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Please Support a Strong & Effective ODA


To:     ODA Committee Members and Supporters
From:     David Lepofsky, Chair, ODA Committee
Date:     September 12, 2000

Re: Highlights of the ODA Committee Delegation's
Sept. 8, 2000 Meeting with Citizenship Minister Helen Johns

1. Summary

Here are highlights of our ODA Committee delegation's meeting
with Citizenship Minister Helen Johns and her staff for a little
over one hour on Friday September 8, 2000. Our ODA Committee
delegation included myself, Gary Malkowski, Carol Riback, Ian
Greaves (ODA Committee Regional Contact, Niagara Falls/St.
Catharines), and Sandra Russill (ODA Committee Regional Contact,

Despite the fact that the Minister was unwilling to share with us
any detailed specifics or to make any commitments regarding the
Ontarians with Disabilities Act, we managed to address a number
of important issues, and to get some further insight into the
situation facing us on the road to a strong ODA. For the first
time, a Citizenship Minister began to broach discussions of
substantive issues. She gave some indication that her staff are
looking into this topic. For those who want more details about
this meeting, read on.

2. The Meeting's Purpose

We were invited to give feedback on how programs for persons with
disabilities across the Ontario Government are working, and to
give any additional input on prior presentations we have made. We
limited our discussion to the ODA, not other government programs,
because our mission is to advocate for passage of the ODA.

3. Our Main Questions and the Minister's Main Responses

We gave the Minister a list of our core questions for her (see
the end of this update). However, the Minister would not give
specific answers on whom she specifically was consulting, what
feedback she is receiving (beyond the vague points described
below), whether Cabinet had made any decisions on the contents of
the ODA, when exactly she would be producing her promised action
plan, what her target date was for introduction of the ODA into the
Legislature, whether there would be public hearings on her bill, or
whether she would support the holding of public hearings on the

The Minister gave no commitment to meet with us once she has
completed her consultations, to let us know what she had heard and
to get our responses to it. The previous minister Isabel Bassett
had agreed to do this during her 1998 consultation. the Minister
said she would write the Premier to let him know of our request to
meet with him. However, she explained that the Premier was content
to have us meet with her instead of him.

4. The Issue of How Much it Would Cost to Implement the ODA

In the first actual exchange over substance with a Citizenship
Minister in over five years, Minister Johns raised the issue of how
much it would cost to implement the ODA. She said that the issue of
cost had been raised with her in discussions she had had with
business. We received no specifics of who had raised this or what
they had said beyond a general references to cost as a concern.

When we were asked if we had a specific figure of what the ODA
would cost, we explained that it is impossible to come up with such
a figure. The idea of a total cost figure misses the point. Many
barriers can be removed and new ones can be prevented at little or
no cost. Others will cost more, but this activity will ultimately
pay itself off.

We built this consideration into our blueprint for the ODA. We have
proposed that low-cost and no-cost measures should occur fast.
Those measures which cost more should be allowed more time to
complete. Business and the disability community should have input
into the specifics of the standards to be set.

The cost of these measures will ultimately go down if
comprehensive legislation is passed. As an example, if braille is
required on public building elevator buttons, then the need for
these Braille markings should lead to their being mass produced.
This mass production should drive down the cost for these

We learned that the Citizenship Ministry had requested the other
ministries of the Ontario Government to give figures on what it
would cost to remove barriers in their programs. This process was
still in progress. The Minister gave no commitment whether she
would give us those figures when they came in, so we could give her

5. Consulting with the Business Community

The Minister asked if we had consulted with business in preparing
our proposals for the ODA. Our proposals were the product of
bringing together a wide range of views, from a wide range of
people. Undoubtedly people connected with business participated,
but we do not have a list of them.

The Minister gave an indication that she had received some cost
information from business, but she would not commit to providing
that information to us. We proposed that it would be worthwhile
bring together both us and business to discuss this issue
together, rather than as two solitudes, but we received no

6. The Impact of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

We learned that the Ministry had collected some information about
the ADA, and that they intended to go to the U.S. to collect
further information. We received no
assurance that we would receive the results of that effort or be
told with whom they would be consulting.

The Minister was not aware that during the tenure of a previous
Citizenship Minister under her Government, the Ministry
commissioned the Roeher Institute to prepare a study into the costs
which the ADA had triggered. That study had documented that for the
most part, costs which the ADA had triggered were not high.
Ministry staff had given us a copy of that study. We
expressed our serious concern that this Minister had not been aware
of the Roeher Institute study.

The Minister stated that she has to consider that the situation of
the enactment of the ADA is different from the Ontario
situation because we already have the Ontario Human Rights Code.
She also referred to a need to consider the roles of provincial and
federal legislation.

7. Educating the Public on Disability Needs

We were asked whether our concerns could be addressed by
educating the public. The Minister gave as an example a recent
session which her Ministry was involved in funding. It involved
training hotel staff in the Toronto area on disability needs.

We explained that such education activities will not
substantially improve things unless there is mandatory
legislation in place. Members of the ODA Committee have delivered
many such public education programs for many years. We know from
our experience that these programs do not substantially reduce the
barriers we face. Such educational activities can help, but only if
backed by mandatory legislation requiring barriers to be removed
and prevented.

8. Whether the Minister Supports our 11 Principles for the ODA

The ODA Committee has put forward 11 principles which we want the
ODA to include. The Ontario Legislature unanimously adopted these
principles in a resolution on October 29, 1998. Many
municipalities have also endorsed them by resolutions.

The Minister said she said she supported these 11 principles to
varying degrees. She supported the idea of education. She was
concerned however as an example that it was not possible to make
all public transit accessible immediately. We explained that the 11
principles do not require all public transit in Ontario to be made
accessible immediately.

9. ODA Committee Not Seeking Job Hiring Quotas

The Minister agreed with us that we are not asking for job hiring
quotas, and that the 11 principles for the ODA that we have put
forward do not call for job quotas. This is important, since the
last Citizenship Minister Isabel Bassett had accused us of
seeking job hiring quotas. Ms. Bassett only retracted that claim
after ODA Committee members wrote the government to insist that the
government stop making this false claim.

10. The Minister's Views on the 3-Page Bill 83

The Minister said that she agreed with the Premier's decision to
withdraw Bill 83, the 3-page bill introduced into the Legislature
in 1998. She did not explain what it was about Bill 83 that she
thought was deficient. She said she agreed with the Premier, who
had withdrawn Bill 83 because he thought more consultations were

11. The Minister's Consultations

The Minister said she is undertaking ongoing consultations. Among
her activities in this regard, at times when she is meeting with
people on other matters, she informally discusses the ODA to get
feedback. She stated that she was open to have her Ministry receive
input from us and from anyone who wanted to give input.

The Minister asked us to let it be known that people can contact
the Ministry to give their input on the ODA as part of her
consultations. We explained that as a voluntary, non-funded
community coalition, we were not able to take on the Government's
job of publicizing her consultation process to the public. We
proposed to her that she hold a press conference to make public her
invitation for input from the community. She took this under

The Minister did not clearly indicate whether the Government was
still committed to the positions it set out in its Discussion Paper
on the ODA which Citizenship Minister Isabel Bassett
released two years ago. We were told that the Government is
prepared to consider any options. This is significant because over
the past year we have heard from the Government that it is not
prepared to consider measures akin to the ADA.

12. The Minister's Future Plans for the ODA

The Minister still plans to release an action plan during this
session of the Legislature, but we received no new information on
what this action plan is to contain or specifically when it will be
released. The Minister told us that her statement that she would
release the action plan by June was a personal deadline, not a
Government commitment.

It is our view that if her Government is to keep to the
commitment to enact the ODA into law by November 23, 2001, it must
introduce the bill into the legislature well in advance of that
date, and hopefully in time for public hearings. Because of the
barriers that people with disabilities face in participating in
such processes, the bill would have to be introduced sometime this
spring if people with disabilities are to have input after it is
introduced. The Minister would not give a target date for
introducing the bill.

13. Conclusion

The upshot is that we should step up our efforts at bringing our
message to the public about the need for a strong and effective
ODA, while continuing to press forward with our "Call Mike"
campaign. More and more people should call Premier Harris at his
office to ask why the ODA is taking so long. It is clear that
Premier Harris calls the shots.

We should also be aware that the Minister has said that she wants
feedback on the ODA. One and all should consider asking her to meet
with you in person to explain why Ontario needs a strong and
effective ODA. We have always emphasized that it is important for
MPPs to consult with the public directly and in person, so they can
learn about the need for a strong ODA.

Thanks to all for advice and suggestions for this meeting and to
our delegation at the meeting. Also, thanks to the 20 supporters
who gathered on the ground floor of the building housing the
Minister's office, to politely and peacefully show their support.
We regret that the Minister refused to go down and meet them. These
supporters put their time to good use, sharing ideas on future
action and handing out leaflets on the ODA to the public on nearby


Here is the text of the document which we gave the Minister at the
start of our meeting with her.

Outline for ODA Committee Meeting with
Citizenship Minister Helen Johns, Friday September 8, 2000

1. What will the Government's action plan on the Ontarians with
Disabilities Act contain and when will it be released?

2. Whom has the Minister and the Government specifically
consulted on the contents of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act
and what specific feedback and options for this legislation has the
Minister and the Government received?

3. What decisions about the content and timing of the enactment of
the Ontarians with Disabilities Act have been made by Cabinet, or
its Priorities and Planning Committee?

4. Why has the government been so reluctant to enact a strong and
effective Ontarians with Disabilities Act, and why has it been
delayed so long?

5. Will the Ontarians with Disabilities Act that you bring
forward comply with the 11 principles which the Legislature
including your Party unanimously adopted in its October 29, 1998

6. What is your approximate target date for introducing the
Ontarians with Disabilities Act for first reading, and will you
support the holding of open, accessible, public hearings across
Ontario on the bill?

7. What can you do to help us arrange a meeting with the Premier to
move this Act forward?


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