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ODA Committee Brief on Bill 125
WITH DISABILITIES ACT COMMITTEE
The ODA Committee is a grassroots, voluntary, non-partisan coalition of individuals and over 100 community organizations organized in 23 regions of Ontario. Founded in late 1994, we have united to achieve a barrier-free Ontario for all persons with disabilities through the prompt passage of a strong, effective ODA. We include over 100 organizational members and many individual members, both with and without disabilities. We have extensive experience and expertise with the wide range of disabilities.
Through our volunteer efforts we have brought our message to the Ontario Government, the opposition parties, the public and the media.
Leading the province-wide movement for the ODA, we developed 11 principles that this legislation needs to contain. The Legislature and several municipal councils have adopted these. Over three years ago, we presented the Legislature with a detailed blueprint for the ODA based on those principles.( Our 11 principles and blueprint are the result of extensive consultations across Ontario. We have always been eager to discuss these with the Government and to work together on the details of legislation to ensure that these are reflected in the Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
According to our 11 principles, the ODA's purpose should be the achievement of a barrier-free Ontario for all people with disabilities. It should cover all disabilities, whether physical, mental or sensory. It should cover all barriers, and not just physical barriers.
All public and private sector providers of goods, facilities and services should be required to remove and prevent barriers. Time lines and standards should be decided upon through a consultation with all stakeholders. The legislation should set out the time lines for developing these standards and a process for consultation.
The same requirements should apply to all employers. There should be an effective and speedy way to enforce the law besides filing human rights complaints for each barrier in individual circumstances. People with disabilities should be able to propose regulations which the Government must consider adopting in order to set standards for barrier removal and prevention sector by sector and industry by industry. Regulations are laws which the ODA would permit the provincial Cabinet to make setting out the detailed standards for removing and preventing barriers.
OUR ASSESSMENT OF BILL 125
Our detailed analysis of Bill 125, included in the appendices accompanying this brief, shows that this bill is weak and ineffective. It is not novel, "leading edge", innovative legislation. It needs amending in key areas to be strong and effective, and to fulfil the goals for the bill set by the ODA Committee and the government's November 1, 2001 "Vision Statement." We reiterate what Conservative MPP John O'Toole said of the bill during Second Reading Debate, i.e. it is "a very limited step." (Hansard November 20, 2001)
Nothing in the bill requires barriers to be removed or prevented within any specific time frame. Nothing requires that people with disabilities be consulted on the development of regulations and guidelines,e except for the narrow area of guidelines regarding newly acquired or renovated government buildings.
There is no guarantee that effective regulations dealing with the private sector will ever be enacted or put into effect. The bill permits the Minister or the Government to exempt all or part of the public sector from the Act. The Minister or the Government does not have to give reasons for granting an exemption, or even have a good reason for doing so.
The bill allows the Government to create a wide range of regulations. This does not mean that any regulations will ever be made. The bill does not fix a time frame within which regulations to be made, or require that they be effective, i.e. that they make a difference for the people for whom they are intended. The bill commits no public funds to help with the cost of removing barriers in Ontario.
The bill establishes no consequences if one does not obey the law, except for the single barrier of improperly parking in a designated handicap parking spot. If one believes that an organization is not removing or preventing barriers when it could or should, there is nowhere to go to get the bill effectively enforced or to get a remedy. All one can do is what was always available, namely file an individual human rights complaint, one barrier at a time, and possibly litigate for years. Even if one wins their case, a ruling may only apply to that single barrier.
Our analysis shows that this bill does not include several important features that the Government says it contains. For example:
The Government says that this bill fulfils our 11 principles. In fact it only complies with one and falls substantially short on all others.
The Government says the bill's purpose is to achieve a barrier- free Ontario. In fact, its much narrower purpose is merely to "improve opportunities" for persons with disabilities and to provide for their "involvement" in barrier identification, removal and prevention.
The Government says the bill puts the disability community in the "driver's seat," driving change and having input into regulations and standards. In fact as stated above, the bill guarantees the disability community no right to input into regulations, standards or guidelines, except narrow guidelines on some government buildings. It does not guarantee the provincial disability advisory council any role in developing regulations or standards under the bill.
The Government says this bill includes two leading-edge innovations, a new provincial disability advisory council and a disability directorate. In fact, both have very limited mandates. Neither is new. Shortly after taking office, this Government abolished a similar provincial advisory council, that had 20 years experience of advising provincial governments. Five other provinces now have such councils. As for the proposed Directorate, in the 1980s, the Ontario Government had a separate disability secretariat with its own minister. In the 1990s this was merged with the Citizenship ministry and later significantly downsized.
Our analysis shows that in significant part, this bill repeats matters that are already law in Ontario, and offers up several measures that the Ontario Government could have undertaken throughout its two terms without having waited to start for new legislation (e.g. annual ministry barrier removal plans).
The Government says that under this bill, it will lead by example. Yet it has said throughout its mandate that it has already been leading by example on this issue.
This Government has made a number of statements about what persons with disabilities need and what they seek in this legislation. Their statements prove the case for enacting a strong, effective, mandatory and comprehensive OdA. However, Bill 125 does not live up to those statements by the Government. It does not achieve the benefits for Ontarians with disabilities, for Ontario's business community and for all Ontarians that a strong and effective ODA could bring. Both the Government's own public opinion poll and our public opinion research and feedback support the kind of ODA we have been seeking.
In this brief, the ODA Committee proposes a set of detailed amendments. These are designed to achieve four goals: To make the bill include all the things that the Government says it includes; to make the bill fulfil all 11 principles for the ODA (which the Legislature unanimously adopted by resolution on October 29, 1998), to ensure that the bill is "strong and effective" (in accordance with this Legislature's unanimous November 23, 1999 resolution), and to clarify the bill's vague and confusing wording.
Our amendments would: