moved that Bill C-81, An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, today is a historic day for disability rights in Canada. It is truly an honour to stand up in the House of Commons and open debate on the second reading of Bill C-81, the accessible Canada act, an act to ensure a barrier-free Canada.
This bill enhances the legal framework for addressing the barriers to inclusion faced by millions of Canadians on a daily basis. From a substantive point of view, it requires the Government of Canada and entities within federal jurisdiction to address not only the barriers themselves but also the systems that perpetuate these barriers. In and of itself, this will promote a quality of opportunity. However, it does more than just this. This bill sends a clear message to Canadians with disabilities that no more will they be treated as an afterthought, no more will they be systematically denied opportunity for inclusion. Today we are sending a message that Canadians with disabilities are valued civic, social and economic contributors to Canadian society, with full rights of citizenship.
The history of how we have treated Canadians with disabilities is not a proud one. It is a history of institutionalization, of sterilization, of social isolation. We addressed our fears of what we did not understand and of difference by creating systems that, by design, took children away from their families, that took power away from our citizens, that perpetuated a medical model of disability that saw persons with disabilities as objects of charity and passive recipients of welfare. We treated our citizens as if they were broken, when in fact it was our systems and policies that were broken.
In my own experience, my parents were told that I should be sent to a school for the blind, that public school was not for me, and that I should be shipped provinces away, far away from my family and friends. I cannot imagine how different my life would have been if my parents had not insisted that I had a right to be publicly educated in my own community and if I had been separated from my loved ones and sent away at age five. It is important to acknowledge this history. It is important not to forget.
Thankfully, Canada's history is also replete with individuals, families and organizations who fought these systems. As we all know, Canada has a robust human rights system, with strong anti-discrimination laws. Disability is a protected ground under these laws and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Of course, Canada is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. However, anti-discrimination laws, while important, are by design reactive. We have to wait until individuals are denied a service, a job, a program, and then the system kicks in to determine if that denial was discriminatory. We literally have to wait until people are discriminated against before we can help them. These laws place the burden of advancing human rights on individuals. The opportunity for system change can be limited and costly. It is incredible to think that currently close to 60% of the complaints to the Canadian Human Rights Commission are on the basis of disability. Again, thankfully we have these laws, for it is my belief that the most important advances in disability rights in our country have been achieved through individuals using these laws to demand equality. There has been change. However, it has been slow.
As our understanding of disability has evolved, the medical model is giving way to a human rights-based social model. We no longer see the individual's disability or impairment as a barrier to inclusion; rather, it is the barriers created by society that prevent people with disabilities from enjoying their human rights on an equal basis with others. That is where Bill C-81 comes in. Today, I stand before members to support a bill that will significantly transform how Canada addresses discrimination and ensures a quality for all. As the first-ever minister responsible for accessibility, I take my responsibilities seriously. I want to set a standard worthy of Canadians and of Canada's place in the world.
Bill C-81 is meant to promote broad organizational and cultural change across the nation. It will benefit all Canadians, especially Canadians with disabilities, by taking the steps to realize a truly accessible and inclusive Canada. It will proactively identify, remove and prevent barriers in a number of areas. Accessibility standards will be established by regulation in the areas of employment, the built environment, information and communication technologies, procurement, program and service delivery, and transportation.
Bill C-81 applies to Parliament, the Government of Canada, Crown corporations, and other federally regulated sectors and entities, including organizations in the transportation, telecommunications, broadcasting and banking sectors.
These entities would be required to comply with the accessibility standards. In this way, Bill C-81 builds upon the existing rights of persons with disabilities under the charter and the Canadian Human Rights Act. It also represents a significant step in Canada's ongoing implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.
At this point, I will pause to put on the record the incredible collaboration that led to the bill. In June of 2016, we launched an ambitious public consultation process in Canada that took us across the country, meeting with Canadians and stakeholders to talk about what accessible Canada means to them. We did it in the most accessible way possible, to ensure that everyone was able to participate and have their say on what accessibility legislation could look like. We held 18 public consultations and 8 thematic round tables. We had a significant online component. We held a national youth forum with the Prime Minister. We worked with indigenous groups. It truly signalled a new era of leadership and collaboration on disability issues.
We heard from 6,000 citizens from across the country. We heard about physical and architectural barriers that impede people's ability to move freely in built environments, use public transportation, access information, or use common technology. We heard about attitudes, beliefs and misconceptions that some people have about people with disabilities and what we can and cannot do. We heard about outdated policies and practices that simply do not take into account the barriers that are being faced on a daily basis.
Time and again, Canadians with disabilities told us the same thing: “We are not an afterthought. We are citizens deserving of the same rights and having the same responsibilities as other citizens. We are capable and valuable members of society. We do not want to be looked at as people who need accommodation, and we do not want to be treated like some sort of burden.” By bringing a unique knowledge and extensive network to he table, the Government of Canada was able to get an even better understanding of what the disability community wants its Canada to look like.
With its clear message as the backdrop, there are five principles recognized in Bill C-81. It is upon these principles that the bill is based, and it is these principles that would serve to guide future interpretations. First, all persons must be treated with dignity, regardless of their abilities or disabilities. Second, all persons must have the same opportunity to make for themselves the lives they are able and wish to have. Third, all persons must have barrier-free access to full and equal participation in society. Fourth, all persons must have meaningful options and be free to make their own choices, with support if they desire. Finally, laws, policies, programs, services and structures must take into account the abilities and disabilities of persons and the different ways that persons interact with the environment. Persons with disabilities must be involved in the development and the design.
Ultimately, Bill C-81 recognizes that barriers to accessibility are at the heart of the inequity between Canadians with and without disabilities. These principles will guide Parliament, the Government of Canada and the federally regulated private sector in offering accessible services to Canadians.
These principles are reflected in the definitions in the bill. It was important to be as inclusive as possible in the scope of Bill C-81, and an important step was to look at the language we used. We wanted to put the emphasis on the barriers, not on the specific cause of the impairment or diagnosis of disability. It is the barrier that gets in the way of the full and meaningful participation of our citizens, not our disabilities.
The definitions of “barrier” and ”disability” put forth in Bill C-81 draw upon the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. They are broad and inclusive, supporting the greatest number of Canadians. The bill is meant to inspire and drive a deep cultural transformation. Part of that transformation is changing the way we talk about accessibility and disability. It is also about changing existing government structures and systems and creating new ones. It is about putting these aspirations into actions.
The bill would create several new entities with significant compliance and enforcement functions. A new accessibility commissioner, a member of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, would be responsible for compliance and enforcement in the areas not covered by the Canadian Transportation Agency and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. Individuals could file complaints with the accessibility commissioner if they have been harmed or suffered property damage or economic loss as a result of the contravention of regulation made under Bill C-81, in other words, if the accessibility standards have not been complied with.
A chief accessibility officer will report to the minister and advise on accessibility issues. A particular focus will be on systemic and emerging issues. The Canadian accessibility standards development organization, CASDO, will be responsible for overseeing the development of accessibility standards. CASDO would also provide technical expertise in relation to standards, and support research and best practices with respect to the identification, removal and prevention of accessibility barriers. The CASDO board will be comprised of a majority of members with lived disability experience.
Among other initiatives, this last element enshrines into law the long-standing demand of the disability community that people with disabilities need to be involved in the creation and implementation of the policies and programs that affect their lives: In short, “nothing about us without us”.
The bill would also require that regulated entities create and publish accessibility plans and report on their progress, and that persons with disabilities be consulted as these plans and reports are developed. The bill also provides real teeth to ensure meaningful and lasting change in our institutions. This includes measures such as proactive inspections, monetary penalties, and individual complaints.
A number of bodies will be responsible for dealing with these cases and administering compliance and enforcement measures. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission will be responsible for compliance and enforcement with respect to broadcasting and telecommunications using their existing powers. The Canadian Transportation Agency will be responsible for compliance and enforcement within the transportation sector with enhanced powers. The Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board will address complaints by eligible federal public servants and parliamentary employees. All of their complaints will proceed through the accessibility commissioner.
There are two final points on the substance of Bill C-81. First, the bill will designate the week commencing on the last Sunday in May as national accessibility week. This will be a time to recognize the efforts of individuals, communities and workplaces that are actively removing barriers to give Canadians of all abilities a better chance to succeed. It will also contribute to the awareness raising and culture shift that we are all trying to achieve.
Second, the bill gives the Canadian Human Rights Commission responsibility for monitoring the Government of Canada's implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Both Canadian stakeholders and the international community have been calling for such a designation for some time.
When our Prime Minister and government speak of inclusion and diversity, we speak of the importance of having many voices at the table, and this includes persons with disabilities. This has steered my work on this file. The accessible Canada act is foundational and builds upon our government's ongoing commitment to accessibility and disability issues. We have achieved a lot over the past three years for Canadians with disabilities. I think of our ascension to the Marrakesh Treaty and our work on the UN optional protocol. I think of the disability supplement within the Canada child benefit and the increase to CPP disability. I think of our work on the excessive demand provision in our immigration law. I think of our government's recent appointment of a deputy minister responsible for an accessible public service, and our commitment to hiring 5,000 persons with disabilities into the federal public service over the next five years.
We have also made significant investments in accessibility, such as the recent announcement of approximately $290 million to advance the accessible Canada agenda, as well as our government's addition of $77 million, for a total fund of $227 million over 10 years dedicated to the removal of barriers in the built environment through the enabling accessibility fund. These are all important steps.
With the accessible Canada act, the Government of Canada is transforming how we as a country think about accessibility and the value we place on the increased inclusion of Canadians with disabilities. It also demonstrates our government's commitment to the advancement of disability rights in a concrete way.
Bill C-81 sends a strong message: Canada is a leader in accessibility.
It is important to remember that although Bill C-81 will be one of the tools that the government can use to address accessibility on a systemic basis, the work does not stop there. There is a need for the Government of Canada, both as an employer and as a provider of service to Canadians, to show leadership and model accessibility. There is a need to support businesses and institutions. There is a need to promote the culture change required such that accessibility is seen as a universal priority.
I hope that our government's actions will inspire other governments and industries to get on board with forward-looking policies and practices.
Today, as we lay the groundwork for an accessible future, I urge the provinces and territories, businesses, and all other partners to consider the role they have to play. After all, this goes to the very heart of our Canadian values.
I truly believe that we are making lives better for Canadians with disabilities. This is just the beginning. There is still a lot of work to do to create a Canada without barriers. I look forward to continuing the discussion with Canadians and parliamentarians throughout our review of Bill C-81. I look forward to building an accessible Canada together.