Summary Note: Bill C-81 Parliamentary Study - Thursday October 18, 2018

Dear Colleagues,

As you are aware Parliament is presently holding hearings on Bill C-81 (The Accessible Canada Act).  The CNIB has undertaken to provide brief daily summaries of these hearings, and they have generously agreed to allow CCD to have them translated for circulation across the country, in both English and French.  Therefore, please find attached the CNIB summary for the hearing on October 18, 2018.  We will continue to translate and share these summaries as quickly as we are able.  Meantime thanks to the CNIB for this collaboration! 

Steven Estey
Government & Community Relations Manager
Council of Canadians with Disabilities
343 Preston Street, 11th Floor
Ottawa, ON K1S 1N4

Summary Note: Bill C-81 Parliamentary Study - Thursday October 18, 2018

Please find a summary of the Parliamentary Committee study on Bill C-81, the Accessible Canada Act. Thank you for Alice Clark, Specialist, Government Relations and Advocacy, for monitoring and reporting on this meeting.

Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and Status of Person with Disabilities (HUMA)

Committee Meeting October 18, 2018
8:45am – 10:45am
Witnesses included:

As individuals: Michael Prince, Professor of Social Policy, Faculty of Human and Social Development, University of Victoria and Jutta Treviranus, Professor and Director, Inclusive Design Research Centre, OCAD University
Barrier-Free Canada: Donna Jodhan, Founder and Chair
People First of Canada: Kory Earle, President and Shelley Fletcher, Executive Director
Public Service Alliance of Canada: Marianne Hladun, Regional Executive Vice-President, Prairies Region and Seema Lamba, Human Rights Program Officer, Negotiations and Programs Branch

Donna Jodhan, Founder and Chair of Barrier Free Canada, said that she wants to see Bill C-81 extend to organizations who receive government funding, grants and contributions, or those who provide goods and services. She stressed that progressive realization doesn't provide a meterstick against which progress can be measured, and there is no mention in the legislation of applying a disability lens to future policy and legislating.

Michael Prince, Professor of Social Policy, Faculty of Human and Social Development at the University of Victoria, also mentioned the absence of measurable targets with timelines. Mr. Prince suggested that there are too many possibilities for exemptions, and a complex model of federal bodies involved in enforcement. He recommended that the scope of the bill extend to non-federally regulated employers and government contractors. He also recommended two amendments to the legislative wording (will be available on Hansard early next week.)

Kory Earle, President of People First Canada, advocated that information be available in accessible, plain language. Shelley Fletcher, Executive Director of People First of Canada, said all complaints and enforcement should be handled by the accessibility commissioner, and that the complaints process should be streamlined to go through the accessibility commissioner.

Marianne Hladun, Regional Executive Vice-President, Prairies Region, at the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), said that the Employment Equity Act provides an established framework that employers and unions have been working under for years. PSAC recommends improving the Employment Equity Act and then referring the employment aspects of C-81 to the Employment Equity Act. Ms. Hladun said the Employment Equity Act is specific in what must be included in employment equity plans, whereas Bill C-81 is not. She also said that PSAC wants to see adequate funding provided to CASDO and the CHRC to ensure these organizations can fulfill their new mandates.

MP John Barlow asked Ms. Jodhan what she would like to see for specific deadlines and timelines. She said she'd like to see a timeline for the first two years whereby we can judge what has gone on and what needs to be put in place still. Mr. Prince said the concept of progressive realization is a guiding principle that reflects international best practice, but it would be best to include an aspirational statement like Ontario did.

Mr. Prince said this Bill is a machinery of government bill, but not much of a social policy bill. He said it is Ottawa-centred and not person-centred – almost every federal department can apply for an exemption, but federally regulated private entities don't have as many options for exemptions.

MP Wayne Long noted that the committee has heard that Canadians with disabilities want to see a majority of CASDO comprised of persons with disabilities. He asked Ms. Johan what this majority should look like. She said the appointments should be made so persons with disabilities have a voice at the table with a direct stake in the outcomes, so they won't be as influenced by other sources. Mr. Prince said the Chair or Vice Chair should be designated or rotate so they always have a person with a disability in a leadership role. He said they should not comprise the board based on a minimum number, but by identifying key roles.

MP Geordie Hogg asked the witnesses if there are any examples of international legislation that could help inform their study. Mr. Prince said Canada will be catching up to Australia, the U.S, the U.K, Ireland and other European countries.

MP Kerry Diotte asked for some specific examples of how this Bill fails persons with disabilities. Mr. Prince said that the Bill could be strengthened by investing in services, labour market agreements, tax measures that would create incentives, etc. He said the successes will be in the larger context of investments in other policies.

MP Wayne Long asked if there should be a cost limit to creating an Accessible Canada. Kory Earle said we should not focus on the cost, but rather on people being included every day and in the economy. Shelley Fletcher also noted the economic benefits of hiring persons with disabilities. Seema Lamba said the attitudinal barrier that hiring persons with disabilities will cost a lot and noted that the average cost is $500 to accommodate.

MP Rosemarie Falk said  the government used a GBA+ lens on their last budget, but that she appreciated Mr. Earle's comments that legislation should include also a disability lens. She asked what government departments could do now. Ms. Johan said she was aware that many government websites were not accessible, and seeing the government lead by creating accessible websites would be a good place to start. She also said that cost matter for creating other policies was not brought up as much as it is on this legislation.

Please share with those who may be interested.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact myself or Alice Clark.

Thomas Simpson
Head, Public Affairs
1355 Bank St, Ottawa ON, K1H 8K7