Building An Inclusive and Accessible Canada

Policy Statement by Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD) Re: Transportation Access

June 2007

The Current Situation

Wheelchair users in Gander, NFLD must drive to St. John's to take planes large enough to transport their wheelchairs.

Small planes, ex. Air Canada's CRJ, have been widely deployed and some wheelchairs cannot be stored in the cargo hold. In some instances boarding and exiting these planes now occurs on the runway because there are insufficient gates able to accommodate these smaller planes.

A deaf/blind woman was required to travel with an attendant. The right to self determination established years ago is lost.

A guide dog user was refused transport because the carrier wanted a certificate showing her dog was trained by an accredited school.

Some volunteers with CCD have declined to travel on CCD business because traveling has simply become too hard.

Airports continue to install technology (boarding pass ticket dispensers) that is not accessible.

Each year, travelers with disabilities bring many complaints about barriers to the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA). The same problems (ex. poorly trained staff, damage to equipment, barriers to mobility) keep re-occurring and travelers with disabilities continue to lodge complaints. Systemic barriers remain and discrimination is ongoing.

Transportation Access in Canada declines

Accessibility standards are a thing of the past for Canada's federal transport system. Voluntary codes of practice are the Canadian way. The result: travel denied.

Once a world leader in accessibility, Canadian access levels fall below other developed countries. CCD seeks the adoption of the US regulatory accessibility model and utilization of US Access Board guidelines and expertise.

CCD v. VIA Rail

In April 2000, the Federal Government gave VIA Rail $400 million to purchase new trains. At a meeting of the Advisory Committee on Accessible Transportation (ACAT) the Minister promised that the new trains would be accessible. In the end, VIA purchased inaccessible cars even though the Federal Government was paying 100% of the cost. VIA ignored the Minister and the Voluntary Code and put inaccessible cars into service.

Seven years later, the disability community finally won its case at the Supreme Court of Canada. VIA is now required to retrofit the coach cars to make them accessible. These cars could not go into service in other countries such as the United States and Britain because access regulations there would not allow them on the tracks.

What did the Supreme Court of Canada say in the VIA case:

"162 The accommodation of personal wheelchairs enables persons with disabilities to access public services and facilities as independently and seamlessly as possible. Independent access to the same comfort, dignity, safety and security as those without physical limitations, is a fundamental human right for persons who use wheelchairs. This is the goal of the duty to accommodate: to render those services and facilities to which the public has access equally accessible to people with and without physical limitations."

"176 Likewise the fact that there are accessible trains traveling along some routes does not justify inaccessible trains on others. It is the global network of rail services that should be accessible."

"186 The twin goals of preventing and remedying discrimination in Canadian National Railway Co. V. Canada (CHRC) cannot be accomplished if the creation of new, exclusionary barriers can be defended on the basis that they are no more discriminating than what they are replacing. This is an approach that serves to perpetuate and exacerbate the historic disadvantage endured by persons with disabilities."

"221 Members of the public who are physically disabled are members of the public. This is not a fight between able-bodied and disabled persons to keep fares down by avoiding the expense of eliminating discrimination. Safety measures can be expensive too, but one would hardly expect to hear that their cost justifies dangerous conditions. In the long run, danger is more expensive than safety and discrimination is more expensive than inclusion."

Do Voluntary Access Codes Work? No!

The CTA has a voluntary access Code for rail. The VIA Rail case vividly demonstrates that voluntary codes offer no real protection and are inadequate to move Canada toward the goal of full access.

Advisory Committee on Accessible Transportation (ACAT)

In November 2004, CCD withdrew from ACAT due to concerns over lack of action on transportation access. CCD informed the Minister of the need for:

  • Regulation,
  • Increased support for the accessible transportation unit,
  • An Action Plan for Building an Accessible and Inclusive Federal Transportation System.

In June 2005, the Minister of Transport arbitrarily ended disability organization membership on ACAT. Industry still names its representatives. Now, the Government of Canada and Minister Lawrence Cannon are implementing the Liberal Government's policy to appoint only individuals with disabilities to ACAT, not representatives of disability organizations.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) A Transportation Success Story

US trains are compliant with ADA access regulations. American airports and airplanes are world leaders in accessibility, and because of their influence on world markets, American standards of aircraft design are becoming international standards.

Title II: Public Transportation of the ADA required the provision of accessible public transport. Regulations passed pursuant to the ADA govern the purchase of new or used vehicles and the reconditioning of old ones. In addition to very detailed regulations, there are legally mandated Manuals on Transportation Design produced by the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Board that describe an accessible vehicle. The Public Transportation sections of Title II are enforceable either through private law suits or by registering a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights in the Federal Transit Administration of the Department of Transportation (DOT). Privately operated transportation [e.g. trains and intercity bus] is covered under Title III. Complaints of Title III violations may be filed with the Department of Justice (DOJ) Civil Rights Division. The Department is authorized to bring a lawsuit where there is a pattern of discrimination. Due to their regulatory framework, America has better access than Canada.

UK's Disability Discrimination Act (1995)

The Mobility and Inclusion Unit of the UK Department of Transport oversees regulation for access. Before vehicles go into service in the UK, they require a license from the Inclusion Unit.

VIA's inaccessible cars were originally destined for the UK. When the manufacturer sought a license to operate the trains on British rails, it was refused.

Canadian travelers with disabilities wish that Canada had a body with the power to refuse to license inaccessible transportation equipment that carriers seek to put into service.

Recommendations for Building An Inclusive and Accessible
Federal Transportation System

Note: Accessibility as referred to in this document is not simply access related to mobility impairment but rather related to the access needs of all persons with disabilities and grounded in the principles of Universal Design. We are seeking a cross disability framework in the development of an accessible federally regulated transportation system.

  1. The Minister of Transport must immediately develop accessibility regulations similar to the United States regulatory model for all federally regulated modes of transportation and federally regulated transportation service systems (airports, stations, station based ground transport, information systems etc.).

  2. The Minister of Transport must immediately develop a Disability Organizations Advisory Committee on Accessible Transportation that is resourced to undertake research and provide advice to the Minister of Transport for advancing access and inclusion of persons with disabilities.

  3. The Minister of Transport must take immediate action to rebuild the capacity of the Accessibility Unit within Transport Canada to develop a national action plan which includes a research capacity to look at best practices in other jurisdictions, reports annually on goals and achieved outcomes, monitors type and focus of complaints made to CTA and ensures appropriate consultation with the disability community in the development of a national action plan.

  4. The Minister must ensure that the Transport Development Centre has the capacity and direction to engage in research related to identifying new means of advancing accessibility and universal design in all federally regulated modes of transportation and service delivery.

  5. The Government of Canada must attach a strong access standard/universal design principle to all infrastructure initiatives.

  6. Enforcement of accessibility must be strengthened by providing CTA with the powers to grant interim injunctions related to purchase of any new equipment that would create new barriers, ensuring that CTA can make interim awarding of cost and award human rights remedies.

  7. Legislative reforms must be enacted to ensure that accessibility remains one of the principle objectives of the National Transportation Act.

List of Supporting Organizations:

Adaptech Research Network
Alliance For Equality of Blind Canadians
ARCH Disability Law Centre
B.C. Coalition of People with Disabilities
B.C. Paraplegic Association
Canadian Association for Community Living
Canadian Association of Independent Living Centres
Canadian Association of the Deaf
Canadian Cerebral Palsy Sports Association
Canadian Hard of Hearing Association
Canadian Hemophilia Association
Canadian National Institute for the Blind
Canadian Paraplegic Association
Canadian Paraplegic Association Manitoba
Canadian Paraplegic Association Ontario
Canadian Working Group on HIV and Rehabilitation
Centre for Independent Living Toronto
Cerebral Palsy Association of Manitoba
Community Involvement of the Disabled Sydney N.S.
Disabilities and Information Technology Research Alliance
DisAbled Women's Network Canada
DisAbled Women's Network Manitoba
DisAbled Women's Network Ontario
Easter Seals Canada
Guide Dog Users of Canada
IDEA Regina
Manitoba League of Persons with Disabilities
Miramichi Physically Disabled and Handicapped Association
National Educational Association of Disabled Students
Neil Squire Society
Nova Scotia League for Equal Opportunity
People First of Canada
Persons United for Self-Help in Northwestern Ontario
Saskatchewan Brain Injury Association
Saskatchewan Voice of People with Disabilities
Thalidomide Victims of Canada
Transportation Action Now
Confédération des organismes de personnes handicapées du Québec (COPHAN)
Le Regroupement des aveugles et amblyopes du Québec (RAAQ)
L'Association des paraplégiques du Québec
Comité provincial des adultes fibro-kystiques
Réseau international sur le Processus de production du handicap (RIPPH)

Coalition of Persons with Disabilities - Nfld and Labrador (COD)
Canadian Paraplegic Association (N.B.) Inc.
Société Logique