Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you for your intentional and deliberate efforts and success at making these committee meetings inclusive and accessible for everyone. I know that the members of the disability community certainly appreciate it, as do I.
Good morning, everyone. Thank you for inviting me here today to present Bill C-81, an act to ensure a barrier-free Canada, the accessible Canada act.
It was an honour to stand up in the House of Commons two weeks ago and open debate for this proposed act. The bill, should it be enacted, will allow for the identification, removal and prevention of barriers that keep all Canadians from participating in society. Bill C-81 would significantly transform how Canada addresses accessibility. It would allow us to become proactive instead of reactive. It would allow for a fundamental shift in the way the Government of Canada does business.
We need to ensure equality for all from the start. It's time for broad organizational and cultural change. There is no reason to wait for people to be discriminated against before we act. We know discrimination exists. We know that over 50% of the complaints to the Canadian Human Rights Commission are on the basis of disability.
Canadians with disabilities deserve better, to be valued as civic, social and economic contributors to Canadian society with the full rights of citizenship.
An incredible amount of dedicated work and public consultation went into the drafting of this bill. We heard from over 6,000 individuals and organizations from all across the country.
This extensive consultation allowed us to better understand the needs of the disability community.
We came to the conclusion that policies and practices currently in place simply do not adequately take into account the barriers faced by Canadians with disabilities in their day-to-day lives. Canadians with disabilities do not want to be treated as a burden, but as full, equal members of society. They should have the same rights and the same opportunities as everyone else, and accessibility is about addressing the barriers created by society that prevent people with disabilities from enjoying their human rights on an equal basis with others.
Bill C-81 will lead to the establishment of accessibility standards in the areas of employment, the built environment, information and communication technologies, the delivery of programs and services and transportation. It will apply to Parliament, the Government of Canada, crown corporations and federally regulated entities, including organizations in the transportation, telecommunications, broadcasting and banking sectors.
Thanks to Bill C-81, Canadians with disabilities, who are valued and contributing members of society, would have greater opportunities to participate in their communities and in the workplace. It would make it easier for them to get a job and stay in that job, to travel, to communicate with friends and family, and to access products, programs and services on an equal basis with others.
Bill C-81 would create a framework and new organizations for developing accessibility standards, establishing and enforcing accessibility requirements, and monitoring implementation. It would establish the Canadian accessibility standards development organization, or CASDO, in order to create standards that work for both industry and the disability community.
The majority of CASDO board members would have lived disability experience. Once accessibility standards are developed, they would need to be adopted into regulations by the Government of Canada to become law. Standards would change over time with changes in technology and best practices. Having standards in regulations, rather than in the proposed act, would mean they can be updated more readily to reflect these changes.
Our intention is to allow the government to move more quickly to improve accessibility by adopting recognized and established standards that have been developed and validated by technical experts, industry and people with disabilities.
What would all this mean for Canadians with disabilities? An example I like to use involves the accessibility of a bank ATM for a person with a visual impairment. In our current system, if a customer is blind and can't use the ATM and this isn't addressed by the bank, the person would need to file a discrimination complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission. Once a decision was made—and this could be years later—in favour of the complainant, it would be applicable only to the specific ATM in question and not to all banks and certainly not all ATMs across the board.
To compare this with what the scenario would look like under the proposed legislation, it would be CASDO— through a technical committee comprising persons with a disability, industry representatives and technical experts—that would define the standards for accessible ATMs. The standard would then come to the minister of accessibility for adoption through the regulatory process, after which time the regulation would apply to all banks in Canada. The accessibility commissioner would monitor compliance with the regulation and would have the ability to impose monetary penalties if the banking sector was not adhering to the regulation.
This example shows how this important change in framework and process shifts the burden from the individual to the system and also allows for a more comprehensive and consistent application of accessibility within areas of federal jurisdiction.
This is a very tangible example of how this legislation will positively impact Canadians.
The proposed legislation would require organizations to think about how to integrate accessibility into their day-to-day operations. However, there may be circumstances, albeit exceptional, in which it would be appropriate for a regulated entity to be exempted from certain requirements under Bill C-81.
For example, it may be appropriate to exempt, on a case-by-case basis, a small business, because it might be more productive for this organization to focus its resources and efforts where it can have the biggest impact on accessibility.
To ensure transparency and accountability, the exempting authority—the designated minister, the CRTC or the CTA—would be required to make exemptions public by publishing them in the Canada Gazette.
The bill also provides real teeth to ensure meaningful and lasting change among organizations under federal jurisdiction. Compliance, enforcement and complaints would be processed through the accessibility commissioner, with the exception of those under the jurisdiction of the CRTC, the CTA and the Federal Public Service Labour Relations and Employment Board.
This model builds on existing sector-based mandates for the purposes of efficiency and takes advantage of accessibility experience and expertise. Bill C-81 includes provisions for a "no wrong door" approach to ensure collaboration and coordination across organizations for efficient and expeditious referral of accessibility-related complaints.
If passed, this legislation will also be a significant step in Canada's ongoing implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, to which Canada is a proud state party. Once Bill C-81 receives royal assent, the Canadian Human Rights Commission would become responsible for monitoring the Government of Canada's implementation of the convention.
Make no mistake. There is still a lot to be done to create a Canada without barriers and it's imperative to do things right from the get-go. As proposed, the legislation includes a number of foundational elements. It's anticipated that new organizations such as the Canadian accessibility standards development organization, CASDO, the accessibility commissioner and the chief accessibility officer would be up and running within six to 12 months of the legislation coming into force and that the first set of regulations under the legislation would come into force in 2020-21.
I'm being told to slow down.
How will Canadians know that organizations are taking steps to improve accessibility? Under Bill C-81, regulated entities would be required to prepare and publish accessibility plans in consultation with persons with disability. These plans would describe the organizations' strategies for improving accessibility and meeting their legal obligations. The organizations would also have to establish feedback processes on their accessibility from employees and members of the public, and prepare and publish annual progress reports on the implementation of their plans.
Moreover, a new position, called the “chief accessibility officer”, would be established. The person appointed to this role would be responsible for monitoring and reporting on the overall outcomes achieved by the act and in respect of systemic and emerging accessibility issues.
These measures would allow for Canadians to monitor progress on accessibility and the implementation of Bill C-81 in a very transparent manner.
If adopted, Bill C-81 will bring broad organizational and cultural change.
Through the creation and enactment of new accessibility standards, new planning and reporting requirements, and strong proactive enforcement tools, Bill C-81 will lead to greater accessibility for everyone in Canada, especially persons with disabilities.
Bill C-81 would set a standard worthy of Canadians and Canada's place in the world.
Thank you. I would be happy to answer questions, and I promise to speak more slowly.