Canadian Disability Legislation – An exemplar in complexity

One of the commitments that Trudeau made when campaigning was to develop federal disability legislation. A year on and there is some activity in this area.

Carla Qualtrough, who is the first ever minister responsible for people with disabilities has put out a call for consultation regarding the proposed ‘People with Disabilities Act’ or ‘Accessibility Act’.

What is disheartening is that since July, when she made this call, only 700 people have commented yet there are 2.1 million Canadians (over 15 years of age) who face communication or physical barriers.

Why aren’t these people speaking up?

Perhaps because ironically, the announcement about the consultation has not been well communicated. You have to navigate your way to a sub page of  Employment and Social Development Canada to find the consultation information. Once there, the call is provided in ASL and audio versions as well as in plain text. However, unless you know to look for it it’s pretty difficult to find.

So for those that are interested, here is the link. Whether you consider yourself disabled now or not, you probably will need accessibility to be provided for you at some point in your life, even if only due to old age. So this does impact you. Please comment!

The stated timeline is that a report will be made available on the consultation in February 2017 with the new legislation to be introduced in the fall of 2017, or spring of 2018 at the latest.

While I applaud the efforts to provide a quicker process for accessibility issue resolution, than a Human Rights Complaint, I do worry that all that this new legislation will do is make an already complex area of law even more complex.

My concern is that while this is proposed as national legislation Qualtrough has been quoted as saying that:

“…she expects the law will establish some kind of standard or guideline for federally regulated employers and service providers for ensuring accessibility and fairness for Canadians with a disability. That would include banks, interprovincial travel such as trains and airlines, and telecommunications.”

My concern with this is that it leaves all the provinces and territories free to continue with their own legislation.

So as a disabled person I will continue to have to navigate my way between each jurisdictional law in my home province, and all others when I travel within Canada, as well as this new federal law for federally regulated organisations.

I’m also not optimistic that this new law will bring compliance very quickly unless it has serious consequences for non-compliance and a fast, complaints procedure that is enforced at a local level.

Ontario has had the AODA since 2005. However, as Ontario still has another 8 years to become fully compliant with this legislation it is apparent that many organisations will not bother to work towards compliance until the final deadline applies. If you think that I’m exaggerating just go and look at any new building – many are still being built that do not comply with the AODA.

Worse still, even when you know the law and try to assert your rights in Ontario local police will not, or can not, enforce them and so you’re left with making a Human Rights Complaint which currently takes years to resolved.

What might help is if Canada took a leaf out of the USA’s book and established federal legislation that takes priority over jurisdictional legislation, whenever it is least restrictive.

The USA established their federal legislation is this area 26 years ago: The Americans with Disabilities Act 1990 (ADA). The advantage of the ADA over what seems to be being proposed in Canada is that while states are welcome to establish their own accessibility legislation the least restrictive law always applies. As a result the ADA is often the law that applies making life much simpler for the disabled to navigate.

Qualtrough hopes to achieve this in one area alone. The definition of disability itself where she hopes:

“…to develop a common definition for disability that would apply to all federal laws and regulations and eventually be adopted by the provinces.”

I don’t understand why we can’t have one accessibility/disability law that applies across the entire country. That has serious consequences for non-compliance, that the local police are educated in and can enforce, and for which there is a simple complaints procedure that is also accessible.

Isn’t it time to simply enforce the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms for all?

Trudeau, it is 2016 after all.

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