Mr. Speaker, I see the clock and it is extremely late. I appreciate that as I look around, I see many people who have been here all day. Although we cannot recognize them, I note they are here in Ottawa. I welcome them, and I want to thank them for everything they have done, as they have sat through this debate and listened to what we have put forward.
Before I get into my speech, I want to thank the member for Whitby for her comments, because she triggered me into thinking about something I discussed today.
Today I had an opportunity to meet with the Canadian Paralympic Committee. I met a gentleman by the name of Tony Walby, who is on the board of directors for the CPC and is also the chair of CPC athletes' council. We had a great discussion, and we talked about disabilities.
Mr. Walby was a judo athlete, and he unfortunately developed a visual and hearing impairment and was no longer able to compete as an athlete in judo. Now, after getting onto the CPC's board of directors, he is doing tremendous work with the organization.
In the conversation we had, we talked about disabilities. He said to me that disabled people do not want to be called “disabled”, and I agree with him 100%. Calling them “disabled” makes people believe there is an impairment and a challenge. They are not disabled. They are the same as everybody else in the world; they just happen to have a disability that impairs what they do. That is an important thing we need to point out to all Canadians.
I will start with that. I appreciate the comments I have heard tonight, and, again, I appreciate the comments from the member for Whitby, who spurred me to put that out there.
I am happy to be back here today to discuss amendments that were put forward by the Senate of Canada with respect to Bill C-81, an act to ensure a barrier-free Canada. It is always a pleasure to speak to important issues like this one, and I appreciate the work that has been done on the bill. I do think it will go a long way toward making a difference for Canadians living with disabilities.
The support evident from all parties gives many of us an opportunity to talk about some of the issues in the legislation that are important to each and every one of us.
When I first spoke about the bill in the fall, I had a few issues with it. Mainly, I felt as though it did not contain enough real, tangible measures to produce results for those in Canada who live with disabilities. The intentions were good; however, the legislation does not actually accomplish anything that will help people with disabilities and what they need. They wanted something that would have an impact on their lives, and I feel as though the amendments we are discussing today will help them going forward.
One of the biggest issues I had with the initial version of Bill C-81 is that I felt it was rushed. The Liberals took quite a long time in bringing this matter to Parliament, yet when the bill was first introduced, it fell short of many expectations that the Canadians with disabilities community had. Although the Liberals had years to consult, there were gaps in the legislation they put forward that needed to be addressed. While the bill is still not perfect, with many of my colleagues pointing out its many imperfections, I do feel that the amendments put forward by the upper house help to identify and rectify some of the gaps.
I am glad to see that one of the amendments made to the bill puts a specific timeline on the matter. By adding a specific year or period of time by which a Canada without barriers will be achieved, a sense of urgency is created. That urgency is necessary, as disabled people in Canada have been waiting many years for this legislation to become law. In this case, the bill requires a “Canada without barriers, on or before January 1, 2040.”
While this timeline might seem like a small part of this legislation, I feel that it is one of the most important aspects. Not only does it light a fire and force the federal government to get moving on the matter, but it also gives those who have been waiting for a Canada without barriers some hope that things will truly get done in the future.
I have always felt that an important part of what we do here in the House is to ensure that the outcomes of legislation we put forward are measurable. We want to be sure that we get results when we say we will get results, preferably before the deadline of January 1, 2040.
The one issue I do have with the timeline indicated in the amendments is that it is quite long. People in Canada who are living with disabilities want action and they want it now. There are people in this country who have lived their entire lives facing barriers each and every day and they want to know that their government is committed to addressing issues of accessibility in a timely manner. Setting a goal that is over 20 years in the future may give the impression that this is not as much of a priority as it should be.
We on this side of the House would have preferred deadline of 10 years, as we believe that it would be a reasonable timeline for achieving a Canada without barriers. We know that many times action does not begin until a deadline looms. We do not want this to be the case with removing barriers to accessibility, and the setting of the deadline 20 years down the road is concerning. I am hopeful that organizations will do everything to have accessibility measures in place long before that timeline expires.
One thing that we all hold dear in this beautiful country of ours is the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It sets out what we as Canadians and people residing in Canada can come to expect in how we participate in society and what rights we have as individuals. A number of the amendments in Bill C-81 seek to ensure the following:
Nothing in this Act, including its purpose of the realization of a Canada without barriers, should be construed as requiring or authorizing any delay in the removal of barriers or the implementation of measures to prevent new barriers as soon as is reasonably possible.
Simply speaking, this means that no agency in Canada would be able to create and set standards that are inconsistent with what is set out in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Furthermore, if barriers to accessibility can be removed before the legislated timeline of January 2040, they absolutely should be. There is no justification for delay.
Another measure contained in the amendments to Bill C-81 that I feel is essential to the success of the bill is as follows:
persons with disabilities must be involved in the development and design of laws, policies, programs, services and structures.
This is key. As members of Parliament, it is our duty to consult and work with those who are affected by legislation that we put forward here in Ottawa. It is only logical that when it comes to creating a law that will lead to a Canada without barriers, we speak to those people who actually face the barriers.
It is one thing to consult with disabled Canadians, but it is another to have it enshrined in law that they must be involved in the development of public policy that affects their everyday lives. The only people who truly know what challenges they face and need to overcome on a daily basis are those who live with disabilities or care for someone with a disability. I am pleased that it will now be a requirement that this community have a voice at the table going forward.
Another amendment to Bill C-81 addresses intersectionality. Intersectionality is defined as “the complex, cumulative way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination...combine, overlap, or intersect, especially in the experiences of marginalized individuals or groups.” This may apply to many aspects of our identity, such as race, gender and class, and it certainly applies to people in Canada who live with a disability.
Initially, intersectionality was not a key part of Bill C-81. Many disability advocacy groups across the country called for this aspect of the bill to be strengthened, and I am happy to see it included in the proposed amendments.
While it would be wonderful to say that we live in a country where discrimination does not exist, we all know that it is unfortunately not the case. Canada is a progressive country, yet unfortunately, there will always be some level of discrimination present in our society. I feel that people living with disabilities in Canada absolutely understand that, because they face a level of discrimination that most members of the House, including me, will likely never experience. Any legislation that we put forward and expect to become law needs to address the fact that discrimination happens and is inappropriate and will not be tolerated.
The amendment that addresses intersectionality is necessary. By incorporating intersectionality into the measures outlined in Bill C-81, laws, policies, programs, services and structures will be required to take into account the intersectional forms of discrimination faced by persons living with disabilities.
Ultimately, organizations would have to recognize and account for intersectional discrimination when formulating their accessibility plans. This may not be easy, but it is what disabled people need and deserve. They have every right to participate in society, just as anyone else does. Unfortunately, many are all too familiar with the layers upon layers of discrimination they might face just doing things like going to work, running errands or going to an appointment. As I previously stated, many advocacy groups have called for the inclusion and strengthening of intersectionality in this bill. I am happy to see that the amendments have provided for that.
One amendment to this bill that I personally heard some feedback on is with respect to sign language. Some members here may know my personal history. As has already been indicated to people, I am hearing impaired as a result of a hit and run that I sustained as a teenager. I am fortunate that it is a partial hearing loss. Although I can still communicate with spoken language, over the years I have been slowly teaching myself sign language. However, one must use it in order to keep using it. Unfortunately, I have not had that opportunity, so I have failed in much of what I know, but I am learning more. I encourage everyone who is listening here today to continue to learn sign language given how important it is.
Being hearing impaired makes it extremely challenging to communicate, not only in crowds, but also where there is background noise. It is frustrating when all I can do is smile and nod as if I heard the person speaking to me. There is a huge mental challenge in dealing with this issue. It is one that I go through at many meetings, and I know that people with hearing disabilities are challenged with it day in and day out.
Invisible disabilities are not as widely talked about when discussing Canadians living with a disability. When I go around the riding, oftentimes I talk to students about getting involved and the great things we do in this country. I ask them if they think I am disabled. Every now and then there is one person who puts a hand up because he or she thinks it is a trick question, but most of them say no. Then I tell them my story. I try to point out to them the fact that there are many people in this world who have invisible disabilities that we do not know about and do not talk about.
While physical health is important, so is mental health. Every person, from every walk of life, deserves to feel valued, loved and respected. We all have different challenges that we must face. However, if we can accommodate a group of people who typically feel marginalized, and allow them to feel included and appreciated, that is never a bad thing. By passing legislation that would create a Canada without barriers, it is my hope that those within the disabled community will feel recognized and heard. We see them, we care about them and we want to do what we can to make their daily lives easier.
The amendment to Bill C-81 that concerns sign language is crucial. It includes and recognizes the use of American, Quebec and indigenous sign languages as the primary languages of communication used by deaf people in Canada. I am very glad that these languages have been included in this bill, as the deaf community is one that must be acknowledged when we discuss Canadians living with disabilities.
Some people do not realize there is more than one kind of sign language. There are many that exist around the world, similar to spoken languages. There are between 138 and 300 different types of sign languages used worldwide. The UN only recognizes 45 of them. Each language has its own unique grammar, syntax and vocabulary and are legitimate languages in their own right. They deserve to be given the same status and recognition as any spoken language or other sign language. Therefore, I am pleased to see that both the Quebec and indigenous sign languages have been given representation in this legislation, because we need to represent Canadians from coast to coast to coast, and not just those who might use the more common American sign language.
For the deaf community, using sign language can become part of a cultural identity. As a government, it is important that is acknowledged. We need to ensure there are high levels of standards for those who use sign language, whether it is ASL, Quebec sign language or an indigenous sign language. All Canadians should have the right to communicate in a way that works for them and to have their language recognized as legitimate and as having value.
Another component that was included in the amendments to this bill is one that would ensure the Canadian Transportation Agency, the CTA, cannot respond to complaints about barriers to accessibility by reducing existing human rights protections for passengers with disabilities. Those with disabilities, especially of a physical nature, understand how difficult travel can be. Air transportation in particular can be very cumbersome. Some cannot safely and confidently travel by plane at all due to such limitations as specialized wheelchairs and other necessary equipment.
I have a constituent who faces limitations when it comes to travel. I would like to read an excerpt from a letter that she sent to me, which outlines her struggles with travel. It reads, “My name is Kennan Dorgan and I live in your constituency. I commute from Grenfell to Regina three days per week to attend a fabulous program at the University of Regina called Astonished. My dream is to fly to Alaska to visit my sister. I have a complex physical disability and I use a wheelchair for mobility. I cannot sit independently from my wheelchair and airplanes do not have designated wheelchair spots. Every summer I spend at least 108 hours of challenging and exhausting driving time to visit with my sister in Alaska. A flight would take 15 to 20 hours.”
Her letter goes on to say, “Despite the oversight of both the CTA and Transport Canada, there are no provisions to improve accessibility to aircrafts for travellers who, because of their disabilities and for safety reasons, cannot sit in a standard airline passenger seat and must remain seated in their personal wheelchairs. These individuals are prevented from travelling any way except by land vehicles.”
This young lady spends over 108 hours in a van every year so that she can spend time with her family. In fact, she and her parents are currently preparing for their annual drive up to Alaska. They will be leaving within the next couple of weeks. While the amendments to Bill C-81 may not specifically address her issue, I do feel it is important to present real life situations that are being faced by real Canadians who live with a disability, yet want to take a family vacation just like anyone else.
I also met a lady from Vancouver a few months back while I was travelling with my wife. This lady had her disabled adult son with her. She graciously shared her experiences of travelling with her son. It is not an easy thing to do. He loved to travel, even with his severe disability, on ships and on planes. She had to have a team of family members with her to ensure that her son could be carried from point A to point B. Oftentimes, in his wheelchair he could not access certain areas of the ship. It was the same for any portion that required travel by plane.
She made it work, as do many families who care for someone who lives with a disability. However, I could see that it was a major struggle.
While Bill C-81 may not address that issue outright, I do think it is important to bring attention to it as the amendments do touch on the rights of the CTA. Over the years, I have heard from a number of Canadians who struggle with travel, and I do hope that this amendment can be a starting point to address that issue going forward.
We have heard from many Canadians about this legislation, and many groups that are promoting this legislation. I support that, and my colleagues around this House support that movement. This is a first step. It is a first step to put forward legislation which, as we see with the amendments that have been made by the Senate, we can improve and start with a base. However, the base is the base. It needs to be advanced and it needs to be advanced as quickly as possible. The faster we do this, the faster we include people with disabilities with all Canadians.