THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON SOCIAL AFFAIRS, SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
OTTAWA, Wednesday, April 10, 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 Chantal Petitclerc (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Welcome to the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology.
My name is Chantal Petitclerc, I am a senator from Quebec, and I am pleased to be presiding over today’s meeting.
Before we give the floor to our witnesses, I would invite my colleagues to please introduce themselves.
Senator Seidman: Judith G. Seidman, Montreal, Quebec.
Senator Poirier: Rose-Marie Poirier, New Brunswick.
Senator Eaton: Nicole Eaton, Toronto, Ontario.
Senator Forest-Niesing: Josée Forest-Niesing, Sudbury, Ontario.
Senator Mégie: Marie-Françoise Mégie, Quebec.
Senator Manning: Fabian Manning, Newfoundland and Labrador.
Senator M. Deacon: Colin Deacon, Nova Scotia.
Senator Dasko: Donna Dasko, Ontario.
Senator Munson: Jim Munson, Ontario.
The Chair: Thank you very much. Today we are continuing our study on Bill C-81, An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada.
Before we proceed with this very important study, I would like my colleagues to allow me to take a moment to say a few words on the passing of the Honourable Wilbert Keon.
I did not have the privilege to know him, but for many of us Wilbert Keon was a world-renowned heart surgeon and founder of the University of Ottawa Heart Institute. Also, he was a former deputy chair of this committee and, as I know and as I have heard, a well-respected colleague and friend of many.
Senator Keon, as you may know, also served as chair of the Subcommittee on Population Health which tabled a substantive report in 2009 with a road map for Canada to develop and implement a comprehensive population health policy.
On behalf of this committee, I express our deepest sympathies to his wife Anne, their three children, eight grandchildren, friends and colleagues.
To begin this meeting, I would like to introduce our witnesses.
We are welcoming: from the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission, Christianne Laizner, Vice-Chairperson, Telecommunications; from the Canadian Human Rights Commission, Marie-Claude Landry, Chief Commissioner; from the Public Service Labour Relations and Employment Board, Catherine Ebbs, Chairperson; and, finally, from the Canadian Transportation Agency, Scott Streiner, Chair and Chief Executive Officer.
We have four witnesses on the first panel, which is quite unusual for this committee, but we wanted to ensure that we hear from as many voices as we can, given the time we have to study this bill in committee.
I ask for cooperation from everyone to stay on track with time to give everyone a chance to speak.
We will begin the opening statements by Ms. Laizner, followed by Ms. Landry, Mr. Streiner and Ms. Ebbs.
Christianne Laizner, Vice-Chairperson, Telecommunications, Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission: Madam Chair, thank you for this opportunity to participate in the committee’s review of Bill C 81, An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada. As the chair said, my name is Christianne Laizner, and I am the Vice-Chair of Telecommunications at the CRTC.
The CRTC believes that a person’s ability to participate meaningfully in society is directly linked to his or her ability to access communications services. During the last three decades, the CRTC has adopted a series of regulatory policies to ensure that all Canadians can access communications services. We have updated these policies as new technologies and resources became available.
In the mid-1980s, the CRTC began to mandate teletypewriter relay services for Canadians, or TTY, to remove communications barriers within the telephone system.
In 2009, the requirement was expanded to include the provision of Internet protocol relay services, or IP relay, and five years later the provision of video relay service, which allowed for sign language access to voice communications. Thanks to a CRTC decision in 2013, text messaging with 911 service is currently mandated.
Accessibility requirements for broadcasters have followed a similar evolution. Initially, broadcasters were required to close caption only a percentage of programming. Today, all English and French programming must be closed captioned.
In 2009, the CRTC began to require that broadcasters provide described video services for four hours a week.
We are proud to say that our work has garnered international attention, particularly for innovation. This week, the CRTC is presenting Canada’s video relay service at the World Summit on the Information Society in Geneva at the request of the International Telecommunications Union.
The CRTC has also established mandatory codes of conduct, such as the Wireless Code and the Television Service Provide Code, to facilitate interactions with service providers. These codes ensure that contracts and bills are available in accessible formats and extend trial periods to ensure that cellphones and services meet individual needs.
To explore whether a similar code of conduct should be established for Internet service providers, the CRTC is currently holding a proceeding that included public consultations. The record of that proceeding includes proposals that, if adopted, could establish similar protections for Internet subscribers. A decision regarding an Internet code is expected in the next few months.
I should mention that the CRTC has a number of tools at its disposal to ensure compliance with regulatory obligations, including monetary penalties in certain situations.
Recently, the CRTC published a report which concluded that Canadians were subjected to an unacceptable degree of misleading or aggressive sales practices in the communications marketplace. We found that these types of sales practices have a particularly harmful impact on Canadians who are vulnerable due to a disability, their age or their first language. We are considering a number of measures to further empower consumers and ensure their fair treatment by service providers.
To develop regulatory policies, the CRTC consults with Canadians, including those with disabilities, along with service providers and other stakeholders by holding open, public proceedings. The input of Canadians with disabilities is crucial to developing effective accessibility policies. We adhere to the principle of “nothing about us without us.”
In removing barriers to communications, the CRTC website presents key content in ASL, American Sign Language, and LSQ, Langue des signes du Québec.
Concerning the LSQ, the Quebec sign language, the bill envisions a system where the complaints of Canadians with disabilities are dealt with effectively and expeditiously, regardless of whether they are addressed to the CRTC, the Canadian Transportation Agency, the Canadian Human Rights Commission, the Federal Public Service Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board, or the accessibility commissioner, whose office would be created by this act.
The Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer of the CRTC is committed to making this “no wrong door” collaborative framework work for people with disabilities.
Canada’s communication system is vital to the economic and social prosperity of all Canadians, but we know that communications is an industry characterized by innovation and constant change. This can unintentionally create barriers to the inclusion of people with disabilities. The CRTC welcomes the proactive approach proposed by Bill C-81 that will strengthen our mandate and build upon our accomplishments.
Marie-Claude Landry, Chief Commissioner, Canadian Human Rights Commission: Good afternoon, and thank you for inviting the Canadian Human Rights Commission to participate in your study of Bill C-81.
We bring three main messages to the committee today. First, Bill C-81 has the full support of the Canadian Human Rights Commission. As you know, we are Canada’s federal human rights watchdog and an independent agency reporting to Parliament.
Our mission is to promote and protect human rights in Canada to ensure that every person in Canada can live the life they choose, free form discrimination. Bill C-81 has the potential to bring Canada closer to that vision.
When I appeared before the House of Commons standing committee last October, I told them that the commission welcomes this bill, that we support it, and that we want to see it go forward without delay. We still feel that way.
We had outlined key recommendations that we believed would help make the bill even more inclusive. We are pleased that some of those recommendations have been integrated.
We are encouraged that Bill C-81 is applying a broad, human rights based approach to accessibility. It recognizes that a barrier-free Canada is not just about our physical spaces. It is also about technology, employment opportunities and the social attitudes and stigma that prevent people with intellectual, cognitive and physical disabilities from fully participating in society.
These are some of the reasons why Bill C-81 has the full support of the Canadian Human Rights Commission. We hope for its swift passage.
My second message is that equally urgent to the passing of this bill will be the swift adoption of regulations to support it.
This law has been a long time coming and decades in the making. We join the thousands across Canada who are eager to see it come into force, but this historic law will be meaningless without a set of clear regulations that will transform mere intentions into actions.
We call on this government to move quickly toward the regulatory process. We will welcome the opportunity to lend our expertise to help ensure the application of this law is broad and far reaching.
In the meantime, we have already begun to work. That is my third message. We are already preparing for implementation.
As you know, once passed, Bill C-81 will bring expanded roles and responsibilities to the Canadian Human Rights Commission. We welcome these new responsibilities and are already taking steps to get our house in order.
We have also begun to engage with the other four members of the Council of Heads of Federal Accessibility Agencies: the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, the Canadian Transportation Agency, and the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.
Together, we are exploring a “no wrong door” approach to ensure that we are all getting it right and making Canada barrier free for all.
In conclusion, this bill has the full backing of the commission. We are eager to lend our expertise to discussions about next steps, regulations and full implementation. Throughout it all, we trust that the voices of persons with disabilities will continue to be heard so that this historic law can reflect the diversity of the people it is meant to serve and protect.
I look forward to answering your questions.
Scott Streiner, Chair and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Transportation Agency: It is a pleasure to be here today to briefly explain the accessibility-related mandate and activities of the Canadian Transportation Agency and to respond to the questions of the committee.
The Canadian Transportation Agency, the CTA, is Canada’s longest-standing independent tribunal and regulator. We have been around since 1904. Our accessible transportation responsibilities date back to 1988 and today constitute one of our three core mandates.
Canadians use transportation services to get to work, to see family, to do business, to enjoy travel, to go to school or to get medical treatment. To the greatest extent possible, transportation services need to be available and easy to use for persons with disabilities in the same way as for persons without disabilities. Access to transportation services is not a privilege; it is a human right.
The CTA’s vision is for Canada’s national transportation system to be the most accessible in the world. We know that’s an ambitious vision, but we believe that in a country with fundamental values including human equality, dignity and inclusion, we should strive for nothing less. We at the CTA are taking concrete action to turn that vision into reality.
On March 11, draft accessible transportation for persons with disabilities regulations were prepublished in Canada Gazette, Part I. These regulations were developed by the CTA over a two-year period of consultations with disability rights groups, industry and other interested Canadians. These new regulations will modernize and integrate two existing regulations and six voluntary codes of practice into a single, robust and enforceable regulation. Coincidentally, the public comment period on these regulations concludes today.
The CTA aims to review all of the feedback we’ve received, adjust the draft regulations as appropriate and have them published in Canada Gazette, Part II, before the summer. Their finalization will mark a major step forward for travellers with disabilities.
But domestic regulatory reform, although essential, is not enough. Complementing these efforts is work we have undertaken, in concert with Transport Canada and Global Affairs Canada, to advance discussion of accessibility practices at the International Civil Aviation Organization. Air transportation, by its nature, often crosses borders, so it is in the interests of both Canadians with disabilities and Canadian airlines that the approaches to accessible air travel be as consistent as possible around the world.
We’ve also convened a multi-stakeholder working group to examine how, beyond regulatory requirements, we could address challenges around the storage and transportation of mobility devices on airplanes. These challenges are growing as mobility aids become larger and more technologically advanced. That multi-stakeholder working group has representatives from the disability rights community, airlines, airplane manufacturers, mobility aid manufacturers, ground handlers, and governments from Canada and abroad. We are looking forward to receiving their recommendations later this year.
Finally, the CTA is getting ready to implement Bill C-81, the proposed Accessible Canada Act, if and when it is passed by both houses of Parliament and receives royal assent. The act would give us new tools to help advance the accessibility of the national transportation system, including extended investigation powers, the ability to order compensation for pain and suffering, as well as expenses incurred, and the authority to set up a participant funding program.
As my colleagues have noted, the CTA is collaborating closely with the organizations represented here today and the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. All of us will be responsible in different ways for investigating and adjudicating accessibility-related complaints. We are committed to ensuring well-aligned approaches and a “no wrong door” experience for persons with disabilities who want to bring forward complaints.
As my colleague from the CHRC noted, we’ve already established the Council of Heads of Federal Accessibility Agencies to drive and guide our collaboration together. We’ve also set up several working groups. We are collectively committed to ensuring smooth and effective implementation of this bill, should it be adopted.
Thank you for inviting today. We look forward to answering your questions.
Catherine Ebbs, Chairperson, Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board: Good afternoon, and thank you for your invitation to be here today to speak about the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board.
The board has jurisdiction over labour relations, grievance adjudication and staffing matters involving federal public sector and parliamentary employees. Its mandate is sourced in an extensive assortment of statutes and associated regulations, including the Canadian Human Rights Act. The statutes that the board administers affect over 237,000 federal public sector employees.
The board applies a variety of approaches to the resolution of disputes. As an independent quasi-judicial statutory tribunal, the board operates like a court and conducts adversarial hearings, but most matters do not go to a hearing. A variety of case management tools and other dispute resolution mechanisms, such as mediation, are used to move cases toward resolution. The board is committed to resolving disputes impartially and fairly, and to contributing to a productive and efficient workplace for the federal government, its employees and their bargaining agents.
Before I talk about Bill C-81, I would like to highlight a specific aspect of our mandate that is very important today. When handling grievances and staffing complaints submitted by federal public sector employees, the board must often focus on issues related to human rights and apply the discrimination provisions of the Canadian Human Rights Act. Disability is one of the prohibited grounds established in that legislation.
Bill C-81 provides that the regulations will be adopted to establish accessibility standards. Individuals who suffer physical or psychological harm, property damage or economic loss, or who are otherwise adversely affected by a contravention of a provision of these regulations, will have recourse under this act.
Bill C-81 sets out a general recourse mechanism that involves the accessibility commissioner. However, an exception is created with respect to federal public sector employees and parliamentary employees. They will have the right to present and refer accessibility grievances to the board. There is an obligation to ensure that the accessibility commissioner is notified of an accessibility grievance.
Similarly, with internal staffing matters in the federal public service, employees will be able to raise contraventions to the ACA regulations. The board will be entitled to interpret and apply the ACA in determining if the complaint is substantiated. There will be an obligation to notify the accessibility commissioner of the presentation of a complaint.
In addition to dealing with accessibility grievances, the board will hear appeals of decisions by the accessibility commissioner concerning parliamentary staff that do not have recourse under the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act. The board will also hear appeals of decisions by the accessibility commissioner about complaints related to accessibility standards and parliamentary institutions from members of the public. The appeal function presents a new procedural framework for the board.
Critical to the successful implementation of the ACA is the obligation to collaborate, which has already been mentioned by my colleagues at the table. In part, this duty requires each agency engaged in the administration of the act to ensure an open door to access the appropriate forum. Part of a deeper discussion about access to justice, this principle requires agencies with a mandate under this framework to ensure that nobody gets left behind in the implementation of the legislation. The board is committed to collaborating with our partners to ensure that sound systems are in place to allow individuals to access recourse in the appropriate forum.
I have met with my colleagues, and we are continuing to meet. I am committed to ensuring that this principle is firmly entrenched within the board itself and among each agency.
In conclusion, the board will be honoured to administer the proposed additional mandates, once passed, to ensure that the board and Canadian society can succeed in its objective of ensuring a barrier-free Canada for all Canadians.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today.
The Chair: Thank you very much. Before we begin the question period, I would like to point out that the witnesses are accompanied by a team of experts, who will be invited to approach the table to provide clarifications as needed.
I would like to remind my colleagues that we have five minutes for questions and answers. Because we have many witnesses today, please direct the question to whomever you want to answer it.
Senator Seidman: Thank you very much for your presentations. I would like to direct my question to you, Ms. Laizner from the CRTC, and to you, Mr. Streiner from the CTA. If we have time, perhaps Ms. Ebbs or Ms. Landry might comment.
The Council of Canadians with Disabilities asked the ARCH Disability Law Centre to coordinate a group of disability rights lawyers from across Canada to develop a legal analysis of Bill C-81. In their final report, which I have in front of me, published on October 1, 2018, the ARCH Disability Law Centre, in particular, pointed out that:
Members of the CTA and CRTC are appointed for their technical expertise and are often from within industry. As a result, it was felt that these agencies may have subject matter expertise but they do not have expertise in disability, accessibility and human rights, . . . .
What are your thoughts on this, and how will you ensure that accessibility standards are developed through a disability lens?
Ms. Laizner: I would like to advise the committee that we have a social and consumer policy branch within the commission. Its mandate is to advance the interests of all Canadians and, in particular, Canadians who have accessibility needs. We have experts, engineers, costing experts and persons with disabilities. This whole group is important because when you’re developing standards for closed captioning or described video, we call upon that expertise.
We also call upon the persons and organizations that we regulate, and the persons that benefit from that regulation, to collaborate in our public proceedings in developing these standards.
On the telecommunications side, we have an emergency services working group composed of experts that have worked together on things like text to 911. In our next generation, 911 policy we want to have a real time texting so that a person can text a 911 operator who can read the text in real time without pressing a send button.
We have the CRTC Interconnection Steering Committee on the telecom side that works with broadcasters and telecommunications companies on standards for things like 911. On the broadcasting side, we have collaborative efforts as well. We have a working group right now that includes the closed captioning programmers, the closed captioners themselves, the broadcasters and the persons who use closed captioning to work on problems with closed captioning and develop those standards.
Senator Seidman: You’re saying, from your point of view, that this doesn’t present a problem. You have the ability.
Ms. Laizner: No.
Mr. Streiner: I’ll quickly go to the direct answer to your question. I do not believe we have an issue, but I have a couple of points in that regard.
First, the specific quote you offered is in respect of members. I should note that the members of the CTA, as I believe are all of the members and commissioners of these different organizations, are appointed by cabinet. As the chairs and the senior officials of these organizations, we don’t directly control the appointment of those members.
In a process run last year to select many of the current slate of members of the CTA, I can tell you that human rights expertise and accessibility-related expertise were part of the process. They were considered.
I can also say that we apply a human rights lens, when looking at our own jurisprudence and the jurisprudence from the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal and the courts, in order to make decisions in disability cases.
In addition, we have an internal centre of expertise for accessible transportation. Three years ago, we established within the CTA a new centre of expertise. This group is devoted exclusively, and in a very focused way, to issues around accessibility. That’s the group that consulted on and developed the new regulations I referenced in my remarks.
Finally, as part of our governance, we have an accessibility advisory committee, a committee comprised of representatives of both the disability rights community and industry with whom my fellow members and I meet at least once a year.
Ms. Landry: The Canadian Human Rights Commission really believes that Canadian human rights and accessibility standards should be everyone’s business and not just the business of the Canadian Human Rights Commission. We believe that problems should be resolved quickly and easily when they happen. This sectoral approach recognizes technical expertise but, as I mentioned, each and every one of us are responsible for ensuring that we have a human rights lens on problems that need to be addressed.
Senator Munson: Thanks for being here. As a sponsor of the bill, obviously I support the bill. I can’t help, given my past, to ask a couple of questions. The mantra is “no wrong door”, but in some of the advocacy groups there are too many doors to try to walk through to address issues. Some of the advocacy groups are talking about confusing, complicated and costly. Others have said it’s wrong to have this bill give exclusive powers to CTA, CRTC and so on.
I am just curious about what will change. I want to keep it simple if I can. What will be the changes for a person with a disability on the day after or the few days after this bill becomes law? I want this bill to become law, but there could be amendments to make it a better bill.
If you were a person with a disability watching this hearing today, I think you would be saying to yourself, “Okay, barrier-free Canada, very good, but what is in it for me at the end of the day? Where is my fast and efficient justice in terms of complaints?” Obviously there was something wrong before, or we wouldn’t have this bill today.
From whoever wants to take it, I would appreciate an answer.
Ms. Ebbs: Who wants to go first?
Mr. Streiner: Collaborate.
Ms. Ebbs: Well, our area in relation to the accessibility legislation is with federal public sector employees. It will be interesting for federal public sector employees, if and when this bill comes into law. At the present time, if a disabled federal public sector employee seeks accommodation and is not satisfied with the response of the employer, he or she can present a grievance that goes through the departmental chain. Then, if it’s still an ongoing issue, it can be referred to the board.
In terms of a grievance under the Canadian Human Rights Act, the griever has a lot to explain to us. They have to explain that they have a disability. They have to explain that this is what they wanted as accommodation, and this is what the employer didn’t do that they think should have been done.
With the accessibility legislation and the emphasis on barriers and creating standards, that same disabled public servant will now have the standard as proof, which will make their job easier in terms of explaining what happened and why they felt that the employer was not respecting what they were legally entitled to. This disabled person who wanted accommodation would just have to rely on the standard and say they didn’t meet the standard. That’s something that changes for federal public sector employees in a positive way.
Senator Munson: Is it in a timely way?
Ms. Ebbs: In a timely way.
Senator Munson: Things drag out in this town; decisions take a long time. I have only learned that after 15 years in the Senate. If there is to be justice and if there are to be penalties, with the standards you talk about things have to move at a faster speed, don’t you think?
Ms. Ebbs: I wouldn’t disagree at all. We try our best to address delays.
Mr. Streiner: I have a bunch of things that I will fire through quickly, senator.
First, all of us recognize that the “no wrong door” policy has to mean something. A Canadian with a disability who brings forward a complaint, if they happen to knock on the wrong door, if they happen to go to the wrong organization, has to seamlessly, quickly and effortlessly be referred to the right organization and find the way to the right organization. We are committed to making sure that happens.
These aren’t just words. This is a collective commitment from the heads of the five organizations to ensure that is the actual experience of Canadians with disabilities seeking relief.
I will quickly fire through a number of other changes because you asked more broadly about changes on the day the act comes into force. For the CTA, with respect to complaint adjudications, we will be able to look at whether there is a contravention of the law and at the harm or economic loss that contravention may have caused a person with disabilities.
We will be able to initiate an investigation and an adjudication, not only on the basis of complaints, but also on our own motion without Canadians having to come forward and file a complaint if we believe there is reason to do so.
We will have the power to order remedies for pain and suffering in the same way as the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal does, which will equalize the remedies available under the Canadian Transportation Act to those available under the Human Rights Act.
We will have the authority to set up a participant funding program so that Canadians without disabilities who lack the resources won’t be precluded from bringing forward complaints.
We will have a whole new raft of compliance tools to investigate and ensure compliance with legislative and regulatory obligations.
The size of the administrative monetary penalty, the amps that we can impose if we find a contravention, will go from a maximum of $25,000 to a maximum of $250,000.
Those are five or six significant changes to our tool kit that will come as a result of this bill.
Senator Munson: Thank you.
Senator Forest-Niesing: My question is more specifically for Mr. Streiner and Ms. Laizner and concerns exemptions.
We know that part 4 sets out powers, but the bill would provide the CRTC, the Canadian Transportation Agency and the minister designated under the Canadian Accessibility Act, depending on the case, to exempt an organization, which reports to them, from the application of obligations under the act if they deem so necessary.
I would like to know how and under what circumstances you would deem it necessary to exempt a regulatory organization. Furthermore, in such cases, what alternative measures do you anticipate or envision at that stage to close the gaps that may result from an exemption being given?
Ms. Laizner: Senator, I first want to point out that we are an administrative tribunal. Therefore, our decisions are made following a transparent and open process. We have implications. We gather evidence on the file, and stakeholders include applicants for an exemption, but also people who will be affected by an exemption. The process is completely open.
The bill provides that there may be situations where giving an exemption would be important. If, after deliberating on the evidence on the file, counsel deem that an exemption is necessary, the exemption order will be published. The reasons for which an exemption is given must also be published on our websites. Those who are affected have a number of recourse rights, and the bill aims for exemptions to be applied over the short term. We have the power to further shorten the exemption period.
I hope this answers your question.
Mr. Streiner: Thank you for your question. First, I think it is important to point out that the Canadian Transportation Agency now has the right and the ability to give an exemption. However, although it has had the right and the ability to do so since 1988, the tool has never been used. I think that proves that it is not something we would do readily, without evidence or reason.
If I have understood correctly, the new provisions in terms of exemptions are based on the “meet or beat” principle, which means that the regulatory organization shows us that there are ways to implement the objectives of the act, but in a way that differs from regulatory requirements.
This is what is important to us. If someone manages to convince us that alternative methods are effective, we will consider the exemption.
Senator Forest-Niesing: Ms. Laizner, I have a follow up question. You talked about the fact that you are an administrative tribunal. So, if someone wanted to challenge a decision, there would be a judicial review. I am more specifically concerned about the length and complexity of a judicial review. Before getting to that point, would you, in anticipation of an exemption being applied, try to use alternative methods to close the gaps that could be created by the exemption if that could harm certain individuals?
Ms. Laizner: There are always alternative options, such as consultations or working groups, but the situation would have to be examined further.
It is somewhat difficult to use hypotheses. For me, it is important to be familiar with the request and the reasons, to know whether the exemption is well founded and to know about interventions. Sometimes, with these types of things, it is preferable to try to get a better result instead of doing things halfway. So, it is a matter we will look into very carefully. As the chair of the Canadian Transportation Agency said, we are not here simply to give exemptions in response to a request.
Senator Poirier: Thank you all for being here and for your presentations. I leave it to you to decide who is to answer my first question because I think it touches everyone.
Bill C-81 proposes that all complaints would be handled by the four organizations. Will the organizations’ way to handle the complaints change under the proposed legislation? Would Bill C-81 provide a better way of handling complaints, in your opinion?
Ms. Landry: The approach we have adopted at the Canadian Human Rights Commission for many years now is that it’s people first over process. That’s really important for us.
After all five agencies had a meeting, this is what we were committed to. It’s to improve the process to make sure that nobody falls between the cracks and the complaints will be addressed as soon as possible in respect of the needs of the complainant, for sure.
As one of my colleagues mentioned, we met twice. We also have a working group. They are working together to see how we can improve the way in which we collaborate and all work together to ensure the success of what we need to do to have a Canada free from barriers for persons with disabilities.
Senator Poirier: If I understand you correctly, you’re saying Bill C-81 will make that process better.
Ms. Landry: It will certainly make that process better. Despite the fact that we started to work before all together, it will make the process better.
Senator Poirier: I will leave my next question open to whomever feels comfortable answering it.
Last week, when we had the minister and a witness from the accessibility secretariat, I asked a question regarding the $290 million funding over the six-year period. They mentioned to us that the funding being given to the Canadian Transportation Agency, specifically the $2.5 million, was over two years. However, they didn’t mention the CRTC, the Public Service Labour Relations and Employment Board, or the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
Could you explain why the CTA will receive funding, while the other three will not? Why isn’t the funding being provided to all?
Ms. Laizner: As far as the CRTC’s operations are concerned, we are in the position where the majority of the activities we do and the regulations we make in telecommunications and broadcasting are actually funded by the industry. It’s a user-funded organization, for the most part.
When we will be entering into the implementation of this Accessible Canada Act and holding our proceedings, the industry will be there. Our activities with regard to implementing this legislation, from our perspective, are funded generally by the industry.
Having said that, nobody ever says no to money, but that may explain the difference. I can’t speak for my colleague here from the Canadian Transportation Agency, but that might help you understand better.
Senator Poirier: In June 2016, the government launched a public consultation and met with Canadians all over the country to talk about what an accessible Canada means to them.
Have your organizations been consulted regarding Bill C-81? If so, could you explain to the committee if the input of your corporations was taken into consideration when drafting this bill?
Mr. Streiner: I’ll provide a response from the perspective of the CTA. The answer to the question of whether officials spoke between the CTA and the officials supporting Minister Qualtrough in drafting the bill is: Yes, there were conversations among officials.
The process that goes into the preparation of a proposal for cabinet and then ultimately the presentation of the bill is covered by cabinet confidence. I can say generally that the CTA has made recommendations, including on the public record, around our tool kit for advancing accessibility.
Those recommendations, including aligning the remedies that we can award to those of the Human Rights Commission and the Human Rights Tribunal, are reflected in the text of the bill.
Senator Poirier: Is that the situation for the other organizations, too?
Ms. Landry: On behalf of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, we have been consulted through all the processes, for sure, because it was very important for this bill to have a human rights lens and approach. It’s clear that we have been consulted.
Senator Poirier: Were your recommendations or observations to them taken into consideration?
Ms. Landry: Yes.
Senator Poirier: Great. Thank you.
Senator Eaton: Just to follow up on Senator Munson’s and Senator Poirier’s bill, it will make it better but will it make it easier? For instance, I see all of you lined up. This country is full of silos.
If I am a disabled person, and I have a complaint I want to make, will you share one website? Can I go on the web and find my way on the web? If I call you up, is there a trained person at the other end of the phone who will say, “Oh, yes, you belong with human rights” or “Oh, yes, you belong with Transport” or “Oh, yes, you are a public servant and you belong with Ms. Ebbs?” Do you have those kinds of mechanisms in place?
Ms. Landry: That is one of the things that are extremely important. I know that this is the case for my colleagues, who mentioned it when we met twice, and it is just as important for the Canadian Human Rights Commission. I, as chief commissioner —
Senator Eaton: But is it done or is it about to be implemented?
Ms. Landry: Absolutely. Even in current practice, in terms of handling complaint files, I have occasionally transferred files directly to some of my colleagues when we realized that the jurisdiction was incorrect, and we did so to ensure that the complainant was receiving the assistance they were entitled to.
Senator Eaton: Do you have a shared website?
Ms. Landry: Currently, the Canadian Human Rights Commission has a website with an online platform, and we have discussed among various partners ways that everyone could benefit from the expertise developed by the Canadian Human Rights Commission by putting the website online with all the available information.
Senator Eaton: Is there one telephone number or are there four telephone numbers?
Ms. Landry: Senator, what is important is that people who need support from one of our organizations are not forgotten and do not enter the wrong door or that, if that should happened, they receive the support.
Senator Eaton: If I’m disabled, where do I look? If I go on the website, there’s one phone number. The person on the other end of the phone tells the name of the person I want to speak to. I am hoping I will not be going between four or five websites or four doors. One of you will say, and I am sure you will, with all good intentions, “No, you have to go to Ms. Laizner.” Then, once I get to Ms. Laizner, it will be: “Actually, no, you really belong at human rights.”
We’ve been through this with Phoenix. We’ve been through this with CRA. One phone number, with one trained person on the end of the phone, wouldn’t that make it easy?
Ms. Laizner: We’re certainly working on collaborating together. The point is that what the bill makes clear is that the answer to the person is not going to be that you need to go elsewhere. The answer is going to be —
Senator Eaton: Unless they find you.
Ms. Landry: They will find us.
Ms. Laizner: — “Tell me what your issue is, and I will make sure it gets heard in the right place.” That is what our commitment is.
Ms. Landry: Exactly.
Senator Eaton: If I am a public servant with a problem, I have to file a grievance. Is that right? Why not a complaint?
What’s the difference between a complaint and a grievance, or is there a difference?
Ms. Ebbs: The grievance refers to the process we already have in the federal public sector. When you say federal public servants will come to the board instead of going to the accessibility commissioner, the vehicle is a grievance.
In terms of what it actually is, it’s a declaration of a concern you have, in our case as the employer, that someone violated a standard.
Senator Eaton: It’s basically just vocabulary.
Ms. Ebbs: Yes, basically. Our process is a little different because we are a tribunal that hears grievances. We are decision makers that listen to the parties and make decisions. That’s a bit different from the process the accessibility commissioner will have, but the end result is that we will hear from all parties. We will understand what is the concern, and then we will make a decision based on that.
Senator Omidvar: I am very empathetic to the wrong door or one door argument. As you all know, we have been in these chambers for less than a month. There are many doors. I keep going through many doors and I keep getting lost. That’s why I am late, and I hate being late for everything. I have some sympathy for Senator Eaton’s proposal of at least one door that opens the door to other doors.
My question is based on a letter that we have all received on the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. I will quote from the letter. It says that it is wrong for the bill to give exclusive powers over accessibility to federally-regulated organizations in different industries, to the CTA and to the CRTC. It says that you have had these powers for many years, that your record on accessibility is not good, that you are too close to industry, that you lack experience, and that the industries you regulate are perfectly happy to have you regulate them, given your inadequate regulatory track record on accessibility.
I would like your response to this rather harsh criticism. I guess my question is for Ms. Laizner and Mr. Streiner.
Mr. Streiner: I think I heard two questions. One is “no wrong door,” and the other is the history of the CTA. Maybe I’ll respond to the latter first.
I am actually very proud of the record of the Canadian Transportation Agency. Canada is the only country in the world with what we call the one-person-one-fare rule, which means if you need to travel on an airplane and for reasons related to your disability you need an extra seat, maybe an attendant to come with you or maybe you have a service dog, you get that extra seat for free. We’re the only country in the world that does that, and that is as a result of the adjudication of a case by the Canadian Transportation Agency.
That case dealt with specific airlines, but as a result of the regulations that we prepublished in draft form on March 11, it will be extended to every airline in Canada operating within Canada.
It’s one of many examples of the ways in which the CTA has advanced accessibility. I spoke in my opening comments about our vision, which is to make Canada’s national transportation system the most accessible in the world. Our expertise, as a human rights tribunal with responsibility for accessibility in the transportation field, has been recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada in a case concerning the accessibility of VIA Rail cars. The Supreme Court talked about the CTA as the appropriate agency to advance the human rights of persons with disabilities to accessibility based upon its knowledge of the transportation industry. I am very proud of and happy to defend the record of the CTA on these matters.
As far as the “no wrong door” policy goes, you and other senators have raised it. You see before you four organizations committed to making sure that nobody walks around knocking on doors the way you have experienced in this new facility.
The only reason none of us has given a very specific answer to some of the issues you raised is that we’ve just started this conversation. We did, as my colleague said, talk about the possibility of a single website. The Human Rights Commission and the CTA already have a MOU so that anybody who comes to either of our organizations and belongs to the other gets there immediately, with no fuss, no muss and no trouble.
We are committed to making that happen in practice. It’s just that we don’t yet have the specifics, although we will within a few months, of exactly how that happens. We understand and agree with the concerns the disability community and the senators have identified.
Ms. Laizner: Yes, thank you for your question. I am actually very proud of what we’re doing in the area of accessibility, but there’s always room for improvement.
As you know, there is a legislative review panel looking at the Broadcasting Act and the Telecommunications Act. In our submission to that review panel we suggested that the government consider making accessibility a policy objective under those acts to expand our mandate in terms of that whole area.
We’ve also asked for tools, particularly in the broadcasting area, to redress complaints that would provide some symmetry with the Telecommunications Act where we have an administrative monetary penalty regime.
We work with everybody that is affected. We work with people in disability groups that are hard of hearing, deaf and speech impaired, and we work with the stakeholders.
I think that Minister Qualtrough said that part of the reason the act provides certain areas for the different organizations before you is that we have specialized expertise.
In the case of the CRTC, we have regulated telecommunications and broadcasting industries for decades. We don’t have to start from scratch in building the wheel. We have public proceedings. We have requirements for an accessible format in the submissions. We provide simultaneous translation. On our website, we have a guide on how to appear in front of our proceedings in American Sign Language. We have a certain expertise that allows us to hit the ground running under the requirements of this legislation. That is important because it goes to making sure the legislation will be successful.
Senator Moodie: Some stakeholders have argued that this bill is weak because it does not impose a duty on the government to use the powers that it has or is given in this bill to promote accessibility. The government’s duty, they believe, to act must be mandatory, not optional.
Do you believe that the government’s duty to act should be mandatory or optional? How do you weigh in on this? Should the bill go further?
Keith Smith, Acting Director General, Policy and Communications, Canadian Human Rights Commission: We’ve reviewed the bill very closely. When Ms. Landry appeared before the house committee, we offered some suggestions for possible amendments and some of them were incorporated.
The tools that the accessibility commissioner will be provided, from my perspective, are ample to be able to address accessibility issues in a fairly fundamental way.
Generally speaking, we’re quite content with what is in Bill C-81.
Ms. Laizner: As an administrative tribunal, we implement legislation that gives us a mandate in certain areas. We don’t comment on the policy choices of government, but we welcome the proactive approach of this legislation.
We are ready to implement our role under the legislation, and we think it’s a great step.
Mr. Streiner: I would echo what my colleague said. Three of us here represent administrative tribunals. As such, we don’t opine on the government’s policy choices, so it would be inappropriate for me to editorialize on that.
Senator Kutcher: Thank you for your testimony. First, I will make an observation. For decades, the mental health system has been telling people that there is “no wrong door,” and people have been telling the mental health system, “Give us one door.” That is something for you to think about.
Ms. Landry, in your testimony you said that some of your recommendations had been integrated into Bill C-81. Which of your recommendations that were not integrated would you like us to consider at this time?
Ms. Landry: The most important recommendations for amendment of the Canadian Human Rights Commission have been integrated in this bill. We really believe and urge this committee to make sure that the bill will pass as soon as possible.
This is a very important bill. Many of the amendments or suggestions that the commission has made in the past can be addressed through the regulations that are going to be adopted. One of the amendments we proposed ensures that the government adopts the regulations included in Bill C-81.
We also believe that the five-year review will give all of us a good opportunity to make suggestions to improve the bill at the end.
If we are waiting for the bill to be perfect, the result will not be the one that we hoped for a barrier-free Canada. I hope I have answered your question. This is what I can offer. I urge this committee to have this bill passed as soon as possible, in the interests of Canadians and a barrier-free Canada.
Senator Mégie: I would like to know what your assessment of the current accessibility measures is. Would you say they are acceptable, insufficient or clearly insufficient? Regardless of your assessment, once Bill C-81 has been passed, what will it add to the existing measures?
Ms. Landry: Thank you for your question, Senator. The objective of Bill C-81 is to set standards. What was there before was a complaints process. So when someone was dealing with discrimination, be it individual or systemic, they could file a complaint — and they can still file a complaint — with the Canadian Human Right Commission. The commission would examine the file, assess it and forward it to the tribunal, in which case, the tribunal would determine whether or not discrimination occurred, while proposing appropriate solutions to deal with the situation.
What Bill C-81 proposes is to impose the implementation of standards that will have to be met. It also establishes a complaints process to handle cases of non-compliance with those standards by employers and organizations. In my opinion, those are two pieces of legislation that are perfectly complementary, extremely important and provide very different benefits. Those statutes are very strongly interrelated. I don’t know whether I’m answering your question.
Senator Mégie: Not completely, but I will put it to another panel of witnesses.
Senator Dasko: I am also on the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications. When I see both of you here, I wish I could take you both to the next committee and keep you all day.
My colleagues have asked you all the questions I would have asked about the regulations, the enforcement, and so on. I have a question for both of you, but especially to Mr. Streiner. Tell me what the gaps are in accessibility in your industries, particularly transportation which has such a variety of trains, boats, planes and drones. I can’t even imagine what other technologies are out there.
Could you tell me what the gaps are in the industry and among the entities that you regulate?
Mr. Streiner: I think I should probably preface my answer by saying that I will give a few examples, but in every sector within the transportation industry there are service providers who are doing an excellent job and there are service providers who are struggling more. By its nature, these kinds of generalizations are going to be true in some cases but not in all. I preface my answer by saying that I’ll identify a few areas where there are some gaps, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have leaders in the industry who are doing well.
I referenced one of them in an earlier response. We have a one-person-one-fare policy which, as a result of previous adjudication, applies only to several airlines. One of the advantages of a regulatory regime, including the regulations we are now in the process of finalizing, is that we can create greater consistency.
Greater consistency is good for persons with disabilities because it means that they can have the same kind of experience, an equally accessible experience, no matter with whom they travel. It’s good for industry as well because it creates a level playing field. It means that no service provider is placed at an economic disadvantage by providing more accessibility.
The new regulations will close that gap in that area and others by establishing for all service providers standards that currently may apply only to some as a result of adjudication. That’s one example.
The second example I would give relates to curbside assistance or curb to gate assistance in airports for travellers using mobility devices, particularly wheelchairs but also those who require guidance for blind travellers or others. We all know that it can be a challenge, even if you don’t have a disability, to find your way from curbside to gate. Certainly, we require assistance in some cases for persons with disabilities.
There have been instances that have come to our attention where there’s been confusion about who provides that assistance between the airport, the airline and folks that found themselves not receiving in a timely way the kind of assistance they needed. Again, these new regulations make it clear who has to do what. That’s a gap we’re trying to address through regulations.
The third example I’ll give relates to communications. When we think about service delivery in the area of transportation, we think about things like getting wheelchairs transported on planes or railcars in terms of safety briefings, communications are also critically critical. If somebody is trying to find their way through the CBSA lines or if there’s a flight delay, they need to know what’s going on.
Communications in accessible formats are crucial. The reality is that it has been a little uneven historically. Again, through our regulatory process, as well as guidance we’re giving to industry, we’re trying to ensure communications to travellers with disabilities in the course of their travels in a way that’s accessible to all.
Senator Dasko: Ms. Laizner, I know it’s a very different industry, but what are the gaps now?
Ms. Laizner: I think the biggest gap we are working on right now is the deployment of broadband to rural and remote communities.
I talked to you about our video relay service, where people can communicate through video conferencing in sign language and have a phone call. If they don’t have access to the Internet to engage in those activities, that’s a problem.
The CRTC has set up a $750 million fund to deploy broadband to rural and remote communities. We will be accepting submissions for the buildout of broadband to those remote communities because our goal is to extend broadband throughout the country so that everybody can participate meaningfully in society. Some of those things are where we see gaps.
I’ll give you another example. We held our hearing on misleading and aggressive sales practices last fall. We heard from people who were deaf or hard of hearing that even though the CRTC has mandated certain discounts that these people should be able to get — and the telecommunications service providers know that — it hasn’t been properly transmitted to salespeople in all cases.
The person who needs to be able to access that discount goes to a kiosk in a mall, and it’s not on the drop-down menu of the salesperson. There is a gap, and that’s why I think this legislation is so important in its requirement that these companies develop their plans, their progress reports and their mechanisms for feedback.
That is part of the tool kit for ensuring that these sorts of gaps don’t happen, and that sales force are properly trained in what persons with disabilities are entitled to pursuant to CRTC policies and regulations. That’s an area that I think can benefit from this legislation.
The Chair: Thank you.
On that note, I would like to thank our witnesses for their answers. Thank you for your cooperation at this meeting everyone.
We will suspend the sitting for a few minutes only, to give our next witnesses time to settle in.
Thank you very much.
We are continuing our study on Bill C-81, An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada.
I would like to introduce and welcome our next panel of witnesses.
We are very pleased to have before us Bill Adair, Executive Director, Federal Accessibility Legislation Alliance; Kerri Joffe, Staff Lawyer, ARCH Disability Law Centre; and Steven Estey, Government and Community Relations Officer, Council of Canadians with Disabilities.
We will begin with you Mr. Adair.
Bill Adair, Executive Director, Spinal Cord Injury Canada, Federal Accessibility Legislation Alliance: I would like to begin by acknowledging that we are gathering on the traditional territory of the Algonquin people.
It is an honour to appear before this committee as a representative of the Federal Accessibility Legislation Alliance, which is a coalition of 94 disability-related organizations and more than 1,300 individuals.
FALA was formed by seven organizations: Spinal Cord Injury Canada, Canadian Association of the Deaf, Native Women’s Association of Canada, Communication Disabilities Access Canada, BC Aboriginal Network on Disability Society, Council of Canadians with Disabilities, and the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association.
It was our seven organizations and the Assembly of First Nations that held consultations before Bill C-81 was written. Much of the input from our organizations was included in Bill C-81. This is how we know Bill C-81, as it stands, is a good bill.
We have insights on how to make Bill C-81 stronger and more effective. We have sent to each of you our 11 recommendations to improve Bill C-81. They are included in our package that you received today.
We would like to highlight two of these recommendations. First, we want Bill C-81 to recognize ASL and LSQ as the languages of people who are deaf in Canada. We are not asking for official language status. We are asking that sign languages be included as an integral part of Bill C-81.
This is why. If it were not for the use of signing here today, any person in this room who is deaf would not be privy to my remarks and to the discussions that will follow. This is true of all public hearings. Indeed, the very name implies that these meetings are for those who can hear.
More important, if catastrophe were to suddenly strike us, a person who is deaf would not have access to potentially life-saving information. This was the case recently in Pearson Airport when a fire broke out.
Please ensure that ASL and LSQ are written right into Bill C-81 so that there is an expectation for federally-regulated entities to provide resources and newsworthy information in sign languages.
Second, we want a commitment in Bill C-81 to assist people who experience multiple and intersecting forms of marginalization and discrimination. These are the people in our communities who are single parents with disabilities who are unable to have stable housing because they don’t have a job, and they can’t get a job because they don’t have an address. Life circumstances can be further affected by sexual orientation, culture and skin colour.
FALA recommends that Bill C-81 include clearer language to address this intersectionality. This can be done by adding the phrase “including persons who experience the compounding impact of multiple, overlapping and intersecting forms of marginalization and discrimination” to the definition of those covered by the bill’s guiding principles. We ask that you make this change to Bill C-81.
You may have heard people say that Bill C-81 is too weak, and such a weak bill is worse than no bill at all. We disagree with that. This is landmark legislation that will enrich the lives of not only seven million people in Canada with disabilities, but also the lives of their families, friends and co-workers.
Canada, as a whole, will be better off as we increase the taxpayer base through increased employment, which in turn decreases the reliance on disability, welfare and government disability payments. As people have more money to spend, our economy will be strengthened.
We all know that if Bill C-81 does not pass the Senate and receive Royal Assent before the upcoming federal election, there will be a delay of several years before Canada realizes the benefits of advancing access and inclusion. We want Parliament to pass Bill C-81.
We are not suggesting that a flawed bill is better than no bill at all. We are saying that Bill C-81 will have an enormously positive impact on all people living in Canada, and it deserves to be enacted into law.
We know that each of you has received more than 1,340 letters from the FALA community. This speaks to the extensive support of people with disabilities for the Accessible Canada Act and our expectation for this bill to pass. We need to get that ball rolling now. We want the Accessible Canada Act. Thank you very much.
Kerri Joffe, Staff Lawyer, ARCH Disability Law Centre: I am here on behalf of ARCH Disability Law Centre, a specialty legal clinic focused solely on disability rights.
ARCH participated in the consultations that led up to Bill C-81, and we’ve worked closely with disability communities across Canada to support their advocacy to strengthen this bill.
We commend the government and the minister for introducing the bill, an important and positive step toward advancing full inclusion of persons with disabilities in our country. However, we believe that amendments are essential for the bill to achieve its purpose of a barrier-free Canada. I would like to focus on three of those amendments tonight.
First are the amendments to require government to implement accessibility measures. Many clauses of the bill use the permissive language “may.” The legal effect is to give government and other bodies powers to make and enforce accessibility requirements, but not actually require that this power be used. For example, subclause 117(1) of bill states that:
. . . the Governor in Council may make regulations
The language of this subsection must be changed to “shall” or “must,” in our recommendation. This change will require accessibility regulations to be made in employment, the built environment and the other areas identified in clause 5 of the bill.
Without a requirement to make accessibility regulations, there is no assurance that the government will do so, and therefore no assurance that the law will actually advance accessibility in our country.
Second are the amendments to address barriers created by poverty and intersectional discrimination. The bill is largely silent on intersectionality and poverty. We believe it must do more to address the multiple and intersectional barriers experienced by persons with disabilities in relation to their identities and their experiences with poverty.
We recommend that clause 6 of the bill, the principles clause, recognize intersectionality and poverty by including additional principles in the bill, namely, persons with disabilities disproportionately live in conditions of poverty, women and girls with disabilities experience unique and intersecting barriers, and persons with disabilities are diverse and experience multiple and intersecting barriers as a result of discrimination on the basis of disability or multiple disabilities, race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, marital status, family status, genetic characteristics, and other grounds.
These will not only be principles that guide the interpretation and application of the legislation. They will have concrete applicability because Bill C-81 now provides that organizations must take these principles into account when developing their accessibility plans. To give these principles greater concrete applicability, we recommend that clause 117 of the bill also require that any specific accessibility regulations advance the purpose and further the principles of the bill.
Third are the amendments to ensure that the bill does not diminish existing human rights for people with disabilities. Last week, at this committee, Minister Qualtrough was asked whether Bill C-81 would reduce existing human rights of people with disabilities. As the minister pointed out, the Canadian Human Rights Act will continue to protect against disability discrimination after Bill C-81 becomes law. However, we are concerned that in practice Bill C-81 may undermine existing human rights.
When accessibility regulations are developed, organizations and businesses may assume that they need to comply only with those regulations and not with their duty to accommodate under the Canadian Human Rights Act. They may think that accessibility regulations replace the Canadian Human Rights Act. When people with disabilities request individual accommodations that are different from what are set out in the accessibility standards or regulations, organizations and businesses may wrongly assume that they are not responsible for providing those individual accommodations. Indeed, this was our experience in Ontario when the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act was introduced.
To prevent this, we recommend that the purpose section of Bill C-81 states that nothing in the act lessens the existing human rights obligations of federally-regulated entities under the Canadian Human Rights Act. This will make clear that human rights obligations continue to apply, in addition to the accessibility regulations once they are made.
In addition, we recommend that clause 117 of the bill should state that nothing in the accessibility regulations themselves can reduce or minimize the right to be free from discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act.
Currently, subsection 172(2) of the Canada Transportation Act allows the Canadian Transportation Agency, the CTA, to dismiss a complaint about inaccessibility in the federal transportation system if the transportation provider has complied with regulations made by the agency. However, the regulations made by the agency may not meet the human rights law standard of accommodation to the point of undue hardship and may not address all of the individual requirements of people with disabilities.
We are concerned that this subsection may have the impact of diminishing existing human rights because it allows transportation providers to shield themselves from a complaint by complying with the agency’s regulations. To avoid diminishing human rights in this way, or the potential of diminishing human rights in this way, we recommend that Bill C-81 remove or address subsection 172(2) of the Canada Transportation Act.
I thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today, and I am happy to answer any questions you may have.
Steven Estey, Government and Community Relations Officer, Council of Canadians with Disabilities: Madam Chair, senators, it is an honour for me to be here this evening. I am pleased to have the time to speak with you.
The Council of Canadians with Disabilities, or CCD, is a national organization of people with all different kinds of disabilities. We have members in every province across the country and in the territories. We also have some members at our national disability organization focused on specific issues such as women with disabilities, deafness and these kinds of things.
Over the past two or three years, we have had a lot of focus on what has become Bill C-81. I want to give you a little background about that. Through 2016-2017, our organization led a consultation, as did BUILD Organization and others, to talk to Canadians with disabilities about what they wanted in this legislation.
We had a chance to talk to over a thousand people across the country. We had 22 separate consultations in towns and cities across the country. We had telephone consultations. We had Internet consultations. We really spent a lot of time trying to figure out what people wanted to see in this legislation. It was very important for us to be involved in it. We have really appreciated the opportunity and the support that we have had to be able to do that.
I wanted you to be aware that I didn’t just write my remarks on the plane on the way up here out of thin air. They come from some substance.
It’s important to try to communicate that the people with whom we talked see this as significant in their lives. We talked to people in Moose Jaw. We talked to people in Goose Bay. Many of them said that they never had an opportunity to have a discussion like this one before. It’s very significant for a lot of people.
Since the legislation was tabled in June of last year, we have worked with the Bill Adair’s organization, FALA and Kerri Joffe’s organization, ARCH, to try to bring some focus on what are our priorities. It has been a real challenge because the disability community is a very diverse community. There are people from the mental health community. There are deaf people like myself. There are blind people. Everybody has a different way of looking at things, different priorities, and so on. We have done a fairly good job of setting priorities, Bill Adair’s organization, FALA, has provided 11 key recommendations. I think you all had a chance to look at them.
Within our organization over the past couple of weeks, we have said, “We’re pretty much at the end of the game here. What are we going to do when we get to the Senate and say what are our priorities?” We had a couple of meetings and asked, “What do we think is really most important here?”
It’s a challenge, as I say, but what really struck us, as we looked not only at the accessibility legislation federally but as we saw it having played out in the provinces of Ontario, Manitoba and Nova Scotia, from where I come, was that in all of those jurisdictions and in jurisdictions globally there are timelines attached to the legislation.
They say that they are going to be accessible by such and such a year, and they are going to implement standards in such and such a time. Bill C-81 is silent on those timelines. That concerns us, not because we feel there is a lack of good intention, not because we feel that officials don’t want to move forward, but because five or ten years down the road, we can begin to have meetings. If there is no backstop or wall against which we can say the time has come, people can say, “We’re working very hard. We’re doing good things.” There is no way to say that we’re going to get there by a certain time. We are concerned about that. We would like the Senate to talk about that, to think about that, and to make some recommendations around it.
Bill Adair and Kerri Joffe have already talked about and highlighted other things. We also noted, particularly from the deaf community, the real sense of being left behind by this bill. There is no recognition of the importance of the sign languages, ASL and LSQ. They are absolutely fundamental for people who are deaf and use sign language. It’s the only way they can access the world around them. The bill has to find a way to tip its hat to that. If it doesn’t, deaf Canadians will continue to feel left behind. It’s the job of the Senate to pay attention to this and be mindful of it.
Colleagues have also talked about intersectionality. I think those points were well made. I am not sure whether it has been said by Bill Adair or Kerri Joffe, but I want to put on the table that we feel strongly that the bill needs to acknowledge the fact that there are Indigenous people with disabilities in this country. There is no focus on that or no intentions of that in the bill.
I was in Victoria about two weeks ago with an organization that I think you will hear from in the next few days, BCANDS. We were talking about the situation of Indigenous people with disabilities on reserve and off reserve. There are significant barriers. I made the observation at that time that one of the first things I ever heard being talked about at the federal government around accessibility and people with disabilities was over 25 years ago when the Standing Committee on the Status of Disabled Persons filed a report, under the chairmanship of Dr. Bruce Halliday, chair of the committee at that time. Dr. Halliday made a specific report about the situation of Indigenous people with disabilities in Canada and the challenges that they face. When we talked about this a couple of weeks ago in Victoria, BCANDS said that the observations made over 25 years ago by the standing committee and Dr. Halliday are exactly the same as they are today.
This is an opportunity to address this matter in some way. I urge senators to pay attention to that and be mindful of it because I think it’s tremendously important.
Thank you very kindly. I appreciate your time.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
I thank our witnesses for their presentations. It is time to move on the question and the answer period. We have a whole list of senators who want to ask questions, and we will begin with the deputy chair.
Senator Seidman: Thank you very much for your presentations. We certainly appreciate that you have put before us the many voices of disability communities. You have also put to us eight unique proposals for amendments. If I count up the three presented by ARCH, the two presented by FALA and the three presented by the council, I arrive at eight.
By the same token, Mr. Adair, you have said that you’re not suggesting that a flawed bill is better than no bill at all, but that Bill C-81 will have an enormously positive impact on all people living in Canada and deserves to be enacted into law.
We have heard that this bill is too weak and it’s better to have no bill at all than to have this bill. On the other hand, we have heard from you that these are important amendments. We have heard from individual voices in the disability communities sending us letters that say they don’t want to risk this bill. They want this bill. How do we deal with that? Maybe you can help us.
Mr. Adair: I am happy to jump in and invite my colleagues to join. We have talked about this quite a bit.
It’s the position of FALA that we are asking for improvements to the bill. We have presented 11 recommendations for improvements. We stand by those. We will be grateful for changes that can be made before the bill receives Royal Assent. We will continue to work for them afterward because they are the right improvements to be made.
What people are telling us across the country that are participating with FALA is: “We want the bill. Give us something to work with. Yes, push for changes, but at the end of the day, before the election, we want the bill. That gives us structure and the framework to get to work on removing barriers. We want it now. We’ve been waiting far too long, and this is our day.”
Senator Seidman: How about you, Mr. Estey?
Mr. Estey: It’s a tough question. For me, when I think about it, I think about other experiences I’ve had. I was very involved in the drafting of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 10 or 12 years ago. At that time, in the last couple of sessions when we were at the end of the drafting, similar concerns were voiced by delegations and by NGOs from different countries around the world. They said the convention just didn’t go far enough on this, that and other things.
We listened to that but the convention was successful. It entered into force, and it has been ratified by over 120 countries around the world since that time.
I agree that the convention has flaws. It did then and it does now, but I would also say that it put in place a process that has led to very significant change for people with disabilities globally. I would see this in a very similar vein. I certainly don’t think the bill is perfect, but I think it will set in place a process. I am very much supportive of it, from that perspective at least.
Senator Seidman: That’s really helpful.
When the minister came before us, she said that this was the framework for enabling legislation and that there would be more to come through regulations, standards, and the various processes and organizations set up in the legislation.
I know all of you are asking us to make changes, but the bottom line for us, of course, is that if the disability communities really want this bill before the election, I am sure all of us feel this burden. We don’t want to risk the fact that you won’t have this bill before the election.
Ms. Joffe: May I add one comment?
Senator Seidman: Please.
Ms. Joffe: I am not going to address the question of whether it’s better to pass a weak bill or not pass the bill, but I have heard some people talk about passing this bill, even though it may be weak in some respects, and dealing with some of the issues later with regulation development, et cetera.
I highlight that some aspects of the weaknesses may be dealt with later. However, some aspects of the framework of the legislation, which are not changed or amended now, may not be addressed later.
For example, the issue I discussed regarding the “may” versus “shall” language in the bill that will either permit government and other agencies to act or direct them to do so. That’s not something that can be addressed in amendments after the bill is passed.
A number of other issues are like that. Perhaps that provides some way of trying to narrow down some of the key issues that need to be addressed at this stage.
Senator Seidman: That’s helpful.
Senator Munson: Thanks very much for being here. I would like to address two issues, the first one being ASL and LSQ.
What can we do to have this in the bill in the form of an amendment? I know that we have talked before, but I’d like to get specific. How would this be written into it so that there would be an acceptance on the other side?
They obviously looked at it at the Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology on the house side. It didn’t get through there. I am curious what would change their minds. Do you see something, perhaps, in the preamble, Mr. Adair?
Mr. Adair: Working with our colleagues at the Canadian Association of the Deaf, we have brought forward a proposal that wording be introduced in the preamble.
I am not a legal expert. That’s why we have ARCH and our colleagues, but we’ve been told that it is not appropriate from the standpoint of drafting legislation. In representing people across the country with disabilities, we don’t have an exact answer to that because that’s not our area of expertise.
We believe this is a vital component to be mentioned in the act, somewhere or somehow, in order to create and mandate a responsibility to provide this language, where appropriate.
It is not desirable to leave it to the regulations. We feel that as a basic right deaf people should have access to sign language. We are not asking for official language status, but we are asking that people who are deaf have access to French and English through sign language. That’s an important consideration.
Ms. Joffe: I believe that one of the barriers that may have occurred around the incorporation of recognition of ASL and LSQ at HUMA was around the wording, “as an official language.” I think the minister said that may require an amendment to the Official Languages Act. It would sort of have implications well beyond the scope of this legislation.
We’ve spoken with the Canadian Association of the Deaf about the removal of the word, “official.” We’ve gone to the language of recognizing that American Sign Language and Langue des signes Québécoise are languages of people who are deaf in Canada may help us to overcome some of the legal barriers that occurred previously.
Senator Munson: We’re here for a reason. There will be amendments. Echoing what Senator Seidman has talked about, do you have an indication, perhaps upon reflection, that the government would accept amendments on some of the issues that you’ve just talked about like language, “may” versus “shall” and timelines?
The last thing I want, as sponsor of this bill, is for this to be collateral damage of that thing called an election.
Ms. Joffe: I heard Minister Qualtrough say to all of you last week that she’s open to amendments and that she wants as strong a bill as possible.
Senator Munson: On Indigenous issues, as has been brought up before, the minister seemed to imply that those are ongoing negotiations. It has been ongoing for an awful long time and it has not included.
Mr. Estey, does the answer satisfy you that there are separate nations and so there have to be separate discussions to deal with disabilities in the Indigenous communities?
Mr. Estey: Senator Munson, I am not sure what the answer is. In the discussions I’ve had with Indigenous peoples with disabilities, I just know there’s a real concern that this is going forward and there’s absolutely no reference to them, at all. Discussions are happening that they’re not particularly party to, and there are concerns about that as well.
As we’re in the dying days of these discussions, it’s important for us to highlight this to try to ensure there’s a specific connection to the Indigenous community and Indigenous people with disabilities in this legislation in a way that’s effective for that community.
Mr. Adair: One of the eleven recommendations FALA has presented as well is to include Indigenous people who fall under federal jurisdiction in many cases, so why not include them?
When something comes along in terms of a nation-to-nation solution that can take over, what happens in the meantime? That’s what we’re concerned about and what the people with whom we have talked are concerned about, as Steven Estey reflected.
Senator Mégie: My question is about provincial legislation. Is provincial legislation on accessibility different from Bill C-81? If so, are the differences major? If Bill C-81 was passed as is, what would be the impact?
Who would like to answer?
Mr. Adair: Ontario and Nova Scotia have legislation, so I defer to my colleagues.
Ms. Joffe: Bill C-81 is quite different from the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. One major difference, for example, is that the AODA has timelines in it for reaching a barrier-free Ontario. This legislation currently does not.
There are a host of other differences as well. Equally there are similarities. The legislation sets up a framework for developing accessibility standards and regulations similar to the framework set up in this bill.
I don’t have any way of verifying the information, but I’ve heard that there are a number of provinces which are interested in developing accessibility legislation. They are waiting to see what the federal government will do with this bill and very much want to follow in its stead and coordinate.
That’s encouraging, and that’s more of a reason to ensure that this bill is the strongest piece of legislation that we can possibly get because it will likely set the tone for provincial and maybe territorial legislation as well.
Mr. Estey: I don’t want to take up a lot of time, but I just want to add to what Kerri Joffe was saying. I am aware of the fact that in both B.C. and Newfoundland there are discussions right now about provincial accessibility legislation.
I was in B.C. a couple of weeks ago. At the meeting I attended, the office in charge of that said they were paying very close attention to this matter. While there’s not a direct connection to provincial and federal legislation, I hope, as we go forward, that what happens here in Ottawa will provide a framework and a template for provinces, so that over a period of time we will have a level of equality for Canadians across the country that we don’t necessarily have right now.
Senator Mégie: Thank you.
Thank you for your very enlightening testimony. Someone in my family has a deafness problem. In fact she studied sign language interpretation, Langue des signes du Québec, and performed as a sign language interpreter for a period of time. I want to take a second to congratulate the chair and the clerk of the committee for including sign language interpretation for the benefit of those in attendance tonight, and just give a shout-out to the two interpreters who have been trying to follow our conversation and interpret it. I know how gruelling and extremely difficult that work is. I just want to say thank you.
On that same topic, though, I am getting the sense that there is not much resistance to the idea and the recommendation that we include sign language interpretation and deafness as a disability within the ambit of the bill.
Have you encountered any resistance? If so, what’s the foundation of it?
Mr. Adair: The resistance encountered was that, consistently across our organizations and many others, we brought this recommendation to the HUMA committee and it was not accepted. We are coming back at it again because it remains an important factor.
While we have sign language interpreters at this event right now, the reality is that people who are watching through the ParlVu broadcast won’t see this. They will wait for a week until this is available. That is not inclusion; that’s exclusion. It is another pitch for why it’s important.
There’s some openness to address this issue, and we are responsible for trying.
Senator Forest-Niesing: I have one more question concerning Indigenous individuals with disability. I suppose I should be directing my question to Mr. Estey.
As I listen to you, I struggle with the obvious need to recognize the very special and different needs that might apply to Indigenous communities or individuals who suffer from disabilities. My struggle is how we do that without somehow creating a different category and sending a message that Indigenous individuals with disabilities are different from the people with disabilities that we’re talking about in this bill.
People with disabilities certainly must and do include Indigenous individuals.
Mr. Estey: I am going to do the only sensible thing I can think to do and say that I am aware that tomorrow morning my colleague Neil Belanger from BCANDS is appearing before the committee. I think he’s much better equipped to respond to your question than I am.
I could struggle here and say stupid things, or I could say instead I am really not sure of the best way to proceed. I’d like you to ask Neil Belanger in the morning, okay?
Senator Forest-Niesing: Thank you for your candour.
The Chair: Thank you. We will make sure the question is asked, indeed.
Senator M. Deacon: Thank you for being here. I will also follow my colleague and say that I am not going to ask another question, but I am struggling with understanding the true issues of the Indigenous people and how we can get that right without other issues. We’ll wait till tomorrow. I appreciate that.
I wanted to ask you some questions. One was on Indigenous people. One was on timing and timelines. The other was on sign language that has been addressed.
Around timelines, we talk about them missing. We know that AODA had them in it, and they have been brought up again today by you, Mr. Estey.
If we look at the timelines piece, my questions become: What are those? How much do we want? How far are we going into it? Are there dates that you’ve been thinking about? Do you wish a certain date was here that makes it realistic?
I would like to hear a little more about the thinking around timelines.
Mr. Estey: It’s Wednesday, right? In terms of timelines, seriously, there needs to be a realistic evaluation of things. I don’t know whether you do that on a standard-by-standard basis or whether you do it globally. It’s a debate that should be had.
In jurisdictions like Ontario, they’ve said they would have an accessible province by 2025, or whatever it is. In other countries I know that similar processes have been used. When we testified at the HUMA committee, the woman who was the minister in the Ontario government responsible for the AODA also testified at the time. Her name escapes me, I am sorry, but she talked about the process when they were doing that in Ontario. They looked around the world and especially at the U.K. because the U.K. was one of the first countries to adopt this kind of legislation back in 2007 or something like that. At that time the U.K. said that it would be accessible by 2025. The feeling was that it was important to set some sort of backstop in Ontario against which to measure these things.
Kerri Joffe and Bill Adair both live in Ontario and probably know more about it than I do. If you look at the reports that have been made since the AODA was enacted, the third one just came out. They talk about these timelines. There’s a sense on the part of our community, and on the part of CCD at least, that there is a nebulousness attached to it. They are going to be accessible, but when?
You need to have something against which to measure yourself. If you don’t do that, it gets very hard to have a substantive conversation about not making progress as quickly as we should. The counter will always be: “Well, we’re making progress.”
Senator M. Deacon: I am totally understanding that. I am from the AODA world in Ontario. The year 2025 seems like, “Oh, my gosh” in 2005 and 2009. Jurisdictions have used that as their template, as their accountability and have come a long, long way.
I asked about the timelines because I am concerned about keeping inspiration, aspiration and ambition as priorities and keeping an eye on them as we’re going through. I wondered if the FALA group or anyone else said in 2018 or 2019, “Do you know what? We think by 2040 this is reasonable,” or “We think by 2034 this is reasonable.” I wasn’t sure if this had perhaps been given a numeric possibility in your consultations and discussions. That was part of my reason for probing a bit.
Ms. Joffe: I would very much agree with Steve Estey and you, senator, that timelines are an essential accountability measure in the bill. It’s a recommendation that ARCH supports as well. I have heard argument and counterargument for not including timelines. They will create a disincentive. They will let organizations wait, wait, wait until a timeline comes around and then quickly start doing their accessibility plans.
I think that argument could be addressed in two ways. First, if the accessibility regulations have timelines attached to them, organizations and government will have to comply within the timelines set out in those standards or regulations and will not be able to wait until the end date. If there’s truly concern around creating a disincentive for compliance, an additional clause could be added to the bill, indicating that notwithstanding the fact that Canada is going to be accessible by 2040, for example, everybody has to still take steps to reach their accessibility requirements as soon as possible or within as reasonably soon a time frame as possible.
If there’s a true concern about a disincentive, there’s a way to structure an additional clause in the bill to address it.
Senator M. Deacon: Even though it was 2025 within the AODA, in the communications on your January 2012 website you just barely get that done, and the next timeline was there and the next timeline was there.
Ms. Joffe: That was all in the regulations.
Senator M. Deacon: Those were in the regulations.
Am I out of time?
The Chair: I am afraid you’re done with your time, but thank you. I know we will be hearing from Ontario representatives. Indeed, it will be interesting to hear about their provincial experience.
Senator Poirier: Thank you all for being here and for your presentation. I greatly appreciate it.
I want to follow up on conversations we’ve been having with other people. Between Mr. Adair and Ms. Joffe, if I understood correctly, you are recommending a combination of approximately 11 amendments for us to look at. You are saying you still want the bill, but there are a few really important ones that you feel should be done ahead of time, specifically when we come to changing the word “may” to “shall” or “must” and different things like that.
Assuming that all of you were present before HUMA, could you clarify for me if those 11 amendments were presented at that committee?
Mr. Adair: From FALA’s perspective, yes, 12 recommendations were presented. Some of them were addressed to a certain extent. One was adopted. It was a recommendation made by a number of organizations, and that was to include communication as a major area of focus.
Senator Poirier: I am talking about the 11 outstanding ones that are here.
Mr. Adair: They are still outstanding, yes.
Senator Poirier: Were those 11 presented to HUMA and refused?
Mr. Adair: Yes.
Senator Poirier: That’s important for us to know because if we make amendments here and certain amendments get accepted here, we know they still have to go through another phase and be accepted again in the other house.
Mr. Adair: Just to clarify that, some were made and there were some helpful and meaningful incremental changes but not everything we were asking for. They weren’t completely ignored. That’s an important consideration.
Senator Poirier: Thank you.
Ms. Joffe: Just to clarify that, the three recommendations I spoke about tonight were three that we wanted to highlight to you today. There are additional ones that ARCH is putting forward. Those will be in our written brief to you, on which I am putting the finishing touches tonight.
Senator Poirier: I appreciate it.
I had other questions, but they have mostly been addressed already. So, due to time, I will leave it at that. Thank you.
Senator Kutcher: I am mindful of the time. My request is that next time I get to speak before Senator Deacon so she doesn’t take all my questions again.
I would like to thank you all for your extremely thoughtful, very clear and very concise suggestions for improvements. Thank you.
Senator Munson: I have one brief question that hasn’t been addressed. It’s more of a philosophical question of who we are as a country.
We’ve talked about the 105-page bill, all the amendments and the rest of it. Could you give us a feeling, at the end of this conversation, of what this means to the disability community in terms of a cultural, attitudinal and inclusion shift instead of saying I am going to complain? It is part of the fabric of who we are as a country. I think a cultural and attitudinal shift will be taking place, and Canada will be the leader, with amendment or no amendment, but with this bill. I’d like to get a feel for that.
Mr. Adair: From FALA’s perspective, one of our 11 recommendations is to create a culture of inclusion and equity.
We know that legislation will lead to some changes, but it’s the attitude of people in the country. When we learn to embrace our differences and diversity and realize that they enrich our lives socially and economically, that’s when the country becomes stronger and stronger over time.
We are very interested in seeing legislation, but we’re also interested in seeing education and training presented and implemented in a meaningful way. We heard from the federal public service earlier. People who are employers in that area are interested in and understand that many times when they hire persons with disabilities, they perform better than people without disabilities, or they might have a disability in another five years. We don’t know. It is a cultural shift we’re moving toward, and it is the country that Canada wants to be.
Mr. Estey: Perhaps I could just add briefly. Thank you for the question, Senator Munson. It reminds me of something. I used to work for an organization called Disabled Peoples’ International with disabled people’s groups in 130 countries around the world. About 15 years ago, a colleague wrote a history of DPI called The Last Civil Rights Movement. That is very much in the mind’s eye of people with disabilities. There have been civil rights movements for other people and other constituencies, but people with disabilities haven’t gone through that. We haven’t had discussions about our emancipation as a people.
These kinds of discussions and these kinds of things like Bill C-81 and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities are all about that. As someone who has been doing this work for over 25 years, it has always seemed to me that the biggest challenge we face is that nobody pays attention and we’re invisible. The invisibility issue for people with disabilities is always a challenge.
Things like Bill C-81 and the discussions around it are very important for us in terms of getting the attention of government, officials, senators and parliamentarians> That will allow us to move forward. I very much agree with you. We are on a point of real significant shift, and thank you for highlighting that.
The Chair: Did you want to add something?
Ms. Joffe: No. I am a lawyer, and I very much defer to the community on a philosophical question like that one.
The Chair: Thank you. On that very good note, Mr. Estey, Mr. Adair and Ms. Joffe, I would like to thank you very much for your contributions to this study of Bill C-81, which we will continue tomorrow.
(The committee adjourned.)