Bill C-81: Senate Second Reading Debate

A gavel and sounding block rest atop a red maple leaf adorned to the flag of Canada.

Monday March 18, 2019

On Monday March 18, the Senate resumed Second Debate of Bill C-81, the Accessible Canada Act. Senator Marilou McPhedran (ISG) said she supports Bill C-81. Senator McPhedran was previously the Chief Commissioner of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission.

She said Bill C-81 provides a mechanism for Parliament to keep the promises of equality made by Canada in both constitutional and international human rights law. She urged her fellow Senators to vote as soon as possible to move the Bill to committee.

Senator Marie Francoise Megie (ISG) also spoke in support of Bill C-81. She said the process of Bill C-81 has been transparent, with all interested parties having their say; she said the Bill includes measures to ensure Canadians with disabilities continue to be consulted and participate in developing standards and programs.

Senator Megie spoke about her uncle, who she said had been blind since birth. She said he was only the sixth Haitian person to learn braille and had to go to the United States because of accessibility barriers in Canada. Senator Megie said many Canadians are counting on the Senate to make the Accessible Canada Act a law.

Tuesday March 19, 2019

Senator Mary Coyle (ISG) spoke in support of Bill C-81 on Tuesday March 19. She noted that disability is the most common ground for discrimination complaints to the Canadian Human Rights Commission, accounting for close to 60 percent between 2013 and 2017. She said this bill is consistent with Canada’s commitment to improve our human rights system and strong anti-discrimination laws.

Senator Coyle said she has heard from the disability community that the bill doesn’t go far enough, does not have enough funding, and needs to consider intersectionality, Indigenous peoples, and navigational support. However, she said the main concern she has heard is that the bill needs to be passed quickly while the historic opportunity is present.

Senator Patricia Bovey (ISG) also spoke in support of the bill on Tuesday. As a former Winnipeg-based gallery director and curator, she spoke mainly about the need to support artists with disabilities. She said artists with disabilities are a particularly vulnerable population, as their needs are generally not understood or acknowledged, and they are often reluctant to self identify as having a disability for fear of misconceptions and prejudices. She noted many artists with disabilities are unable to attend career milestones because of inaccessible exhibitions, or costs that are beyond their financial capabilities such as extra costs associated with bringing a guide. She asked her colleagues to support Bill C-81.

Senator Judith Seidman was the first Conservative Senator to speak to the bill. She said she was pleased to see the legislation introduced but noted it only applies to federally regulated entities which she says will only benefit a fraction of Canadians with disabilities and may create inequity across the country.
She said the bill failed to introduce timelines or deadlines and quoted an open letter from the Council of Canadians with Disabilities that said the bill wrongly splinters implementation and enforcement. She said there is still room for improvement, but she looks forward to sending the bill to committee to ensure the legislation is meaningful when passed.

Wednesday March 20, 2019

On Wednesday, Conservative Senator Thanh Hai Ngo said there were many unanswered questions about the timetable and the allocation of the $290 million proposed in the bill. He said he was eager to vote to send the bill to committee, to learn more about the proposed timelines and deliver on the promise of eliminating systematic barriers.
Senator Mobina Jaffer, a non-affiliated Senator, spoke about her own recent experience with short-term mobility issues and the barriers she has encountered. She said disability is a human issue, not a partisan or political issue. Senator Jaffer asked her colleagues to support the bill and send it to committee as soon as possible.

Thursday March 21, 2019

On Thursday March 21, Senator Chantal Petitclerc (ISG) shared three personal stories about accessibility and inclusion as a person with a disability, and about her friends and family members with disabilities. She said the most difficult part of creating a “barrier-free” Canada would be changing attitudes. She said that there were limits to the scope of Bill C-81, and some legitimate concerns raised by individuals and groups in the Senate – she said that the Senate would have an opportunity to study these concerns at Committee. Senator Petitclerc is the Chair of the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology.

Senator Lucie Moncion (ISG) said that as a former president and CEO of an Ontario entity that was subject to AODA, she had to implement policies and procedures based on the Ontario law. She said the AODA provided an opportunity for her to understand the difficulties people with disabilities face every day and learn how to serve them better. Senator Moncion said it was regrettable that Bill C-81 did not contain an educational component to “demystify disabilities, eliminate the associated fear and embarrassment and foster a better understanding of the barriers faced by people with disabilities every day.” She urged the Senators on the SOCI committee to look at including a mandatory training in the bill.

Senator Rene Cormier (ISG) said he supported the bill, specifically for his province of New Brunswick which has the second-highest rate of disability in Canada, at about 26 percent of the population. He said Bill C-81 could serve as a model or an inspiration for all the organizations and entities that are not subject to this bill.
Senator Cormier said he supports Bill C-81 unconditionally but has a few concerns about the reality of rural areas, the terminology in the bill, and the recognition of language rights. He said there is some concern that attention is focused on issues in major urban centres, but the reality of those living in rural areas are sometimes very different from those in urban areas and must be considered equally. He also said the terminology in the bill should be changed to use “persons living with disabilities” instead of “persons with disabilities.”

On the motion of Senator Munson, the bill was referred to the Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology on Thursday March 21, 2019.

Authored by: Alice Clark
Date: March 22, 2019

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.