speak to Bill C-81 and review a few points for people listening to us, because this is important.
The purpose of this bill is to benefit all persons, especially persons with disabilities, through the progressive realization, within the purview of matters coming within the legislative authority of Parliament, of a Canada without barriers, through proactive compliance and enforcement measures of accessibility standards that regulated parties must respect and uphold. Upholding these standards is another important aspect.
Sometimes, a grant is provided to install a ramp. However, the ramp has to be maintained. After five years, a hole may appear in the ramp and someone in a wheelchair will not be able to use it. If it cannot be used, it is no longer accessible. The ramp needs to be maintained. It is great to receive a given amount of money, but these structures have to be maintained. That is why the accessibility plan requires us to report after a certain number of years. That is an important element of the bill. It is a good initiative.
The requirement for all federally regulated entities, including private enterprises, to create multi-year accessibility plans, set objectives and present a report on what was done has been included in the bill. That is what I was referring to in the question I put to the minister just before giving my speech.
It is good to set an example, but that is only the first step. This needs to happen everywhere. We have to ensure that all Canadians get the message—not just those working in federally regulated sectors, but those working in large and small businesses as well. Thinking about the accessibility of our buildings should be second nature.
The Canadian Accessibility Standards Development Organization is a Crown corporation tasked with creating standards. I am always a bit afraid of new agencies. I always worry that more money is being invested in the offices than on the ground. That is one of my concerns. However, if we do not start somewhere, we will not get anything done. It is a vicious circle.
Personally, I hope that this organization will be more concerned with what is happening on the ground than with office management and expansion. We do not want to have everyone with disabilities working in the same agency. We want them to work everywhere, in all the federal government buildings, and not just in one place. That is something we must absolutely keep in mind.
We have supported this bill and we will support it now, because it is a necessary piece of legislation. Clearly, we would have liked it to go a little further. We would have liked it to be less permissive with regard to the minister’s discretion, and we would have liked to see the minister require a little more of the people who will have to implement the bill.
We proposed some sixty amendments, but only three opposition amendments were agreed to. I hope that further improvements will be made to this bill in the future. As I see it, there are still about 57 good ideas that are not reflected in this bill.
I think this shows that there is still work to do. Whatever party forms the next government, it will still have work to do. Everyone knows I cannot give a speech without saying that I hope my whole team and I will be part of the next government. It is hard to deliver a 20-minute speech without being partisan. The members opposite know me.
The Senate adopted 11 amendments to Bill C-81, and those amendments improved the bill tremendously. I think it is a step in the right direction. Thanks to the Senate amendments, American Sign Language, Quebec Sign Language and indigenous sign languages will be recognized as the primary languages for communication used by deaf people in Canada. That is in line with stakeholders' recommendations and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which the Harper government ratified in 2010.
Even with the amendments, the bill uses permissive language, as I already mentioned. If possible, I hope that the ministers who will be implementing the bill will change “may” to “must”. If they make this personal, they will be able to do it. The bill says that they may do it, and I hope that they will.
As I was saying, these new standards will apply only to regulated individuals and entities, but it would be worthwhile to expand this and to use this bill as a model to help make life better for everyone.
In conclusion, I want to read a few excerpts from an open letter on the need to swiftly pass the Senate amendments, which was signed by a number of organizations. This open letter congratulates the minister but it highlights a comment made by Senator Chantal Petitclerc, which I really liked. She said that the committee's amendments reflect the maxim of disability communities: “Nothing about us without us”. This must absolutely guide our decisions.
This is what should guide ministers, agency directors and anyone who is called upon to participate in the development of these accessibility plans and all related measures.
Some very good ideas might come from people like us who do not have disabilities, but although we sometimes think we have the solution, that is often not the case. People with disabilities are able to tell us what the solution should be and how we can help them. That might cost a lot less than implementing our own solutions. I have seen this in the past. These individuals do not want the hottest Cadillac or the ultimate in accommodation. They want to live their lives and thrive like the rest of us, and the best way to help them is to work with them.
Many organizations want this legislation to be implemented quickly. I will name them, because they deserve to be recognized for the work they have done throughout the long process of getting Bill C-81 passed.
They are the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, AODA Alliance, ARCH Disability Law Centre, Federal Accessibility Legislation Alliance, Citizens With Disabilities-Ontario, Ontario Autism Coalition, Spinal Cord Injury Canada, StopGap Foundation, Travel For All, Older Women's Network; Physicians of Ontario Neurodevelopment Advocacy; Barrier-Free Canada; B.C. Coalition of People who use Guide Dogs, the Keremeos Measuring Up team, National Coalition of People who use Guide and Service Dogs in Canada, The Project Group Consulting Cooperative, VIEWS Ontario For the Vision Impaired, Communication Disabilities Access Canada, British Columbia Aboriginal Network on Disability Society, DeafBlind Ontario Services, March of Dimes Canada, North Saskatchewan Independent Living Centre, Peterborough Council For Persons With Disabilities, Québec Accessible, CNIB Foundation for Ontario and Quebec, Electromagnetic Pollution Illnesses Canada Foundation, Ontario Federation for Cerebral Palsy, and the Rick Hansen Foundation.
That is just a small number of people, but they worked hard to encourage us to change our habits and ways of doing things. Having once been a member of one of these organizations, I know that we still have a lot of work to do. These organizations work so hard.
First, they work with their clients. Second, they try to persuade the government to change things. Third, they raise funds, because they do not have big operating budgets. Lastly, they improve the lives of many people living with the disabilities that have been mentioned.
In closing, I would like to thank everyone who was involved in introducing Bill C-81. I want to remind the government that 57 amendments could have been adopted to improve the bill, but all the same, the bill is a step in the right direction.
I thank all my colleagues who worked on the committee and did their utmost to speak for those who could not be there. It is our role, as members, to be a voice for the voiceless and to make sure they get a chance to speak when and where they want to.
View Brigitte Sansoucy Profile
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his speech, which was mainly a testimonial.
After I was elected as a city councillor, it likely came as no surprise to anyone when I was appointed as the person responsible for accessibility in the municipality, given my experience working with organizations for people with disabilities. Every year, the Office des personnes handicapées du Québec asked us to report on the measures that had been taken to promote accessibility in the municipality. We had to have an action plan that set out concrete measures.
I therefore decided to set up a committee made up of representatives from organizations for people with disabilities, and they are the ones who introduced me to the notion of universal accessibility. As my colleague was saying, it costs money to implement such measures, and these people did not want to be excluded from society because of a targeted action plan. According to the notion of universal accessibility, what is good for a person in a wheelchair is also good for a person pushing a stroller, and an elderly person with a walker has the same needs as a pregnant woman.
What is more, we realized that, by putting fences up around our parks to make them safer, we had made them less accessible. By deciding to set up patios on the sidewalks downtown, we had suddenly made our city less accessible. That is why it is important to listen to organizations for people with disabilities. They are experts on this.
I would especially like to commend my colleague from Windsor—Tecumseh for her work. The member mentioned the 57 amendments, but my colleague's job was to listen to what organizations for people with disabilities had to say and speak on their behalf. Unfortunately, not many of the recommendations were adopted in the bill.
I would like the member to elaborate on the amendments that were not accepted that should be adopted by future governments to improve this bill.
View Luc Berthold Profile
View Luc Berthold Profile
2019-05-29 19:19 [p.28254]
Mr. Speaker, I acknowledge my colleague's passion. I know that she also worked and was involved with community-based organizations.
This evening, I am not going to talk about the 57 amendments. I think the message was received and we all agree. What I want to say is that it is important that every one of these actions are taken in collaboration with the people we are meant to serve. They also need to be made public.
In Thetford Mines, we also made plans and had the same obligations. However, we did not make the plans public. They were good for three years and we would come back to them three years later. We decided to make them public. We organized public meetings with disability organizations and that is when we understood that they did not want us to do everything all at once. They just wanted us to take one step at a time. I think that is what we are doing here this evening.
View Stéphane Lauzon Profile
Lib. (QC)
Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour for me to rise in the House to ask one of the last questions before we adopt this bill.
When I was parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Science and Sport, we worked on this issue. When I got the call telling me I was to be parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Science and Sport, the Prime Minister mentioned that the position included the persons with disabilities file. I said I knew nothing about it. He said he was giving me a chance to learn.
It turned out to be one of the best experiences of my political career. Alongside the minister, I worked with persons with disabilities and participated in consultations. Today is a great day for the minister and for me as well.
With all the parties coming together on this, does my colleague opposite think the future of persons with disabilities can continue to improve, just as we improved Bill C-81?
View Luc Berthold Profile
View Luc Berthold Profile
2019-05-29 19:22 [p.28254]
Mr. Speaker, that will depend on what the parties choose to do in the future.
We cannot predict what will happen, but I think we can build on what we just did, on what we have been doing since 1985 and on what these people have done to raise Canadians' awareness of their situation, their reality and, most importantly, their desire to participate fully in Canadian life just like us.
View Dan Albas Profile
Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague on his speech. He was right about Canadians who have many problems, especially those who are disabled.
It is important that the bill apply across the country. Does the member believe that the bill the government has drawn up has that objective?
View Luc Berthold Profile
View Luc Berthold Profile
2019-05-29 19:23 [p.28254]
Mr. Speaker, my colleague's French was better than my attempt to pronounce the name of his riding. I thank him for the question. I have to say that I understood it all. I understood everything and I understand the question perfectly.
I will tell him once again that this bill is a step in the right direction. We cannot say that passing this bill resolves everything. There is still much work to be done on the other side. There is still much work to be done in the departments, agencies and in many other places. We heard the objectives that have been set. Now the requirements must be met.
Parliamentarians have done their work. That is good. It is now up to the government and its organizations to take action and ensure that this piece of paper becomes a reality as quickly as possible.
View Carla Qualtrough Profile
Lib. (BC)
View Carla Qualtrough Profile
2019-05-29 19:24 [p.28254]
Mr. Speaker, I would first like to acknowledge the number of Canadians with disabilities, their advocates and the interpreters here on the Hill today and all day yesterday. I thank everyone very much.
I also thank everyone in the House for recognizing the importance of this legislation. Yes, of course, we can always do better, and we will strive to do so, but this is a very important first step. I thank everyone here today for taking this journey with us. I thank the many who have come before me personally and have allowed our country to be one where someone with a significant physical disability can be in cabinet and can do this great work on their behalf.
View Luc Berthold Profile
View Luc Berthold Profile
2019-05-29 19:25 [p.28254]
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the last word. I thank the minister and all my colleagues who worked very hard on this bill. We have to get to work right away.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Anthony Rota Profile
2019-05-29 19:25 [p.28254]
Is the House ready for the question?
Some hon. members: Question.
The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mr. Anthony Rota): The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
View Carla Qualtrough Profile
Lib. (BC)
View Carla Qualtrough Profile
2019-05-28 10:19 [p.28109]
moved the second reading of, and concurrence in, amendments made by the Senate to Bill C-81, An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada.
She said: Mr. Speaker, as a person with a disability and as the Minister of Accessibility, it is truly an honour to rise today to speak to Bill C-81.
Over three years ago, our government embarked on a journey aimed to make things better for a significant percentage of the population that has a history of being ill-treated or ignored. The time to act is now.
The time to propose a new system that would help address the barriers to inclusion faced every single day by Canadians with disabilities has come. The time to do things differently as a government, to ensure that all Canadians have an equal chance at success, has come.
I am extremely proud of the work we have done in creating this transformative piece of legislation that will improve the lives of millions of persons with disabilities.
This bill reflects the voices of thousands of persons with a disability, their family members and their friends, and it spans decades of advocacy. We could not have come this far without the strong collaboration of the disability community and its strategic and thoughtful work, which has been incredibly impactful.
I would like to recognize the excellent work done in the other chamber and by our Senate sponsor, Senator Munson, on the bill. Bill C-81 was carefully studied over the course of many meetings, and both chambers made amendments to strengthen this historic legislation.
Members of the disability community shared their views and experiences, many of them very personal. I am grateful for their engagement and dedication to the advancement of accessibility in Canada.
We took to heart the messages heard from these witnesses and proposed amendments to echo those voices and concerns. Our government supports all the amendments made to Bill C-81 brought forward in the Senate as we recognize that they reflect key priorities voiced by the community.
Let me provide members with a breakdown of some key amendments made in the Senate.
A significant change responds to the specific requests of witnesses that Bill C-81 set a deadline for the realization of a Canada without barriers. Accordingly, the purpose of the legislation, as well as the mandates of the minister and the Canadian accessibility standards development organization, would now reflect the objective of realizing a Canada without barriers on or before January 1, 2040. By adding a specific deadline, the disability community has stated that it would be able to hold government accountable on progress and ensure that accessibility remained a priority for future governments. To mitigate concern that this deadline could provide a reason for people to delay action on accessibility until the deadline neared, amendments have been made to add the words “without delay” to the preamble of the bill. These words would clarify that nothing in the act would permit any delay in the removal or prevention of barriers to accessibility.
I have also heard the community's strong call to recognize the importance of sign language to the deaf community in Canada. Therefore, I am pleased that Bill C-81 was amended to recognize American sign languages, langue des signes québécoise and indigenous sign language as a primary language for communication by deaf persons in Canada.
I would also like to acknowledge that we have interpreters on the Hill in Parliament today.
This legislation is intended to complement the existing human rights framework in Canada. Nothing in this bill or the regulations made under it would limit or replace the duty to accommodate, which is an established principle of human rights. That is why I support the amendment to clarify that nothing in the accessible Canada act or its regulations would limit a regulated entity's duty to accommodate under any other act of Parliament in any way.
We know that transportation services should be accessible for everyone. In response to stakeholders’ concerns, an amendment was made to allow the Canadian Transportation Agency to identify an undue barrier, even if a transportation service provider is not in contravention of an accessibility regulation.
This would ensure that the CTA could fully address barriers that persons with disabilities may face in the federal transportation system.
Further, adding stronger language on intersectionality in the principles of the bill responds to the disability community's desire to see greater recognition of the impact of multiple and intersecting forms of marginalization and discrimination that influence how barriers impact diverse groups of persons with disabilities.
As we work together to build a Canada that is more inclusive and accessible, we have an incredible opportunity to reshape the way we think about disability.
This legislation would send a clear signal to Canadians that persons with disabilities will no longer be treated as an afterthought. It is our systems, policies and laws that need to be fixed, not our people.
We can see the finish line. By concurring with all amendments made and swiftly passing Bill C-81, we can continue on this journey that will lead us to a society that treats all people with the dignity they deserve, a society in which everyone has equal opportunities to contribute and a society that is truly inclusive.
View Garnett Genuis Profile
Mr. Speaker, I thank the minister for her comments and for her personal passion for this legislation.
From what I understand, when the Senate replied to the bill, it made two additional notes, and I would appreciate the minister's comment on them. One was a concern that funding could still go to projects that did not have complete accessibility as part of them. It encouraged us and the government to be vigilant on this point. I wonder if the minister could comment on that. Is it something that should have been addressed in the legislation, or does it maybe require separate action? The other issue was the importance of training in preparation for the full implementation of and engagement with this framework.
I wonder if the minister could offer some comments on those points and on how the government can ensure that the concerns of the Senate in this respect are incorporated in our practices going forward.
View Carla Qualtrough Profile
Lib. (BC)
View Carla Qualtrough Profile
2019-05-28 10:25 [p.28111]
Mr. Speaker, through Bill C-81, we would put in place mechanisms to ensure, as much as possible, that the funding we allocated would reflect the principles of accessibility. Where that was not possible, say for jurisdictional regions, such as provincial jurisdiction, we would build it into our policy and programs. I think of our national housing strategy and the Canada child benefit. The notion is that we have to recognize that disability is in and of itself a unique characteristic, and we would not be put in a position of putting funding into programs, policies or allocations that did not take accessibility into account. I will use the example of our national housing strategy. Built into that project is a carve-out for ensuring not just that the building code is met but that there are actually accessible units built, as a matter of course, in using this money.
View Cheryl Hardcastle Profile
View Cheryl Hardcastle Profile
2019-05-28 10:27 [p.28111]
Mr. Speaker, it is a red-letter day for us and for people in the disability community because we are coming back to the House of Commons today with some amendments so that we can strengthen Bill C-81, which is a milestone. However, I would ask the minister to take this opportunity to assure Canadians that some of the most egregious concerns we had that were not met in the bill, even with amendments, are going to be addressed.
Mainly, people living with different abilities need to have a one-stop place they can go with their concerns. Right now, Bill C-81 would separate enforcement and implementation among four organizations. I would ask the minister to help us envision how we can move this forward. We know that it is a federal election year, and people in the disability community are diligently watching how we can move this forward in a campaign year.
View Carla Qualtrough Profile
Lib. (BC)
View Carla Qualtrough Profile
2019-05-28 10:28 [p.28111]
Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for her question and, of course, her partnership on Bill C-81. This bill belongs to all of us.
The elements in Bill C-81 are additional elements in an existing system. We have things in place. We have structures in place through the Canadian Transportation Agency, the Canadian Human Rights Commission and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, which means that we are not starting from scratch. However, we are very aware that the sectoral approach taken in Bill C-81 has raised a concern that people will not know where to go first. Therefore, the leadership of both our government and these organizations has created, and we have built into Bill C-81, what we call a no-wrong-door approach, which means that wherever people go, it will be the responsibility of the system to point them in the right direction.
For example, if an individual had a complaint and went to the accessibility commissioner with it, and that complaint should have gone to the Canadian Transportation Agency, it would be the accessibility commissioner's responsibility to get it in front of the right people and not the responsibility of the individual filing the complaint. This would be required. We already have a memorandum of understanding with these organizations as they work to design this system in a way that would create that seamless service approach.
We are aware of that concern. Disability advocates have raised it with us. We are doing everything we can to make sure that it is at the back end and that we do not deal with these concerns at the front end through the experience of the person who wants some help.
View John Barlow Profile
View John Barlow Profile
2019-05-28 10:29 [p.28111]
Mr. Speaker, I want to take this opportunity to thank the minister and her government for approving or supporting these amendments. However, I would point out that the vast majority of the amendments were brought up at committee by opposition members, Conservative, NDP and Green, who all agreed that these amendments were important to the bill. Unfortunately, the Liberals on that committee refused these amendments. Therefore, I want to give the minister credit for standing up here today and voicing her support for these critical amendments.
The one question I would like to ask the minister, which came up frequently during the discussion at committee, certainly for our stakeholders, is on the issue of exemptions for federal departments. Federal departments would be able to ask for and be granted an exemption from the legislative regulations as part of Bill C-81. I would like to ask the minister if she is going to be diligent to ensure that any requests for exemptions through Bill C-81 would be strictly restricted or followed through to ensure that there was a good, valid reason for those exemptions to be approved.
View Carla Qualtrough Profile
Lib. (BC)
View Carla Qualtrough Profile
2019-05-28 10:31 [p.28111]
Mr. Speaker, the short answer is yes, we will be very diligent. Thanks to the amendments put forth through the House committee, there would now be more robust accounting for an exemption when it was granted. The rationale for granting an exemption would have to be published. It would be a time-limited exemption. They would have to apply. It would not be something that would go on in perpetuity.
The positive aspect of exemptions is that they would acknowledge the innovation and the forward-looking nature of some of the organizations that fall within federal jurisdiction. Some of them are already doing a lot on accessibility, so we wanted to have flexibility in the legislation to allow us to basically accept that what they are doing is equal to or better than what would be required under the law. Those who were not doing anything or enough, at least under my watch, would have a very tough time getting an exemption.
View Nick Whalen Profile
Lib. (NL)
View Nick Whalen Profile
2019-05-28 10:31 [p.28111]
Mr. Speaker, as the minister would be aware, a number of different interest groups have come to MPs across the country during this period. Certainly I have heard a lot from people who are advocates for deaf and hard-of-hearing people. I wonder if the minister can confirm that she believes that the Senate amendments would adequately address those who have been calling for additional protections for American sign language, langue des signes québécoise and international sign language, and, if not, if she has identified any gaps and how those might be addressed in the regulations.
View Carla Qualtrough Profile
Lib. (BC)
View Carla Qualtrough Profile
2019-05-28 10:32 [p.28112]
Mr. Speaker, it is very exciting that we have managed to get into Bill C-81 the recognition of American sign language, langue des signes québécoise and indigenous sign language as the primary language for Canadians who are deaf. This is something I heard loud and clear and that I was very pleased to have supported. It was a bit of a journey as we worked through the process of official-language designation versus primary language. I think we got to the right place.
We have to understand that to Canadians who are deaf, sign language is an aspect of self-identity and culture, and we owe it to all of them to make sure that we recognize that as we move forward toward an accessible Canada.
View Peter Julian Profile
View Peter Julian Profile
2019-05-28 10:33 [p.28112]
[Member spoke in sign language]
Mr. Speaker, I would like to say hello to members of the deaf community who are here today.
There is much that needs to be improved in this bill. My colleague from Windsor—Tecumseh spoke earlier about enforcement. It is key that this become something far more than symbolic and that it allows for full accessibility.
I do not believe the minister adequately responded to the question from the member for Windsor—Tecumseh. How is the government going to guarantee enforcement and make sure that rights enabled through this legislation would actually be put in place?
View Carla Qualtrough Profile
Lib. (BC)
View Carla Qualtrough Profile
2019-05-28 10:34 [p.28112]
Mr. Speaker, this legislation would fundamentally create a system in which we focused on a human rights approach to disability rights, and that would be a game changer for the disability community in our country. We know, and we heard very loudly, that as much as we needed to acknowledge the importance of accessibility and inclusion, we also had to put some teeth in this law. That is why we would have, in my opinion, very robust enforcement mechanisms that could result, for example, in a $250,000 fine per day for a non-compliant entity.
Proactively, however, we would be requiring federally regulated entities, including the government, to create accessibility plans. People with disabilities would have to be part of the creation of these plans.
As much as we need to have an enforcement side to this, what we really want is to build a Canada that is accessible so that we do not to have to enforce the regulations, so we are doing a lot of work on the front end. We do not want to build a compliance system that does not look at the proactive change we are trying to address and build systemically into the way we work with Canadians who have disabilities in our country.
View Garnett Genuis Profile
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise in the House today to address Bill C-81, an important piece of legislation that recognizes and affirms the inherent dignity of all people regardless of disability. It seeks to create the kind of policy environment and framework that facilitate full participation in every aspect of Canadian life for Canadians who have disabilities.
Those watching can be assured of the support of all parties in this House for this legislation. Today we will discuss some missed opportunities and some related issues on which we have not agreed with the government's actions. Specifically, for instance, we will discuss some of the issues around employment. We had a private member's bill from my friend, the member for Carleton, that dealt with facilitating the full involvement of Canadians with disabilities in terms of employment. There are areas of disagreement among the parties in terms of the best way to move forward and the best way to affirm these principles.
Nonetheless, those watching should know that we in the opposition, and all parties, are supportive of moving forward with this legislation. Whether the bill passes today or tomorrow, I am not sure of the exact timeline. However, I think we will certainly see this bill pass into law before the election. It will be good news and a positive step.
Before getting into some of the substance of the legislation, I want to pick up on something said by my colleague, the member for Foothills. He has done a lot of great work on this bill on our side, as have the member for Edmonton—Wetaskiwin and other members who have been part of the process. The member for Foothills pointed out that amendments for this bill that were put forward at the committee level by Conservatives, as well as by other opposition parties, were not supported by government MPs at the time of the initial study by the House of Commons committee. That is an important point, that they were not supported at that stage.
Notwithstanding disagreements about some of the particulars around amendments, we have supported this bill at every stage. After the bill passed third reading, it went to the Senate. The Senate made a number of amendments that reflected the same concerns that Conservative members of the House had been hearing from the stakeholder community, those representing Canadians with disabilities. Those same concerns that we heard were also heard by the Senate, and they were part of the discussion that happened in the context of that Senate committee.
The bill was amended somewhat at the Senate, and then it was brought back to the House. Now we are debating whether to agree to and support those Senate amendments. I think members will find, generally speaking, support across the parties for the Senate amendments, which make improvements on the text of the bill as it was.
Those who are watching should note how this legislative process works through the details, and how senators were able to be more influential over the legislative outcome than members of the House were. The government would not accept amendments that came from members of the House, but then accepted those same amendments that came from members of the Senate.
We have seen this in a number of cases. I recall Bill C-14, to which an amendment around palliative care was proposed. Actually it was not even just proposed at committee; it was voted on by all members in the chamber at that time. It was voted down. Then, in similar form, it was proposed by Senator Plett, and it passed in the Senate. It was then accepted as part of a subsequent message from the House of Commons.
We see this process happening, in general, in this Parliament, because of the relative lack of independence that we sometimes see in committees and the way committees are unfortunately quite controlled, and the relative independence of the Senate, certainly relative to the House of Commons. It is not as independent as maybe some like to claim, but it is relatively independent compared to the actions of members, especially government members, in the House of Commons. Senate action actually has a greater practical impact on the legislative process.
Again, although I am happy to see the incorporation of these amendments, I think we should be concerned about that, just as a matter of legislative process. We want this House and its elected members of Parliament to be strong in the exercise of their responsibilities.
Nonetheless, although we raise questions and highlight some of the means by which some of these issues have come forward, we are pleased to see these amendments. They reflect issues that have been raised by the stakeholder community and by members of Parliament from our party and, I believe, other parties as well.
With that said about matters of process, let me turn now to the particulars of the legislation, Bill C-81, that is before us. To summarize the content of the bill, in a nutshell, it is essentially about requiring regulated entities, that is, the public service and federally regulated workplaces, to develop accessibility plans. It also requires that the content of those plans be regulated and enforced.
As the minister and others have pointed out in some of the remarks they have made during this process, very often our human rights processes are complaints based. That is, complaints issues are considered when there is a violation or a potential violation of somebody's rights. A complaint is then made, and an adjudication happens around that complaint.
A point that the minister has made, and she is quite right in making it, is that this approach is not the full realization. It is important that people have those avenues available to them, but it is not the full extent of what we would like to see in this context. Rather, we would prefer to see a proactive approach, where we are ensuring the protection of rights from the beginning and not merely putting in place a system that allows complaints to be adjudicated after people's rights have been violated.
Seeking to have regulated entities develop plans, prepare and publish those plans, implement them and facilitate their enforcement creates the conditions for a more proactive approach to these issues, rather than simply a reactive approach. That is wise, worthwhile and something that all parties support. It would establish proactive compliance and enforcement mechanisms. These plans must be multi-year and involve the setting of goals, reporting requirements, mechanisms for investigation and a variety of processes that seek to ensure the realization of those plans to the fullest possible extent.
This legislation would also create an organization called CASDO, the Canadian accessibility standards development organization, and allocate $290 million over the next six years for its creation. This organization would work within the government to create regulations related to various aspects of the legislation around the built environment, employment, service delivery, information and communications technology, transportation and procurement, and always with the goal of the full integration of people with disabilities, facilitating their full participation within society, without barriers.
Failure to meet standards set by CASDO would lead to fines. It should be noted that the action of CASDO would be within federally regulated entities and directly within the federal government only. Nonetheless, the hope is that this legislation would involve the setting of standards that would then be adopted and become useful across all facets of Canadian society, including those outside the federally regulated workforce. There would also be 5,000 Canadians with disabilities hired for the public service, which is also encouraging to see. Our party, as people have seen, has been vocal on the issue of ensuring that those who have disabilities are not arbitrarily excluded from the public service.
This is the broad framework of the bill. It puts in place some mechanisms and processes to ensure there are no barriers to participation in society for people with disabilities.
Today we are in the process of debating issues related to proposed Senate amendments. The minister has spoken, and I would like to highlight the various Senate amendments that we are considering. Although the Senate did not incorporate all the changes that had been proposed at committee, in the House or that had been suggested by the broader disability community, all the changes that were made were reflective of those particular concerns.
First is the issue of including in this legislation a timeline for the realization of a barrier-free Canada; that timeline is 2040. The goal is that this work would be completed, taken fully to fruition, by 2040. The amendments also seek to clarify, though, that the setting of that deadline is not an excuse to wait until the proverbial night before to get the homework done. Rather, the amendments are to ensure the work is done by that point. They create that timeline or deadline but do not seek to permit any kind of delay or preservation of barriers in the name of it not being 2040 yet. That is an important element as well.
Growing up, I was always taught that deadlines are the mother of invention and that more gets done when there is the focusing effect of an upcoming deadline, so the work of the community and the Senate to ensure that there is a timeline in place for the implementation of these measures is quite commendable and important.
Another area of amendment from the Senate was that it asked that intersectionality be taken into consideration in this account. Amendments were put forward to recognize the multiple and intersectional forms of discrimination, the fact that people with disabilities may face discrimination as a result of an intersectional reality. Therefore, the planned response to barriers needs to be a response that takes that circumstance into consideration. We recognize that reality. We recognize the importance of the various plans that are put forward by regulated entities to recognize that intersectionality is part of the dynamic.
Further, the amendments put forward by the Senate seek to address the issue of preserving the existing human rights of people with disabilities. This was really more of a clarification, but the testimony heard in the House, as well as by the Senate committee, emphasized the importance of this clarification, recognizing that there are already obligations under various human rights codes, in particular in the case of federal entities under the Canadian Human Rights Act and other federal laws. Various groups highlighted the importance of clarifying that the new framework put forward with this bill does not in any way derogate from the existing recognized rights and obligations that are enumerated as part of those existing human rights codes. We recognize that aspect as important as well.
Through other amendments, the Senate sought to protect existing rights in the context of passengers with disabilities through the Canadian Transportation Agency.
The expectation is that many of the complaints would come through the Canadian Transportation Agency. This was put forward by people in the disability community. It is therefore important for the legislation to create enforceable standards around the action that this body must take in the removal of barriers. This is an important piece as well.
On the specific issue of transportation, I want to read briefly from a briefing from ARCH Disability Law Centre. It said the following:
However, subsection 172(2), a provision that is currently in the Canada Transportation Act, effectively means that once the CTA make these regulations and transportation providers, like airlines, comply with these regulations, they do not need to do anything more.
This is problematic because the regulations that the CTA sets may not meet the duty to accommodate protections that people with disabilities have under human rights law.
Under subsection 172(2), if a passenger with a disability complains to the CTA that an airline or other transportation provider should have accommodated his or her disability, the case would fail if the airline complied with CTA regulations. A more detailed analysis of this is available in the final legal report.
The committee did not repeal subsection 172(2), but adopted an amendment which would change it. The proposed amendment allows the CTA to find that there is a barrier to accessibility even if the transportation provider has complied with the CTA regulations. For passengers with disabilities, this means they can file a complaint with the CTA that they face an undue barrier in the federal transportation system and insist the transportation provider do more than what the CTA regulation requires.
The passenger with a disability could win his or her case even if the transportation provider complied with all CTA regulations. However, the CTA could only order the transportation provider to take corrective measures. The CTA could not order the transportation provider to pay the person damages or money compensation. This is different from other complaints to the CTA about inaccessibility of the federal transportation system. Generally, for these other complaints, the CTA can order the transportation provider to take corrective measures and to pay damages to the person.
Essentially, the argument that is being made is that although the amendment would improve the section, there still would be a gap. People in the community expect transportation companies, airlines, rail lines etc. to accommodate those with disabilities. The concern is that these entities might be able to say that they have met the standards of the regulations so they do not have to do anything more if in fact the case may be that they could and should do more to accommodate the full participation of a person with a disability.
The Senate amendment says that the CTA could well find that the transportation provider should have done more even if it attained the minimum standards set by the regulation, but it could not award damages in this case. That is an improvement made through the work of the Senate, but as the discussion around this illustrates, there is still a gap in what was asked for and what was expected.
The next amendment is around the issue of sign language. The legislation recognizes specific forms of sign language: American sign language, Quebec sign language and indigenous sign languages. It recognizes these as primary languages used by deaf persons in Canada. This has been an issue that the deaf community in particular has been long advocating on, and it has the support of all other stakeholders as well.
We have had many discussions in the House about the importance of language. We recently had a debate on indigenous languages, a legislative framework around indigenous languages, the importance of our two official languages and the experience and culture that are tied to the use of language in that context.
As well, I think we all recognize that the recognition of sign language is part of that picture as well as part of a broader, deeper appreciation of the way in which language is tied to culture and experience. Of course, for people who are limited in their ability to communicate in other ways, it is particularly necessary. It does have significance and meaning beyond the necessity of communicating in that form.
These are some of the amendments the Senate has adopted to the bill. They do not address all the issues that people in the stakeholder community and the wider community have been looking for, but they are steps forward and are things that are well supported by all members of Parliament. We are hopeful this will go forward and we will be able to see movement to get these amendments through.
In my remarks today I want to frame a little of the discussion around who the bill is for. In other words, why are the technical elements I have explained important and who do they matter to specifically.
In that context, I want to make a few remarks about Jean Vanier, about his vision of inclusion, but of something much bigger and greater than inclusion. As we talk about these issues, he is a figure on whom all of us should reflect. He is certainly the greatest known champion of people with disabilities.
He passed away earlier this month. His death was met with recognition and tributes from all aspects of our politics and many different aspects of Canadian society. He was a revolutionary figure practically in how he sought to facilitate the inclusion in society of people with disabilities. However, he was also a revolutionary figure intellectually. His experience as a philosopher and his way of thinking informed and contributed to his work. He was described in biographies as a philosopher and a humanitarian, which is an optimal and necessary combination. It is dangerous to be a philosopher without being a humanitarian and it is dangerous to think of oneself as a humanitarian without some attention to the philosophical roots of humanitarian work. We see that intimate connection between the ideas Jean Vanier sought to advance and the practices he championed.
Jean Vanier came from a privileged family. His parents were well known as well. He was born when his father was part of a diplomatic mission. He had a military career as well, but then he pursued a doctorate in philosophy. His dissertation would position much of the work he would do later. His dissertation was on happiness as principle and the end of Aristotelian ethics.
I feel a connection to that because I did my Masters dissertation on happiness measurement, which was also significantly influenced by Aristotle. The question of happiness is under-discussed in politics. It is important for a lot of the legislation. He was someone who brought in a philosophical framework to the work he did that was rooted in Aristotelian concepts of happiness. In the meantime, he drew on Aristotle's conception of happiness, which is different from a contemporary concept of happiness. This influenced his work with Canadians with disabilities.
Jean Vanier's desire for disabled people was not merely that they experience formal, structural inclusion or be able to get into the same spaces as everyone else. Rather, his desire was for them to experience love and happiness through community and friendship. Therefore, he sought to build communities of disabled and non-disabled people living together in meaningful friendship.
Vanier wrote this:
The cry of people with disabilities was a very simple cry: Do you love me? That's what they were asking. And that awoke something deep within me because that was also my fundamental cry.
He noted that the pursuit of recognition of their humanity, happiness and love was what people with disabilities were seeking, which was often denied to them by a structure that did not affirm their dignity. The thing they were seeking was the same thing that all people were seeking and that in fact they could and they would seek that together. That was Vanier's wisdom and vision.
He developed into his work, and would write subsequently about them, concepts of happiness informed by his work with people with disabilities. He drew very much on Aristotle's concept of happiness. Aristotle, writing in Greek, obviously uses the word “eudemonia”, which more directly is translated “the life well lived”. He argued in that context against notions of happiness that were more pleasure-based, more rooted in happenstance, the random benefit of good fortune generally in material terms. He had a richer understanding and appreciation of what happiness was.
Aristotle argues, and Vanier follows him in this sense, for the connection between virtue and happiness, that virtues are the qualities of character that allow life to be lived well.
We know as members of Parliament and as human beings that so much of human striving is in pursuit of happiness. We do not always agree on what that is or on how we strive for it, but so much of life is about striving for happiness.
More recently, our side has been very much influenced by the utilitarian school of thought, which argues that happiness is about pleasure over pain. This was the core of Bentham's concept of utilitarianism. Mill formerly follows it, but he reinserts aspects of Aristotle's definition of happiness with arguments that the cultivation of higher levels of happiness requires the development of a certain nobleness of character.
Vanier's passion for philosophy and the idea of happiness continued throughout his life. In 2001, he wrote “Made for Happiness: Discovering the Meaning of Life with Aristotle”. In it he talks about three utilitarian virtues: love, wisdom and justice. I want to read a quote from the book in which he talks about the importance of friendship and love as part of friendship.
He states:
Through friendship I communicated in the consciousness that my friend has of his own existence. For in the same way that we feel that we are alive and exist through activity and derive pleasure from it, so, through friendship, we feel our friend live and exist. And the union is so profound that the goodness of the life of our friend extends to us and gives us pleasure. In friendship there is almost a communion, a merging of two beings and their rightful good. The friend is an other self. Everything that I experience, he experiences.... In this friendship we continue to be two, but we are one in a great and noble activity that we accomplish together. Consciousness of the goodness of my friend fills me with just as much joy as if it were my own. My friend's happiness becomes my happiness.
This was his philosophical concept of friendship that was essential for happiness, facilitated by the virtue of love. It informed his practical vision for building communities that would include disabled and non-disabled people. We could call that inclusion, but it is a much richer and deeper concept of inclusion than a formal one. It is that we live in communities of love, good will and solidarity for each other with real friendship. We see others as another self and we identify with that kind of love for others. It is part of his concept of happiness, which entails friendship and living together while in community.
Jean Vanier, as I said, brought a rich concept of happiness, love and friendship into his work with disabled people. He saw people in institutions when he was living in Paris at the time of the founding of the L'Arche movement, who were being maintained poorly in the worst instance. He saw that very often the attitude towards the disabled resulted, in the worst instance, in people being maintained poorly, and in the best instance people being treated a little bit better in terms of their material condition. However, the real need was for the humanity of all people to be affirmed through communities of meaningful friendship and love, through which people were pursuing happiness together. That was his vision.
The radical practical idea started with Vanier personally getting a house and moving in with people who had disabilities. He saw that this was not merely an act of service done by him for other people; rather, it was about the development of shared community. He saw how through this reality of shared community he could learn from those people he was living with. He wanted other people who did not have disabilities to be able to learn and grow through these communities and friendships, which were meaningful and pursuing happiness together.
Jean Vanier said that “L'Arche and Faith and Light have been part of a real revolution.” So often in the past, people with intellectual disabilities were seen as a source of shame for their parents, or even in some situations as a punishment from God. Their parents and carers have often been seen as wonderful people, even holy, for looking after people “like them”. Today, it is becoming clear that it is people with intellectual disabilities who humanize us and heal us if we enter into real friendship with them. They are in no way a punishment from God, but rather a path toward God.
He understood that people with disabilities are in their fullest and most complete sense people. They are human beings with the same dignity and value as anyone else. They have both needs and things to contribute, which is obviously the situation of us all. Those needs and contributions are realized through meaningful community. He also understood that the value of social structures replicating insights and benefits of family-like structures.
I was recently in Bogotá, where I had a chance to visit SOS Children's Village to see some of the work they were doing. They made a very interesting point to me about the way we care for children who cannot be cared for by their families. I think it is a similar insight to Jean Vanier, which is that institutions' formal structures do not work nearly as well as, let us say, family-like structures. The way SOS works, at least in Columbia where I was, is that children are put into environments designed to be family-like. They are in homes. They have parents looking after them. Although they are not able to be with their own families, they experience a support structure that is meaningfully similar to that of a family and that leverages the kind of love, connection and friendship that is important in family structures. That was understood by Jean Vanier when he sought to do the same thing in how he structured the L'Arche movement with meaningful family-like communities where people would live together in communities of love and friendship.
Very shortly before he died, Jean Vanier received the Templeton Prize, which is a great international honour. He spoke about the work he did and the ideas and vision behind it. It showed us the kinds of sensibilities that should animate our work in this area. I want to read from part of his acceptance speech for the Templeton prize. He said:
L’Arche and Faith and Light have been part of a real revolution; so often in the past people with intellectual disabilities were seen as a source of shame for their parents, or even in some situations, as a punishment from God. Their parents and carers have often been seen as wonderful people, even holy, for looking after people “like them”. Today it is becoming clear that it is people with intellectual disabilities who can humanise us, and heal us, if we enter into a real friendship with them. They are in no way a punishment of God but rather a path towards God....
To be with is to live side by side, it is enter into mutual relationships of friendship and concern. It is to laugh and to cry together, it is to mutually transform each other. Each person becomes a gift for the other, revealing to each other that we are all part of a huge and wonderful family, the family of God. We are all profoundly the same as human beings, but also profoundly different, we all have our special gifts and unique mission in our lives.
This wonderful family, from its earliest origins and since then with all those who have been spread over this planet from generation to generation, is composed of people of different cultures and abilities, each of whom have their strength and their weakness, and each of whom is precious.
The evolution of this family from the earliest days until today certainly has entailed wars, violence, and the endless seeking of domination and more possessions. It is also an evolution wherein prophets of peace have continued to cry out for “peace, peace”, calling people together to meet each other as beautiful and precious.
Many of us in our world continue to yearn for peace, and for unity. However so many of us remain stuck in our cultures where we are caught up fighting to win and to have more. How can we become free of the culture that incites people, not to responsibilities to the human family and to the common good, but to individual success and to domination over others? How can we get rid of the tentacles and the shackles of this culture, to become free to be ourselves, free of our oversized egos and compulsions, free to love others as they are, different yet the same?
To be with is also to eat together, as Jesus invited us: “When you give a meal don’t invite your family, friends or rich neighbour, but invite the poor and the lame, the disabled and the blind, and you shall be blessed.” To become blessed, says Jesus, is to invite the poor to our table (Luke 14).
Let us be very clear that it is not the guests who are blessed because they enjoy good food at a party, but rather the host is blessed by his encounter with the poor. Why is the host called blessed? Isn’t it because his heart will be transformed as he is touched by the wonderful gifts of the spirit hidden in the hearts of the poor? This has been the gift of my own personal journey and those of many others. We have been led by those who are weak onto the road of the blessedness of love, of humility and of peacemaking.
To be transformed, first we must meet people who are different, not our family, friends and neighbours who are like us. Let us meet across differences—intellectual, cultural, national, racial, religious and other differences. Then from this initial meeting we can begin to build community and places of belonging together.
Community is never called to be a closed group, where people are hiding behind barriers of group identity, interested only in their own welfare or their own vision, as if it is the only one or the best. It cannot be a prison or a fortress. Unfortunately, for a long time this was the rather closed vision of different churches and religions. Each one thought itself the best, with all knowledge and truth. Hence, there was no communication or dialogue between them.
Isn’t there a danger that we close ourselves up in our own professional, religious or family groups where we never meet those who are different?
Community, on the other hand, is a place of togetherness in spite of differences, of people united in love and open to all other people. A community then is like a fountain or a shining light, where a way of life is being lived and revealed, open to others and attractive to them. It is a place of peace, revealing a way to peace and to unity for the human family.
Community is a place of belonging where each person can grow to become fully him or herself. It is belonging for becoming.
We belong to each other so that each member can become more human, more loving, more free, more open to others, particularly to those who are different. When each member can develop their unique gifts and help others to develop theirs, members are no longer in competition but in collaboration, in cooperation and in mutual support.
To become is not to prove I am better than you, but rather supporting together each other in opening up our hearts. Thus community is a place of transformation. Community is a place of belonging where each one may be transformed and find human fulfilment.
What alternatives do we have for human growth? Belonging which is too rigid stifles becoming; on the other hand too much individual growth or becoming without belonging can become fighting to get to the top, or else it can become loneliness and anguish. To win is always to be lonely, and of course nobody wins for long.
Community then is not a closed group but a way of life that helps each person to grow to human fulfillment. The two key elements of community are mission and mutual caring for each one. We come together for a purpose that is the mission, and also to be a sign of love or rather to grow in love for each another. It is a mission that defines why we are together, and being together we learn to love one another.
At L’Arche and Faith and Light our mission is to provide community where the most fragile person is the heart of the community, and can grow in their humanity and in their capacity to love.
Community then becomes a place where we learn how to love each other. To grow in love is a long and difficult journey, and it takes time. L’Arche and Faith and Light are not just places where we do good to people with intellectual disabilities. They are places of relationship, where we grow in love together.
But what is love? This word has been flung around for all sorts of emotional experiences as well as acts of bravery of solders, fighting out of love for their country. For me, love is to recognize that the other person is a person, is precious, is important and has value. Each one has a gift to bring to others. Each one has his or her mission in the larger family of humanity. Each one reveals the secret face of God.
We need each other, to grow in this sacred love, which implies love of those who are different, of those who get my goat and drive me up the wall, because of difference of ideas, temperament, culture, approach and so on. Community is a place where we rub up against each other’s sore spots.
Hopefully we can in this way rub off some of the tiresome and sour traits of our characters, so that we can become our real selves. To love then is to see in the other, the heart of the person hidden under all that annoys us. That is why to love, in the words of St Paul, is to be patient, which is to wait, and to hold on. It is to believe and to trust that under all the mess in the other person is their secret being, their heart.
In L’Arche some of the people we welcome have deep anguish and even violence. They are difficult to live with in community. We have to be patient and to believe that their true self will gradually emerge. We also have to be patient with ourselves as well, and believe that if we try to love and become open to a spirituality of love, our own true selves will also gradually emerge. If we love, if we truly love other people and believe in them, then they are transformed, and we also will be transformed.
Community then is a place of healing, of transformation, and of humanising people. It’s a place where we are commissioned to grow in love, and in forgiveness, and this is real work. If you don’t want to be transformed and to grow in love, then don’t partake in community! When we find the strength to accept people as they are and to meet them in their secret being, they open us up to love.
These remarks by Jean Vanier are so profound and so critical, not just to this particular debate but to all of the debates we have in this place, because they talk about the way in which we can and do live in community with each other. That is, we understand the balance, if you will, or the necessary combination for belonging and becoming and the importance of having open-ended communities where we invite other people in and seek to learn from them.
The relationship we have with people who come from different backgrounds, people who are disabled or people who may have been historically disadvantaged for a variety of reasons is not to feel that they are in need of somebody else's charity, but, rather, to include each other in full community and recognize the way in which we become in community, we belong in community and we learn from each other.
This is something I have observed in my own interactions with members of my family. I have a beautiful cousin who has Down's syndrome. She was one of the flower girls at my wedding. I will always remember a story that my uncle told. It was a story about how he had learned from her, and sharing the story was a way in which we all learned from her. It was about a time when he and his children were at a hospital, where there was a lady, whatever her circumstances were or whatever bad news she had just heard, standing outside a hospital room crying. My uncle told his children that they should mind their own business, make sure they do not stare, walk past and move on. While he was giving these instructions, it was too late. His daughter Anastasia had already wrapped her arms around the woman who was crying, hugging her and crying with her.
This is an example of the kind of response by somebody who may not have the same socially programmed inhibitions that tell us not to interfere in each other's lives, but, rather, had an unbridled openness and empathy that led her to immediately show love in this way for this total stranger. It was her capacity for unlimited love and pursuit of community that opened my uncle's eyes and my eyes through that story to things that maybe I needed to learn, things that maybe we all need to learn, through greater community with people who have developmental differences and different kinds of experiences, but have so much to contribute.
That is the idea and philosophy of Jean Vanier. That is what the objectives of this bill are all about.
We need to remember that putting in place a framework that seeks to create a country that is free from barriers—
View Pam Damoff Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Pam Damoff Profile
2019-05-28 11:23 [p.28117]
Mr. Speaker, I am rising on a point of order having to do with relevance. I see there are a number of advocates in the gallery. We have organized interpretation for them, and it is wonderful to see them here. They have come to hear all parties speak on this very important piece of legislation, and it is a shame that the member is speaking at length. That is his prerogative, but out of respect for those who are here to hear all parties, I wonder if the member might give us some indication of how long he plans to speak this morning.
View Garnett Genuis Profile
Mr. Speaker, with all due respect to my colleague across the way, if she had been listening to the remarks I was making, they were all very clearly on the issue, which is why I was making them. These are important points to make.
An hon. member: Oh, oh!
Mr. Garnett Genuis: If the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader wants to heckle, that is also his prerogative, but we are having an important discussion.
I appreciate the opportunity to make the points that I am going to make. I understand that the government intends to bring forward a motion today on extended hours. To be clear, there is absolutely no reason why the bill before us would not move forward. I am making arguments that I think are important and worthwhile, and I am sharing personal stories about members of my own family. If members do not take that seriously or want to cast aspersions or imagine other things, that is their prerogative, but it is not really in the spirit of what the discussion could be. These are things I have wanted to share, and I appreciate that the Standing Orders provide me with the opportunity to share them.
The parliamentary secretary asked about details. I do not have a specific length of time in mind, but I would tell the parliamentary secretary if I did. I want to discuss these points. Of course, interventions like the one we just saw make it harder for me to do that, but I will resume where I was in terms of making the point that I was making. When I finish making my remarks, others will speak, and I am sure we will get the bill passed in due course.
As well, there are issues in terms of the bill not reaching the standard that many people wanted and the government rejecting amendments, which are things I have spoken about. Nonetheless, I am hopeful that there are further steps that can be taken after this.
I will go back to the point I was making before I was interrupted. I was speaking about the experience of my cousin who has Down's syndrome and the things I have been able to learn from her. The principal point that I think we need to absorb from the life and legacy of Jean Vanier is that the relationship between people who are not disabled and those who are should not be seen as one of charity, but, rather, one of people who have different experiences living together in communities of love and friendship and being able to learn from each other.
I want to make the point, in the context of my beautiful cousin who has Down's syndrome, that very often when parents who are expecting a child receive a diagnosis and find out that their child has some genetic condition, that is associated with a lot of surprise and maybe fear and lack of awareness about what this is going to mean for their family. We know as well that there is a high level of selecting out children who have that condition. I wish that every family that was not sure what to do in that situation would have an opportunity to speak to my uncle and aunt, or have an opportunity to speak with somebody like my cousin to see the love, joy and teaching that come through the community with that person. It can be a surprise to find out that what one had expected is not what is going to happen. Sometimes the unexpected is filled with such opportunity for love, joy and learning.
What are the key takeaways that we should have as members of the House from the points I have made and from the work of Jean Vanier?
First of all, we need to go beyond a formal, legalistic notion of inclusion. The legal standard of inclusion is, let us say, the minimum standard. Our goal, rather, should be to build meaningful community among all people to recognize the contributions that all of us make together in the way we treat each other, and to put our emphasis on the pursuit of a concept of true happiness: that is, living well together, not merely thinking in terms of material well-being.
I started this point in my discussion by asking whom this bill is for, whom the work is being done for. The answer is that it is for all of us. People with disabilities benefit from a society in which there are no barriers to their participation. However, everyone, whether with a disability or not, benefits from being part of a society in which we can live together in a community where the contributions and experiences of those with disabilities are heard and where we pursue happiness, community, love and meaning together.
Part of how we do this better, and this is a subject I referenced earlier and something I wrote about in my master's dissertation, is the measurement of happiness. Part of creating a society in which all of us can pursue and attain happiness is, I would argue, measuring happiness as well. There are questions and controversies around the best way to do that statistically, but efforts made to engage in the meaningful measurement of happiness are important and are part of the picture. It is something we should consider as part of subsequent statistical instruments.
Having made that point, having outlined whom I think the bill is for, I now want to discuss some of the amendments that were proposed at the committee in the House and were not accepted. As we move this legislation forward, it is important to note what has been done and what is positive, but also to acknowledge that there are some areas of missed opportunities. There are some areas where we could have done better. In fact, amendments were proposed by other parties that were unfortunately not adopted by government members at the committee.
First of all, there were amendments put forward on the House side that introduced proposals around dates and timelines. This is an issue now being incorporated at the level of the Senate, but it was proposed in the form of amendments to clauses 5, 11, 18, 23, 111 and 148. Amendments were proposed that would have established timelines, and we made the argument that timelines were absolutely essential.
We argued as well that the bill had to require positive action by the minister. We argued that the bill ought to require the progressive realization of a barrier-free Canada by the minister and should therefore remove permissive language. A lot of the language in this legislation in effect does not actually require the minister to do anything. It uses a lot of language around the word “may”, such as that regulations may be established or proposals may be put in. That exists in the context of exceptions.
While we have a legislative framework in place that may allow the minister to do certain things around the realization of a barrier-free Canada, the framework is very open in terms of allowing the minister to do certain things or not do certain things. There was an interesting comment made by the minister today in the context of questions and comments, where the issue of exceptions was raised by my colleague from Foothills. The minister said that they would certainly be very careful in their use of those exceptions under her watch.
That is the rub, the exercise of these powers by the minister. I take the minister at her word in terms of her sincerity about this bill, but it is our job in the opposition to ask questions about whether the framework relies merely on the goodwill and the word of one person, or whether it puts in place the structures that provide certainty and indeed a protection for the kinds of circumstances that we would like to see. The minister says that they will be very careful in their use of exceptions, at least under her watch, and that under her watch they will certainly do the things that are laid out in this legislation. Of course, under the current government, we do not know how long a particular minister will remain with the responsibility of a portfolio. I think all parties want to see the legislation be meaningful in ensuring impacts.
We sought to address this issue in the form of amendments, but unfortunately we did not see progress on it. These amendments dealt with the issue of permissive language in clauses 15, 16, 75, 93, 94 and subclause 146.1. We need to try to do better in this respect. Although we tried to get things done, unfortunately that did not happen.
We proposed amendments to subclause 17(2) and clause 21 to ensure the independence of CASDO, the accessibility commissioner and other key positions. Certainly, we are very concerned about the track record of the government in not always respecting the independence of things that we would expect to be independent. We raised concerns at committee about the issue of the legislation ensuring the sufficient independence of these bodies. Without independence, there is a concern about whether the accountability functions we expect will be followed. Our amendments in this respect were also not adopted by the government and the changes we proposed have unfortunately not shown up subsequently.
We proposed an amendment to clause 18, that the bill must designated CASDO as the only body to develop accessibility standards. The framework put in place by the legislation seeks to deal with a number of different parts and aspects of government. Certainly, we recognize the importance of ensuring that all of those are included and that the regulatory structure is there to cover them in all cases.
Our amendment proposed that the government have a standard set centrally by CASDO, which presumably is the goal of establishing that entity. The legislation, as it stands, creates a more complex scheme than is necessary by having some of these standards set external to CASDO. We raised this issue as well. In the follow-up implementation of the legislation, people will want to see it so they can explore the effectiveness of those provisions.
We also proposed an amendment for a new clause 33.1 to ensure there would be accountability regarding public information during CASDO's work on developing an accessibility standard. Again, there is a need for accountability as part of these frameworks. We are not keen on provisions in legislation which the government tells us “just trust us”. When the issue is important, “just trust us” is not enough. We want to see a framework that requires government action, that is accountable and that provides a reasoned and effective framework to ensure that accountability is in place.
We then proposed amendments about strengthening accessibility plans. Unfortunately they were rejected. They related to clauses 42, 47, 51, 56, 60, 65 and 69. Then we proposed specific amendments to remove exemptions.
Let us reflect on the actions we have seen from the government and the concerns that might arise when well-connected companies are lobbying for exceptions regarding their obligations. Frankly, we know this is going to happen. Our legislative framework may say that federally regulated companies have to comply with certain standards, but it is possible to make exceptions. Some companies are going to calculate that it is actually easier for them, less expensive perhaps, to spend resources lobbying politicians and ministers to give them an exception. They would rather do that than invest in the required changes to make themselves more accessible. Unfortunately it is relatively likely that some people will make this calculation and will use the tools and resources available to them.
We have seen in recent months a government that when the pressure is on, when the well-connected lobbyists are brought to bear, rather than follow through on the intention of legislation, the government may allow that exception. Let us say the argument is around jobs, that if companies are required to conform to such a standard, then they will not be able to continue to operate and they will have to move their headquarters, whatever the arguments are made in those cases.
That is why those who are following us today, those who are concerned about the effectiveness and the impact of this legislation should be concerned about the power the legislation gives around the granting of exceptions.
We have permissive language and the refusal of the government to move forward with amendments around the removal of exceptions, amendments which were supported by the Conservatives. Although there are high aspirations associated with the bill and although I do not doubt the sincerity of some people on the government side around the legislation, this creates circumstances in which it does not compel the government to act and it gives the government a great deal of space to say to a company that it does not have to follow its obligations. An area of regulation that it maybe had the power to put forward action on, it will not do that anymore.
It is precisely our job as members of Parliament to ensure the legislation we put forward is directed to and binding on government. So often, unfortunately, and what I have seen in my time here in the last three and a half years as an MP, is legislation that leaves the door open for the minister to exercise a great deal of discretion.
There is some latitude for ministerial discretion in the specific working out of details around regulations in the plants. However, when we have so much flexibility that the minister can say an exception will be put in place, that is a totally different case. This goes beyond the normal expectation that there is some degree of ministerial discretion involved in this case. This goes much further than the norm and that is why we proposed those changes. We are concerned about what the government's real intentions are and what the real actions will be.
I do not want to cast aspersions on everyone's intentions, but somebody made the decision somewhere, whether it was in the Prime Minister's Office or somebody else around the cabinet table, to leave the door open to the possibility that someone could be let off the hook in a particular case.
We proposed an amendment as well to designate the accessibility commissioner as the one body to handle compliance for accessibility standards and the adjudication of complaints. This was another amendment that dealt with streamlining the effectiveness of the bill.
The bill does not designate a central agency to oversee compliance with accessible ability requirements. Enforcement as envisioned under the framework right now is done by multiple agents: the accessibility commissioner, the CRTC, the CTA and the Federal Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board. Again, just as with setting a standard, through a complex patchwork of different organizations, this will create far more than is necessary with respect to confusion and barriers to those who wish to access the process.
If somebody is looking for standards to hold an agency or an entity up against, if he or she is looking to make complaints, the legislation does not have this sort of single window that would provide clarity around standards as well as enforcement. This is again a missed opportunity. Members of the committee and the House had tried to put forward amendments to address and strengthen this, but unfortunately we did not see action in that respect.
We felt, and we still feel, that multiple bodies looking at accessibility complaints from different angles will create a potential patchwork unfair administration of the act, and we should be concerned about that.
View Dan Albas Profile
Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. This is important legislation. I would ask you to see if there is a proper quorum.
View Garnett Genuis Profile
Mr. Speaker, I find the reaction and heckles by some members of the government very surprising. We know they do not like listening to opposition perspectives. We have seen multiple efforts by them to shut down debate on different issues. Yes, I am criticizing their failure to respond properly to proposals put forward by Conservative members and agreed to by members of other parties to strengthen the legislation.
Government members do not want to hear that perspective. They want this to be a day when we all agree on every detail. I said right at the beginning, very clearly, that we agree on the principle and that moving this legislation forward would be an improvement on the status quo. However, part of the purpose of the parliamentary conversation is to identify aspects of legislation that need to be improved.
The members across the way may not want to hear these criticisms. They may not want to hear about the fact that this legislation provides a possible exception, whereby a company like SNC-Lavalin might lobby the government for an exception. However, we need to talk about those things. We need to talk about how we strengthen this legislation and about some of the missed opportunities.
Members can be assured that this legislation will pass this session. However, these are criticisms that the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader would benefit from listening to rather than heckling. In any event, it is an important part of the argument we are making. The fact that this legislation does not “require” the minister, but only “invites” the minister to take certain action, and the fact of the exceptions that exist are issues that need to be identified and discussed.
There is also the issue of the administrative complexity that I was talking about before the point of order was raised, and the rejection of an amendment that would have designated CASDO as the only body to develop accessibility standards, and the rejection of another amendment that would have designated the accessibility commissioner as the one body to handle compliance with accessibility standards and the adjudication of complaints. The fact that these amendments were rejected increases the relative complexity that people will face when they are engaging with these issues in the legislation.
Part of our job as the opposition is to reflect the feedback we have heard from stakeholders and to say, yes, the government needs to do better. It can do better. It should have done better. We support this legislation going forward, but we are asking for more for Canadians with disabilities, to facilitate the realization of a full vision of shared community, one in which we go beyond the minimum and do as much as possible together.
We proposed amendments, as well, to ensure that the process for making complaints and reviews by the accessibility commissioner would be fair. We proposed amendments specifically to clauses 117 and 142 to say that this would not allow organizations to be exempted from producing and publishing accessibility plans, feedback processes and progress reports. We proposed amendments to include stronger provisions for reviewing the accessible Canada act and monitoring the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. As well, one amendment that was adopted and showed up in the Senate version eventually concerned sign language. It is important to note that we are glad to see this adopted through a Senate amendment, but it had been proposed at the House level as well.
One particular concern we raised about the coming into force of this legislation is that if clause 207 were left in, it would lead, according to the Statutes Repeal Act, to the act being automatically repealed within 10 years of receiving royal assent. That was perhaps a technicality, but one with important consequences that we sought to address.
In the course of proposing 60 amendments at committee, the government only adopted three, and they were not of the substantive variety we had hoped for. They supported two amendments to make reviews fair and accessible, which were improvements, and one amendment to the preamble that changed “Canadians” to “persons in Canada”. Essentially, it was a fairly technical linguistic change in the preamble, which was an important change in language, but the substantive concerns about the legislation we had highlighted were not fully addressed.
The Senate committee study provided some important perspective, and on the issue of the structure of this legislation, I want to read from testimony at the standing committee that studied this bill, in particular the testimony of David Lepofsky, the chair of Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance. He is a real champion on these issues. He has done extensive work representing and reflecting the concerns of the community. I want to identify what he said about this bill. He stated:
Bill C-81 is strong on good intentions, but palpably weak on implementation. It's called an act to ensure a barrier-free Canada, but it does not require a single barrier anywhere in Canada, ever, to be removed.
I will read that again as it is fundamental to the criticisms that I and others have made. He stated:
It's called an act to ensure a barrier-free Canada, but it does not require a single barrier anywhere in Canada, ever, to be removed. People with disabilities need and deserve better than that.
Bill C-81, at its core and its heart, is driven by the commendable notion that the federal government will enact enforceable regulations called accessibility standards that will tell federally regulated organizations what they have got to do. But it doesn't require any federal accessibility standards to ever be enacted as enforceable regulations. People with disabilities need and deserve better.
Let me be clear: The regulations that the bill requires to be enacted within two years are on procedural things, not substantive accessibility standards. The federal government could meet that deadline merely by prescribing the forms that people with disabilities shall use if they want to give feedback to Air Canada or Bell Canada. People with disabilities need and deserve better than that.
This legislation splinters its enforcement and the setting of enforceable regulations among multiple federal agencies. From the minister's defence of her practice, she conceded that if she was starting from scratch, that isn't necessarily how she would do it. But her explanation of why she did it gives triumphant ascendancy to federal bureaucracy over disability equality.
Now the question is: What do we do about it? The question is not: Are you going to pass this bill, senators? You're going to pass this bill, so let's take that off the table. We all know it. We all understand it. That's the starting point.
That was the starting point for my remarks as well. I said that the Conservatives are supporting this bill, but that there are issues. There are issues the community has raised, and in terms of how we see the issue, and with the substantive aspects of the provisions of this legislation. Our support and the community's support to pass this legislation is clear, but there are big gaps.
I will go back to the testimony, which states:
The question before this committee is: Are you going to amend it first? What we say is that you must. The reality is this bill needs a lot of amendments not to make it perfect, that's a red herring, but to get this bill from the status of weak to one that is closer to what people with disabilities need and deserve.
In the House, there were a couple hundred pages of amendments. Hard work over the past weekend has led us to distill it down to a series of amendments before you that we proposed and you have received e-mails from some witnesses who support them, which fill a grand total of 3.5 pages and cover a few core themes.
I am only going to address a couple of them, but let me be clear, there is time to do this. You are going to vote in committee on May 2. I understand you will do third reading by May 16. We are working and approaching the federal parties to urge that, once amendments are passed if they are that the house consider them quickly, so the issue of swift passage of this bill, whether amended or not, is now, procedurally, not a bar to your being able to do what we need you to do.
Again, we will see this legislation pass, but there are issues that we need to address.
The testimony continues:
So what should you do?
Well, let me just focus on a couple, but I invite questions on all of what we proposed. Lets just turn to the headlines. Yesterday, the Government of Ontario announced a multi-billion-dollar plan for new subways in Toronto, but only if other levels of government, including the federal government, add billions to the allocation the province is committing to. Thats not unusual. But we need the federal government to be required, before it spends our money on a project like that, to say a ground rule of getting our federal money is you have to meet certain federal accessibility requirements.
Now, the minister came before you a week ago and said, We cant do that. We dont have constitutional authority to do that. Respectfully, the minister is wrong. Its called the federal spending power. Have you heard of the Canada Health Act? The Canada Health Act says that if provinces get federal money for provincial health programs, they must meet federal accessibility requirements. Not disability accessibility, but their financial accessibility.
If what the minister told you is right, then the Canada Health Act has been unconstitutional for over three decades since it was enacted. I would be staggered to believe that is the position of the current federal government. If they can do it there, they can at least attach strings when they give money, if they agree to, to local projects and not just federal buildings. You might look at me and say, Oh, come on, in 2019 we wouldnt use public money to build inaccessible public transit. Senators, go to YouTube, search on AODA Alliance and public transit. You will see a video we released during last springs provincial election that has thousands of views and media coverage where we document serious accessibility problems in brand new subway stations in Toronto that just opened within the past year-and-a-half.
This isnt about perfect, folks. This is about basic equality, so we ask for an amendment that would at least require federal ministers or their ministries, if they are agreeing to give our federal money to a province, a municipality, a college or university for a project like that, to put, as a term of the agreement, an enforceable term, just like the Canada Health Act, that accessibility requirements are required. Why should the federal government ever allow federal money to be used to create new barriers or perpetuate existing ones?
I will note, just as an aside, that this specific issue that he spoke about here, the issue of federal money funding infrastructure that may not meet a certain accessible standard, is one that the Senate flagged for our consideration, but it is not reflected in the amended provisions of this legislation. This is an area that requires, I think, more discussion and exploration by government on how we should ensure that the accessibility standards we expect are met, especially in new construction and infrastructure, so that we have taken the basic steps required to ensure that it is accessible to people. That is something that should be fairly obvious. However, if we do not put in place processes and mechanisms to ensure that the obvious happens, sometimes it does not.
According to Mr. Lepofsky, in fact, there was a claim made that it would somehow be unconstitutional to put these conditions in place. It is interesting, because we see a federal government that, in general, in so many different areas, is very heavy handed with what it tries to impose on the provinces, even trying to use federal spending to compel them to implement particular policies in provincial areas of jurisdiction. It is interesting how that separation is selectively invoked in some cases but not in others, which seems to be an excuse for inaction in this case.
The testimony continues:
Let me give you one other core amendment. My colleague from the CNIB said the minister last week had agreed to amend the bill to ensure that it does not curtail in any way the human rights code and the duty to accommodate. I hope the minister does that, but I dont hear her as having said that. I hear her as having said that she, as a former human rights lawyer, has ensured that this bill doesnt interfere with the duty to accommodate. But senators, it threatens to.
Clause 172 of the bill perpetuates a provision in the Canada transportation legislation that would let the CTA enact a regulation, and once it does so, to set standards for accessible transit, no matter how low that standard may be and no matter how deficient from a human rights standard it may be. As a traveller with a disability or others in my coalition or anyone in Canada, we are barred from asking anymore under the legislation's guarantee against undue barriers.
With that provision in the act, our position is: Please don't ever enact any standards under the CTA because they threaten to take away our rights. A simple amendment would repeal that provision from the act.
I will note that, in this case, this testimony led to an amendment. Of course, we are pleased to see that the amendment was made on that provision. That was one issue from this testimony that was, in fact, addressed, which is why we were pleased to see that change in the Senate amendments. The version of this bill that was originally proposed, and that the government appeared, initially at committee in the House, not to see any problem with, was, in fact, a version whereby the CTA could enact regulations that would be below the human rights standards and that would have the potential impact of lowering the standards that are in place for the protection of the rights of Canadians with disabilities. This indicates the importance of the Senate amendment process and the benefit of the fact that in this case, the government, although not responsive as much to House amendments, did come around in response to proposals on the Senate side.
The testimony from Mr. Lepofsky states:
Let me conclude by inviting questions on the other areas that we've raised. I'm telling you that we are not just about saying what's wrong. We are about proposing constructive suggestions for what's right, and the amendments we've placed before you are designed for a Senate that has a limited time frame to act, a commitment to respect policy decisions made in the House of Commons and an eagerness to ensure that these amendments can be considered by the house quickly and easily, with a realistic chance of them being taken seriously. They are designed to be tailored both to our needs and to what the minister said to you last week. So we ask you to take them all seriously. They are all substantive, and they all bear on the needs of all people with disabilities.
I conclude by saying this: I'm speaking for my coalition, but as an individual, I first came before Parliament 39 years ago as a much younger individual—my wife said I had hair back then when she saw the video—to appear before the standing committee considering the Charter of Rights. At that time, the Charter proposed to guarantee equality but not to people with disabilities. I and a number of other folks argued and succeeded in getting the Charter amended to include that right.
I leave you with two thoughts. First, the amendments we seek are aimed at making that right become a reality, not just as a matter of good intention but as effective implementation.
The government members who do not like hearing arguments against their bill may be encouraged by the fact that I am now coming to the conclusion of my remarks.
These were all important points to make. Here is a brief summary of the key elements I have highlighted in this bill.
The bill is about requiring regulated entities to make accessibility plans. It is a positive step, but it would not have the force and the pressure on the government in terms of compelling government action that many people within the disability community want to see. We tried to reflect those concerns in the context of a debate that happened here in the House the first time around and at committee. Unfortunately, all the more substantive changes were rejected in the House. The Senate put forward a number of amendments that were positive, but they would not fix the bill in every respect, certainly from the perspective of our caucus and those in the community.
Therefore, while we are pleased to support these amendments and this legislation, we will continue to call on the government to do better and to give reality to the promise that “better is possible”. That is what we are asking in the context of this legislation. The Senate amendments make improvements, but they do not go all the way in terms of the improvements people are asking for.
I talked a bit about who this legislation is for. It is important to recognize that the steps we take to facilitate an accessible, barrier-free society benefit people with disabilities, but they benefit all of us, because they give all of us an opportunity to live together in meaningful community and to learn from each other.
There are things that are not in the bill. In some cases, they are things that could not be addressed by a bill, and in some cases, they are things the government should have addressed but did not.
Legislation can ultimately only go so far toward addressing people's attitudes and culture. Building a barrier-free Canada is not just a political decision; it has to be a social commitment. It has to be something we all commit to leading on and acting on together as parliamentarians and as citizens. We call on business leaders and people from all walks of life to see what they can do to build and facilitate meaningful commitment, goodwill, friendship and love among people, regardless of ability or disability.
Those kinds of social and cultural changes are important. Legislation without that kind of social commitment is not enough to create a truly barrier-free Canada.
I want to again say that the work done by my colleague, the member for Carleton, on trying to ensure that disabled Canadians are able to access paid work, was very important. It was disappointing to see that bill voted down by the government. I hope that in a subsequent Parliament, we will be able to see progress on the initiative he put forward.
Not everyone is able to work, but there are many people who have a disability who are ready, willing and able to participate in paid work. They benefit our economy by doing so, but they also benefit from the community associated with work. They benefit from a sense of purpose and meaning that comes to many people from being able to go to work every day.
More needs to be done to support the kinds of initiatives we saw in that private member's bill. Maybe it will come back in a future Parliament. Maybe we will see other kinds of action that will seek to specifically address the issue of barriers that exist for disabled Canadians seeking employment.
With that, I will conclude my remarks. I am supportive of the bill. I am supportive of the amendments. I am hopeful that we will be able to see more action, and in the future, that we will be able to challenge the government. Rather than rejecting amendments in the House and sending them to the Senate and then accepting them at that point, maybe a novel idea would be to have some of these amendments adopted in the House in the first instance, which would skip the step of bringing the bill back to the House afterward.
There are some areas that could be better, but there are positive steps here. People can be assured that we will support the bill and support these actions. Going forward, we will continue to hold the government's feet to the fire. In the areas where it says it may regulate, we will apply the pressure necessary. We were not able to get from “may” to “must” in the legislation, but we will work to create a political imperative so that the government does not fail to act.
Those in the community who are following us today can be assured of our commitment to always hold the government accountable on these issues and to ensure, with the high-minded discussion around Bill C-81, that the objectives that were laid out are fully realized.
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2019-05-28 12:10 [p.28123]
Mr. Speaker, when the minister introduced the bill, not only at third reading but also at report stage and second reading, it became clear that we were debating historical legislation. This is legislation that is going to have a real impact in all regions of our country. The minister has been very inspiring within our caucus not only for me personally but for many of my colleagues. She has ultimately led us to the point we are at today.
I know full well that the constituents I represent appreciate this legislation, even in its amended form. The minister has been very gracious in recognizing that this legislation is in good part because of the many advocates across Canada.
I am really impressed by the fact that we have an interpreter in our gallery who is providing sign language, and I indicate “hello” to the people who are visiting us in the gallery. I thank them for witnessing what we believe is historical legislation.
Members of the Conservative Party have said that they would like to see the bill passed. I believe that it will be passed, because it crosses political partisanship. We want this historical piece of legislation passed.
How long does my friend believe it will take to get this legislation through the House? Does he see it taking many more hours or many more speakers from the Conservative Party?
View Garnett Genuis Profile
Mr. Speaker, in terms of the member's initial comment that this is historic, or as he said, “historical”, legislation, let us be clear that the bill may have an impact, because the bill says that the minister “may” put in place certain regulations and “may” also make exceptions. As is so often the case, the devil is in the details. We will see which direction things turn in terms of that “may” or may not. We sought to remove open-ended power to make exceptions and the ability of a minister to essentially do nothing under the legislation. High-minded rhetoric is important, but high-minded rhetoric is not a replacement for action. This legislation would provide a framework for action; it would not oblige action. There are other issues in terms of concerns raised by people in the community that are not addressed.
The member asked about the prospective timeline. The timeline for passing the legislation really depends on the government in terms of when it wants to see it brought forward. Obviously, the government has the power to prioritize certain bills. This is a bill from the government, like some other legislation, that we support. There are things on the government's legislative agenda that we do not support. If the government prioritizes this bill over other items on the legislative agenda, I am sure that we will be able to get it passed very soon, but that is a question of prioritization for the government in terms of how it uses the House calendar.
View Cheryl Hardcastle Profile
View Cheryl Hardcastle Profile
2019-05-28 12:14 [p.28123]
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague for his exhaustive efforts in describing the position of the official opposition on Bill C-81.
It was very interesting to hear about the history of legislation and, of course, about someone in our history like Jean Vanier, who created watershed moments. However, to be be quite frank, when the official opposition was in government, for 10 years there was inaction. What I am hearing now is a keen understanding of how legislation has to evolve and progress. However, I would like to hear from the member a little more about his insights into how government policies and laws should be viewed through a disability lens.
As the member knows, there was testimony with regard to the legislation being designed to stipulate a disability lens. Perhaps the member can talk a little more about using a disability lens, which is not actually articulated, and what he would envision it would look like.
View Garnett Genuis Profile
Mr. Speaker, I disagree a little with the member's comments about the record of the previous government. I think it is clear that the previous Conservative government did take substantive action that had an impact in terms of improving accessibility and making life better for Canadians living with disabilities. One of those provisions, championed by the former finance minister, Jim Flaherty, was the disability savings account. Some of these policies did make a difference. I do not dispute that there is always more work to do. We never have a government that at the end of four years, or even 10 years, says that it fixed every problem and that everything is great. There is always going to be more work to do, and we commit to continuing that work going forward.
The member spoke about having a disability lens, which is looking at the policies and actions of government through this lens and asking what the impact is. How are people from this community with these kinds of experiences seeing the impact on them of a policy? I agree that having that lens is important. An idea that I am sure Jean Vanier, as a devout Catholic, would share with me is the idea of a preferential option for the most vulnerable informing all aspects of policies we bring forward, looking in particular at the impact those policy decisions would have on those who are most vulnerable. Therefore, we would need to particularly concern ourselves with protections in their situations, the realization of their rights and the affirmation of their dignity.
View Mike Lake Profile
View Mike Lake Profile
2019-05-28 12:18 [p.28124]
Mr. Speaker, it is interesting to hear the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader, the person in charge of the legislative agenda for the government, talk about the urgency of passing this legislation. Certainly we all share that sense of urgency. We have heard from stakeholders who almost unanimously want to see this legislation passed. All members in this House are committed to that, so stakeholders can rest assured that it will happen.
However, the current government has been in government for almost 30,000 hours. We are down to the last month that the House is sitting before the next election campaign, and finally we are getting around to debating this important piece of legislation.
I would ask my hon. colleague to reinforce, for stakeholders who are watching this debate today, his commitment and our official opposition's commitment to seeing this important legislation passed before the House rises for the election.
View Garnett Genuis Profile
Yes, Mr. Speaker, we are very keen to see this move forward. Again, there are questions I should have been posing to the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader, not the other way around: How much of a priority is this legislation? Based on that, when does the government plan to schedule it?
We saw the Liberals, for instance yesterday, choosing to schedule a debate on a non-binding motion that was not impacting legislative changes. They could have scheduled this debate yesterday. They chose not to do that, and it is their prerogative to schedule a debate when they want to. We will see how much of a priority this is for the government.
When the Liberals schedule the debate, contrary to some of the heckles I received, the opposition will speak. We are not going to let them schedule a debate on this legislation and then be the only ones speaking to it. There will be opposition speeches made as part of a debate on this legislation. If the government is committed to moving this forward, we are committed to moving it forward as well. The scheduling is up to the government.
View Cheryl Hardcastle Profile
View Cheryl Hardcastle Profile
2019-05-28 12:20 [p.28124]
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to take this time in the House to speak on the rights of people living with disabilities and Canada's responsibility as a signatory to the UN convention on those rights. The NDP supports Bill C-81, an act to ensure a barrier-free Canada, as amended by the Senate.
I am proud to have been part of a larger movement of stakeholder groups and civil activists who put a great deal of effort into attempting to make this bill the best it can be. We have supported it from the beginning and offered numerous amendments that would have helped the bill realize its ambitions to create a barrier-free Canada.
New Democrats have long believed that any accessibility bill tabled by the government should essentially be enabling legislation for Canada's obligations to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Canada ratified this convention in 2010 but until now has done nothing to bring our laws into conformity with it.
I congratulate the minister and her team for their work on this bill and for her willingness to accede to the Senate's amendments. There are still numerous provisions within the bill that remain in need of fixing, and I would be remiss if I did not discuss them now in order to further our understanding on what is yet to be accomplished. This being a federal election year, I know our citizen activists are listening and gaining a better understanding of how they can effectively use a campaign season.
In its current form, Bill C-81 is inadequate to the expectation of fostering a society in which all our citizens can participate fully and equally. This cannot even begin to happen until all our institutions are open and completely accessible to everyone. This is truly what fostering a barrier-free Canada will look like. Unfortunately, Bill C-81 makes minimal movement in that direction.
We are not alone with our concerns. During Bill C-81's time in the House Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, or HUMA, the federal government received extensive feedback on the bill's many shortcomings from people living with disabilities across Canada, as well as from their organized networks of advocacy. For example, last October an open letter was sent to the federal government, signed by no less than 95 disability organizations. Many of these same organizations also testified before HUMA. Disability organizations repeatedly pressed for this bill to be strengthened.
Our esteemed friend, David Lepofsky, is chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance. He is an esteemed and respected mind, with legal expertise on accessibility rights. At the Senate committee, he stated:
Bill C-81, at its core and its heart, is driven by the commendable notion that the federal government will enact enforceable regulations called accessibility standards that will tell federally regulated organizations what they have got to do. But it doesn't require any federal accessibility standards to ever be enacted as enforceable regulations. People with disabilities need and deserve better.
Let me be clear: The regulations that the bill requires to be enacted within two years are on procedural things, not substantive accessibility standards. The federal government could meet that deadline merely by prescribing the forms that people with disabilities shall use if they want to give feedback to Air Canada or Bell Canada. People with disabilities need and deserve better than that.
The issues that Mr. Lepofsky cites in this quote remain unaddressed in the amended version of Bill C-81.
For New Democrats, this is a very serious issue. To understand why, let us look at the headlines. Last month, the Government of Ontario announced a multi-billion dollar plan for new subways in Toronto, but only if other levels of government, including the federal government, add billions to the allocation the province is committing to. That is not unusual. However, before it spends our money on a project like that, we need the federal government to be required to say that as a ground rule for getting federal money, certain federal accessibility requirements must be met. If money is requested from the federal government, here is what is required for accessibility. It seems very simple.
The minister has claimed she does not have the constitutional authority to impose accessibility requirements on provinces, but she does. She has what is known as federal spending power, and it is a power that is very substantial. We are all familiar with the Canada Health Act. The Canada Health Act says that if provinces get federal money for provincial health programs, they must meet federal accessibility requirements: not disability accessibility, but financial accessibility. If the federal government truly lacks this power, then the Canada Health Act has been unconstitutional for over three decades. If the federal government can attach strings to the CHA, then it can attach strings when it gives out money to local projects and not just federal buildings.
I commend the hard work that many stakeholder groups did during the Senate phase of Bill C-81. Our friends at the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, or AODA Alliance, along with the ARCH Disability Law Centre, among several others, lobbied senators with a shortened list of amendments covering the most important changes that need to happen to Bill C-81 if the bill is to become the kind of law that our people living with disabilities need.
In fact, we would like to thank all the disability organizations, numbering at least 71, that signed the open letter sent earlier this month to the House of Commons. They called on the House of Commons to ratify the Senate's amendments to Bill C-81. This open letter, which the Council of Canadians with Disabilities delivered to all MPs on behalf of its 28 signatories, all listed below, explains that these amendments improve the bill. The Senate formulated these amendments after holding public hearings at which disability organizations and advocates pointed out the need to strengthen a bill that the House of Commons originally passed last fall. The Senate got the message and formulated a short package of 11 amendments, which together fit on two pages.
I would also like to commend everyone who participated in the massive letter-writing campaign to the minister, the Prime Minister and all members of Parliament. It is always exciting to see concerned public action on any issue. It was not at all clear from the minister's Senate committee testimony that she would accept some of the amendments put forward, but I believe the campaign was a crucial component to making this happen.
Going into the Senate, prior to committee, major stakeholders proposed a distilled version of the changes they wanted to see in the bill before it became law. The amendments proposed for Bill C-81 before the Senate began debating it were a distilled version of the amendments they presented during the hearings before the House of Commons committee.
I would like to run through these very quickly, as they are absolutely essential if Bill C-81 is to be effective.
First, impose clear duties and deadlines on the federal government when implementing this law.
Second, set a deadline for Canada to become accessible.
Third, enforcement should be solely in the hands of the accessibility commissioner, not splintered across various organizations, such as the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission and the Canadian Transportation Agency, which, as has been pointed out numerous times, have a sorry record of implementing the few accessibility obligations they already have, never mind new ones.
Fourth, we should ensure federal public money is never used to create or perpetuate disability barriers.
Fifth, we should ensure that the federal government will not be able to exempt itself from any of its accessibility obligations under the bill.
The Senate eventually accepted the following amendments to Bill C-81: first, setting 2040 as the end date for Canada to become accessible; second, ensuring that this 2040 timeline would not justify any delay in removing and preventing accessibility barriers as soon as reasonably possible; third, recognizing American sign language, Quebec sign language and indigenous sign languages as the primary languages for communication used by deaf people; fourth, making it a principle to govern the bill that multiple and intersectional forms of discrimination faced by persons with disabilities must be considered; fifth, ensuring that Bill C-81 and regulations made under it could not cut back on the human rights of people with disabilities guaranteed by the Canadian Human Rights Act; sixth, ensuring that the Canadian Transportation Agency could not reduce existing human rights protections for passengers with disabilities when the agency handled complaints about barriers in transportation; and, seventh, fixing problems the federal government identified between the bill’s employment provisions and legislation governing the RCMP.
As members can garner from comparing the proposed amendments with the ones the Senate approved, several crucial amendments did not make it into the bill. One of the more important of these dealt with the issue that Bill C-81 splintered enforcement and implementation in a confusing way over four different public agencies, rather than providing people with disabilities with the single-window service they needed.
As part of this, it leaves two public agencies, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission and the Canadian Transportation Agency, to continue overseeing accessibility, despite their inadequate track record on this issue over many years and in the very recent past. The NDP understands that this is an urgent issue which needs to be addressed urgently.
When the bill was in committee, I tabled amendments that would have closed the many exemptions and powers allowing public officials to exempt any organization from key parts of Bill C-81. The NDP feels the bill fails to effectively ensure that the federal government will use all its levers of power to promote accessibility across Canada. For example, it does not require the federal government to ensure that federal money is never used by any recipient of those funds to create or perpetuate disability barriers, such as when federal money contributes to new or renovated infrastructure.
This is a significant point because the federal government can easily require all projects utilizing federal dollars to meet accessibility standards. Experience tells us that without this requirement, federal agencies will contract out important work to third parties to save money, thus bypassing federal accessibility specifications. Our NDP amendments would have addressed this issue directly.
For example, inaccessible public housing could potentially be built and there would be little anyone could do about it, despite the government's repeatedly stated commitment to accessibility and disability issues.
While we commend the government for accepting the timeline of 2040 as the time when Canada is to become accessible to five million people, Bill C-81 nevertheless lacks mandatory timelines for implementation. It allows, but does not require, the government to adopt accessibility standards, yet does not impose a time frame within which this is to happen. Without these, the implementation process, even the start-up process, could drag on for years.
An egregious provision the bill lacks is the requirement that all federal government laws, policies and programs be studied through a disability law lens. This seems a strange omission indeed, as this is the proverbial low-hanging fruit.
It is crucial that societies eliminate these forms of discrimination, not just because doing it is the right thing to do but because it enables a previously ignored and sizable section of our population that contributes its talents and abilities to the betterment of us all. Everyone wins when everyone can contribute.
When it comes to ensuring accessibility for five million Canadians with disabilities, Canada lags far behind the United States, which passed a landmark Americans with disabilities act 29 years ago. Canadians with disabilities still face far too many barriers in air travel, cable TV services, and when dealing with the federal government.
Now that Bill C-81 is back in the House, it only needs to hold one vote to ratify these amendments. No further public hearings or standing committee study of the bill are needed. Once the amendments are passed during that vote, Bill C-81 will have completed its journey through Canada's Parliament. It will be law. It will come into force when the federal government gives Bill C-81 royal assent.
Major stakeholders have recently written to leaders of the major parties asking that they commit to bringing a stronger national accessibility bill before Parliament after this fall's federal election. That is why, while we support the passage of Bill C-81 as amended today, the NDP also commits that when we become government in 2020, we will bring forward a much stronger version of the bill, one that will correct some of its more glaring shortcomings.
As others have noted, yes, the bill is an important first step. However, people living with disabilities have waited so long, too long, to live in a country that allows their flourishing as citizens with full human rights realized. For instance, our neighbours and family members should not be told that they must wait until 2040 until they can, say, use functioning, accessible subway elevators, or use their own wheelchairs on international flights or attend an accessible all-candidates debate and so on.
Unfortunately, the present government has left the task of making Canada fully accessible to future governments. I confidently say that New Democrats are up to this task and genuinely committed to it.
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