THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON SOCIAL AFFAIRS, SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
OTTAWA, Thursday, April 11, 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 10:30 a.m. to give consideration to the bill.
Senator Chantal Petitclerc (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Good morning to all. Welcome to the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology.
My name is Chantal Petitclerc, and I’m from Quebec. It’s a pleasure and a privilege to be chairing this morning’s meeting.
Before we give the floor to our witness, and we are very pleased that you are with us today, I would invite my colleagues to please introduce themselves.
Senator Seidman: Good morning. Judith Seidman from Montreal, Quebec.
Senator Poirier: Good morning. Rose-May Poirier, New Brunswick.
Senator Eaton: Welcome. Nicky Eaton, Ontario.
Senator Oh: Victor Oh, Ontario.
Senator Forest-Niesing: Good morning and welcome. My name is Josée Forest-Niesing, and I’m from Northern Ontario.
Senator Mégie: Marie-Françoise Mégie from Quebec.
Senator M. Deacon: Marty Deacon, Ontario.
Senator Kutcher: Stan Kutcher, Nova Scotia.
Senator Munson: Jim Munson, Ontario. Just before we begin, I know that yesterday the chair spoke about the great work of Dr. Wilbert Keon, and we acknowledged his work, but at this moment, there is a service taking place at St. Patrick’s cathedral here in Ottawa, and I wanted to be there for it. I know that Dr. Keon would rather have myself and ourselves here doing our work at the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology. Dr. Keon was a mentor to me when I first came to the Senate, fifteen and a half years ago. He very much advised me on my work on autism even at that time.
Thinking of Dr. Keon, not only did he have his health study but he was co-chair on the Kirby report Mental Health: Out of the Shadows at Last. He was an icon, a national treasure and an incredible co-chair for this committee. Out of respect for Dr. Keon at this point, I thought we would pause for a moment of silence and reflect upon his work here and what the value of his work means to all of us as we go into the future.
We will now observe a moment of silence in honour of Dr. Keon.
[Minute of silence.]
The Chair: Thank you very much for that, Senator Munson.
Today, we are continuing our study of Bill C-81, An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada.
I would like to let everybody know that if you are attending in person today, our hearing is being interpreted into both American Sign Language and Langue des signes du Québec. Closed captioning is also available in the committee room in both official languages. For those watching us online, versions of the broadcast in ASL and LSQ will be available the week after each meeting on Bill C-81.
I’ll introduce our first panel. From Communication Disabilities Access Canada, we have Barbara Collier, the Executive Director. From the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, we have Diane Bergeron, Vice-President of Engagement and International Affairs, and from March of Dimes Canada, we have Zinnia Batliwalla, National Manager, Government Relations and Advocacy. Welcome to all of you.
I would like to remind you that you have five minutes for your opening remarks, followed by questions by the senators. We will begin with you, Ms. Collier.
Barbara Collier, Executive Director, Communication Disabilities Access Canada: Thank you and good morning, senators. It is wonderful to be here with you this morning.
I represent Communication Disabilities Access Canada, CDAC. We are a non-profit, disability organization dedicated to advancing access to services for people who have speech and language disabilities that are not caused primarily by deafness. CDAC participated in the consultations that led to Bill C-81. We commend the government for introducing this bill, which is an important step forward in creating an accessible Canada for all people with disabilities.
We support this bill and we want to see it receive Royal Assent as soon as possible. However, as you have heard before, we think it should be strengthened. We endorse the recommendations put forward yesterday by ARCH Disability Law Centre, the Federal Accessibility Legislation Alliance and the AODA Alliance that you will hear from later on this morning.
We believe that a strong accessible Canada act has the potential to advance accessibility for over half a million Canadians who have disabilities that affect how they understand or process spoken language, or who have unclear speech, or who communicate using pictures, symbols, letter boards, speech-generating devices or with human assistance.
I’m talking about people who have speech and language disabilities due to cerebral palsy, autism spectrum disorder, Down syndrome, learning disability, fetal alcohol syndrome, cognitive and intellectual disability, acquired brain injury, aphasia after a stroke, dementia, head and neck cancer, Lou Gehrig’s disease or ALS, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis. We’re talking about a lot of disabilities that may contribute to people having speech and language disabilities, but they are not deaf or have significant hearing loss.
In October of 2018, we presented to the HUMA Standing Committee and asked that the bill be amended to include communication — without the “s” — as a priority accessibility area. And this happened. As a result, this bill is now the only accessibility legislation that we’re aware of that distinguishes communication from information and communications.
At this time, existing provincial, territorial and international accessibility legislation and guidelines tend to focus on how information is given to a person: Accessible websites; plain-language alternate formats. While these accommodations are essential, they don’t begin to address the barriers experienced by people when they actually interact with people — and you can’t access any service without interacting with someone.
The accessible Canada act has the potential to develop meaningful communication standards and regulations that will ensure that people can use their preferred method of communication; that they can interact with people who have some training on how to interact with them; that they will get the accommodations that they need to communicate in face-to-face interactions — over the telephone and at meetings; and something that is really important, namely, that they get formal communication support services when they need it, such as in contexts relating to police, legal and justice services, and when giving consent in very serious situations, such as medical assistance in dying.
Unlike the need for sign language interpreting services or translation services, the accommodations and communication support services for people who have speech and language disabilities are not well known. They are typically omitted in regulations, and they are seriously underdeveloped in Canada. Yet, we have ample research from the many pilot projects that we do that attest to the fact that communication support services are required by many people in these serious contexts.
We have two recommendations that could strengthen the bill in addition to the other recommendations that we endorse and support. We have two that we want to suggest to you to strengthen it for people who have speech and language disabilities. First, we want the bill to clarify the term, “communication.” When they think about it, many people think about how will we get information to somebody, not necessarily how will I understand what that person is communicating to me. So we recommend that “communication” referred to in clause 5(c.1) be clarified in the definition section as “a two-way, interactive process in which people give and receive information, using a range of communication methods in face-to-face interactions over the telephone, online and via reading and writing.” I think we have it all covered in that. That will draw attention to the fact that communication is a priority area. That’s what we are talking about.
Second, we recommend an acknowledgment that people have a right to use a range of communications methods and supports. The reason we are asking for this is that people communicate in different ways, and they have a right to use the communications methods and supports that best suits their needs, the needs of the person they are interacting with, and the context.
We think it is very important that this is specified and that people see themselves reflected in the bill. We recommend adding a principle statement in section 6 that says: “All persons have the right to communicate using their preferred communications methods and supports, which includes speech, writing, pictures, symbol and letter boards, speech-generating devices, as well as human services, such as ASL, LSQ, ISL, interpreting, captioning in real time, and informal and formal communication assistance.” We think it needs to be inclusive.
Thank you for this opportunity to share this with you. In conclusion, we support this bill. We hope you can strengthen it and take our suggestions on board. And we do have lots of other suggestions on the rollout, but I will leave it at that for now.
The Chair: Thank you.
Ms. Bergeron, I believe you have some opening remarks for us as well.
Diane Bergeron, Vice President, Engagement and International Affairs, Canadian National Institute for the Blind: Yes. Thank you, Madam Chair and honourable senators, for the opportunity to be here today. My name is Diane Bergeron. As always, I am accompanied by the lovely Lucy at my feet.
Last year, CNIB celebrated our one-hundredth birthday — that is 100 years of focusing on changing what it means to be blind for Canadians with sight loss. We deliver innovative programs and powerful advocacy efforts that empower people impacted by blindness to live their dreams and tear down barriers to inclusion.
I would like to begin by recognizing the other disability groups that are here to testify today. We have worked tirelessly over the last couple of years. As a collaborative, and as a community, we have come together to ensure that we build and face the concerns in the development of Bill C-81. It is important that we have all the opinions recognized in this important piece of legislation.
I’ve been living with sight loss most of my life. I was 5 years old when I was diagnosed with an eye condition called retinitis pigmentosa.
Through my years since then, I have experienced numerous barriers to my participation in society — barriers in buildings, transportation, technology, and in people’s attitudes and perceptions of what people with sight loss can do.
Governments, too, have caused barriers to my participation in society. However, I believe that aspects of Bill C-81 will help to improve my life and the lives of other Canadians with sight loss and other disabilities.
One of the ways this can be done is through technology. Today I am able to read my notes through my computer and through using a voice-synthesizing system, listening through my earpiece and repeating what it is saying to me. It is a little magic trick that I do.
Technology is a great tool to enhance accessibility for people with sight loss. My iPhone, which I have here, not only allows me to read my emails and make phone calls; it also allows me to read inaccessible documents at times, and graphics. It can help me figure out denominations of currency. It can connect me with a live agent who can help me navigate a community building to find a voting station. It can help me independently get around a building or a neighbourhood with the use of Bluetooth-enabled beacons.
The government can use technology, through beacons, to make government buildings more accessible and to remove and eliminate barriers for persons with sight loss, a key component of Bill C-81.
CNIB has applauded the federal government for introducing this legislation, but Bill C-81 is not perfect. After many years of consultations and engagement, it is our view that Bill C-81 should be passed now in this form. As you all know, Bill C-81 passed through the House of Commons unanimously because of the important amendments that strengthened the legislation. Could it be better? The answer is yes. However, I do not think that a perfect piece of legislation exists in Canada.
While CNIB believes there is room for improvement in the legislation, we also recognize that passage of this legislation is time-sensitive. This historic legislation will not break down barriers to inclusion for Canadians with sight loss or any other disability if it dies on the Order Paper in the Senate or in the House of Commons. This is something CNIB has said from day one. We believe it is best for the government to put the new structures in place and start drafting and implementing powerful regulations that will ultimately create a more accessible and inclusive Canada. Ultimately, we believe it is the best accountability from the federal government to start these processes as quickly as possible.
We would like to note that when Minister Qualtrough appeared before this committee last week, she did recognize two aspects where potential improvements should focus.
In regard to ASL and CIQ, CNIB believes there should be a way to emphasize and recognize the importance of sign language to the deaf community. We also think it is important to have clarity around the duty to accommodate persons with disabilities to ensure that Bill C-81 will not lessen existing federal human rights obligations.
Based on our experiences, we know it is not enough to pass the legislation without any accountability. To help stay as accountable as possible to Canadians with disabilities, CNIB proposes the following suggestions, not as part of the legislation but as suggestions to the government.
We believe it is important for the government to make any and all results of Bill C-81 public as quickly as possible.
Second, we think the Government of Canada should publish their expected timelines for the implementation of the legislation during this summer. These timelines should illustrate expected results within the next year, two years and five years. While we recognize that governments do not usually publish these sorts of timelines, this would go a long way to showing the disability community that the goals of this legislation are real and an important priority.
Finally, in order to truly review and analyze the impact of the legislation with the goal of a barrier-free Canada, the Government of Canada should allocate funding for disability organizations to monitor the implementation of the legislation. This would be similar to the work that disability organizations have done regarding Canada’s implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities through a shadow report. This work would help to shape the five-year statutory review of Bill C-81 and provide the best feedback possible. In fact, Part 1, clause 14, gives the Minister of Accessibility the power to create grants and contributions in support of the minister’s programs and projects in relation to matters of accessibility. The creation of such a funding opportunity is already within the scope of this legislation.
As I noted earlier, technology can help create better accessibility and eliminate barriers for people with sight loss. Bill C-81 does not include specifics of how this would be done because that is the role of the regulations. Many of the applications of this legislation that will have a direct impact to Canadians with sight loss will not be filled until regulations have been created and implemented. None of that will happen unless this piece of legislation passes.
I want to thank you all for the time and opportunity to speak to you today. I’m looking forward to answering any of your questions.
Zinnia Batliwalla, National Manager, Government Relations and Advocacy, March of Dimes Canada: Good morning, senators. To begin I want to thank you for inviting me here today to speak to the importance of Bill C-81, An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada, on behalf of March of Dimes Canada.
March of Dimes Canada is the country’s largest community-based organization providing programs and services for people with physical disabilities. Our mission is to maximize the independence, personal empowerment and community participation of people with physical disabilities. While our mission is at the core of every program and service we offer, we also know that programs and services alone are not enough to fulfill our organization’s vision of a society inclusive of people with disabilities.
Strong and effective laws, regulations and policies are also necessary to remove barriers that prevent the inclusion of people with disabilities every day.
This is why we have long advocated for national accessibility legislation and why we are pleased to speak about Bill C-81, which has the potential to take Canada one step closer to a more fair and just society for Canadians with disabilities.
I would like to acknowledge the time-sensitive nature of this bill to urge the Senate to prioritize the passage of this legislation.
Given the tight timelines, it is regrettable that we are hesitant to put forth amendments. It is our position that Bill C-81, in its current state, has the potential to do more than it would if it dies on the Order Paper.
That said, we recognize that this bill could do much more to ensure an accessible and barrier-free Canada, especially in regard to ensuring accountability.
If amendments are proposed that would strengthen this bill, particularly addressing our areas of concern, which I will speak to, we will support these amendments but do not want the bill to be held up because of them. In the remainder of my time, I would like to highlight some key areas that will enable accountability for actionable change.
Whether or not these areas of concern are addressed before or after the passage of this bill, we will urge government to address these concerns in the future. We will use all mechanisms available to us, including the review process outlined in the bill, to inform and work with government to ensure our concerns are addressed once the legislation is passed.
Legislation such as Bill C-81 enables organizations like ours to work with our government partners to ensure that government and all regulated entities are held accountable to achieve accessibility. For example, since the implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, March of Dimes Canada has consistently used two mechanisms, including the review process and the deadline of 2025 for an accessible Ontario, to foster progress in regard to accessibility.
In its current state, Bill C-81 does not include dates or timelines for achieving its purpose of a Canada without barriers, nor does it include dates or timelines for implementing key requirements for the removal or prevention of barriers.
To enable organizations like ours to measure progress and urge change, timelines allow us to better work with our government partners to ensure we are actively moving toward an accessible and inclusive Canada.
Related to this — I know it has already been raised on multiple occasions — that while this legislation gives the government and other bodies power to make and enforce accessibility requirements, it does not require that power to be used, given the presence of permissive language.
Similar to the inclusion of timelines, language requiring the government and its regulated entities to develop and enforce accessibility requirements will enable organizations like ours to ensure the government and all other regulated entities are meeting its commitment in regard to achieving an accessible Canada.
My previous points have all centred on how organizations like March of Dimes Canada might use aspects of this legislation to keep the government accountable. However, there is a missed opportunity that has also been raised by others in that the power the federal government has to hold its partners accountable beyond regulated entities by ensuring that when public money is spent or transferred, the funding should never be used to create or perpetuate disability-related barriers.
Our last point relates to accountability but focuses on how the responsibility of enforcement is splintered between the newly created position of the Accessibility Commissioner, the CRTC and the CTA. This will likely result in a culture that does not foster accountability.
For Bill C-81 to be most effective, the centralization of compliance oversight and complaint-handling should be considered to ensure simplicity and limit confusion.
Once again, I thank you all for having me here to speak on behalf of March of Dimes Canada. It is clear that this legislation is a step in the right direction for a Canada that is accessible and inclusive for people with disabilities. However, we know we have much further to go to ensure an accessible and inclusive Canada, including strengthening this legislation to ensure its effectiveness and impact in the long term. We look forward to working collaboratively with all partners within the government, our communities and beyond as we move forward.
The Chair: Thank you for your opening remarks.
Senator Seidman: Thank you for your presentations. As I said to our witnesses yesterday, we thank you for putting to us the voices of the disability communities. There are many voices, and we need to acknowledge that. Mr. Estey, from the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, said to us yesterday that we are pretty much the end of the game here. What are our priorities? What is most important? It’s a challenge.
I think that speaks to all of us, and I know that the voices we hear from you today are similar to what we heard yesterday. This is a really good start; this is enabling legislation. It is really important to the communities, but it could be strengthened. There are some amendments that could be made, but we don’t really know if we want you to make them because we don’t want to hold the bill up. That’s a common refrain we keep hearing. On the other hand, there are some people who say the bill is too weak, and it is better to have no bill.
I am trying to get you to help us with this. I know it is a tall order because I know you want to speak and give voice to what your communities are telling you. On the other hand, we do hear, in the communication to us from the many letters we receive, that people in the disability communities don’t want to risk this legislation.
I know this is a tough question: If you had one area of the bill to strengthen, what would you say?
Ms. Collier: You will probably hear three different answers to that. You’ve said it so well: This is a really difficult situation. We do want it to pass. If you were going to say, “What is the one thing?” I think it is changing the language from “may” to “shall.” It is the commitment. We want a firm commitment in this. Right behind that, if I can have a close second for the race, it would be timelines.
Senator Seidman: Thank you.
Ms. Bergeron: Given Minister Qualtrough’s statements last week, there seems to be a willingness for two of the most important ones in there, which is the ASL and LSQ recognition, as well as changing the wording to ensure the duty to accommodate people with disabilities and human rights. If they already stated a willingness for those amendments, and they are important amendments, I would suggest we push those forward. I think it would help us to make sure it comes back on time.
Ms. Batliwalla: I think we’re seeing this from the perspective of how do we ensure the accountability of government as an organization that’s trying to further accessibility and inclusion and hold the government accountable once this legislation is passed?
I think two issues that potentially could also be, although you would have to refer technically to the ALD alliance and ARCH, whether those two can come together. I think from an organizational perspective, that will enable us to ensure accountability.
Senator Munson: Thank you very much for being here. It’s important, obviously as the sponsor of the bill, that I support it. If we must do amendments, we have to be clean, clear, short and concise with them. I don’t think we serve a lot of purpose if we have 10 or 15 amendments. If we have really strong things in there, perhaps we’ll see the government accept them. Let’s just hope so.
There is an invisible disability that we don’t discuss much. I’m glad, Ms. Collier, that you’re here. There is not only autism but intellectual disabilities because when you refer to the word “inclusion,” it’s more than just being included; it’s being employed. With inclusion, it’s the balance of what we are doing as a society and a moral obligation and human rights obligation to people who are not employed. So in the disability community, it’s more than building a ramp. It’s more than opening a door with a button.
I am really happy that you’re here to talk about the communications aspect of it all. If you could be more specific about how this would work in terms of employment, whether in government, in Transport Canada, at banks, these places of people. It’s one thing to be included and say, “I have Asperger’s. Therefore, I may have some social connection issues, but at the same time, I’m smart about so many things.”
How would this legislation work in reducing unemployment, the jobless? The numbers are up to 20, 30 and 40 per cent in the intellectual community not working. Would this legislation help that? If so, how?
Ms. Collier: Thank you, Senator Munson. I think it will. Honestly, with the population that we support, people who have disabilities that affect their communication — and I deliberately listed quite a few disabilities so that you could see the scope of this. Many people have multiple disabilities. Many people have intellectual disabilities. Many people do not have intellectual disabilities, but the misperception out there is that if you can’t speak or you have difficulty understanding what I’m saying, you must have a cognitive disability and you’ll need somebody to speak for you. That’s not at all true, not in all cases.
What we’re talking about here is recognizing, by putting communication as a priority area, that we’re going to have to look specifically at what people need, not only for employment, but when we did our research on this, people were saying they can’t even go to the doctor, senator. They can’t go to the police and communicate with them about abuse that is going on. They can’t communicate with the driver of the paratransit. We’re talking about huge needs. Yes, education and employment are also in that.
I think we have a long way to go with the awareness of what the needs are for this population. There are many things. People need ways to communicate. Do you know that in parts of Canada, people cannot get services or communication devices to communicate? How do you even begin to talk about employment?
There are provinces that do not provide computers. There is no funding. There is no support for that. How do you begin to be employed if you have cerebral palsy, an intellectual disability or a physical disability and a communication disability? It’s huge. We need to look at all of those components.
I see this as the start. If the minister of accessibility is in communication with the provinces about providing the assistive technology and services that they need, and if they are also — this is key — developing communication support services that parallel sign language but are quite different — they are for people with communication disabilities — I think that’s one of the first things we have to do, move that along and see that people may need support to communicate over the phone, in writing, in going to school and in becoming employed.
So you have asked a very complicated question, Senator Munson, and I don’t think I have begun to address it. I’ve really just thrown more problems in there. I think this legislation, by drawing attention to communication as an entity, as a priority area, will start to address those needs.
Senator Munson: Next round, if I can.
Senator Forest-Niesing: I have a number of questions, so I hope I’ll have enough time to ask them all.
The first thing I’d like to ask you about is the timetable for developing and implementing the first regulations made under this bill. When the minister was here last week, I think she addressed the issue well. She said it would be a priority to push federal institutions to comply with the first regulation within a period of two years. Do you think that’s a reasonable period of time, given all the work that needs to be done and the sense of urgency that exists around dealing with these issues?
The Chair: Do you have someone specific you would like to answer that question?
Senator Forest-Niesing: I’ll let you fight among yourselves as to who wishes to answer the question, but I would be interested in your views on that.
Ms. Bergeron: I would say that two years is reasonable. It gives time for people to have input into the process. The sooner the regulations are put in place, the sooner the implementation of the legislation can begin. And given the time frame of five years for a review of the legislation, you need time to have the legislation implemented in order to be able to look through, provide feedback and monitor how it’s being implemented. So I think two years is a good time frame.
Ms. Collier: I would agree. The sooner, the better. I just want to say that we have so many solutions. It’s just a matter of pushing the button and having this law in place to say, “Move on.” We have the expertise to do this. We’re not the only jurisdiction to do it. We just need to get going with it.
Senator Forest-Niesing: I can’t disagree with that, for sure.
Ms. Batliwalla: I wouldn’t mind quickly adding something.
Senator Forest-Niesing: Sure.
Ms. Batliwalla: I think it’s important to just make clear that the regulations that will be made are technical regulations, so they are dealing with accessibility plans, progress reports and feedback processes specifically, but it actually does not necessarily mean timelines to see actionable change. I think that is a really important differentiation to make.
Senator Forest-Niesing: Thank you for that. We heard many witnesses, but yesterday we were hearing testimony from the four administrative entities that will be charged with the responsibility of dealing with the complaint process. What we heard was that there is an approach — I believe their term was “no wrong door.” Many questions led us to consider whether the approach should be one single door as opposed to no wrong door. We will have to struggle with that within the committee as we study this bill further. But I would like to hear your views as well, and I’ll let you decide which of you wishes to respond.
Ms. Collier: I can take a stab at it.
Senator Forest-Niesing: Thank you.
Ms. Collier: I agree. I think it’s one door. We think it’s the accessibility commissioner — that should run through the commissioner — and that the complaint process should also be accessible. But we also need a proxy process for people who rely on an assistant to be able to make a complaint.
I just want to highlight that a woman, who uses an alphabet board to communicate, recently told me that she tried to make a complaint in Ontario around accessibility, and she was told by the accessibility directorate to basically sort it out herself or take it to the Human Rights Commission.
She is a woman who cannot speak, and she can’t afford to go through that process. So I really hope that this complaint process will not just be, “I’m complaining,” but that there will be some resolution attempt to it, and that the commission know where to get that expertise from. Because solutions in a Federal Court are quite different from solutions that occur in Service Canada.
Ms. Bergeron: I can give my perspective. I don’t know if you have experienced going through any kind of a complaint process. In several jurisdictions — pretty much every jurisdiction in most places that I have ever been, and International Affairs takes me a lot of places — there is usually more than one path to go through in dealing with a complaint.
And sometimes for the person with the disability who is dealing with the complaint, because their human rights or some right that they have has been neglected or violated, you just want somebody to recognize that your rights have been violated. Sometimes you’re ready and prepared to spend the next five years of your life dealing with the stress, the lack of sleep, the criticisms, the public knowledge of what you’re doing. It’s a huge thing to go through. So, although I agree that one door is perhaps important, I don’t know that every single person is going to want to use the same process. Have some form of “go-to”, one door, but ensure that there are multiple paths so that potentially a negotiation can be done in a quiet way.
Having a disability is exhausting, and I do not say that lightly. But when you have to deal with discrimination, rights violations, different pieces of legislation, criticisms, people not thinking that you have value, it makes it worse. So the easier the process, but the most available possible resolution is the best way to go, I think. That’s my opinion.
The Chair: Did you want to add something to that?
Ms. Batliwalla: I think they covered very well what I would have said.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
Senator Eaton: Ms. Bergeron, what you said is very moving because I can understand how exhausting it must be, day after day. Some of the questions we were asking last night included whether they could have a common website and could there be trained people on the phone.
Do you think this legislation will lead to a cultural shift beyond the federal level? Because we know now that provinces have some kind of overlapping legislation. And I’m just wondering, what is it going to take to make a real difference? Yes, there are physical barriers, but I think there are also mental barriers you have to fight in terms of discrimination. What is it going to take to break down those barriers, a real cultural shift?
Ms. Bergeron: Are you asking one of us specifically?
Senator Eaton: Both of you. You live it, so you have real experience, and Ms. Collier is certainly very cognizant as to what it does to people, and their difficulties.
Ms. Bergeron: I think the intent of the legislation is going to help with a cultural shift. The reality in this country is that the federal government has an opportunity, and I believe an obligation, to be a leader in this area. And if the federal government leads, I believe that the provinces, municipalities, private sector and so on will follow. They will come along when you demonstrate the commitment from a government level that this is important, and you put processes and regulations in place, I think people are going to have to come on board.
In saying that, it’s not going to happen tomorrow. But if the federal government demonstrates, through regulations and standards, their leadership in fulfilling the intent of this legislation, then I think there is a good chance that we can turn the ship around. It would just take time.
Ms. Collier: I couldn’t agree more. What this legislation does, for our population of people with communication disabilities, is that it recognizes them. That’s a first. I don’t know of any accessibility committee in Canada that has somebody with a speech and language disability on it.
We look at this and we say, “It’s such an opportunity,” but a culture shift happens with exposure. It happens with familiarity. It’s not going to happen through me preaching. It is going to happen with your meeting people who have communication disabilities, and not being afraid of that and having some expertise and training in this. If the government starts employing people with speech and language disabilities as experts in providing input on how you would make an accessibility plan that includes them, teachers being instructors, that’s how it’s going to work, and being consultants on this. But they are missing right now. I just see this as a huge opportunity.
Senator Eaton: You were talking about communications; that Canada is severely under served. Is there a country we should be looking to as an example?
Ms. Collier: I think we’re kind of leading edge in our organizations because we have started to train communication assistants and we have started to train speech-language pathologists — again, a pilot project — to work in police, legal and justice settings. We have looked at the U.K., which is a leading country in providing communications supports for people with vulnerable communication, due to disabilities, in those situations. They have accredited intermediaries, they are speech pathologists. We have been trying to get that going — with no funding — across Canada, but we have a long way to go.
It’s not known. It’s under served and we’re not using it. Do you know that in the U.K. they get 6,000 referrals a year for these services? We started to put intermediary service out there and we had 11. That’s not because they are not needed. It’s because nobody is using them. No one knows about it, and the potential to do more with this legislation is there. We just need to get going on it.
Senator Poirier: I had three questions but two have been addressed, so I am down to one.
The minister last week told us that $185.7 million of the total funding for the $290 million was allocated to establish the new bodies and positions proposed in the bill. This amount will be spent on administrative cost, apparently. As you know, everyone wants an accessible Canada, but my concern is the use of the funding, we want to make sure that the funding is used the right way. So I just want to hear, and anyone can answer or all three, in your opinion do you believe that this is the best way to use the funding? Where would your organization like to see the funding being put?
Ms. Collier: We’ll take it. Do you want to go first?
Ms. Bergeron: Why stop a trend? Okay. So I wasn’t expecting this question, so I have to be honest. It is important to make sure that the funding for projects, grants and so on goes forward as much as possible to the organizations and the community to make sure we can serve best and that we’re being consulted.
The other side of that coin, for me, is that the creation of CASDO, with people with disabilities on there — the voice of people with disabilities in creating their own future has no price tag; it is a value that cannot be put into numbers. If it takes that amount of money, then that’s what it takes. But it is most important that, however the money is spent, it is there to help ensure the barriers are removed but removed based on the voices of lived experiences.
Senator Poirier: Thank you. Does anybody else want to add anything?
Ms. Collier: I don’t think any of this can happen without funding for disability organizations to be very involved. We know what standards we need. We know what regulations we need. We have the expertise.
I can’t comment on how that funding is distributed, but there must be funding for us to be present in that. Right now, there isn’t, but we need it. We also need funds for those communication support services that I talked about. These are accessibility supports. We can’t just sit around talking about what needs to happen; we have got to put in place the supports that will make it happen.
Senator Poirier: Thank you.
Ms. Batliwalla: Just to add, it’s not an easy question, especially, to think about where the money should go, but that this legislation creates three bodies devoted to accessibility is a big commitment from the government and a very positive step forward.
Senator Poirier: Thank you.
Senator Mégie: We received a document in braille this morning. I see that voice recognition technology has also provided a way to communicate with people who are blind. How important is braille today in your system of communication?
Ms. Bergeron: Absolutely. At one time, we would have said that Braille was being reduced as a literacy tool, simply because of the introduction of audio and voice systems on computers and so on. Unfortunately, we relied too much on those systems, and we began to create an entire generation of illiterate people. You cannot tell how something is spelled and the structure of sentences strictly by hearing.
The invention of refreshable Braille displays — the use of the technology that has allowed for the use of these displays — has given a piece of Braille — instead of being in paper like the Braille we gave you in my notes — the ability to use a computer device that provides refreshable Braille. With that invention, Braille is on an upswing. We are teaching it more, it is more portable, it is more accessible and it is reintroducing literacy to the blind and partially sighted community. Braille technology is essential.
Senator Omidvar: Thank you all for being with us today. I think one of you noted that no piece of legislation is perfect. All of us around the table are very challenged by our choices: Do we pass a piece of legislation that’s a start, in the absence of nothing, or do we try to make it perfect?
My question is to Ms. Batliwalla. There is a statement you make in your brief — we haven’t really heard too much about this, so I would like you to expand — but you talk about the permissive language in the bill that enforces legislation on agencies but does not actually require the government itself to abide by the legislation.
Can you clarify that a little for us? How would you make sure that the bill’s intentions, principles and instruments are applied to the whole of government as opposed to parts of government?
Ms. Batliwalla: Yes. I’ll try my best. I would recommend, however, that you look to the briefs from the ARCH Disability Law Centre and the AODA Alliance. This is about the presence of permissive language regarding using the word “may” or “shall” rather than “must.” And so I see it from the perspective of March of Dimes Canada saying that the government, in this legislation, has said they may remove and prevent barriers, but were we to try to lobby and work with the government to change that because nothing is happening. The presence of that permissive language makes it very difficult for organizations like ours.
That’s why I think that, between the timelines and the presence of permissive language, we need to ensure organizations like ours can hold the government accountable to make sure we’re moving toward accessibility and inclusiveness.
Senator Omidvar: Thank you. I’m not sure, but perhaps you know this more than I do. Is there a clause in the bill that talks about a review period after five years? There is? Okay. Would you be willing to take a look at how the government does in the five years and make an assessment of their progress?
Ms. Batliwalla: Of course. We said in our statement that we would use that review process. The clause in this is actually seven years, I believe. It’s longer than five years. Maybe it’s two years after the legislation comes into place, then maybe five. We would use any tool available to us, but for an ongoing process, we need to enable organizations to hold the government accountable.
Senator Omidvar: Thank you.
Senator M. Deacon: I’m really happy to hear from all of you, but particularly the highlight around communications. They have been bundled together for a long time. It’s something we really need to think about from a variety of angles.
As you’re going through the present bill, the topic I’m bringing up is not the timelines so much as the training — ensuring that training is part of this very important work and is well embedded. Do you feel that it’s embedded — inherent — in this particular piece of legislation thus far, or do you think it needs to be stronger?
Ms. Collier: I’ll go ahead. That’s a very good question. I have heard people say that it’s understood that it’s a horizontal activity that will go on. I think that if it can be in the legislation, it should be. So much of it, certainly around communication, is training. It’s not a piece of technology. Again, that’s my aversion to information and communications technologies. For people who have a speech and language disability, it’s how you interact with me. That is different than just being respectful. You need to know how to communicate with me if you don’t understand my speech. If I use a board, if I use a device — there are things that you can do that facilitate that interaction with me. There are things that you do that can actually narrow. It can control situations, too. Just asking me yes or no questions, which happens a lot, controls the conversation.
We want to provide that training. We want to talk about the fact that people communicate at 180 words a minute — sometimes 200 when we’re going like mad — but somebody who uses an alphabet board may communicate at 10 words a minute. So think about the accommodations you need to give to that person, without simply asking a yes or no question.
There are things that we can do. People do not use the phone if they can’t communicate over the phone. They might use an assistant. A person I know tried to contact CRA about her taxes. She had an assistant with her who said, “I’m authorized by this woman to talk. She cannot communicate. She can’t speak.” They said, “Use the TTY.” She is not deaf. She doesn’t have a TTY. These are things we can work out. It’s training. It’s putting those things in place.
It’s a long answer. I’m sorry for taking the time. But yes, maybe we should have training in the legislation because so much of accessibility is training.
The Chair: Ms. Bergeron.
Ms. Bergeron: So yes, absolutely, training needs to be included. You can’t implement this legislation unless you have training. It’s not going to work.
Do I think it should be included in the legislation? I think there are a lot of things that should be included in the legislation. I just don’t want that to hold it up. For me this comes down to this — we need to get this done. It’s going to be up to the government to demonstrate that they will do the training appropriately in order to implement. That they will demonstrate through their actions that they shall and must as opposed to can and may. There are lots of things that you can say “can” and “may.” As long it’s being done, that’s the important piece. The proof is in the pudding. There is the next five years to demonstrate the government’s commitment to the intent of the legislation, including the training.
The Chair: Thank you. Did you want to add a little something?
Ms. Batliwalla: I’m okay not to add, thank you.
The Chair: I think this concludes for this panel. I do want to say a very warm thank you. I think all senators would agree with me that you have brought to this committee more information and knowledge that goes, I believe, even beyond Bill C-81. So we totally appreciate it.
We will suspend the meeting for five minutes in order to have the next panel. Thank you.
Before I introduce our second panel, I do want to note to my colleagues that I will ask you to remain with us for a few housekeeping items in camera just after the meeting, so I will ask your indulgence for that.
We will continue with our second panel.
For our second panel, we have with us, from the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, David Lepofsky, Chair. From the British Columbia Aboriginal Network on Disability Society, we have Neil Belanger, Executive Director, who is joining us by video conference. Lastly, from the Confédération des organismes de personnes handicapées du Québec, we have Camille Desforges, Deputy Executive Director.
Thank you. I believe you have opening remarks for us. We will begin with Mr. Bélanger, followed by Ms. Desforges and Mr. Lepofsky. Please proceed.
Neil Belanger, Executive Director, B.C. Aboriginal Network on Disability Society: Good morning, senators. I would first like to acknowledge and thank both the Algonquin and Coast Salish peoples, on whose territories we are meeting today. I would also like to thank the committee for the opportunity to speak here today.
Over our past two years, our organization has engaged with First Nations communities across Canada in relation to Bill C-81 to raise awareness of the legislation, to identify accessibility barriers experienced and, recently, the preferred method of contact in relation to a specific nation-to-nation engagement process.
We are also a member of the Federal Accessibility Legislation Alliance, or FALA, which, as noted yesterday by Bill Adair, is a collaboration of over 90 disability-related agencies that have worked together to bring forward 11 recommendations in relation to Bill C-81, which I believe the committee has received.
I would also like to take this time to note that although we, as others, have recommendations in relation to the bill relating to amendments and considerations, we fully support the passing of Bill C-81 and its receiving Royal Assent. This is groundbreaking legislation for Canada and for the disability sector.
We understand that, as I imagine with most legislation, there will be areas that are initially weak, and that we will learn through experience. However, this should not be a deterrent in passing this landmark legislation. We cannot move forward without taking the first step. The passing of Bill C-81 today is that first step.
Today, I would like to speak to you briefly on three areas in relation to the bill. As senators may know, the Indigenous peoples of Canada experience a disability rate estimated to be twice that of the overall Canadian population.
Additionally, many First Nations communities face significant inequities and challenges in the areas of the built environment, employment, information and communication, housing, health, education, and so on. First Nations communities fall under federal jurisdiction, where our persons with disabilities live, have families, want to work, and want to be able to thrive as included members in barrier-free communities. Despite this, currently Bill C-81 does not cover Canada’s over 630 First Nations communities.
In 2017, the Assembly of First Nations passed a resolution calling for the creation of a separate and distinct First Nations accessibility legislation, including a parallel process to engage First Nations in the development of that legislation.
Currently, this process — a nation-to-nation engagement process — has not been fully implemented due to limited resources and other factors, and the work on the distinct and separate First Nations accessibility legislation has been delayed. The consequence of this is that once Bill C-81 is passed — and it should be passed — First Nations communities and their members living with disabilities will have no protection under any accessibility legislation.
Second, I would like to talk about the CASDO board. It is our position that there must be Indigenous representation with lived experience on that board; and that, further, if a distinct First Nations accessibility legislation is going to be developed, that a liaison position be created between the CASDO board and the Assembly of First Nations so that position can be in a place to observe the operations of the board, the development of standards and regulations, policies and practices, to identify those areas that could be incorporated or modified to serve the distinct needs of First Nations communities.
Finally, I want to reiterate a point that many of my colleagues have said to this committee and to HUMA — the recognition of ASL, LSQ and Indigenous sign language. This must be incorporated into the language of Bill C-81 to ensure proper resourcing and access to communication for these too-often-excluded members of our country. We recommend this in any distinct First Nations legislation developed as well.
In closing, senators, again I would like to thank the committee for this opportunity to convey to you, as I know you’re aware, the importance of the passing of this bill for all Canadians living with a disability. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
Camille Desforges, Deputy Executive Director, Confédération des organismes de personnes handicapées du Québec: Good morning. Before I begin, I’d like to say that the Confédération des organismes de personnes handicapées du Québec, or COPHAN, is an independent group of community advocacy organizations in Quebec. The COPHAN’s mission is to make Quebec inclusive and ensure that people with functional limitations and their families can participate fully and meaningfully in society. We represent approximately 50 provincial and regional organizations that work on behalf of people with functional limitations of all types.
I’d like to thank the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology for inviting us to speak to Bill C-81 today.
I’ll briefly go over the key points in our submission. I’ll start with the definitions. The COPHAN asks that, in defining the term “disability,” the bill place greater emphasis on the result from the interaction between persons with functional limitations and attitudinal and environmental barriers, as per the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and that the notion of “social disability” be incorporated into the definition.
The bill should also define the terms universal design, duty to accommodate and excessive hardship.
The bill fails to address a major issue: federally funded supports. In other words, it makes no mention of the federal agreements and programs that support both public and private stakeholders, for example, through cash transfers to the provinces for health, social services, education and employment.
The COPHAN maintains that the federal government cannot implement this legislation in a vacuum, applicable solely to areas under federal jurisdiction. To ensure sustainable development on a social level, the government should make all federal transfers subject to the act and impose clear accessibility requirements. To that end, the COPHAN recommends integrating the notion of social responsibility, which we’ve already introduced to ensure better governance when it comes to sustainable development.
Similarly, the Canadian government must, as a matter of reflex, take account of its disability responsibility. I say that because of what our members have told us regarding tackling poverty and social exclusion. In many cases, resources aren’t available to people with functional limitations who live in poverty, particularly those who are homeless, because they have little or no access to the appropriate places or services.
In addition, the government should consider implementing a social integration provision. For instance, when putting out a call for tenders, the government should give priority to companies that offer accessible goods or whose workforce includes a large number of employees with limitations.
Further to the proposal to make disability responsibility a default consideration, we would like the purview of the act to extend to the following areas: official languages, political participation, immigration, justice, poverty and social exclusion, and social housing.
The bill is also silent on another crucial element, one that would ensure its effectiveness and provide an opportunity to assess its impact: a specific time frame for developing standards and regulations.
The COPHAN also recommends that the bill be subject to independent review every five years.
With respect to the bill’s scope, we wish to stress the importance of a cross-cutting approach, which would cover all federal government operations. Furthermore, the bill’s scope should extend to all funding sought in the federal government’s chosen areas of activity, commonly referred to as the “power to spend.” Intergovernmental transfers should also fall within the bill’s scope. An easy way to do that is to include a provision that makes all federal funding conditional upon certain accessibility conditions being met.
Regarding clause 15 of the bill, the COPHAN wishes to make clear the need to impose an ability-based analysis on all departments and public agencies, in relation to all statistical studies and research, similar to a gender-based analysis. This means paying close attention to the circumstances and requirements of people with functional limitations in all data collection activities.
In relation to the Canadian Accessibility Standards Development Organization, newly developed accessibility standards must not contribute to the creation of a glass ceiling. Instead, they must serve as a minimum threshold and go hand in hand with a desire to encourage the parties concerned to exceed the standards. Seeing accessibility standards as a way to achieve greater accessibility is paramount.
The obligation to adopt accessibility plans is nothing new in Quebec. Currently, many of the accessibility plans developed and implemented by the province’s ministries, public agencies and municipalities are very questionable, in no way guaranteeing that the objectives and measures set out are relevant or appropriate. We don’t want the federal government to make the same mistakes as Quebec, whose framework lacks penalties, detailed content requirements and accountability mechanisms. At the very least, the bill should include a provision on the process to consult persons with disabilities. It is important that those responsible for accessibility plans be clearly identified and that their contact information be made public. In addition, all accessibility plans should automatically be available on the organizations’ websites in accessible formats. The same goes for accountability.
In conclusion, it is important to keep in mind that the bill provides for the publication of many regulations whose impact has yet to be determined, hence the need for an independent statutory review process. We are nevertheless cautious because the bill seeks to reduce barriers to accessibility without specifically addressing the individuals themselves. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you.
David Lepofsky, Chair, Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance: Good morning, senators.
Bill C-81 is strong on good intentions, but palpably weak on implementation. It’s called An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada, but it does not require a single barrier anywhere in Canada, ever, to be removed. People with disabilities need and deserve better than that.
Bill C-81, at its core and its heart, is driven by the commendable notion that the federal government will enact enforceable regulations called accessibility standards that will tell federally regulated organizations what they have got to do. But it doesn’t require any federal accessibility standards to ever be enacted as enforceable regulations. People with disabilities need and deserve better.
Let me be clear: The regulations that the bill requires to be enacted within two years are on procedural things, not substantive accessibility standards. The federal government could meet that deadline merely by prescribing the forms that people with disabilities shall use if they want to give feedback to Air Canada or Bell Canada. People with disabilities need and deserve better than that.
This legislation splinters its enforcement and the setting of enforceable regulations among multiple federal agencies. From the minister’s defence of her practice, she conceded that if she were starting from scratch, that isn’t necessarily how she would do it. But her explanation of why she did it gives triumphant ascendancy to federal bureaucracy over disability equality.
Now the question is: What do we do about it? The question is not: Are you going to pass this bill, senators? You’re going to pass this bill, so let’s take that off the table. We all know it. We all understand it. That’s the starting point.
The question before this committee is: Are you going to amend it first? What we say is that you must. The reality is this bill needs a lot of amendments not to make it perfect — that’s a red herring — but to get this bill from the status of weak to one that is closer to what people with disabilities need and deserve.
In the house, there were pages of amendments. Hard work over the past weekend has led us to distill it down to a series of amendments before you that we propose — and you have received emails from some witnesses who support them — which fill a grand total of 3.5 pages and cover a few core themes. I am only going to address a couple of them, but let me be clear, there is time to do this. You’re going to vote in the committee on May 2. I understand you will do third reading by May 16. We are working and approaching the federal parties to urge that, once amendments are passed — if they are — that the house consider them quickly, so the issue of swift passage of this bill, whether amended or not, is now, procedurally, not a bar to your being able to do what we need you to do.
So what should you do?
Well, let me just focus on a couple, but I invite questions on all of what we proposed. Let’s just turn to the headlines. Yesterday, the Government of Ontario announced a multi-billion-dollar plan for new subways in Toronto, but only if other levels of government, including the federal government, add billions of dollars to the allocation that the province is committing to. That’s not unusual. But we need the federal government to be required, before it spends our money on a project like that, to say a ground rule of getting our federal money is you have to meet certain federal accessibility requirements.
Now, the minister came before you a week ago and said, “We can’t do that. We don’t have constitutional authority to do that.” Respectfully, the minister is wrong. It’s called the federal spending power. Have you heard of the Canada Health Act? The Canada Health Act says that if provinces get federal money for provincial health programs, they must meet federal accessibility requirements. Not disability accessibility, but their financial accessibility.
If what the minister told you is right, then the Canada Health Act has been unconstitutional for over three decades since it was enacted. I would be staggered to believe that is the position of the current federal government. If they can do it there, they can at least attach strings when they give money, if they agree to, to local projects and not just federal buildings.
You might look at me and say, “Oh, come on, in 2019 we wouldn’t use public money to build inaccessible public transit.” Senators, go to YouTube, search on AODA Alliance and public transit. You will see a video we released during last spring’s provincial election that has thousands of views and media coverage where we document serious accessibility problems in brand new subway stations in Toronto that just opened within the past year-and-a-half.
This isn’t about perfect, folks. This is about basic equality, so we ask for an amendment that would at least require federal ministers or their ministries, if they are agreeing to give our federal money to a province, a municipality, a college or university for a project like that, to put, as a term of the agreement, an enforceable term, just like the Canada Health Act, that accessibility requirements are required. Why should the federal government ever allow federal money to be used to create new barriers or perpetuate existing ones?
Let me give you one other core amendment. My colleague from the CNIB said the minister last week had agreed to amend the bill to ensure that it does not curtail in any way the human rights code and the duty to accommodate. I hope the minister does that, but I don’t hear her as having said that. I hear her as having said that she, as a former human rights lawyer, has ensured that this bill doesn’t interfere with the duty to accommodate. But senators, it threatens to.
Clause 172 of the bill perpetuates a provision in the Canada transportation legislation that would let the CTA enact a regulation, and once it does so, to set standards for accessible transit, no matter how low that standard may be and no matter how deficient from a human rights standard it may be. As a traveller with a disability or others in my coalition or anyone in Canada, we are barred from asking anymore under the legislation’s guarantee against undue barriers.
With that provision in the act, our position is: Please don’t ever enact any standards under the CTA because they threaten to take away our rights. A simple amendment would repeal that provision from the act.
Let me conclude by inviting questions on the other areas that we’ve raised. I’m telling you that we are not just about saying what’s wrong. We are about proposing constructive suggestions for what’s right, and the amendments we’ve placed before you are designed for a Senate that has a limited time frame to act, a commitment to respect policy decisions made in the House of Commons and an eagerness to ensure that these amendments can be considered by the house quickly and easily, with a realistic chance of them being taken seriously. They are designed to be tailored both to our needs and to what the minister said to you last week. So we ask you to take them all seriously. They are all substantive, and they all bear on the needs of all people with disabilities.
I conclude by saying this: I’m speaking for my coalition, but as an individual, I first came before Parliament 39 years ago as a much younger individual — my wife said I had hair back then when she saw the video — to appear before the standing committee considering the Charter of Rights. At that time, the Charter proposed to guarantee equality but not to people with disabilities. I and a number of other folks argued and succeeded in getting the Charter amended to include that right.
I leave you with two thoughts. First, the amendments we seek are aimed at making that right become a reality, not just as a matter of good intention but as effective implementation.
The Chair: Thank you so much, Mr. Lepofsky. We have a list of senators who are eager to ask questions.
Senator Seidman: Thank you all very much for your presentations.
Mr. Lepofsky, I will take you up on your challenge. I’m searching for commonalities. I appreciate the premise you made that we are looking for clear, crisp, focused and meaningful amendments that have a hope of being passed on the other side because that’s exactly what’s going to have to happen in this process.
I would like to ask you specifically, you submitted three areas that need strengthening with 11 amendments. I would like to ask you very specifically about your amendment about timelines. It is true that HUMA heard testimony around timelines, but they decided not to amend the bill to include a deadline. You have proposed one. In fact, I think you proposed January 1, 2040.
I would like to hear from you why you are pushing that we have a timeline and why it would be that particular one.
Mr. Lepofsky: There are two timelines that we set. One is that the government should be required — not just permitted but required — to enact accessibility standards regulations within five years and also the timeline for ultimate accessibility in Canada by 2040. Yes, these were pitched to HUMA. The opposition parties, left and right, united in support of that agenda. The government did not agree.
Our hope is that, on your sober second thought, you find wisdom drawing on the experiences that bring you to this Senate, that a return of this issue to the House in June, months before an election, may lead all members of the house to see the wisdom in adopting them.
To be clear, I have an appointment to meet the minister this afternoon to bring that message. We would like to work with the Senate and the house to see if we can broker a package that covers everything.
With respect to the 2040 deadline, I had the privilege of leading the coalition that fought for a decade to win the enactment of Ontario’s accessibility law, and I now lead the coalition that has fought for the past 14 years to get it effectively implemented. The minister doubted whether a deadline in the legislation would help. Our front-line grassroots experience of 14 years unequivocally demonstrates that it does. The minister feared that that might lead to a disincentive. People think, “Oh, you have to wait until 2039 to start.” Not only doesn’t it, but we’ve proposed wording that you can include that will utterly accommodate the minister’s worry by making that clear.
What we’ve learned is if you say, “It will become accessible sometime in the next millennium, whatever,” action won’t happen. If, on the other hand, the 2040 deadline is set, senator, then Air Canada knows that deadline overarches their plans and their accessibility requirements. CASDO knows that the standards they recommend have to meet that requirement, and cabinet and all other regulation-making bodies will know that that is the measure. Without that tool, our efforts in Ontario — which have been a hard slog, believe me — would be considerably harder.
Senator Munson: Thank you for being here. I think we have to acknowledge the work of a former senator, David Smith. He was the person who led the charge to make sure that dealing with disabilities was in the Charter. It had been left out, and I want to acknowledge that.
I have two quick questions, one for Mr. Belanger and one for Mr. Lepofsky.
Mr. Belanger, you support the bill, but it seems Indigenous people have been left off the table, and I can’t understand why. I know there have been discussions about nation to nation, but there are more than 600. So you support it, but you have been left out. If you could address that.
Mr. Lepofsky, you have not been much of a fan of the CRTC, CTA and others. You have an amendment here, so could you explain that amendment to us and how that would work? There is supposed to be no wrong door, but there seem to be a lot of doors, so if you could talk about your amendment, to get that on the record.
Mr. Belanger: Thank you, senator. When we look at the issue from our position as an organization, we’re not just looking at the First Nations or Indigenous side; we are concerned with the welfare and inclusion of all Canadians living with a disability.
When the government started this process a couple of years ago, I don’t think the resolution passed by the Assembly of First Nations was on anybody’s radar, but now it is here so we have to deal with it. The government has committed to self-determination, to reconciliation and engagement on a nation-to-nation basis. How we move forward now is the question and when we get going on it.
If it will be a reality that there will be distinct First Nations legislation, then we need to move on it, and the government needs to resource that process and begin it. Some work has been done, but certainly not to a level that would instill confidence that a parallel First Nations legislation is going to be implemented soon.
This is what has been requested by the Assembly of First Nations. The government has to respond to it, but our position, when we look at the bill, is Canada nationally, Indigenous and non-Indigenous.
Senator Munson: Mr. Lepofsky?
Mr. Lepofsky: Thank you. Sometimes it helps when you have someone who is blind and what you are facing is a bit of a smoke screen. The “no wrong door stuff” that you’ve been hearing about, respectfully, I think has been raised by those presenting it as a smokescreen, or as least it is serving that way.
What do I mean? Our strong preference from day one would be one-stop shopping — one agency, one place to go, one body making the regulations. It is quicker, more efficient, fairer and certainly easier for us.
The current regime only serves the interests of organizations that want to use the splintering to make it harder for us. But we know that in the amendments that you are going to pass in the next two weeks that a total rewrite of the major chunks of the bill is not feasible.
So what do we do? What could fix it? “No wrong door” talks about where you get in. It is not the most important thing. What happens when you get there? Right now, we have four agencies with four different procedures, with four different policies and practices, and there will be four different sets of forms and four different potential sets of deadlines. It is a guarantee of chaos for us, but it will be great for the airlines because they know them, or the broadcasters because they’ve been navigating them and they are lawyered up to be able to do that.
So what’s our solution? A simple amendment that says that the major bodies are required to develop, within a timeline that we prescribe, a series of processes to harmonize and have, essentially, the same procedure, or as close as possible, behind the door when you get there.
We heard yesterday from the leads of those agencies that they have started working together on their processes, but there are no commitments whatsoever to ensure that it is the same process. The bill now, in clauses 94 to 110, prescribes a series of expedited processes at the accessibility commissioner. We say, great, if they work expeditiously, but neither the CTA nor the CRTC have been experienced by people with disabilities as expeditious — much the reverse.
My last point is you heard yesterday from these agencies that are generally serious in saying all they’ve done. That’s understandable from them. But can I just take you to the front lines for a minute? I will just tell you my own personal experience. I could aggregate it across all the feedback we get.
CTA’s track record historically is pretty lousy. They finally got religion three years ago and are starting to work on regulations. They’ve had the power to do this for over 30 years. Where have they been? As a blind person who travels internationally, I can tell you I dread entering Canadian airspace, not because we never get service, but it is way more unreliable here than I have seen otherwise.
In the U.S., it has been a federal law since, I believe, 2016 that cable providers must provide an accessible PVR. In Canada, where is the CRTC? It is not required here. It should be, but it is not.
So please take the track records and understand that our jadedness is well justified. But our solution is what you can do in a short period is at least require the other agencies, if we are stuck with them, to come up with not just statements to you yesterday about how they want to be expeditious, but actually require them to come up with processes that will be expeditious. That’s what our amendment proposes.
Senator M. Deacon: Thank you all for being here. I think my one key question just got answered, but I am still processing the information we are receiving this morning. So I am going to go to my second question.
Mr. Belanger, I heard your response to Senator Munson this morning around the Indigenous piece, and I’m wondering how we can ensure we get this right. When we look at the present bill as it is, what do you think must be included in an amendment to ensure that we get this right?
Mr. Belanger: The bill as it stands today, or are we talking about for a specific First Nations legislation?
Senator M. Deacon: The bill as it stands today.
Mr. Belanger: I would echo the recommendations made from FALA, the ones touched on here, particularly in relation to the board as well. Regardless of a First Nations distinct legislation or not, there should be Indigenous representation. We need that there as well. We will support communications, timelines to achieving and the recommendations that the Senate have received.
Senator M. Deacon: Thank you for that.
Mr. Lepofsky, I will come back to Senator Seidman’s question, and that is the whole concept of the balance of getting this through — I can’t help but bring this up just one more time — in an efficient and expedient and respectful way, and balancing what are significant concerns and amendments that, in many cases, are kind of related. Now that we have this, how do we make sure the stuff gets done?
Mr. Lepofsky: Two things. First, we are used to battling uphill. Doing disability rights advocacy is like swimming up Niagara Falls, but that doesn’t deter us. We keep doing it. When the people are more jittery and “We better just take what we can get” and all that stuff, I get that. But we’ve never taken that view. We’ve stared down the risks.
If we took that view, we would not have gotten a disability amendment in 1982. We probably would have settled for a weak accessibility law passed in Ontario in 2001 rather than standing our ground and getting a stronger one in 2005. And in this case, we have all three parties that voted for this law in the house, though the opposition said it is too weak. We wrote to all the party leaders and said: We want to take this risk off the table. Will you promise, if this bill doesn’t come through, you will bring it back in the fall?
So we are putting even more heat on them. We are saying: We want to come back with amendments from the Senate, if the Senate agrees, and decide on this bill in time to get it properly considered. Do whatever you have to do, pass it with the amendments or not. That could be dealt with before the house rises. And they’ve got the shared pressure of all the groups you’ve heard from that are jointly saying: Please get this thing through.
So the pressure will be on them. But we also have the good fortune that we have opposition parties — we are non-partisan, and we are supporting amendments in the house. We are hoping — and I will be seeing the minister this afternoon — that they will see the wisdom of strengthening this.
The final thing I will say, senator, is it is a legitimate concern, but I think it is a concern that has been answered. Minister Qualtrough answered your concern last week. Senator Munson asked her: Are you open to amendments? She could have said: Look, it is too tight. We are too busy. We are not going to be able to get it through; please just approve it.
That’s not what she said. She knew as much as anyone else in this room about the legislative timelines in the house. She probably knows more because she is part of the government. She said: No they are open to amendments, and we want this to be the best bill it possibly can be.
The fact of the matter is, with our three short pages of amendments covering a few core issues that cut across what people said at HUMA and the issues they raised here, that these will help move in the direction that she said she is open to. So I suggest you take her up and hold her to what she said.
Senator Forest-Niesing: Thank you to our witnesses and thank you for the experience that you bring to this very important discussion.
My discussion is a follow-up on a topic that was raised as a result of the review of the recommendations made and brought forward to us in the testimony from FALA yesterday. My question is addressed to Mr. Belanger.
I’m struggling with the position you’re expressing and my question is simple. The legislation before us talks about all people with disabilities. I understand your view to be, firstly, that this bill does not properly protect Indigenous individuals or Indigenous individuals with disabilities. I want to hear you with respect to the basis on which you make that statement, and secondly, I’m wondering, if you would agree with me that a concern arises if we either have a separate and distinct recognition, a separate bill, tailored to the particular needs of the Indigenous individuals. Are we creating a subcategory and diluting the inclusivity of the language that is contained in that bill?
Mr. Belanger: Thank you, senator. Certainly I can’t speak for the Assembly of First Nations or any first nations community in Canada. As I stated, the Assembly of First Nations passed a resolution requesting distinct First Nations accessibility legislation. This was passed in 2017 and presumably given to the government then.
I’m not a constitutional lawyer, but my understanding is, under the Constitution Act, 1982, there is a duty to consult with First Nations communities when legislation has the potential to impact their rights or treaty rights. I think you would agree, senator, that legislation enacted by the Government of Canada in the past has not been particularly beneficial to First Nations and Indigenous people and we’ve seen the effect of that.
I can understand the position of the Assembly of First Nations in wanting to have their own distinct legislation, and in the spirit of self-determination, which has been supported by the government in recognizing the UN Convention on the Rights of Indigenous Persons. I understand the mentality and why it has gone forward this way.
Do I think it would make a subdivision? I don’t necessarily think so. I think that it would be under self-determination First Nations communities have the right to do. How that develops, though, and what their legislation would contain is the question. We have raised concerns about this as well. They were going to look at Bill C-81 to see if it could be incorporated fully, partially or not at all.
The process needs to go forward. We have to see what that is going to look like from a First Nations perspective. The engagement hasn’t happened. If it is required under the Constitution Act, 1982, then we need to get going on it. And that’s why I recommended there be a liaison position on the CASDO board.
If it’s going to move forward, let’s move it forward and make sure First Nations have the ability to see what CASDO is going to do, how it will operate and incorporate what they can into this parallel accessible legislation specific to First Nations.
I don’t see it as a separating thing. I see it as a recognition of the status of First Nations in Canada, and their need to be recognized across the nation.
I don’t know if that answers your question, but that’s what I believe.
Senator Mégie: My question is for Mr. Lepofsky. Do I understand correctly that you worked on the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act?
Mr. Lepofsky: Yes, here’s the quick CV — in 1980.
Senator Mégie: I’d just like to get to my real question.
Was there a timetable? If so, are you seeing any progress towards the deadline?
Mr. Lepofsky: There was a movement to get the legislation in place and I had the privilege of leading that movement. It was passed unanimously in 2005. The idea of the deadline of 2025 came from the government, not from us. The minister who brought it in came to the house committee here and said, “You should do it, too,” and we agreed with her. It was a great idea and we jumped on it and said it was great. It may not be as quick as we’d like, but it got action going. Are they on schedule now? No.
Senator, your colleagues were asking questions about the five-year review. We’ve had three of these reviews in Ontario. Their core job is to say, “Are we on schedule?” And all three reviews demonstrated — the most recent one in the most blistering terms — no, we’re not and we need strong action.
Now, if we didn’t have that deadline, their review could be informative but it certainly wouldn’t have the message that it does that we are far behind schedule. This came up in question period as recently as yesterday in the Ontario Legislature. It is a critical tool.
Let me give you one more example because you are asking, “Will this help?” The Toronto Transit Commission runs a subway and has a whole bunch of subway stations. Approximately half of them have no elevator. But to its credit, the TTC has a plan to make them all accessible by 2025 because they’ve read the Ontario legislation.
Actually, the Ontario government has not passed a regulation addressing subway stations, but the mere presence of that date in the legislation itself has led this major subway to adopt that plan.
Let me tell you one more thing. They tried to back down from that plan a few years ago and push it back, and we went to the media and said: “Not fair; the act says 2025.” And that media pressure led the TTC to back down and stick to 2025.
If the minister’s approach to this legislation had prevailed in Ontario, we would be further behind in getting those subway stations accessible.
Senator Mégie: Thank you.
Senator Dasko: I will focus specifically on your meeting with the minister this afternoon. In the interests of being efficient and especially effective, in your meeting with the minister could you focus her mind on what she would be willing to do, and could you get back to us with any insights or promises, pledges, intelligence, anything you can? That will help us move forward, given the time frame that’s left, the suggestions you have for us, which in my mind seem serious and extensive. But maybe it is all easy, but I’m a new senator.
If you could learn from the minister what she would be willing to do — and I’m not saying that will determine what we do — that will help us very much in what we do. Then we will understand what might be doable and what all of us, in the end, might hope to expect and get from the process. Can I ask you that question?
Mr. Lepofsky: As a deputant who is notorious for long, wordy answers, my answer is yes.
Senator Dasko: We look forward to getting back to you. And I know Senator Omidvar has a question.
Senator Omidvar: Thank you for being here. And Mr. Lepofsky, for the correspondence that you have been in with not just me but everyone. And I want to probe your assessment of the capacity of the CRTC and the CTA on disability accessibility. They were here yesterday. I quoted to them a section of your letter, a rather blistering assessment of their lack of progress. They, in turn, responded by talking about the great pride they have in the progress they have made. And I will quote from a brief submitted to this committee from the CRTC. They talk about the history of their progress: In the mid 1980s, they mandated TTY relay services. In 2009, it was expanded to include the provision of IP relay services, and five years later, the provision of video relay services. A 911 service is currently mandated. In 2009, the CRTC began to require broadcasters to provide described video services four hours per week. Would you still use the word “lousy” to describe their progress?
Mr. Lepofsky: Only in public. In private, they may be slightly more colourful.
Senator Omidvar: Tell us what you can.
Mr. Lepofsky: I say this not just to be glib, but we are not saying that they did nothing. Full disclosure: Scott Streiner, the head of the CTA, is a good guy with a strong record in human rights. If you could pass an amendment to make him immortal, we would vote for it.
Senator Omidvar: Not in our power.
Mr. Lepofsky: I don’t know if you have the authority. That may be provincial.
I say two things in terms of these agencies. The first is that they do not have core expertise. They are not there; they are experts in broadcasting and in transit, not in accessibility. That’s what the accessibility commissioner will be.
Look at the track record of the CTA — three decades, their own draft regulation out for comment now acknowledges that they have not done enough. Why couldn’t they have done some of this years ago? We didn’t just invent people with disabilities using airplanes or trains. This is not new. It is not rocket science.
The final thing I would say is what the amendment focuses on. They have labyrinthian procedures that are designed for major regulatory decision-making. I get that. But it is not suited to us. That’s why we give credit to the government in its design of clauses 94 to 110 in the bill to come up with something even more streamlined than the sometimes more labyrinthian process of the Human Rights Commission.
But we need those other agencies to talk about not just no wrong door, but equally fast, comparable procedures, once you get behind that door. And I didn’t hear them say they were going to do that, or didn’t hear them saying they were going to commit to doing that. That’s why we need this amendment.
Senator Omidvar: Fine. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you. I know we are running over time a little bit, but I think, persons with disabilities in Canada — and I am part of that community — have waited for this bill for over 40 years. So we may take an extra five minutes.
I have a brief question.
Ms. Desforges, we’ve talked a lot about Ontario’s experience, but I would be remiss if I didn’t ask you about the French language. You touched on it. The French version of the bill contains references to “personnes handicapées” throughout. You brought this up, as have senators. Senator Cormier addressed it in the Senate chamber. I’m talking about the suggestion that we do like the international community and refer instead to “personnes en situation de handicap.” Is that something that matters? Is it something that should at the very least be noted?
Ms. Desforges: Yes, of course. Canada just signed on to the optional protocol to the UN convention, so adding it to the bill would be appropriate. However, most provincial statutes, including Quebec’s, use the term “personnes handicapées.” If the terminology were changed, ensuring alignment between the statutes of the two levels of government would be important. Nevertheless, it would certainly be a good idea to do like the UN and adopt the term “personnes en situation de handicap.”
The Chair: Thank you for your answers. Thank you for your excellent questions. It has been valuable to the study of Bill C-81.
On that note, unless there is a declaration of other business, I declare this meeting adjourned.
(The committee adjourned.)