THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON SOCIAL AFFAIRS, SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
OTTAWA, Wednesday, April 3, 2019
The Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, to which was referred Bill C-81, An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada, met this day at 4:15 p.m. to give consideration to the bill.
Senator Judith Seidman (Deputy Chair) in the chair.
The Deputy Chair: Good afternoon, and welcome to the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology. My name is Judith Seidman, and I’m the deputy chair of this committee. Before we give the floor to the minister, I will invite my colleagues to please introduce themselves.
Senator Poirier: Welcome. Rose-May Poirier from Saint-Louis-de-Kent, New Brunswick.
Senator Eaton: Nice to see you again, Minister Qualtrough. I’m Nicky Eaton from Toronto.
Senator Oh: Victor Oh, Toronto.
Senator Forest-Niesing: Good afternoon, and thank you for being here. Josée Forest-Niesing from northern Ontario.
Senator Mégie: Good afternoon. Marie-Françoise Mégie from Quebec.
Senator Manning: Fabian Manning, Newfoundland and Labrador.
Senator Dasko: Donna Dasko from Toronto.
Senator M. Deacon: Hi again. Marty Deacon, Waterloo.
Senator Kutcher: Good afternoon. Stan Kutcher, Nova Scotia.
Senator Omidvar: Hello, minister. Ratna Omidvar, Toronto.
Senator Moodie: Rosemary Moodie, Toronto.
Senator Munson: Jim Munson, Canada. Trying to lighten things up. Everyone’s so serious.
The Deputy Chair: Thank you.
Today, we begin our study of Bill C-81, An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada, also known as the “Accessible Canada Act.”
I would like to advise all those attending in person today that our hearing is being interpreted into American Sign Language and in Langue des signes du Québec. Closed captioning is also available in the committee room in both official languages. For those watching online, versions of the broadcast in ASL and LSQ will be available the following week after each meeting on Bill C-81.
I would like to welcome the Honourable Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Public Services and Procurement and Accessibility. Accompanying the minister from Employment and Social Development Canada’s Accessibility Secretariat are Benoît Gendron, Director; Erik Lapalme, Senior Policy Analyst; and James Van Raalte, Director General.
Honourable senators, we will begin by hearing from the minister for the first hour. We will suspend for a few minutes, and then we will continue with questions to the officials from the Accessibility Secretariat.
Minister, you have the floor.
Hon. Carla Qualtrough, P.C., M.P., Minister of Public Services and Procurement and Accessibility: Thank you, Madam Chair, honourable senators and members of the committee, and good afternoon. Thank you for this opportunity to speak to Bill C-81, the proposed “Accessible Canada Act.” I also want to thank Senator Canada/Munson for sponsoring this bill.
Honourable senators, I want to begin by stressing how transformative this piece of legislation is. Imagine moving from a system that requires persons with disabilities to fight for basic access and inclusion to a new model informed by persons with disabilities that proactively identifies and removes barriers, and enforces human rights for all.
This is a major culture shift, which is long overdue. It recognizes the positive benefit of the economic and social inclusion of persons with disabilities.
Bill C-81 complements the human rights framework in Canada. It does not take anything away from existing human rights obligations under the Canadian Human Rights Act or the duty to accommodate. Employers and service providers will still have an obligation to adjust rules, policies and practices to ensure persons with disabilities can fully participate in Canada society. This proposed bill will allow our country to harness the remarkable skills and talent of millions of Canadians with disabilities who, for too long, have not been given the opportunity to participate and help build our economy and communities.
Honourable senators, we know this bill belongs to the disability community. From the very first day we started working on it, our government had persons with disabilities around the table, including me. As we aim to ensure policies, services and programs across government are inclusive from the start, we led by example with this proposed legislation by having persons with disabilities engaged at every step. This included undertaking the largest and most accessible consultation on disability issues in Canadian history. For many, this was the first time the disability community had been asked to participate in a legislative process in such a significant way. Some members of the community were unsure they would see themselves and their priorities in our legislation.
People First of Canada, a national organization representing people labelled with intellectual disabilities, had these reservations. The very first meeting I had as minister responsible for people with disabilities was with People First of Canada, where they told me that they weren’t convinced this legislation would be of benefit to them. When I met with them last December, after Bill C-81 was introduced in Parliament, I was so happy to hear that they believe in the bill, and they do indeed see themselves in this bill.
They and so many others have been strong advocates of the bill after seeing the version we tabled. I’m extremely proud to say that the proposed “Accessible Canada Act” enjoys widespread endorsement and support from so many in the disability community. In fact, I have received over a thousand emails from Canadians over the last two weeks, expressing their support for the swift passage of Bill C-81. I know that many of my colleagues and many of you, I suspect, have received many of these emails. It’s clear that Canadians want to see this proposed legislation become law. They want a Canada that is inclusive and accessible.
Honourable senators, let my walk you through some the finer points of the bill. First, the legislation will see the creation of the Canadian accessibility standards development organization, CASDO. This new organization, a first of its kind in Canada, will develop accessibility standards, which are accepted accessibility practices and technical requirements. Not only will these standards inform regulations, but they can also serve as a resource to governments and businesses outside of federal jurisdiction. The majority of the CASDO board of directors will be persons with disabilities. This will guarantee that people with lived experience will have a decisive influence on the direction of CASDO.
The Canadian Accessibility Standards Development Organization, or CASDO, will bring together persons with disabilities, technical experts and industry representatives to develop standards collaboratively. The organization will also conduct forward-looking research on the accessibility standards we’ll need for the future.
In turn, these standards will be used as a basis for government regulations. Once a standard becomes a regulation, it can be enforced proactively and through complaint mechanisms.
There will also be a new accessibility commissioner within the Canadian Human Rights Commission who will spearhead the enforcement of accessibility under this bill, while already established bodies, such as the Canadian Transportation Agency and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, will enforce accessibility within their respective sectors.
As part of our whole-of-government approach, Bill C-81 builds upon the existing work done by regulators and, if passed, will strengthen their mandates to ensure accessibility in their sectors. This was demonstrated at the recent CTA announcement I attended, where the publication of draft accessibility regulations was announced, with the intention of making Canada’s transportation system the most accessible in the world. Time and time again through the consultations, transportation was brought up as a key issue, which is why it is one of the seven priority areas listed in Bill C-81 and why I’m so proud to see this recent commitment by the CTA to properly regulate and enforce accessibility in the national transportation network.
This approach ensures that accessibility is everyone’s responsibility and that we can’t waste any time once the bill receives Royal Assent. In fact, this group of regulators is already meeting and preparing to fulfill their duties under Bill C-81.
A new deputy minister-led committee has been established, with representation from all agencies that have enforcement or complaint responsibilities under Bill C-81. This shows the strong commitment of these regulators to making sure this system works for persons with disabilities. This committee will also ensure collaboration and consistency on complaints and enforcement, as well as harmonization on the implementation of Bill C-81 across sectors.
Honourable senators, you may be wondering how the system will work in practice when an individual wants to file a complaint. How will someone know which organization to contact?
The simple answer is the complainants won’t need to figure it out. Bill C-81 has a “no wrong door” approach, which means regulators must collaborate to quickly get a complaint to the right body without delaying or discouraging the complainant. The end result: Complainants will never be turned away from filing an accessibility complaint with any regulator subject to this act.
We also know how important it is to be accountable to Canadians, and we will be monitoring progress on the bill’s implementation in a variety of ways. Organizations under federal jurisdiction will have to develop accessibility plans and progress reports and implement feedback processes. A new chief accessibility officer will keep an eye on this overall implementation, monitoring results as well as any systemic or emerging accessibility issues. By informing and advising the minister, the CAO will also ensure the minister can make informed decision on accessibility.
I’m grateful for the rigour and debate that has been applied to this legislation. This bill is seeking to address generations of exclusion. This debate has engaged the voices of thousands of Canadians on issues that have never before been the topic of critical national discourse. Inevitably, there were differences of opinion and the priorities varied. Ideas were tested, and every perspective was taken into consideration.
I’m confident that the legislation is all the better for it. I’m also confident that an overwhelming consensus remained unwavering throughout the process. This is the opportunity of a lifetime to advance disability rights in this country, to address the systemic barriers and inequity that continue to persist and to insist on the full social and economic participation of everyone with a disability in this country.
Like other members of the disability community, I’m eager to see meaningful progress in a timely manner. For that reason, we are already working to achieve significant progress within the first year following the passage of the act. This includes opening the doors of the new Canadian accessibility standards development organization this summer. Postings are currently online for the recruitment of the chief accessibility officer as well as the CASDO board and CEO.
Finally, the development of regulations has begun, with the CTA posting their first draft of accessibility regulations, and the consultation process has started for the development of the multi-year accessibility plan regulations.
In some ways, once the bill becomes law, the real work begins.
Accessibility will continue to evolve as new technology is developed and new issues emerge. This is enabling legislation that creates the powers and structures to provide the flexibility needed to adapt and respond to accessibility challenges and barriers, today and in the future.
Honourable senators, rest assured that this is an exceptional piece of legislation. It’s crucial for Canadians, not just those of us with disabilities, to recognize their place in the accessible Canada act. The fact of the matter is that all Canadians benefit from an accessible Canada.
Bill C-81 reflects the voices of people with disabilities. I therefore urge you to pass the bill as swiftly as possible so that we as a society can start working towards our ultimate goal: creating a barrier-free Canada. Thank you for your help in making this happen.
The Deputy Chair: Minister, thank you very much. We will now proceed to questions from senators.
I would like to remind each senator that you have your usual five minutes for your question, and that includes the answer. We will try to include a second round.
Ms. Qualtrough: Is that a friendly reminder to me as well, Madam Chair?
The Deputy Chair: Hardly. Isn’t that subtle? We will try to include a second round with the minister with short questions and answers, and you will have an opportunity to also ask questions of the officials during the second hour.
The first question goes to Senator Munson, the Senate sponsor of this bill.
Senator Munson: Thank you, minister, for being here today. It’s a pleasure to have you before us. I’ll keep these questions short.
You talked about the impressions that you have already received, the thousand-odd emails and so on. Just a general question first. Do you feel this bill is reflective of the extensive consultation and that the stakeholders are really buying into this bill?
The recognition of sign language seems to be a consistent theme coming up from stakeholders. Can you speak to why it has not been included in the bill?
Can you speak about how Bill C-81 fits with the Canadian Human Rights Act, specifically the duty to accommodate? I think there is some confusion there. Is there any risk that this bill would lessen existing human rights obligations of federally regulated entities?
Ms. Qualtrough: Thank you, senator, for your questions. I’ll be very short. “Yes” is the answer to your first question. I believe it sincerely reflects what we have had. I have had people tell me that, from judges in Saskatchewan to moms in Prince George and everyone in between, so absolutely.
I’ll go to your third question next and leave more time for the ASL-LSQ question.
The Canadian Human Rights Act absolutely imposes a duty to accommodate. Nothing in this act changes that obligation on employers, on service providers and on program deliverers within the federal jurisdiction. There was confusion in provincial jurisdictions that had enacted accessibility legislation, and we’ve made every effort to avoid such confusion. Whatever standard is created by CASDO will not necessarily create any kind of defence for an employer, service provider or program deliverer in terms of their individual duty to accommodate a specific person.
I have to emphasize that as a former human rights law practitioner, it is very important to me, and it has been, to preserve the duty to accommodate.
On ASL-LSQ, I certainly heard from the beginning of this journey about how important ASL, LSQ and ISL — Indigenous sign language — is to the deaf community in Canada. I absolutely respect both their communication focus and the cultural significance of ASL, LSQ and ISL. To be honest, making sign language an official language would implicate the Charter, as it would require changing it to an official language and definitely would require analysis beyond the scope of Bill C-81.
The idea of recognizing the importance of ASL as a means of communication, with communication having been added to the bill through the house process as one of priorities, recognizes that. But having said all of that, I would certainly welcome any feedback you all have on perhaps finding other ways to emphasize and recognize the importance of sign language to the deaf community. I look forward to seeing what your study will have to say on that matter.
Senator Munson: As you well know, the Senate is a chamber of sober second thought, and we take looking at these bills very seriously. I am sure there will be an appetite for amendments by the time we are done our hearings.
On this particular sign language and other aspects of the bill, there are people in the community who feel it doesn’t go far enough. Yes, we’ll have it for the first time, and, yes, it’s history in the making and that sort of thing, but it just doesn’t go far enough. Would you be open to amendments?
Ms. Qualtrough: I would certainly defer to your process and recommendations but, yes, I want to make this bill, this eventual law, the best it can possibly be.
Senator Munson: Thank you. I think I’m almost close to the end, so I will let others go ahead.
The Deputy Chair: You still have one and half minutes.
Senator Munson: I will go for the next round.
Senator Eaton: Thank you, minister. This is a terrific bill, which I support. What I find a little worrying, and perhaps it will be left in the hands of CASDO, but the definitions for the words “disability” and “barrier” are very vague and I don’t think the word “accessibility” is even defined.
Where does disability start and affirmative action end or, vice versa, where does affirmative action start and disability end? Would it be better to have some kind of definition as to what a disability is?
Ms. Qualtrough: If you will indulge me, the basis for the definition of “disability” in Bill C-81 can be found in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Recognizing that there is a broad scope of definition and wanting from the start to be as inclusive as possible in the definition, in the scope of citizens who are impacted by this law — and not to get down into the rabbit hole of spending our entire consultation debating a definition — we focused on barrier removal. And we focused on the idea that whatever your medical diagnosis, whatever condition, however you see yourself, if you have a functional impairment and there is a barrier to your full inclusion and participation in Canadian society that is somehow created by that, we want to remove that. And so we very intentionally —
Senator Eaton: What if it’s psychological?
Ms. Qualtrough: Absolutely included. In fact, we had the Canadian Mental Health Association participate fully in our consultations, we had families of children with mental health issues, we had so many participants from that community participate, and they definitely are intended to be included in this law.
Senator Eaton: Do you feel it would take away the emphasis from people who have real disabilities and open it to abuse?
Ms. Qualtrough: I personally do not see that happening because of the focus on the law of removing barriers. If there is a barrier to employment, if there is a barrier in the built environment or transportation or communication, we are moving to a model of disability that doesn’t focus on medical diagnosis. It focuses either on social inclusion, or even more on barrier removal, that what is wrong in our system, in our society, in our policies, programs and structures isn’t your medical diagnosis. The problem isn’t the fact that I can’t see; the problem is the fact that I can’t get a screen big enough in my office to let me do my job. The barrier is my employer not providing that accommodation, and not the fact that I can’t see. It’s trying to shrift what is wrong away from the person being broken or having something wrong with them to the system or environment not being inclusive.
Senator Eaton: Thank you.
Senator Mégie: Thank you for joining us, Minister Qualtrough. I’ll continue with the subject of CASDO. Is this the organization that will receive medical certificates that describe the disabilities of people who could receive subsidies, for example?
Ms. Qualtrough: No, CASDO will be responsible for creating technical standards.
It will be a standard on an ATM, for example, on what it needs to look like to be accessible. It will be a standard on ramps. They create the technical standards for what an environment needs to look like or what is included in an accessibility plan or a customer service standard. How can you be inclusive and accommodating in your customer service provision as a federal service provider? It will not be in the business of disabilities certification or that kind of thing.
Senator Mégie: Will it be a temporary organization? Once the organization has established the standards, will it be disbanded or will it remain in place to monitor the application of the standards?
Ms. Qualtrough: I would say both.
I think there will be enough work for this organization in perpetuity, quite frankly. As standards evolve and as our expectations as to what is inclusive and accessible heightens, what is accessible today was not the standard 10 years ago and will not be the standard in 10 years. We will be updating standards and creating and looking at new standards. There will be a lot of work for this organization.
Senator Mégie: Thank you.
Senator Forest-Niesing: Thank you for being here, and thank you for this initiative. Obviously, this bill attracts a great deal of positive attention. In general, the bill is being well received. Some of the people who testified earlier expressed concern about the failure to include persons with intellectual disabilities and, more specifically, indigenous peoples. We know that indigenous people with disabilities are the least protected and, very often, the least accommodated at this time. How do you respond to these concerns?
Ms. Qualtrough: I want to assure you and everyone that, first of all, the intellectual disability piece is most definitely included in this bill. There were many individuals both with lived experience and organizations represented, and People First is a good example of that, so absolutely. I don’t want to sound melancholy, but I am saddened to think that they don’t see themselves in this, but I can assure you and them that they are.
With respect to the First Nation engagement, from the beginning ESDC, the government, funded First Nations organizations’ participation in the consultation to ensure that there was ongoing engagement. And as part of our commitment to a nation-to-nation relationship, we heard loud and clear from the AFN in particular that they wanted parallel, stand-alone accessibility legislation that addressed First Nations needs and interests separate from Bill C-81. That doesn’t mean that we weren’t inclusive during the consultation, but the end result is that we were not quite there yet. I think that’s a fair way to say it.
We need to engage First Nation governments and see what that will look like down the road, but we didn’t want to impose anything on First Nations reserve or government that they themselves weren’t full partners in. The best way to describe that is as a work-in-progress.
Senator Forest-Niesing: Thank you. The provinces with accessibility legislation have included deadlines for the creation and implementation of the legislation and for establishing full accessibility. Why was the decision made to not include a deadline in Bill C-81?
Ms. Qualtrough: To be honest, this is one of the more difficult differences of opinion we have had as a disability community in this law and in this whole process. There is a very honest and staunch belief within the community that we need a deadline, that we need to make a declarative statement saying “Canada will be barrier-free by X” or “Canada will be accessible by X.”
There is an equally passionate group of individuals who believe that setting a timeline in the distant future will give people an excuse to wait to take action and also believe that because accessibility is always changing and evolving as a concept, and as technology changes and as we grow in our understanding and evolve around accessibility, we won’t know what a barrier-free Canada looks like.
If we decided in this law to say “by 2030 Canada will be barrier-free,” first of all, I’m not sure we could achieve that, quite frankly. Second, we don’t know what “barrier-free” will mean and look like then.
I heard everyone, and we took in that feedback, and there are still some of us who are agreeing to disagree on this one. While we don’t disagree that we need to work towards a barrier-free Canada, we don’t agree about the need for that deadline.
Instead, we’ve chosen to focus on getting things started. Let’s get the first regulation made within two years. Let’s do a review of the act within five years of the first regulation. Let’s put the board of CASDO in place this summer. Let’s have the space for CASDO. Let’s get things going.
That seemed to be the broader consensus. It certainly ended up being where we landed as a government.
Quite frankly, it’s not necessary legislative practice to create these kinds of statements. We don’t have a criminal code that says we will be crime-free by X date. We don’t have a Human Rights Act that says we will be discrimination-free by this date. I’m not sure other jurisdictions have found it to be beneficial to have these timelines.
Every regulation that is established will have a timeline, so as soon as we have a standard the regulation will say employers have to have this standard in place by X. There will be built-in timelines. Some will be quick because we’re adopting an existing standard. Some will take longer because it’s a more complicated issue.
At the end of the day, after listening to everyone, the decision was not to put that deadline in place. You will hear stakeholders’ opinions that disagree with me and our government, but I assure you it has been thought out and considered. I respect their opinion, and this is where we landed.
Senator Forest-Niesing: Thank you for that answer. It is helpful in my own consideration of that important issue as well.
Senator Oh: Welcome, minister. I am also a supporter of Bill C-81. I believe that the committee can make it a better bill.
According to Statistics Canada, the employment rate of Canadians with disabilities aged 25 to 64 was 59 per cent in 2017, compared with 80 per cent of Canadians without a disability. If we are promoting a barrier-free Canada, why does Bill C-81 only apply to Parliament, federal government and federally regulated private sectors? What about people with disabilities in other sectors of Canada that recruit more people?
Ms. Qualtrough: Thank you, senator, for your question.
Over my time as minister, my biggest concern has been in the area of employment, both because I think that this is a group of Canadians who has so much to offer in terms of innovation, talent and creativity. I think there is an untapped labour pool out there that somebody is going to figure out is worth its weight in gold, because there is so much to offer from our citizens with disabilities to employment.
Employment is definitely one of the seven areas recognized as an area of priority in the bill, and the bill applies to all areas of federal jurisdiction. It doesn’t apply to areas of provincial jurisdiction. Provinces have accessibility legislation. I’m encouraged by the fact that a number of provinces have basically put on hold their intention to create provincial legislation that parallels ours, waiting to see ours and then wanting to create something that’s seamless in terms of the experience for the everyday Canadian.
What you have in Bill C-81 is a precursor to either a national employment strategy for Canadians with disabilities or a more rigorous call to businesses and organizations to shift the conversation from one of sympathy, needs and charity to one of business case and economic benefit.
If I can get into your building, I can work there. If I can shop in your store, I can work there. If I can eat at your restaurant and use the washroom at your restaurant, I can work there. All of those standards will be created through the CASDO.
What we can and are trying to do is provide federal leadership in this area. We are convening what I believe is the first ever — I like to say everything we do is the first ever. We’re having a dedicated meeting of federal, provincial and territorial ministers responsible for accessibility at the end of this month to have these kinds of inter-jurisdictional conversations, because so much of what happens on disability is actually within provincial jurisdiction.
May I give you an example? I know we’re short for time, but it’s an important one.
If you look at the financial service industry, banking is federal and credit unions are provincial, but for the average citizen with a disability walking into either one of these buildings, they wouldn’t necessarily differentiate between section 91 or section 92 of the Constitution. What we want to do is eventually have standards for banks — so ATMs, entrances, customer service counters — that are the same as standards for credit unions. So when I walk or roll in, or however I get into your space, I’m not having to have a different experience from an accessibility point of view. That will require an incredible amount of coordination amongst governments, but I think it’s absolutely achievable.
Senator Oh: Our building codes have really improved a lot regarding accessibility. Will you be working with provinces and advising them on further conditions or improvement?
Ms. Qualtrough: Absolutely. As we develop standards, we’re going to look all around. If there’s a best practice already established in another jurisdiction, we will adopt it or build on it. If we can offer our standards as a best practice to another jurisdiction, we most certainly will and intend to.
Ideally, there will be harmonization amongst jurisdictions to the point where the experience of the citizen will be seamless. That’s definitely my goal and call to action for my provincial and territorial counterparts.
Senator Oh: Thank you.
Senator Poirier: Thank you, minister, for being here and answering our questions.
Your Bill C-81 proposes to create new positions such as the accessibility commissioner, chief accessibility officer, the Canadian accessibility standards development organization, and with that there’s funding of $290 million over a six-year period. Could you please explain to us how much of that funding will be used towards administrative cost? Could you share with the committee what the plans are for the funding and how it will be useful?
Ms. Qualtrough: Thank you. I will ask James to give you the details, but of the $290 million that was allocated, $185.7 has been allocated to establish the new bodies you refer to, with the additional money going to augment existing programs within the Government of Canada.
James Van Raalte, Director General, Employment and Social Development Canada: Thank you, minister. Thank you, senators.
The Canadian accessibility standards development organization will be a total of just over $90 million a year over five years and $21 million ongoing.
The new office of the chief accessibility officer, to which the minister referred, is $14 million over five years and $3.3 million ongoing.
Support for that is the Administrative Tribunal Support Services of Canada, which supports the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal enforcement function is a little over $5 million over five years, or $1.3 million.
The Canadian Transportation Agency’s enhanced powers are $2.5 million over two years. There will then be a review of the CTA and they will be looking at their business practices.
The funding for the Canadian Human Rights Commission has not been finalized or determined by the government at this point.
Senator Poirier: But is it part of the $290 million?
Mr. Van Raalte: It is.
Senator Poirier: Bill C-81 does not include a deadline for achieving full accessibility, compared to the different provincial accessibility legislation, like the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. This act has clear deadlines for full accessibility for Ontarians: on or before January 1, 2025.
Can you explain to us why you have not established a deadline in Bill C-81?
Ms. Qualtrough: Absolutely, senator. As I said, that was a topic of rigorous debate and discussion, and sometimes disagreement, over the course of going through this whole journey with respect to this legislation. Where we landed, as I said, was focusing on getting things started, not imposing a deadline that in any way would disincentivize organizations to get going on this. This was about recognizing that what we consider accessible today will not be good enough 10 years from now and knowing, quite frankly, that we’re a long way off from being accessible or barrier-free.
We concluded that it just wasn’t the best way to get going on this. I don’t know if I could elaborate further. At the end of the day, we felt that setting the requirement that regulations and standards be put in place within two years by each of the regulators and that a review of the law happen within five years of the first regulation coming into force, that we are taking the steps in parallel now to get this thing off the ground and going was the better course of action.
Senator Poirier: Did I understand correctly that there is a commitment to review the act in five years?
Ms. Qualtrough: Yes. In the law itself there is a commitment that within five years of the establishment of the first regulation coming into force, there will be a review of the law. There is a requirement now in the law that the first regulation from each organization be created within two years — effectively a seven-year review at its furthest. That said, if the first regulation comes into effect in the next six months, then the review will be in five years and six months from now.
Senator Moodie: Thank you, Minister Qualtrough, for your presentation today. As a physician and a Canadian, I’m proud that we’re leaders in this space and that this bill is going to take us to the fore in continuing to demonstrate to the rest of the world that Canadians understand the needs of people with disabilities.
My question, though, challenges the bill a bit. The concerns I’m hearing are around the notion that the federal government and various federal agencies will have, with this bill, the sweeping power to exempt organizations from a number of these important accessibility obligations. The government can even exempt itself; is that correct?
Can you speak to the extent to which the federal government and federal agencies can exempt organizations from accessibility obligations, and can you explain why you felt it necessary to exempt organizations from the obligations that are stated in Bill C-81?
Ms. Qualtrough: Thank you for the question, senator. Again, this is not the first time I have heard this concern.
In this legislation we had to balance wanting to encourage innovation — so organizations that are already doing things very, very well — with holding to account organizations that aren’t doing so well. Creating the opportunity for an exemption allows organizations that already have innovative and comparable accessibility practices to what we may create as a standard to get an exemption, because they’re already doing something that effectively has the same end results. At the same time, an organization that may need a little more time to get up to that standard is allowed the opportunity to be granted an exemption for a period of time.
This is not kind of an exclusion or a get-out-of-jail-free card. The reasons for granting the exemption have to be published publicly. It is not as though we are going to exempt you from ever having to be accessible. It is a recognition that, one, your practices are already akin to what is contained in a given standard, or two, you need a little more time to get up to the standard that has been established for a justifiable reason that will be made public and reviewed every three years.
Senator Moodie: So I’m hearing you say that in three years, even if I get an exemption the first go-around, I will be reviewed.
Ms. Qualtrough: Absolutely. The reason is technical.
Mr. Van Raalte: You’d actually have to reapply. It’s not just a review. You have to initiate the fact that —
Ms. Qualtrough: It expires.
Mr. Van Raalte: It expires, and you would have to reapply, justify and demonstrate that you still require an exemption from your perspective. Then there’s still an approval process.
Senator Moodie: Thank you for your answer.
Senator Omidvar: Thank you, minister, for being here. I, too, am really pleased to see this bill. Like all the other senators in the room, I’ve received a barrage of emails of support. I have also heard about some criticism. Since you’re here, I think it’s only fair to get your response to these.
Ms. Qualtrough: Please.
Senator Omidvar: You’ve described the bill as a first or an incremental step. There are critics who say it is unnecessarily timid. I’m going to read a portion of an email that I got that deals with splintering, with a multitude of agencies being responsible for enforcement, regulation-making and overseeing complaints.
So the concern is that the bill’s implementation and enforcement are therefore less effective, it is more confusing, it’s more complicated, it’s more costly, and there is a variability of decision-making and possibly of standards. I hear this when the advocates say that this will make it much harder for people with disabilities to navigate the system, to find out what rights they have and to get violations fixed.
So I understand the no-wrong-door approach, but I also understand that too much of a GPS with variability will make it completely confusing. Could you respond to this criticism?
Ms. Qualtrough: It will be my pleasure. I, too, have maybe received that same email, and maybe more than once.
Senator Omidvar: We all did.
Ms. Qualtrough: If I had a blank piece of paper, and I could design the system of my liking and choosing, it might not look like this. However, we didn’t start out with a blank piece of paper; we started out with a fully functioning, complicated system of federal government that included regulators that were already doing this work — regulators that, to be honest, we didn’t always hear good things about and regulators whose powers we have beefed up.
It became very clear very quickly, as the design of the system started to take hold, that we were in a position of having to potentially pull out from the CTA and CRTC. There are three at play here: the CTA, the CRTC and then the Canadian Human Rights Commission does everything else. In terms of the number of regulators, we’ve got the CTA doing transportation, the CRTC doing telecommunications and broadcasting and then the Human Rights Commission doing everything else. There are three regulators at play here. Taking it out of the CTA or the CRTC would be costly. In some ways, at the end of the day, that wouldn’t recognize the expertise they have built up and that they absolutely can and will improve upon.
However, we heard very concretely — and I’m sure you’ll hear yourselves from the kind of more technically minded regulators that are the CTA and the CRTC — that when you’re designing and responsible for safety — the CTA and airplane seat design comes to mind. The CTA is responsible to design an airplane seat, and the first consideration is safety, of course, and what has to be built into that seat design.
For an outside regulator to come in and say, “Yes, you have to design a seat, but you have to take into consideration all of these accessibility needs,” it was deemed better for the CTA to be the one to include and incorporate accessibility considerations into the design of that seat.
To be very clear, the non-technical aspects of the business of the transportation sector in Canada will be under the purview of the CHRC. So if there’s a customer service standard, an employment standard, built environment standard, those will all be imposed on the VIA Rails, the Air Canadas and the WestJets. The more technical sides of those sectors will be the purview of those specific regulators.
It was a compromise, because I recognize that it makes the system more complicated for the complainant and the end user. That’s why we’ve made the efforts we have, even now. There are committees. The heads of the CTA, the CHRC and the CRTC are already meeting to figure out how they’re going to work together to make sure that from the complainant’s point of view it is seamless, but we know it’s more complicated. It was a sectoral approach that we chose as a compromise, recognizing we weren’t starting from scratch and recognizing the complicated, technical nature of the business in which these two established regulators are in.
I’m confident that there will be bumps along this road, but we will get to a place where whenever someone files a complaint, it will end up where it needs to be, and the chief accessibility officer and the chief accessibility commissioner will make sure of that.
Senator Omidvar: Thank you. I found that answer very helpful. Let me describe another complaint to you. Again, since you’re here.
The Deputy Chair: Sorry to interrupt you, but your time is up. Can I put you on the second round?
Senator Omidvar: Absolutely.
Ms. Qualtrough: That was my fault. I apologize.
Senator Dasko: Minister, thank you for being here. I remember you spent a day with us last fall during the Canada Post bill. It was a gruelling day, but you survived.
Ms. Qualtrough: This is a little more fun.
Senator Dasko: Hopefully, yes. That was a tough day.
I had a couple of questions, one of which was asked by Senator Moodie and the other by Senator Omidvar, but I do have another one. I guess another thing that I’ve heard from some people who think this bill should go farther than it does is related to the federal government’s lack of intention here to take on a stronger role when it comes to direct federal spending on infrastructure projects, or spending in many areas where the federal government funds projects, creates projects and so on. The critique is that it doesn’t go far enough in insisting that barriers are not there when these projects are undertaken. So just at the beginning, I suppose, before federal money is given to these projects, not enough is being done in this bill to ensure that those projects are barrier-free. It’s a critique I’ve heard, and I’d like to hear what you might say about it.
The Deputy Chair: If I could interrupt for one minute, minister, I’ve been told that you have to leave at 25 minutes after. I’m just wondering if you have a few minutes more to give us and then if we could do a lightning round.
Ms. Qualtrough: I can stay. Are the bells ringing in the house? They’re not yet. Yes, I can stay until 5:40. I’m making a ministerial decision.
The Deputy Chair: Wonderful. Thank you.
Ms. Qualtrough: It’s a perk of the job.
The Deputy Chair: That’s wonderful. Thank you. I’ll let you answer Senator Dasko’s question now.
Ms. Qualtrough: At the end of the day, what I would say is we’ve pushed the language in the law as far as we can go while still respecting federal jurisdiction. James is probably better suited to answer the technical part, as to how far we can go, but this will apply to federal policies and federal programs. It won’t apply to financial transfers like the health transfer, because that’s effectively a provincial jurisdiction that we’re helping to fund but it doesn’t give us authority, as I understand it, to actually impose that condition down that far. Maybe I’m not explaining it well. I apologize. It’s jurisdictional.
To be very clear, though, this will transform the Government of Canada in terms of every department and agency will have to have an accessibility plan. We have already established in my office, for example, a centre for accessible procurement, meaning we will have policies and processes. We will not procure things that aren’t accessible.
The Prime Minister has appointed a deputy minister responsible for an accessible public service, whose job it is every day to figure out how we are going to have to be ready and how we will be ready in our government and its employees to adhere to this law.
Could you talk to how far we can go down, please? I can’t remember the language in the law.
Mr. Van Raalte: I think you’ve covered it, minister. Departments will have to be able to report on their programs, policies and services. They will have to do that reporting in consultation with people with disabilities. They are at the table for that. So that will actually give both the government and the public a forward-looking perspective on the plans of those organizations, such as planned spending and program priorities in a forward-looking way that will allow us to have those discussions. You want to be thinking about the accessibility measures included in those investments.
Ms. Qualtrough: Having said that, in terms of what’s in the legislation, we’ve taken a number of steps in parallel to embed accessibility into our new programs and new processes. I’ll give you an example. With the National Housing Strategy or our infrastructure program, accessibility is baked into these initiatives.
A fun example I like to give is around our infrastructure. Transit is a priority for our government. Historically, for whatever reason, whether it be oversight or intention, upgrades with respect to making buses more accessible have not been included as eligible expenses for communities to claim and use infrastructure dollars for. We literally added a box on a piece of paper three years ago where we told communities that they could use this money to make their community buses more accessible. In that one year, $810 million was spent on accessible transit. We didn’t advertise it. We didn’t highlight it anywhere. We changed the form, and communities recognized the value of accessible transit and invested in their communities.
I could give you so many examples, as we’ve pursued this law, of the things that we’ve done in terms of government policy, programs and initiatives to make the way we govern a more accessible experience, both for the people who work in government and the people we serve.
The Deputy Chair: Senator, your time is up, I’m afraid.
Minister, you’re so passionate about this bill, and it’s evident. Thank you.
Senator M. Deacon: Thank you so much to the whole team for being here today.
Minister, congratulations on the degree of consultation across many groups within Canada and certainly ensuring that those with disabilities are involved from the get-go. That is really critical to the success, and having that voice right from the start is to be commended.
There is no question we have much we can learn from other work and experiences related to creating barrier-free environments. From a personal perspective, over the past decade it’s been my job to make sure that all aspects of the AODA in my place of work were implemented by 2025 without additional funds and for about 9,000 employees. I’m sure many have had learnings around this. The built environment, the transportation, while big, massive and complex, were also very visible. In fact, they were the easier and more comfortable ones for people to bite off and chew — complex but easier to do.
When we looked at communication, information, employment and technology, those areas, they’re more invisible. They were more difficult and are still more difficult. One of the big factors that I think comes as no surprise is creating awareness and creating the culture and the change. This is a culture of what people understand, what people are comfortable with and what people have been uncomfortable with for decades. That is a big factor.
One of the things that was a very important part of this Ontario experience, I would say, was creating training that was for all employees regardless of where they were and what roles they played, all 9,000 employees and 60,000 clients and new employees.
As we review and look at Bill C-81, training in itself is not clearly included. I’m wondering why not, what the thinking is or what some of the conversations may have been around that.
Ms. Qualtrough: So my not-so-secret secret plan in this law is the culture change that you are talking about. I think we will look back on this as a “TSN turning point” on disability rights and the way we talk about disability in this country.
We will not be able to do that if we don’t have people well trained to approach the sometimes very big tasks ahead of them that we are asking them to do. We know that. Training isn’t included because it’s more of a horizontal reality. We need to have training in all the areas. It is not a stand-alone. It’s how we just have to prepare communities and businesses and organizations to meet their obligations.
Under the SDPP-D, Social Development Partnerships Program -Disability, organizations will be able to get funding to implement the act. Quite frankly, disability organizations will be able to get funding to do what they do best and what they live every day and inform the development of these plans and inform — and that’s a requirement anyway of the accessibility plans. So we are really conscious of that. It is not baked into the law but it is something we know we need to do to achieve success and put some meat on these bones.
Senator M. Deacon: Thank you. I think when we take a look it might even be some very simple language that makes that clear as folks are working through the bill.
Senator Kutcher: Thank you, minister, for your very clear and well-considered answers to these questions. Our task is to try to assist in making the bill the best it can be. You mentioned one area that I think you suggested we could dive a bit deeper on, and that was the sign language domain. So my question is: Are there any other areas that you or your team —
Ms. Qualtrough: Boy, am I allowed to answer this question?
Senator Kutcher: — would like to highlight as something we could have a more intensive focus on as we study the bill?
Ms. Qualtrough: I think some sort of recognition, as you say, of sign languages as being the first language of Canadians who are Deaf is certainly what we have all heard and you will hear.
Senator Munson asked a question about the duty to accommodate, and perhaps to avoid confusion that could be explicit. I know it is at law and I would suggest case law has already clarified that point, but I think it might be worth exploring.
Nobody usually asks me this question. If there are things that you think can be improved, certainly please explore that. My concern is getting it passed. I think it’s a really good piece of law and I wouldn’t want anything to get in the way of that. Sorry to be so direct. The community has done such good work, and I feel a real heightened obligation to deliver this for them. This is once in a generation, and people have fought for a long time before me to have this conversation nationally.
This is a genie that we are not putting back in the bottle. It’s pretty exciting. Sorry I don’t have further feedback for you, but those two would be at the top of my mind.
The Deputy Chair: We will try to do a quick second round before you have to leave, minister.
Senator Munson: Thank you again, minister. It’s been very enlightening for the last hour.
The penalties, $250,000 — reading it here — per violation per day depending on the severity of the violation. Who will you be penalizing? Are they the corporations? For example, let’s say VIA Rail does not comply.
And how do you penalize departments? Do you say to a department head, deputy minister so and so, “you didn’t live up to it” so we are going to fine the government itself or the person who is running the show? Explain that, please.
Ms. Qualtrough: Thank you. Good question. Amongst the things that we heard was really important to the community was that this bill have teeth. Not only did it create a systemic approach to barrier removal that took the burden off the individual and placed it on the system, but also that when people didn’t comply there were real and significant consequences — that it have teeth. I think I heard, “This must have teeth,” more than anything else. And so that’s what that is. That’s the “teeth.”
There is a process that will be undertaken in order to try to get people to compliance. It’s not that we want to penalize and fine everybody, but government departments would absolutely be fined in the same way, I would assume, as Via Rail or my own department for non-compliance. The idea being to incentivize people to comply but understanding that there are financial and other consequences to non-compliance.
May I add something on the duty to accommodate piece? It’s really important and something I’m kind of obsessed with. We need to make it very clear to Canadians that this is a really important ,legally enshrined tenet of human rights law in this country. Nothing we are doing here takes away any organization’s obligation to accommodate individuals. In some cases, a small business who has complied with the standard might say, “We have complied,” and that might meet their duty to accommodate, but the Government of Canada might not. We need to be very clear, and I need it on the record from me so I can sleep tonight, that this does not in any way negate any organization’s obligation to accommodate individuals on the grounds of disability.
Senator Munson: Thank you.
The Deputy Chair: We have three minutes left and I have four senators who want a second round. Remember that the officials will remain and can answer some of your questions.
Senator Forest-Niesing: I have a question that has to do with the same line of questioning as Senator Munson, but I might defer and allow my colleagues to ask questions. I can wait for the second hour. Thank you.
Senator Eaton: Minister, is there another country that does this better than we are going to? Is there another country that is an example to us?
Ms. Qualtrough: Our neighbour to the south has the Americans with Disabilities Act, which has an anti-discrimination component, which would be covered off in our country by the human rights legislation, and an accessibility standards component. We have spent a lot of time looking at their model. It’s obviously a differently structured country, federal state.
What I’m hoping for, because at heart I’m a competitive athlete, is that this becomes the international standard that has built upon what other countries have been doing. The States has been doing it for 30 years, but I would like to believe ours will be better.
Senator Eaton: Thank you.
Senator Omidvar: Very quickly, you have talked about the fact that there is a timeline, that within two years agencies have to enact one regulation. However, what is the quality of that regulation? Is there a concern that it could be an inconsequential one, a minor procedural matter without actually embracing the spirit of what you are trying to propose?
Ms. Qualtrough: I don’t think the law provides the safeguard that you are asking about. What I do think, though, is that CASDO is that safeguard. Having CASDO created with a board of directors with a majority of individuals with lived experience, they get to decide which regulations take priority and what comes first and what comes second and who does what and what the priorities are. That group of individuals will be tasked with making sure there are substantive regulations in place as quickly as possible, based on their agreed-upon priorities.
Senator Omidvar: Thank you.
The Deputy Chair: I think we have just about run the clock. I would like to say thank you, minister, very much for appearing before us today and answering our questions so fully and with such great passion.
Ms. Qualtrough: Thank you for the invitation. I had the pleasure today of spending time at lunch with the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities. To tell you that the world is watching is an understatement. She is thrilled by our efforts, and I want to thank you for continuing with rigour the effort to make this the best law possible.
In an hour and a half I’m before the Senate Finance Committee on Phoenix if anybody wants to come. I’m just saying this is definitely going to be — no offence — the highlight. Thank you all very much.
The Deputy Chair: Thank you. We will now suspend the meeting for five minutes and we will continue with questions to the officials from the Accessibility Secretariat.
As we continue our study of Bill C-81, officials from the Accessibility Secretariat of Employment and Social Development Canada are at the witness table. We will continue with questions.
I suppose you don’t have a presentation now; you’re just going to answer questions. We will begin, then.
Senator Mégie: With regard to communication, we talked about sign language earlier. However, we haven’t talked about Braille annotations. Does your plan include Braille?
Mr. Van Raalte: Thank you for the question. Braille is considered an alternate format in terms of both a communication tool and an information tool.
From a communication standard perspective, CASDO could incorporate requirements around the use of Braille going forward. The other part of the legislation that is explicit is around the accessibility plans required to be available in alternate format. By request, people who use Braille can request those publications in that format.
Senator Mégie: Will advanced technology replace Braille? People who communicate in Braille can use the Internet through Bell Canada, in Quebec. Do you think that technology could take over?
Mr. Van Raalte: That is a very good indication of the need for enabling legislation and a standard-development process to be able to keep apace with technology advancement. There is a wealth of alternate formats and format technologies available to overcome many functional limitations and many disabilities. The framework part of the legislation will allow CASDO and the regulators to take that into consideration on a go-forward basis.
Senator Mégie: Thank you.
Senator Munson: Thank you very much for staying. I would like to pursue the penalties business again, because I’m glad to hear that department heads or whomever would be penalized, but where is the money coming from? When you pay, let’s say, a $20,000 fine because you didn’t comply, whose money is it? It’s certainly not going to come out of your pocket if you didn’t comply.
Mr. Van Raalte: Let’s use my department as an example, because I can pick on myself. Let’s say at ESDC there has been a complaint and a substantiation of that complaint and it is severe enough that, from a compliance perspective, the regulator says they are going to apply an administrative monetary penalty. The deputy minister of my department would be responsible for that compliance infraction, and the department would pay that fine into the Consolidated Revenue Fund out of the departmental reference level.
Senator Munson: Out of your own budget, basically. The other way around on the complainant, could you walk us through the compensation? The word that is being used is “could,” not “would.” For example, the complainant could be awarded compensation for lost wages, additional costs and so on and so forth. Could you walk us through that?
It says here:
The maximum amount that could be awarded for each of pain and suffering and wilful and reckless practice would initially be set at $20,000.
Could you walk us through that a bit? The word I have here is “could” but not “would.”
Mr. Van Raalte: Thank you for the question. The “could” is that the complainant has to demonstrate the harm or the impact on the individual, so they could seek that compensation. They could be considered in that compensation.
That’s a principle in administrative law that the legislation reflects in terms of both rights and responsibilities on the part of the complainant and the respondent.
Senator Munson: We talk about timelines and not having timelines. When we take a look at Centre Block and the lack of accessibility that has been in that place since 1916 or whatever the case may be, is it in the plan under the accessible Canada act to focus in on our own backyard of showcasing a new Centre Block that will be accessible and barrier-free? As the minister said, it’s hard to predict what will happen in two years. We don’t know what will be taking place in 10 or 12 years.
In terms of your consultation, I assume Public Works must be part of this whole process, right?
Mr. Van Raalte: Thank you for the question, senator. I will ground my answer in the legislation around the accessibility plans.
Every regulated entity — and that will include entities of Parliament: the Senate, the House of Commons, the Usher of the Black Rod — will be required under the legislation to submit accessibility plans which are forward-looking. Those accessibility plans will have to be updated on a regular basis. We will prescribe that in regulation. They will have to be developed in consultation directly with people with disabilities so that their input is grounded in those plans, and then there is a legislative requirement for regular reporting against those plans.
Both in working with the Public Works officials who support Parliament in terms of your built environment but also from your organizations as sovereign members of Parliament, you will be bound by that part of the legislation to have those discussions about that forward-looking plan for all of your activities, including Centre Block.
Senator Munson: What was not mentioned in earlier testimony because of time is the that CASDO board would be setting standards, and the majority of members of the CASDO board will be coming from the disability community. I applaud the government for that. I think it’s unique. I know they wanted more than just one over the majority, but I think the disability community is willing to live with that. I think that that, in a way, is a first; am I correct on that?
Mr. Van Raalte: You are correct, senator. This will be the first federal institution that will be governed by a majority of persons with disabilities, legislated.
Senator Munson: It is extremely important, so thank you.
Senator Forest-Niesing: I would like to come back to the subject of penalties. Under Part 6, there are prescribed penalties for the benefit of the person who was affected by the disregard for the accessibility provisions. My notes are in front of me. I’ll translate as I go: A compensation for all or a fraction of the loss of salary; expenses resulting from the breach; and pain and suffering, which in and of itself is always hard to measure. Those are the teeth, as Minister Qualtrough was indicating to us.
Was any thought given to a penalty that would, in addition to all of that, compensate for the time and energy spent in the process? The road to a final determination and to the imposition of those penalties is a long one, and along that journey, time, energy, pain and suffering might occur. Is that contemplated in the penalties portion at the end of the process, or are there measures in place to accompany an individual as they journey through toward an ultimate result?
Mr. Van Raalte: If I may, senator, I have two parts to answer that question, and part of it is to expand upon the process.
The complaint process, in terms of complaint against compliance of an accessibility regulation, is expected to be much more expeditious than a human rights discrimination complaint. However the test of compliance with a regulation versus whether or not someone experienced discrimination and how that was brought about, even from administrative law perspective, is built into the system in terms of the expeditious nature of the new enforcement body and the accessibility commissioner.
I recognize that it will still take time. The ability for the enforcement agency to recognize and award compensation would take into account that timeline. There can be a difference of opinion around the $20,000 cap, of course, but that is based on precedent across a number of enforcement requirements within the federal jurisdiction.
Senator Forest-Niesing: Thank you.
Senator Oh: Thank you very much for being here.
When I travel, I find that Canada is such a great country. We look after disabled people here. Do we keep statistics? What is the number of this population, and how do you distribute the allocation of funding to each province? Does it depend on the number of the disability population, or how do you do it?
Mr. Van Raalte: There are two parts to the question, senator. First, the Government of Canada funds a postcensal survey. A year after each census, there is the Canadian Survey on Disability. The survey was undertaken in 2017, and the first set of statistics was released last International Day of Persons with Disabilities, on December 3.
That is an important instrument for us in terms of the evidence base for future policy development work. It is a rich survey instrument. Statistics Canada will be releasing more information as they delve into that data, which will help us do our work.
Second, there is no transfer to provinces and territories that is at writ large based on persons with disabilities. There are different mechanisms.
I’ll give you an example: The government has a new Workforce Development Agreements framework with provinces and territories. Within that is a recognition of supporting persons with disabilities in their employment opportunities. That’s based on a per capita population basis for each province and territory, but there isn’t an overall transfer to the provinces and territories just based on the support of persons with disabilities.
Senator Oh: I want to say thank you very much. All of you have done a great job, even the politicians before us, and to see the architecture and the engineering for the buildings, that’s a super job that you’ve been doing.
Mr. Van Raalte: Thank you, senator.
Senator Omidvar: It’s a small question, but one I’m trying to find an answer to. The minister talked at great length about the development of accessibility plans by agencies covered by the act. I understand that there are feedback processes that are built in. In this upper chamber we pass a fair amount of legislation, but I’m always worried about whether it is really implemented. How will you make sure that the regulations are not just posted and feedback processes are implemented, but that they are, in fact, implemented?
Mr. Van Raalte: Specifically to the legislative requirements, and then there will be regulatory requirements for accessibility plans and feedback mechanisms, those requirements are a public accountability requirement. They are not an accountability to government requirement. We wanted those publications to be for everybody.
So conversely, if I can give you an example, when regulated businesses file their employment equity reports, they file them with the labour program and, to be blunt, nobody really ever sees them. There’s a summary report done and published by labour Canada.
There is a requirement that these accessibility plans will be published publicly, available in alternate formats as I mentioned earlier, for the public to hold the organizations to account. There is a requirement that when they are published, that the accessibility commissioner is informed of those publications. It is proposed that the new accessibility commissioner will be able to use the accessibility plans to develop their compliance framework. What are we seeing in those accessibility reports about where there may be weakness in the system and maybe we should be proactive and go out and help organizations ensure they are being compliant with the regulations?
The other part that will be important in that accountability mechanism, as I have said, is the required duty to consult, so people with disabilities have to be involved in the development of those plans. The plans have to actually be accountable on how that consultation took place. You can’t just tick a box and say, “We consulted.” They actually have to describe the depth and the scope of that consultation. Again, an accountability mechanism is built into the legislation to be able to say that’s accurate or that’s not accurate.
Senator Omidvar: The minister also spoke to her rationale for why timelines were not included in the act. Is it possible, though, that when the different agencies develop their accessibility plans that they put their own timelines and publish that? Is it likely or possible?
Mr. Van Raalte: Individual organizations?
Senator Omidvar: Individual agencies.
Mr. Van Raalte: There are a couple of places where there will be timelines, as the minister referenced. So as we move forward with regulations, we will put timelines in terms of when we expect organizations to be in compliance with those regulations. Traditionally, it depends on the complexity of the regulation, but traditionally you might give an organization a year to be in compliance. It may be two years; it may be three years. We’re looking at the models that Ontario has built. It could be that you have to be in compliance the day that the regulations are published, and that will be part of the consultation process.
In terms of the forward-looking accessibility plans, you certainly would encourage those organizations to make those commitments, above and beyond the regulations, right? You could envision an organization saying: We want to be the transportation leader in accessibility in Canada, this is how we’re going to do it, this is when we’re going to do it by, and you can hold us to account as a customer in terms of those obligations or commitments we’re making.
I think the minister spoke of culture change. There is a real opportunity, and we will work with the disability community on this as we develop the regulations for those accessibility plans. But those plans are the first instrument for changing conversations within organizations around what accessibility means and what their commitment is on a go-forward basis to accessibility.
Senator Omidvar: I want to ask for further elaboration on clause 15, which is the clause that will deal with the collection of data. I think that’s really important. The data will be used. It will be used by different agencies to inform the development of their plans. Do you believe that the data could also be used, and will be used, at a macro level to inform the government about what changes may be required, what’s coming down the pipeline? I mean, there are trends that are overtaking us even as we speak now.
Mr. Van Raalte: I do, senator. My organization, this gentleman, is charged with the development with Statistics Canada, of the data and measurement strategy, and that work is well under way. We see there being a number of sources of data in terms of the performance of this legislation. I mentioned the survey on disability, the postcensal survey. We are going into the field later in May or June with our very first public opinion research that was developed with the disability community, and I want to take this opportunity to thank them for their rigour and holding us to account on getting that right from their perspective. It’s been a good and rigorous process in terms of making that survey instrument as accessible and available as possible to the broadest population.
Then the accessibility plans themselves will be a wealth of data, both qualitative and quantitative, in terms of whether the system is working, how it can be improved and what we need to be doing on a go-forward basis.
Senator Omidvar: You’re with the Public Works?
Mr. Van Raalte: No, Employment and Social Development Canada, senator.
Senator Omidvar: What percentage of your employees comes from the disability community?
Mr. Van Raalte: In terms of my organization or the department as a whole? I can start with our organization, because we know we lead by example within the department and within Government of Canada. It’s actually easier to say, senator, that everybody on the floor has a duty to accommodate and then work backwards and eliminate how many don’t. The vast majority of people on the floor either has a lived experience or have a family member who has a lived experience, which is also very important to informing our work.
I will get back to you and the committee on the percentage of persons with disabilities within the department.
Senator Dasko: Being a researcher by profession and having also served on Statistics Canada’s social conditions advisory committee for many years, although not recently, just with regard to the StatsCan 2017 survey, there had been a lot of research issues in measuring incidents of disability over the years. On one survey you would get X per cent, on another survey you would get Y per cent, and so on. I also hear that there was some division of opinion about the measures used in this survey.
Can anybody in your team just describe the way disability is measured in the survey? It’s important to understand how we arrive at the number of people in Canada who have various disabilities. So I wonder if you could just enlighten us on how it was measured and what the components are of the measurement of disability.
Mr. Van Raalte: That’s not my area of expertise. There’s quite a bit of debate about scope and definition.
Senator Dasko: Yes.
Mr. Van Raalte: I will commit to coming back to you with a written response on that, senator.
Senator Dasko: Okay.
Mr. Van Raalte: We’ll need to work with Statistics Canada on that.
Senator Dasko: Okay. Thank you.
The Deputy Chair: Thank you. We have no more questions, I see.
Once again, I’d like to say thank you to Minister Qualtrough and to each of you, the officials from Accessibility Secretariat, for your extended participation here today.
Honourable senators, tomorrow we will hear from Sukh Dhaliwal, member of Parliament for Surrey-Newton, the sponsor of Bill C-376, An Act to designate the month of April as Sikh Heritage Month. We will also hear from Senator Sabi Marwah, who is sponsoring the bill in the Senate. After that we will conclude our review of Bill C-376 as well as Bill C-252.
If there’s no other business, honourable senators, this meeting is adjourned.
(The committee adjourned.)