2018-2019  Campaign to get Canada’s parliament to Pass a Strong Accessible Canada Act
Articles Blog

2018-2019 Campaign to get Canada’s parliament to Pass a Strong Accessible Canada Act

December 9, 2019


– Good afternoon. The question that I’d like to
address to you this afternoon concerns the Accessible Canada Act, which parliament unanimously passed in June of this year 2019. I wanna talk to you about what we, from the
disability community perspective, we’re trying to accomplish with this law, what we wanted to get in the law, what we’re up against, what we asked for, what we got and now what else we’re seeking in a new bill to strengthen it. This is a sequel to a lecture
I gave in January 2018 where I outlined what we were looking for in this legislation. Let me just briefly
summarize that lecture. Any regulatory law is trying
to solve a social problem. The social problem that this one addresses is as simple as it is enormous, but we live in a country that
is full of serious barriers that impede people with
a physical, mental, sensory, communication, mental heath, intellectual or other disability,
from fully participating. We live in a society that’s
designed and operated too often as we’re not there,
all over six million of us who now have a disability in Canada. I’ve been involved in campaigning for accessibility legislation
at the provincial level to tackle this. If you want to learn more about it, check out www.aodalliance.org or follow @aodaalliance on Twitter, but provincial legislation can only tackle some of the barriers we face since many of them fall within
provincial jurisdiction, but there are a significant number that are within the purview
of the Federal Government under our constitution and so for some years
people with disabilities have wanted a national
accessibility law passed. In 2015 in the election,
a number of us asked the Federal parties to promise
this kind of legislation. We got some promises, including
from the Liberal Party that won the election. They committed to develop a law and they set about
consulting on developing it. What did we want? Well, we wanted legislation
to implement the rights to inclusion and accessibility
that people with disabilities enjoy under the Canada
Charter of Rights and Freedoms and in the federal sphere under the Canadian Human Rights Act. The right to equality and
access to good services and facilities and employment and we wanted it to be achieved without us having to fight
those barriers one at a time. This was the model that we used for advocating for the Accessibility for
Ontarians with Disabilities Act in the provincial level,
which we won in 2005. Now we’re taking on the federal sphere. The Federal Government
can regulate such things as air travel, banking,
radio, television, cell phones and landline phones and other
kinds of telecommunication and, of course, federally
regulated services and federally regulated companies. From our experience at the
provincial level in Ontario and later from what we heard when legislation was
passed in Manitoba in 2013 and in Nova Scotia in 2017, we saw a few key ingredients. We want the law to have the goal of an accessible or barrier-free society. Like Ontario, we wanted to have a deadline for achieving that goal. Ontario in 2005 set the
deadline 20 years out, 2025. At its core we want the law
to require the government to create a series of regulations called accessibility standards that are enforceable and that will detail specifically what
organizations have to do, in one sector of the economy
or other, to become accessible. What they gotta do, when
they gotta do it by. Because by specific rules
we can get more action. By specific rules it’s easier to enforce. We wanted the law to require
effective enforcement, public enforcement and
we also wanted the law to use other levers of federal power beyond making and enforcing regulations in order, excuse me, to achieve this goal and the most powerful
level of public power that we’ve identified is public money. The Federal Government, like
its provincial counterpart, spends billions every year. It spends it on building infrastructure or giving money to others,
like provincial governments or hospitals or municipalities, to build their own infrastructure, hospitals, university buildings,
subways stations and so on. We want accessibility
strings tied to those. If you want the federal money, you gotta play by the federal rules. That was our theory. Moreover the Federal
Government gives money out for business loans or
business development. Attach strings to say
if you want that money you gotta play by our accessibility rules. Similarly the Federal
Government spends billions purchasing goods and services
for its own operations. We’d like the Federal
Government to have a policy enforced by law that if it’s gonna buy, it’s gonna buy accessible ’cause that’ll create
pressure on the private sector to produce accessible products that’ll be for sale or rent
not only to the government, but to everybody. So that was the model. So what happened? Let’s pick up where the
last lecture left off. When the Federal Government
was elected in 2015 a minister was appointed
to lead the development of this legislation. It started out with a minister
called Carla Qualtrough, later it was shuffled a couple of times and when the bill was
eventually before the house it was Carla Qualtrough again. She was a key player in this discussion and she, during her first round, launched a major year-long
public consultation. What I observed two things about it. The first is, helpfully at
the start of that consultation the Federal Government
released a discussion guide to help people get a sense of what they wanted to hear about, and that’s good. But there was something
in that discussion guide that was deeply, deeply troubling and it frankly dogged us
throughout the next three years after it was released in 2016. It basically announced in effect the government
appears to have pre-decided before it embarked on this consultation that however it designed this law its enforcement in the area of federally regulated
transportation, like air travel, was gonna be done by the
Canadian Transportation Agency and in the area of federally
regulated radio, TV and telecommunication
services it would be overseen and implemented by the CRTC, the Canadian Radio, Television and Telecommunication Commission. And you might at first thing, hey that makes sense. We weren’t happy about that. We were deeply troubled because these two agencies
have a track record on accessibility. They’ve had a mandate for some years and their track record,
respectfully, is lousy. We didn’t wanna go back
to the same agencies that had done a poor job in some vain hope that they were gonna do a better job now. We’re concerned that their relationship with the industries they
regulate is too cozy and that their own
expertise in accessibility, frankly, is demonstrably lacking. The government announced
this before it consulted. We took issue with it
throughout the process. You’ll hear more as I speak. The other thing that was significant during this consultation was the Federal Government did something that I had not seen the
Ontario Government due, which is they came up
with a bunch of money to give to disability organizations to help them gather input
and give their input in what the law would need. Now that initially
sounds like a great idea. It did, however, have consequences
you’re gonna hear about that were unpredictable at that time and became a bit challenging at times. I’m not saying government
money’s always bad, but the way this played out
was a matter of concern. After the government consulted, we reached June 20th of 2018. This is a very important day. At the end of the third year
of the government’s mandate, the very last day, the last hour of the sitting of parliament before it rose for the summer, the applicable minister,
at this point it was one of the other people who had
been shuffled in for a time, introduced the Accessible
Canada Act bill C81 for a first reading. Our reaction at the time was mixed. On the one hand, we
applauded the government for introducing a bill. And we said the bill included
some useful ingredients. I’ll describe them in a moment. But we also said that as written it needed substantial improvement to achieve its commendable goals. Now I’ll take you through those, but I just wanna explain, as in a courtroom there’s always strategy when you’re doing community
or organizing an advocacy and in this case, even though there were some really troubling things in this bill we decided at the outset,
speaking for the coalition I lead, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, we decided to begin
with an overall message of congratulations for
bringing a bill forward and opening the discussion because if we slammed it
too hard right at the outset there was the risk that
the government might decide if that message carried through that it wasn’t worth bringing the bill back for second reading. We wanted the bill to come
back for second reading and to get it into
committee so we and others could push for amendments
to strengthen it. The media love to leap on criticisms, so if it was a negative
response on the first day that would have gotten
potentially some coverage, it might have, but on the other hand, it could have actually
worked to our disadvantage. That’s not to say we withheld criticism and later as you’ll hear
we totally were ready to come forward with it, but at the outset it
was a matter of timing. So what was good in the bill? Well, there were several things. First, the bill by its name was called an act to achieve a barrier-free Canada and that was commendable,
that was really important. It was setting the goal in terms that had a lot of potential for us. Moreover the bill had at its core a power for the Federal
Government to create and enforce accessibility
standards as regulations. This is what we were looking for. As well, drawing on
ideas that we had pitched and others as well, ’cause
there were many voices of the disability community being heard, that the government included in it the creation of a new federal organization the Canadian Accessibility Standards Development Organization,
here’s a new word for you, CASDO, C-A-S-D-O, and it was to include people with different
disability perspectives or other expertise, and
it was intended to be able to give the government recommendations of what standards need to be created and what needs to be in
them, and by its design, it was suppose to have some independence from the government. We thought that was a
step forward and it was because in Ontario the
standards development process has been too mired within
the provincial bureaucracy and that has slowed and weakened it. As well, the federal bill,
bill C81, included the creation of two other new public
officials or offices. An accessibility commissioner within the Canadian
Human Rights Commission, who would have certain lead
enforcement responsibility and another official called a
chief accessibility officer, who would report to the
responsible minister with the function of giving both advice and periodic reports on how we’re doing. So this overall had some key ingredients. CASDO could recommend standards, the government could then adopt them as is or amend them if they wish or not adopt them at all
and that had potential. However, there were a number
of bills with the bill. I’m gonna summarize seem
of the leading ones, but we ended up detailing them in a brief that was over 100 pages in asking for as many as 97 improvements. You don’t have to resort
to that number of pages or amendments when
everything is just fine. The first problem with the
bill is that while it said it had the goal of a barrier-free Canada it actually never set a deadline. Not only that, it talked about
the progressive realization of an accessible Canada, and the word progressive realization we worried was a signal to go slow rather than a deadline
that would motivate us. We said that the law was, later when we were to
come before parliament in the fall of 2018, we said that the law was
strong on good intentions, but weak on implementation
and enforcement. For example, the law enable the creation or enactment of accessibility standards, but it didn’t require any to be ever made. And if they’re not made, then
most of the rest of the bill will basically be sitting
there kinda waiting to go into action. As well, the bill splintered
the implementation enforcement of the bill over
three or four federal agencies. This is what was foreshadowed
in the summer of 2016 by the government’s discussion guide before it even consulted the public. Accessibility standards regulations, if they get a recommendation from CASDO, this advisory body, three
different bodies had power to make the regulations they recommended. If they relate to federally
regulated transport, the Canadian Transportation
Agency, or CTA. If they were related to
radio, television or telecom, it’s the CRTC, and for everything else,
it’s the Federal Cabinet. Well that meant from our point of view first that we had to run around and ask for three different
bodies to essentially do what could be the exact same thing, trying to persuade three
different organizations, that’s tripling the advocacy efforts that we had to undertake and ours in a community
that’s not exactly flush with resources to do this. Most people with disabilities live at, or a substantial number, live
at or below the poverty line or are dependent on social assistance and are either unemployed
or underemployed, so that was a horrendous enough burden, but when it came to enforcement the bill’s enforcement
was actually splintered over not three, but four organizations. The CRTC would receive
complaints relating to transport, the CRTC relating to the broadcast or telecom organizations they oversee. If it’s relating to federal employment there’s a federal employment tribunal that would hear cases and everything else, you getting dizzy, would then come back to the
accessibility commissioner. That is complicated enough,
but it gets more complicated because there are
overlapping responsibilities. There are some things which
Bell Canada would have to do and report to the CRTC on and under the bill, there are other things that Bell Canada would have to report or be overseen by the
accessibility commissioner and if you were to ask me,
someone who teaches law and has practiced law and has done some specializing
in this area for some time, I can’t keep it straight! And if I can’t keep it straight, I’ve got to figure others
with less opportunity than I’ve had to figure this out are gonna have trouble
keeping it straight. The bill was over 100 pages long. It is really complicated and complicated laws are less effective at achieving their goals. There are other problems. The bill prescribes that
federally regulated organizations have to make implementation plans. Now that’s good, but it didn’t
require them to be any good and it didn’t let us
as individuals complain if they weren’t any good, and furthermore, it divided them up so that, again, Bell Canada might have to make one plan on some accessibility issues and report that plan to the
accessibility commissioner for oversight and another part or aspect of their operations they
would make another plan and report that to the CRTC. And that again, creates
added cost burdens, greater complications and slows progress. The other two main
criticisms, there were others, but the other two main criticisms
of the bill were these. One is that it was weak
on ensuring rights, but it was really strong on providing chances for exemptions. It provided that a number, not all, but a number of the duties under the act could be the subject
of sweeping exemptions, granted behind closed doors
with no public accountability and as well, the bill did not harness all the levers of power the
government could harness. The example I gave
earlier was the lead one, we and others focused on. It did not require the
government to ensure that public money is never used to create or perpetuate barriers against
people with disabilities. So the most it said was that in one category of public spending by the Federal Government,
procurement spending, the government could create
an accessibility regulation, could set rules, but it doesn’t have to. But as for other federal spending like money that it gives others or itself to build infrastructure, it was silent. So what happened? Well, the bill got first
reading automatically on the last day before the house
rose for the summer in 2017 and for the next several months folks within the disability
community got very busy analyzing it, trying to
figure out what it meant and writing briefs to
submit to the government. The coalition I lead is no exception. But what ended up happening
within the community we have a very diverse
disability community spread out over the country, of course, both in terms of individuals
and organizations, but a lot of the effort
ended up being concentrated among two organizations,
the one that I lead, the AODA Alliance, and the
ARCH Disability Law Centre here in Toronto. A fabulous legal aid clinic
that does excellent litigation and law reform work. We ended up collaborating,
doing our own analyses and releasing them, but collaborating and thinking problems through debating and seeing if we could
maximize common ground and a number of other
organizations ended up relying on what we each had to say. So what happens then? The next step in this process
comes in the fall of 2018 when the bill comes back before parliament before the House of
Commons for second reading. So, by the way, if you don’t know much about these procedures,
a lot of people don’t know much about parliamentary procedures, we teach you court
procedures in law school, but not legislative procedures and I’d only worked in
the provincial sphere, so with the able assistance of some Osgoode students
volunteering for us, we released a guide, an
introductory guide for beginners to federal legislative procedure. In other words, how does a
bill get through parliament? I know it doesn’t sound like super sexy, but it’s really important when you’re gonna go through this process. And part of the responsibility
of those of us doing advocacy is to educate our communities on the steps we’re gonna be going through. So the bill comes back for second reading. So what happens in second reading? Unsurprisingly, the government
says their bill is great. The New Democrats and Greens
relying in no small part on the critiques that had been made public by my coalition and by ARCH, said the bill doesn’t go far enough. Th Conservatives divided. Some members of the Conservative Party thanked the Federal Government
for bring a bill forward, said yes we’ve got to do more in this area and some of them pointed to some of our criticisms of the bill saying it needed to go further and others within the
Conservative Party were saying what do we need this for,
this is too much government, there’s ways to help remove these barriers without all this new legislation and new regulatory machinery. We’re non-Partisan in our
advocacy and one of our goals, our goal is to get the law
strengthened and passed, but we also wanted it unanimous. We didn’t wanna run the risk
that a successive government might be elected that would
repeal what we had won. So the next stage in the process that becomes really important
are public hearings. After the bill passes second reading it can be assigned to a
committee of the House of Commons to hold hearings. We and others had been pushing to assure that this would happen. The government agreed and in October of 2019 the government invited any number of disability organizations to appear to take part in public hearings. This is a really interesting experience from my perspective because when we’re working
at the provincial level here in Ontario, the coalition
I lead is the AODA Alliance is reasonably well-known for
its advocacy in this area and everybody does their own thing, but we’ve been known as a place to turn to for direction in this area
and people will often agree with what we have to
say and seek our input. When it comes to the federal sphere there are folks all over the country and there was no realistic
way to pull everybody together and get everybody sort of reading from the same common agenda. Efforts were made to
bring advocates together, organization together, their government relations people together and there was a lot of
informal conversing going on and information being exchanged, but this was all happening
under relatively tight timelines so it was not exactly the kind of thing where you could get everyone in a room and sort of all in favor
of amendment three, say I and so on and whatever. And frankly, achieving
unanimity is not even possible. So the idea was to try and achieve harmony between the different
perspectives being advocated. So what happened when it
came before the committee? Well this is last fall. This is where the message ramped up, not just in the positive,
but in the negative and where things need to be improved and over probably about
three weeks of hearings the standing committee
heard from group after group that was saying thank you for the bill, congratulations we need it, it’s overdue, but it needs improvements, and that echoed and different groups would emphasized different points, but there were common themes and a number of them are the
ones that I’ve highlighted. There’s no end date, it gives the government a bunch
of powers, but not duties, if it’s not mandatory that the
government do certain things to implement this bill, there’s the risk they’ll never do it. I’m speaking in a law
school university setting, the way I translate that into your world it’s the equivalent to the university or law student question,
is it on the exam? If it isn’t, I’ll worry about it later. Well, we wanted the key things to be on the legislative exam. And we had a lot of experience
from Ontario particularly that the government could be very excited and opposition parties can
all congratulate themselves about passing strong legislation, but then implementation
can slow to a crawl. So we knew that we needed more
in the bill to speed it up. There was increasing recognition that the splintering of the legislation was a serious problem and the other issues that I’ve identified, but also what came out,
and this is important for me to emphasize because
it carries on to this day, in the bill there was a provision, section 172 for those who
are section number buffs, which was going to re-entrench
or repeat a provision in the Canada Transportation Act that we had serious trouble with. It’s a provision that we haven’t seen anywhere else in this entire world of human rights and accessibility. Anywhere else that we have been involved, including in Ontario, when you create a power to
make accessibility standards they can never take away
anybody’s human rights. So if you create in Ontario a regulation on accessible
transportation, if it’s weaker than what the Human Rights
Code would guarantee, the Human Rights Code would prevail and that’s the case across
the board with one exception and that’s under the Accessible
Canada Act as proposed in relation to transportation. A provision that had been in the CTA and which was being preserved,
or being perpetuated, instead of being repealed,
section 172 basically said if the Federal Government, pardon me, if the CTA passes an
accessibility regulation on transportation, it sets a standard, it says airlines you’ve gotta do X, then that’s all they’ve gotta do. So let me give you a practical example. Imagine, this is a hypothetical,
but it illustrates it. As a blind individual when
I’m flying on an airplane on my own, not with
other friends or family, the airline is expected to
provide someone to guide me from the airplane after we
land to get my suitcase, go through customs and go out
and get a taxi or whatever to get home, and it’s a service this is provided around the world. Now, the problem here
in Canada too often is they take way too long and you can spend a lot of time waiting. Now if the CTA, according
to section 172 as drafted, if the CTA provided that they have, let’s say five hours to get me off the airplane and out of the airport, which is like a ridiculously long time, then as the bill was
proposed I would not be able to file a complaint
under the CTA legislation or the Accessible Canada Act saying that the airline
should have taken less time. As long as they took less than
five hours they were fine. So no matter how weak the regulation is once it’s passed, that’s
all you can complain about. And we and others said, that’s just wrong. It’s especially wrong when
it’s made by a federal agency that does not have a great
track record on accessibility and from our perspective we worried was too close to the
transportation industry rather than the accessibility world. So we wanted it repealed and, in fact, when I got, and this was a message that came from a number of organizations. So what happened at the hearings
was you get a few minutes, maybe eight or 10 minutes
to make your pitch and then there are questions. So what happened when I got there? One of the things that was exciting from the perspective of Osgoode, I had a team of Osgoode students
who’d volunteered for us through the Osgoode Public
Interest requirement and two actually got to come to Ottawa as part of this exercise and to be with me throughout
the hearing that I appeared on. Got to present and I had asked to appear on the last day of the hearings. Why is that? I wanted us to be the closers. I wanted to see what each of
the other groups were saying and then we’d be in a position to say okay, that’s great,
that’s what they all said, but here’s what we want to add. I want to pick up on the issues that no-one else had addressed. I also want to do it because
as hearings are going on opposition questions
and government questions are really important to follow. From the opposition you get to see which of your criticisms of the bill they’ve already picked up on and from the government, you
can see from their questions what kind of defenses
they’re trying to make to the legislation or
do they seem to be ready to be more flexible and
responsive to making changes. So I appeared on October 25, 2018, and thanks to the wonders
of modern technology it’s not only streamed live,
but we can capture the video, make it available, tweet about
it, let all sorts of people find out about it and so on. Pardon me. Our message that day was
to zero in on a couple of the key problems with the bill, particularly the splintering
of the legislation and the lack of mandatory duties to implement it. But we found out through questions, it gave us a chance to
answer the kind of questions that the Liberals were ready to ask us. Remember, we’re non-Partisan. We’re referring to the party by name we’re not pro or against any party, we’re trying to get somewhere. Well they started saying to us and to me, well you can’t really set a
deadline for accessibility like an end date because
the concept of accessibility keeps evolving and changing over time and so how can you
possibly anticipate that. I mean, I gotta tell you, it was like the first time I heard this and you can’t quite say give me a break, but in effect I wanted to
say like give me a break. I mean the notion of accessibility. We know people in wheelchairs
can’t go up stairs and they need a ramp and we also know that blind people need braille on the elevator buttons. There’s a whole lot we know. Most of it we know. The vast majority of it we know. Something new comes up,
we’ll figure it out. Mobile apps come along, now we figured out what they need for accessibility. This is not rocket science. This is not like this is
all some big conundrum and oh we’ll never figure it out so we should never have a deadline. Anyway, after the hearings the next opportunity I had fortunately was to go and meet the minster
herself, Carla Qualtrough, who I met a number of times and I’ve got a lot of
respect for, that day. I don’t make public the
content of these meetings ’cause I wanna be able
to have a fair discussion and a candid discussion, but I can tell you that after the hearings and after meeting the minister I did not have a confidence
that we were going to see amendments coming
forward from the government that were gonna fix a number
of the serious concerns we had. The government’s public line
was the disability community likes this bill. So we had needed a strategy
and we needed one fast. And what happened literally 24 hours after the day that I appeared
before the committee is a small number of us who had
been involved in advocacy with some collaboration together, particularly from the
ARCH Disability Law Centre and the Council of
Canadians with Disabilities we collectively came up with a strategy. We can’t form a whole new organization or something like that. We don’t have the time, but what we can do is
write an open letter. So we drafted an open
letter to the government and tried to crystallize in it eight or nine major requests that we wanted to see in the amendments. Not that they were the only
ones, but at least the ones that should get the most
immediate attention. Some of them are the ones
that you’ve heard about that I’ve talked about up to now, but there were others that were coming from some other organizations that were getting a lot of traction. One was the deaf community was very eager to have sign language recognized as the official language for deaf people and in some other countries,
sign language is recognized as an official language. So that became one of the issues. Issues were also presented about the need to recognize in the bill some
specific distinctive ways in which accessibility can play out for indigenous peoples in Canada, for people who face multiple
bases for discrimination, the big word they use is
intersectionality, and so on. So to get as many people on board we tried to come up with
a list that was doable, but not exhaustive and endless. This is coming. You’re here in the lecture with the guy who wrote the 100 page brief of the 97 amendments, so
getting it down to eight, it wasn’t just me, it was a
collaboration, was a big deal. Within about three or four
days of drafting this, thanks to the miracle of email
and other modern technology, we’re able to collectively
release this on October 30th. This was five days after I appeared before the House of Commons, with fully 34 disability
organizations signing on and over the next weeks that grew to 95. So the open letter, it
wasn’t an organization, it’s a letter with a whole lot
of major players signing on and that became, if you will,
it’s not a legal document, it’s not a factum, it’s
not a formal brief, it has no juridical status,
but it became perhaps the most powerful statement
of what was needed. So that a week or two
later come the amendments and the committee holds what’s called clause-by-clause debate. Let me take you to that step. This is when the government
and the opposition members can table amendments, they can debate them and then vote on them. Now it’s a majority government
so the government of the day, the Liberals, have the majority of seats, they’ve got the majority of
votes, they decide what passes. Now, I’ve been through
this process in Ontario and in Ontario we’ve
been able in the past, when the AODA was before parliament in the legislature in 2004-5, before amendments are introduced, or when they’re introduced
and before they’re debated, the parties make public the
text they’re recommending, they’re proposing. So we can get it, we can review it, we can go public with it, post it online, we can tell people this is
what each party’s gonna do. The Federal Government,
the Federal Parliament, has some tradition against this. We asked all the parties can you send us the amendments
you’re gonna introduce. We were told we’re not allowed to it’s contrary to parliamentary privilege. Parliamentary privilege? Is it a privilege to keep it secret? These are what they’re proposing. It made no sense. But what got worse is if
you watched the debates in the committee, they were time limited, there was a limited
amount of time available and in Ontario when an
amendment was proposed at least when I’ve been involved
in legislative proceedings the member of the committee
that’s introducing it will say I move that
section so and so be amended by adding the following words. The federal standing committee
in the House of Commons didn’t do that. They said, okay now motion three. I move motion three. You’re watching this
on TV, you have no idea whatsoever is being proposed. And if somebody else says
well, I don’t agree with it because I don’t like the word but, genuinely, it’s absolutely
an impenetrable process. Having read the answer, the
transcript of the debates you cannot tell what they are doing, but they voted on something. We do know that the opposition,
NDP and Conservatives, introduced very substantial
packages of amendments drawn in substantial
part from the submissions from the AODA Alliance and the
ARCH Disability Law Centre, not exclusively, but predominantly. The government introduced a far narrower package of amendments and as you can expect
with a majority government all the government amendments pass, and I don’t think, I don’t
know if absolutely none or virtually none of the
opposition amendments passed. But this has longer term significance. Let me just briefly tell you the core things the government changed. They changed the goal of the law from saying the progressive realization of an accessible Canada to the realization of an accessible Canada and that was a step forward. But the Federal Government still would not include a deadline. They did not require the government to ever enact any accessibility standards. They did require that one
regulation must be made within a couple years of the law passing. The law specifies the exact timeline by cabinet, by the CTA and the CRTC, but they relate to procedural things, whether it’s the kind of
reports that must be filed, or the kind of feedback
mechanisms for complaints on accessibility that
have to be established. They’re process-y things. They don’t actually still require that any accessibility
standards regulations are ever made that could be enforced. Now it’s better there’s
something rather than nothing, but we’re still missing
out on a key requirement. I talked earlier about
the fact that the bill gave sweeping powers
for the Federal Cabinet or the Federal Government
or the CRTC or the CTA to grant exemptions, these were narrowed only to the extent that
if an exemption’s granted the granting body must give reasons and it only lasts three years. Now, again, it’s a step
forward and it’s helpful, but it’s no-where near what we needed. And most blistering, the
government did not explain why the government had
to retain the ability to exempt itself from the
rules it is itself making and there to enforce. There were some other
procedural and other amendments. I’m just summarizing the key ones, but suffice it to say that the process of having this bill
debated at second reading and then subject to public hearings was a constructive process
from our point of view. Let me move you briefly to third reading because there was an important thing that happened at third reading from the point of view of
community organizing strategy. At third reading the
government, of course, came in and said, it’s a good bill and the New Democrats and Greens again echoed their criticisms of the bill, invoking its weaknesses, pointing to amendments they had proposed, the NDP had proposed, referring in part to the AODA Alliance or ARCH or others, as supporting their criticisms. So that was very similar to
what you would have heard at second reading. But the big change was
the Conservative Party. On third reading the
Conservative Party said we support the bill, but it’s too weak. There wasn’t a major thrust of saying we don’t need this at all. The Conservative Party said
they’re gonna vote for the bill, even thought they think
it doesn’t go far enough, and they also said in a line
that I’ve since re-tweeted about a zillion times to Tory
candidates to remind them that if they are elected
the Tories will treat it as a priority to strengthen this bill. So from our point of view to sum up, the journey through the House of Commons accomplished several things. It saw our community
substantially form a consensus around this open letter I described. It lead to some actual amendments. It lead to a fairly clear agenda
for where more were needed. It garnered support from some of the, well from opposition parties and it got the one party
that was on the record as divided at second reading over whether they need the bill at all to be united saying we need the bill, it needs to be strengthened
and we’ll do it. So those are all from
the advocacy perspective major points of progress. So just before we take the break, I want to talk to you about
why this story didn’t end. Ordinarily in Canada, if
this was a provincial law that would be the end of the story because we just have one
house in our legislature. We don’t have an upper chamber and second, in the federal
sphere, we do have a Senate, but you figure like why
bother going to the Senate looking for improvements
because they’re not elected, whatever they do has to
be approved by the House or it can’t pass and so why
don’t you just take what you got and run with it. Well, that argument made
sense to some people and in fact, it made a lot of sense to me at the start of October last year, but some of my colleagues
managed without a lot of work to say, to make the
contrary, which is look, the senate has the power
to make improvements, why should we give up. Why shouldn’t we try to get more? The bill as written
has helpful components, but it still too weak
and we need improvements so why not give it a run? Now this lead to a real interesting tactical challenge ’cause the Federal Government, of course, didn’t want the Senate amending the bill. They never do. Whoever the party is in power they’ve passed what they’ve wanna pass. They’ve used their
majority, they’ve gotten it, why would they want the
Senate messing around with it and there were some from
within the Federal Government who were kind of tacitly
putting out the word within our community saying like, don’t push for the senate
to change it please. One referred to it I think
as the nuclear option and the reason some within
the disability community got worried about this was timing. If it was the first year
of the government’s mandate there wouldn’t have been a timing worry ’cause the bill could
have gone to the Senate, if the Senate makes
changes, there’s time for it to come back to the House of Commons, the House of Commons can
either ratify those changes or the House of Commons
rejects those changes, the bill can go back to the Senate ’cause then the Senate
has to re-pass the bill without the Senate amendments. A law’s not passed until both
houses pass the identical law. We’d have all the time we need. But the worry was the bill hit the Senate in January or February of 2019,
an election was coming up, scheduled for October of 2019 and there was a worry among some that if the bill did get
amended by the Senate and it went back to the House, if the House did not take
up those changes in time before the election was
called, the bill dies, or if the House takes up the bill and rejects the Senate’s amendments if there isn’t enough time for the bill to go back to the Senate again to pass the bill unamended
by the Senate, the bill dies. So some were worried that
an effort to get changes to the bill by the Senate could lead us to lose what we had secured so far. This lead to an obviously
interesting challenge which is did what we get, is
what we had already gotten, so good that it wasn’t worth the risk or is the risk that big? And for the answer to those questions, come back after the break. All right, welcome back. Two things I just want to mention before I dive back into the narrative. One is if anyone wants
to learn more about this our specific rollercoaster ride
on the Accessible Canada Act is all available through
one page on our website. If you got to AODAalliance.org/Canada you can see all the major documents. I’m talking about the briefs, the debates, some of the news coverage when
we rarely got any and so on. And the other is, if you wanna get email
updates in the future on how this campaign is waged just send a request to this email address. [email protected] [email protected] and all you’ve gotta say is sign me up. The other thing is I wanna qualify that I’m giving kind of a verbal
memoir from my perspective as chair of the AODA Alliance and I don’t want to over
exaggerate either my role or that of my coalition. We were a player. I think we were a helpful player, but there were many
players working on this around the country. And everybody contributed
in important ways. So let’s now dive into the Senate. So let me just mention
to you a few challenges that we were facing from the outset when it came to dealing with the Senate beyond the timing
concerns that I mentioned just before the break and those timing concerns
were significant. The first of these challenges
is the Senate is unelected and that means senators don’t
have to take your phone call or worry that if they don’t talk to you that can affect their electability. I had no prior experience
with this Senate. Through the several
that I got to speak with I was impressed to a
person at their dedication, their hard work, their commitment to fulfilling
their important role and as well, I came to realize that theirs is a part-time job with a lot to do. So I’d talk to some
senators who would say to me I’m interested in what
you’re talking about, but I’ve got a bill I’m bringing forward I don’t have time for anything else or things to that effect. I’m not saying that as a criticism, to the contrary, I’m just saying, also they don’t have party
structures behind them. The Tories still have some
degree of a party structure, but there are a bunch who are considered independent senators, so each of them may have an
assistant in their office, but they don’t have a ministry with a bunch of policy researchers
who could look into this. What that meant and this will crystallize
the nature of the challenge, when I was able to get
a senator on the phone and I was privileged enough to be able to get through to several and they were generous with their time and very attentive. I was to a person really
impressed with the folks I got to speak with. But you might get 15 or
20 minutes on the phone and in that 15 or 20 minutes you gotta do the following. Number one, explain to them what the 110 page Accessible
Canada Act is for, what it does and what’s wrong with it, and then you gotta explain what
specific changes you’d like and why they are a priority
among the list of ones that are needed. Then you’ve got to try to persuade them that the worry about the bill
dying if the Senate amends it is something that they
should not allow them to freeze them in their tracks. That’s all in 15 minutes. Now, I had some training for this ’cause I’ve appeared
a good number of times in the Supreme Court of Canada, sometimes in intervener were
you only get 10 minutes, so 15 minutes may seem luxuriously long, but nevertheless it was a
daunting advocacy challenge. Nevertheless a number of us
were engaging in this advocacy. The other major challenge
we were facing beyond these, remember I said that
during the consultations before the bill was introduced the Federal Government
had provided funding to the disability organizations to engage in consultative activities? Well, what that did is it
led a number of organizations to go and do outreach and
later it led to a bunch of them clustering together into
a coalition of sorts that was called the Federal Accessibility
Legislation Alliance. It had initially come together before the bill got
introduced from what I’m told, we weren’t part of it, but
after the bill was introduced, I gather from the website of FALA, that they were getting federal money to help them advocate on the bill as it was going through parliament. One of the things FALA was doing appears to have been a
campaign of emailing senators to say pass the bill, pass the bill. Not referencing amendments. And I’m a firm believer in democracy and people are free to
do this kind of lobbying, and that’s important for
people to have their voices whether one agrees with them
or has a different view, but I describe it to you because when I got on
the phone with senators some of them would say,
I just want you to know I’ve gotten 200 emails all
in exactly the same wording saying essentially pass the bill and I would have to try to, or others who were trying
to ask for amendments, would have to explain
look people are worried about not losing the
bill, but let’s come up with a package of amendments that’s doable and get it through the
senate quickly enough that the House can deal with it. This was the first time in my years of disability advocacy that we essentially had legislators quoting others from different perspectives
in advocacy community that we had to overcome their arguments, not just arguments from
public servants or others. In fact, that’s what
advocacy is all about. You find out what case you gotta make and you make the case. So, what happened? The bill was debated in the Senate. They go through the same first,
second and third readings. The bill was debated,
passed second reading and was sent to a committee
for hearings in April. That’s when the action started. So to get ready for this, I and others who were doing advocacy and
wanted to push for amendments, were putting our heads
together to make sure that we pushed for a short
compact list of amendments because now we’re not
before the House of Commons where we might get a
broader number of amendments and believe me, when
you only have 10 minutes or eight minutes or whatever before the Senate Committee
of the House of Commons you can only pick the priority ones, but you can table all of them. But in the Senate, we knew that
the issue of the bill dying was increased if the Senate
were to make 40 or 50 amendments on the other hand, and the
senators knew that too. I was told more than once,
come up with one or two or maybe three, but keep it short. And a number of us from
disability, ARCH, CCD and other organizations, were
all thinking in those terms wherever you were on the spectrum
of advocacy on this issue. So we released a brief
on the 29th of March that had a much shorter lists of asks, and even that list got
shorter within two weeks ’cause what happened were two things. First, on April 3rd, the
committee began its hearings by inviting the minister Carla Qualtrough to appear before the committee
and this is not unusual where they’ll have a minister before they hear from community groups just explain what the bill’s about, what it’s there for, and answer questions. Well, fortunately through
the advocacy efforts by my coalition and others,
a number of the senators were well prepared for this and they asked a number
of very good, respectful, but pointed questions to the minister. It wasn’t like a cross examination, but going back to my days
as a lawyer in a courtroom it felt like a cross examination ’cause it’s a chance to
try and get some answers. So the minister was, for example, asked why isn’t there an end date
for achieving accessibility? And the minister gave her answer. She said two things. One, the answer that you heard
me refer to before the break that accessibility is
some sort of moving target and the other she expressed was a worry that if we set a deadline,
20 years out or whatever, that everybody’s gonna slow
down rather than speed up. And when it came to the
splintering of the legislation among multiple agencies,
the CTA, CRTC and so on, the minister I think fairly conceded that if she was starting to draw this law with a blank piece of
paper, as she put it, she wouldn’t necessarily draw it this way, but they have an existing
set up government with a series of agencies,
they gotta work within in. That by the way didn’t sell me because applying accessibility means starting with a world full of barriers, figuring out which ones to remove and those agencies have been acting to us kinda like barriers. And the answer, wow but they’re barriers, but you know there are barriers, so we’ve gotta leave barriers
is not much of an answer when you’re trying to
achieve accessibility. I’m being a little
glib, but only a little. But also the minister tried to say well, there’s a reason for dividing it up ’cause here’s a reason
why you need a division of responsibility between the CTA and the accessibility commissioner in regulating different
parts of, for example, an airplane seat. And she gave this example which
we were later able to prove was actually completely
wrong under the legislation. She was confused about who
has authority over what. I don’t fault her. I’ve got a lot of respect for her. It’s an extraordinarily confusing law. It confuses me, it confused the minister, I fear it’s gonna confuse everybody. That’s why we wanted it simpler. She was asked why they don’t require for example if federal money
is spent on infrastructure that they ensure that it is never used to create new barriers. The minister said they’ve
pushed federal jurisdiction as far as they can. Respectfully, the feds have
a broad spending power. She seemed to be conceding implicitly that laws like the Canada Health Act must be unconstitutional,
that’s me talking, by suggesting that they can
give money to a province, say go ahead, build a hospital and build it however you want. It can be inaccessible as you want. We can’t say a thing about that. It seems untenable. Anyway, this was really helpful because our appearance,
my coalition’s appearance, was just a few days later. She appeared on the 3rd of
April, I appeared on the 11th. That gave us a chance
to rebut her position. Albeit with extraordinary time limits, but between her presentation
and my appearance on the 11th, that’s from the 3rd to the 11th, came one of the most
interesting lawyer-writing or law-writing challenges I’ve ever faced ’cause it occurred to a number of us that it’s not good
enough to table a brief, we need to table the actual amendments. We need to walk in the
room with a piece of paper with the actual wording we want and it’s gotta fit on no
more than three or four pages and it’s gotta be self-explanatory. It’s gotta be something
that a busy senator who may not have gone to law school, who hasn’t had time to get
briefed on these things, can read, understand and agree with and go why the heck don’t we do this? We had about four days to do this. We did it! And that document was tabled, you can see it on our website. I can’t tell you it’s perfect. I’m sure with more time we might have thought of other stuff. In fact, I’ve caught some errors already. It didn’t matter ’cause it
was errors in provisions they didn’t adopt. But it became a very important document as the Senate considered
what amendments to make. Now, we appeared, I focused on just a couple of priority items. I focused on unsplintering
the legislations diffuse administration and focused on the problem
of not imposing restrictions on the use of federal public money when used for infrastructure and so on and I focused on getting
rid of section 172. It’s a totally inappropriate
provision that gives a gift to federally regulated transport providers once they convince the CTA to pass a weak accessibility regulation that’s all they gotta do. So other groups appeared and this was what was very interesting. Remember I said that this organization, this sort of ad hoc coalition of the Federal Accessibility
Legislation Alliance. By the way, I have a number
of friends in the alliance, it’s not like we don’t talk to each other. But had been mounting this email campaign saying don’t change the law. Well, any number of their organizations had signed our open letter the fall before and any number of their organizations, a number of them, came
before the standing committee and said, please pass the
law, please pass the law, please pass the law, and by the way, if you’re gonna amend it, here are amendments that we’d like, which was helpful to
us ’cause we could say look there’s a consensus here. People want the law passed,
but they want it fixed. And the Senate got that message. May the 2nd came around and
that was the morning set aside for clause-by-clause debate. In this modern age of
tech I could sit at home, one computer was running the live stream, and the other computer was me
live tweeting in on Twitter and there were times we scored things, other times I didn’t
know what they voted on ’cause you couldn’t tell
till we found out later, but in effect it was really interesting ’cause remember one of
the things about senators not only are they not elected, because there isn’t the usual
traditional party structure any senator can table an amendment. They could all agree that
something’s a good idea, but if they don’t it, if
nobody tables an amendment they might all think it’s a good idea, but nobody will vote for it
’cause it’s not on the table. So we had to spend a certain
amount of time, we and others, trying to get through to senators and say, look can somebody, you’ve got these three
pages, or four pages, they’re good ideas, you’ll like them, could somebody please
put them on the table even if you vote against them. Well, fortunately the
Senate standing committee, which appeared from the outside to be a very collegial bunch, had a number of different
members introducing amendments, including the senator, who was the Liberal sponsor of the bill. Let me just take you back a
step and explain the process. One senator from the
governing party is chosen or agrees to be the bill’s sponsor. They’re the one who moves the bill, they’re the one who introduces the bill. In this case, it was Senator Jim Munson, a former CTV journalist, and he was both the one
who introduced the bill for first and second reading, but he’s also the one who was
on this standing committee. So he actually came in and he himself tabled some amendments. It was obviously if he was tabling them that the government had agreed to them and in other cases, others
introduced amendments and whether or not the
government liked them some of them passed. Now the Senate committee
was absolutely driven by keeping the number of amendments short. On the last day of
hearings after I appeared they turned to three
deputants presenting together from three perspectives and said if there’s one thing we’re
gonna do, what would it be? And one of them said, David Onley, our former Lieutenant Governor said, setting the deadline, the
end date for accessibility. By the way, in our three pager
we’d held off naming a year, figuring let the government
come up with a year they could live with, but they wouldn’t, they wouldn’t, they wouldn’t, so we came up with a
year in our three pager. We said 2040, 21 years out. AODA had given 20 years,
we figured 21 years, that’s a nice round number,
2039 might sound weird, so we picked 2040. David Onley said top priority pass 2040 and the other two deputants
that day said yes, we agree. It’s gotta be a mandatory deadline. So the committee when they got to voting passed several things. I’m just gonna summarize a few. But it was really a step forward and sitting there at home,
watching this live streaming I gotta tell you, it was
a pretty exciting day to the extent I could
figure out what was going on in real time. First, they did pass the 2040 deadline. This alone was a big deal. We’ve now got a law aiming to
achieve a barrier-free Canada sometime, whenever, to a law
that set a deadline of 2040 and that starts the
clock running immediately and can be the focus
of all of our efforts. Next, there was the don’t
worry minister provision. She had worried this
could slow people down so we had drafted in our three pager a clause that would say
but this 2040 deadline cannot be used as a
reason to delay progress and paraphrasing, the committee passed it. Don’t worry minister, it
won’t slow things down. I don’t mean that
glibly, I mean genuinely, she was worried about it,
it’s a sincere concern and we wanted to address it. They did adopt two
amendments that were coming from others within the community. The recognition of sign language, not as the official language of Canada, but as the language used by deaf people referring to various forms of it and also, establishing the principle of intersectionality that
I referred to earlier. We were concerned, I haven’t
emphasized this as much, that we should have protection in the law that provides that nothing can be done to cut back on our rights under this law and that whenever there’s a
clash of laws on accessibility the stronger one prevails. The AODA in Ontario has a
specific provision, section 38, that says if there’s a clash
between the AODA or its regs or regulations or any
other law on accessibility, a conflict, the stronger one, the most pro-accessibility one prevails. We wanted something like
that there, in this law. The minister agreed to
a, I guess, effectively, because I believe it was
Senator Munson who brought it in a law that basically said
that nothing in the act could essentially, I’m paraphrasing, reduce the duty to accommodate
people with disabilities in human rights law. Helpful, it doesn’t go all the
way that we wanted it to go, more in a minute on
that, but it does help. With respect to the other major amendment, they’re others, but I’m
just doing the key ones that I can squish in in the time we have. The other one related to
the question of section 172, this gift to the airlines or federally regulated
transportation providers. Now we wanted it just repealed and if it was repealed
what would happen is the CTA, Canadian Transportation Agency, can pass regulations on setting standards for accessibility in
transportation, that’s fine, but individuals could still
file individual complaints for undue barriers under the
Canada Transportation Act and we wanted it clear
that those regulations are a floor, not a ceiling, but what the government came back with was something that didn’t go all the way, helpful, but didn’t go all the way. What they did and if memory serves it was Senator Munson
himself who brought it in, the wording provided in effect that if you can always bring
a complaint for undue barrier with respect to transportation, CTA can always make a
regulation setting standards with respect to transportation, if a standard is set, you
can still bring a complaint that you are insisting that
an undue barrier exists even if it’s compatible
with the regulations. So even if the standard says
the airlines have five hours to get David off the
airplane and through security or through to get his
baggage and out into a taxi, and if he complains that
it took them four hours and that’s ridiculous, I can
still complain about that and show they should have
gotten it done in, I don’t know, half an hour, 20 minutes, one
hour, they didn’t need four, and they no longer have
an absolute defense, but what’s left is, I
can’t recover damages in that scenario. If the airline or other federally regulated
transportation provider is compiling with the regulations they are immune from a damage claim. They can be ordered to clean up their act, they can be told never do it again, but they don’t have to pay a dime. I believe, we believe,
that’s just unreasonable, unfair, unjustified and
ultimately, discriminatory, but it is better than where we started. So let me finish quickly, the
journey through the Senate. The standing committee finished
its vote on the 2nd of May, and the bill came back to
the Senate for third reading. Unsurprisingly, the bill
passed third reading with the amendments as written, nobody made an issue out of it. The Senate I gather
leaves the heavy lifting to the committee that’s doing the work. Now we come to the third last round in this engagement or the third last twist in
this rollercoaster ride. This bill is now passed the House on three readings unanimously and the Senate with
amendments now unanimously. It’s now, it passed on the 13th of May, it’s gotta come back to
the House of Commons. The House of Commons
only has to take one vote on the amendments. It doesn’t have to go
through three readings and have hearings, and
all that sort of stuff and an election is looming. So the big open huge question is will the House pass the
Senate’s amendments? We now turn to a campaign
where our sole objective is get those amendments passed and this is a really interesting dynamic because we weren’t worry
about the opposition parties. The opposition parties had supported, at least the NDP, the Bloc hadn’t taken a
particular position on it, but the NDP, Greens and
Tories were on record saying this bill needs to be strengthened so we were not worried
that they were going to substantively opposed these amendments. The question was, would the
Liberals agree with them? So we all mounted a campaign
to basically get the Liberals to pass the Senate’s amendments. Remember if the House
passes them, one vote, it’s done, it’s the law. If the House defeats them,
it goes back to the Senate, for another vote on the bill unamended with the time constraints
of getting it done before the election or the bill dies. Now frankly, I still think
there would have been time to get it back before the
Senate before the election, but in any event, now
remember I said earlier there was this division among some about whether it was strategy
wise to go to the Senate for getting amendments? Some feared it would kill the bill. That debate is now over as of May 14th. What we did is we wrote
a second open letter spearheaded again by the Council of Canadians with Disabilities,
an advocacy group, the ARCH Disability Law
Centre and my coalition, the AODA Alliance, the coalition I chair, and what we said was basically pass the bill as amended please and all of a sudden, there was no division in the disability community, ’cause everybody wanted it passed and everybody wanted it to not die and everybody was supportive
of the amendments. Those who didn’t want the
Senate making amendments earlier or said they didn’t, weren’t
saying they think the bill was did everything they needed, they just didn’t wanna run
the risk of losing the bill. Now, the oh my God we
could lose the bill worry was only tied to one thing. It was tied to the
possibility that the Liberals would not approve the Senate amendments. So we write this open
letter, it’s signed broadly, including by the Federal
Accessibility Legislation Alliance. We’re working together. It’s what advocacy is all about and this is then the subject
of tweeting and advocacy and all that kind of good stuff and the government, the minister, Minister Qualtrough and the
government was very silent. They were not saying what they would do and the pressure was on and finally, the minister
announced on the 22nd of May, if memory serves, the 22nd of May, yes. On the 22nd of May, the minister announces on behalf of the government that they will support all
the Senate’s amendments, which really meant this
thing is going forward. So it comes back to the
House during the next week, the last week in May, which happens to be
National Accessibility Week, nice symbolism, and the
bill passes unanimously with all the Senate’s
amendments proclaimed in force in early July. That’s the third last twist and turn. An important one because
we’ve won some things. We’ve got a national accessibility law, it’s got a stronger purpose, it’s got some strength in provisions, it’s got some helpful ingredients, but it’s still suffers
from key weaknesses. It’s still does not require a
single accessibility barrier to ever be removed. It’s still got the splintering amongst
different agencies problem. The government had said in
the face of the criticism that the bill’s splinter
between multiple agencies that we will ensure there’s no wrong door. Wherever you take your complaint, if it’s the wrong agency, we’ll
send it to the right agency. We said yeah, but we wanna make sure that once you get through the door you don’t have to face
different rollercoaster rides depending on the agency, and even that we weren’t able to secure. So we now come to the
second last twist and turn and that is the federal election of 2019. One of the things you
learn at this kind of community organizing and advocacy, when you do a court
case, you argue a trial, you argue appeal, you
got to the highest court, you refuse leave to appeal, it’s over. You’ve done what you can do. This ride’s never over. It’s never over. So we went into the AODA Alliance, went into this election saying all right, now let’s ask the political parties what they will do, if elected,
either A to implement the law or B to strengthen the law. We had some of the parties,
particularly in opposition, saying hey if you elect us
we’re gonna strengthen it or we would table
amendments to strengthen it. Now we can say, okay you want our votes? Will you, if elected, pass the amendments that you wanted passed last year in which the government voted down? See when you’re pitching
amendments in standing committee it may be a majority government, you may be working with opposition, you may have no hope
that they’re gonna pass, but you could be laying the foundation for a later ask of another party when they form the government. I’ve been around that block a few times and so the process of
getting an opposition party to support an amendment
when they’re in opposition is the process of getting them persuaded to your policy position well
before they may be in position to actually act on it
fully and unilaterally. So we mapped out on the 18th of July, it’s on our website,
a letter to all three, pardon me, all leaders of all the parties, saying hey, if you’re
elected what will you do to implement this act? And we listed out a number of
things we wanted, 11 of them, and in a number of cases we said, hey, would you either amend the act or as a matter of policy do X ’cause we knew the Liberals
would be more reluctant to amend it, they just passed it, but the opposition might
be more willing to amend it so we wanted to put the
question in either way. So what happened? Well, four years ago in the 2015 election there were promises to
pass an accessibility law by the Liberals, the NDP and
the Greens, Tories didn’t, even though they had
actually promised that in ’06 and when government didn’t actually do it and the Bloc didn’t answer. In this election it was really different. We got a letter from the
NDP in which they made a substantial number of the
commitments we were seeking, paralleling amendments
that they had introduced when they were in opposition
at the standing committee. We got just days before the election a letter from the Liberals, but it promised no changes to the bill generally said that they would be narrow in granting exemptions,
that they would be ambitious in implementing the act and the only thing that
they actually committed to that was new, not as an
amendment to the bill, but as a policy is they said we will apply a disability lens to all government decisions. Disability lens is kind of a a term of art in the advocacy world. The idea is they look at
decisions before they make them and say what impact will this have on people with disabilities. Is it going to hurt them, is it going to take into
account their needs. The government does that
from a gender perspective, they can do it on a
disability perspective. It was interesting that
Minster Qualtrough said this days before the election
because when the bill was before the House of Commons months before the opposition,
I believe it was the NDP, tabled an amendment that wound entrench, entrench a disability lens and the government voted it down. But now they’re prepared to do it, at least as a matter of policy. No promises they’d amend the law. The Tories, who during
third reading debate in the House of Commons
in November of last year had said if elected we will strengthen this bill as a priority made no commitments to
us during the election, never did the Greens who
had been strong proponents of improving this bill
when it was being debated. During the campaign, we were
busy tweeting candidates and asking for commitments and so on. So that’s the second last twist and turn, which led to what you all know happened, which is a minority House of Commons. Some people find that frustrating. Our last twist and turn is due to the fact that we find it fabulous because a minority house
opens up a new opportunity. It opens up an opportunity
for us to try a new strategy and we launched that new strategy about eight hours ago today. Let me conclude this lecture, well get near the end of this lecture, by telling you a bit about it. What we have done is we have
now officially as of today, the day I’m giving this lecture, we have written the
leaders of all the parties in the House of Commons and said, congratulations on your election, you say you folks are gonna work together in this minority house. Here’s a good example
of how you could do it. How about a short focus bill to strengthen the new
Accessible Canada Act? And we’ve very much along the lines of that three and a half
pager I told you about crafted over a very stressful and caffeine overladen weekend in April, we have produced a short list
of eight amendments we want. We want the government required to create accessibility standards. Actual accessibility enforceable standards in all the areas the bill
can cover within five years. They certainly should be able to do that. We want the government to
entrench the disability lens that the Liberal Party said that they would apply in any event. That would enable them to both live up to what they said they would do and ensure other governments would do so should they be defeated and
another party take power. We want the government to remove
the discriminatory remnant of section 172, so that if
a person with a disability faces an undue barrier in transportation that the Federal Government can regulate, interprovincial bus travel or
rail travel or any air travel, that if they face that barrier they can always get compensation whether or not there’s a weak and inadequate federal
regulation on point. We want the House of Commons
to amend the bill as well, we’d love to unsplinter this legislation to consolidate all enforcement with the new accessibility commissioner, but in a short bill in a minority House we figure that’s more than
we can reasonably expect, that we could win on,
so we’ve asked for them to require those multiple agencies, where there’s no wrong door to get in, to have the same
procedures once you get in. We’ve said that we’d love
to see removed from the act any power to exempt any
organization from parts of the act but all we’re asking for is
that they remove from the bill, from the legislation, the power of the government
to exempt itself. We’ve asked the government
to amend the bill to require that when
federal money is spent on infrastructure, procurement,
federal loans and grants, business development grants and so on, that that money cannot be used to create or perpetuate disability barriers. By the way on that point, the
Senate didn’t make an amend that we’d asked for, but the
Senate standing committee did something that they
could do that helps us. When they pass a bill
they can attach to it what’s called an observation,
it’s like a comment, it’s a strong message to the government. We’re not amending the
bill, but hey fix this. And one of the two observations
they passed on the bill C81 said that the government
should establish a process to prevent public money from being used to create barriers or perpetuate barriers against people with disabilities. So those are just some of the
key amendments we’re seeking and it’s our intention to
advocate to all the parties to try to come together
and see if they can pass all the eight amendments we’re seeking or at least as many of them as possible. Well, why has this been
such an uphill battle? You’re listening to me talking and you gotta think to yourself that this should be uncontroversial. They all agreed we needed legislation, the parties all agreed that
people with disabilities faced too many barriers. Any number of them from any
of the parties made speeches about the barriers they
personally have faced or their family members
have faced and so on. Well, let me offer you just some ideas and this is kind of an impression
from what I’ve observed drawing on my years of
doing this kind of advocacy at the provincial level
before going federal. The first is, we got almost no
media coverage on this issue. If you are a CBC watcher
you would not know in 2015 that the parties were
asked to make commitments or that any did. You would not know that
a minister was appointed to develop a bill or that a consultation
went on, nationally. You would not know that the government made a controversial
decision before it began that the CRTC and CTA were
going to maintain their hegemony in the area of accessibility despite their poor track records. You would not know that
disability organizations called for significant
amendments to the bill. You would not know that
the House of Commons made some of those amendments,
but rejected others. You would not know that our community had different views on
whether to go to the Senate, but nevertheless went to the Senate and you would not know that the
Senate made real amendments, amendments that the government was not particularly thrilled
about and didn’t want, at least for some of them. You wouldn’t know that the bill came back
to the House of Commons and against all odds the bill was passed with all of the Senate’s amendments and you wouldn’t know that
during this Federal election we couldn’t get commitments from parties that had been supporting us in opposition or the commitment we got
from the Federal Liberals was so weak. It is especially powerful that the commitments we got
were so few in this election because remember I said this
law gives power a lot of duties or pardon me, a lot of powers,
but not a lot of duties and we’re worried that
they don’t have obligations and deadlines? Kinda like a prof saying
it’s not on the exam. You’ll think maybe that’s interesting, but I’ll worry about that later. Well, the first chance to put political leaders of
all stripes to that very test speaking of exams was two or three months
after the bill passed because that’s when we went to them and said hey, if you’re
elected what will you do to implement this law? Not only to amend it,
but just to implement it. Politicians are typically most
responsive to individuals, to voters, when they want our votes and look how unresponsive they were. Not all of them, but even more of them than were responsive four years ago, even more than in response
to the bill last fall when it was being debated in the House. It really shows why we need
the amendments we’re seeking. But politicians also
respond to media coverage. Politicians respond to what’s in the media and to that end, if you
look at the calender when we were raising these issues, not just the AODA Alliance,
but any number of us, before the Senate, what
were the headlines full of? The SNC-Lavalin case. That was all over the
news, that was the subject. Now that was not the
subject four years ago, three years ago, two years, one year ago, but at least in the last round it kind of precluded issues like this, but that’s no excuse for the
media that didn’t cover this because there are lots
of other opportunities. Now some media did, not
enough and not often enough. But that I believe was a
substantial disservice to us despite our efforts. We and others turned to
social media as an alternative and it’s a very helpful means. In 2015, it was decisive
in mounting support during the Federal
election, but nevertheless. Another factor that militated
against us, I regret, is the overwhelming weight
of the public service. I worked in the Ontario
Public Service for 33 years. Public servants that I ever met and have ever dealt with are
overwhelmingly decent people, but when they get together
in a large organization and an issue like this comes along unfortunately too often they can become an institutional drag on progress. I am confident beyond words, I don’t need anybody to call
and tell me it happened, that the CTA and the CRTC were busy pressuring the government not to take away any of their mandate and if anything, they used
them to get more mandate. I am confident that the airlines and others that are
regulated by those agencies were similarly happy to
have them, those agencies, regulating them and not some
new accessibility commissioner that they don’t know anything about and don’t have a relationship with. Ultimately, while I’m assuming that they
did that kind of lobbying it’s certainly, the results,
are utterly consistent with that kind of lobbying
and there’s no reason to think they didn’t. But the other challenges we faced include the fact that
advocating in the national level within the disability community, it’s a big enough challenge at the Ontario level, believe me, but nationally it becomes
an even bigger challenge. Both to physically reach people and to try to engage people. This is made even more complicated where people don’t really understand what you’re taught in first
year constitutional law about the lines between
the Federal Government and the Provincial Government. What’s the Federal Government do? They may be worried about
barriers in their local school and if they go to a consultation
session to talk about that and find out oh well that’s really good, but that’s provincial, they may find that really frustrating. And the added layer that made
this all more complicated or challenging was the fact
that with federal funding there was a presence in this debate within the disability community of a voice sincerely held that
was pressing the Senate at certain stages not to make amendments and that added a challenge in our path. As I said before, it’s a democracy. People are entitled to express
whatever views they want and ultimately we were
successful in getting amendments. One is left to simply wish
that we didn’t have to face that challenge amidst all
the other ones that we faced. Let me conclude by telling you that anybody from the outside hearing
about any of these stories should think that anybody
doing the kind of advocacy that I and my colleagues do must be, (chuckling) must get depressed all the time because the battle is uphill. But I never do. I never do. The fact is uphill is where we live. My earliest experience with this, among my earliest experiences
with this was back in 1980 when a bar admission student in Ontario and through a chain of events I cover in another videoed lecture there was an opportunity
to try I and others to advocate to get our
charter of rights amended before it was even passed
to include equality for people with disabilities. That was not only uphill, it
looked utterly impossible, but through the efforts of many
and good fortune, it worked and throughout the 10 years of fighting for getting the AODA passed
from 1994 to 2005 in Ontario it often looked as uphill. In this case, if somebody
were to say to me objectively do you think it’s an uphill battle to try to get a bill
passed four or five months, bill introduced four or five months after the Accessible Canada Act was passed to make any improvements? Yeah, it’s uphill, what else is new? I conclude by telling you
about a fortune cookie. A fortune cookie? Back in May of 2005, this
fortune cookie said it all and it wasn’t speaking to me, it was speaking to I
believe disability advocates and organizations everywhere. Back in 2005, the
Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act
had been fully debated by the Ontario Legislature
and it was slated for third reading vote. The debate was over, it
was just the day for a vote and all parties were on the
record that it was gonna pass and it was gonna pass unanimously. This was gonna be a very exciting day for any of us who were involved in that decade-long campaign. I went to lunch with a
buddy of mine beforehand to a Chinese restaurant
and at the end of the meal they gave me a fortune cookie. Big deal. I went and opened it. Of course, there’s not
braille on the fortune cookie ’cause it would have to be a fortune cake, which I wouldn’t mind, but in any event I passed
the fortune over to my friend to read to me and I kid you know. It was a visionary fortune
from that fortune cookie ’cause it speaks to all
those who’d been involved in the advocacy back then and in the story I told you about today. The line it said is that every great accomplishment
is at first impossible. Thank you very much. (audience applauding)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *