Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology First Meeting to Study Bill C-81 April 3, 2019

Photo of the Throne in Senate Chamber in Centre Block Building on Parliament Hill, home of Canada's Federal Government.

Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology

First Meeting to Study Bill C-81

April 3, 2019

Appearing:

– The Honourable Carla Qualtrough, P.C., M.P., Minister of Public Services and Procurement and Accessibility

Witnesses:

– James Van Raalte, Director General, Accessibility Secretariat (ESDC)
– Benoit Gendron, Director, Accessibility Secretariat (ESDC)
– Erik Lapalme, Senior Policy Analyst, Accessibility Secretariat (ESDC)

Summary:

Minister Qualtrough started by telling the Committee that she has received over 1,000 emails advocating for swift passage of the legislation. Many Senators noted that they had also been receiving the same volume of emails for quick passage.

Minister Qualtrough reiterated much of what she has said previously – that the government is committed to a “no wrong door approach” to ensure complaints make it to the right agency; that government agencies would have to work collaboratively to ensure complaints are not delayed or discouraged; that timelines would give regulated entities a reason to wait, and that the legislation should be flexible as accessibility goals evolve over time.

She said she was open to amendments from the Senate, most notably on ways to emphasize and recognize ASL, LSQ and Indigenous Sign Language (ISL) within the legislation without making sign language an official language. To do that would be beyond the scope of Bill C-81, she said, as it would require a change to the Charter. She also noted that there were ways of recognizing the importance of ASL/LSQ/ISL without making legislative changes to Bill C-81.

Senator Munson asked Minister Qualtrough if Bill C-81 would lessen the obligations of human rights. Minister Qualtrough said the Canadian Human Rights Act imposes the duty to accommodate, and the legislation does not detract from that.

Minister Qualtrough also noted that the Canadian Accessibility Standards Development Organization (CASDO) would open its doors this summer. She also noted that the CTA has posted it’s first draft of accessibility regulations in the Canada Gazette, to move voluntary accessibility codes of practice into regulations ahead of the legislation coming into force. Minister Qualtrough said the reason the CTA and CRTC oversee their own regulations and enforcement is to allow technical experts leeway in designing technical regulations, for example in relation to the safety and accessibility of an airplane seat. However, she said regulations related to customer service could come out of CASDO standards without compromising the technicalities of their work.

Senator Forset-Niesing noted that First Nations or Aboriginal peoples with disabilities are one of the most disadvantaged groups in the country, and the legislation does not include them. Minister Qualtrough said that based on a Nation to Nation consultation, the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) said they wanted a parallel but stand-alone piece of legislation. Minister Qualtrough said it is a “work in progress” as the government does not want to impose legislation on First Nations governments.

Senator Oh brought up the 59 percent employment rate for persons with disabilities, and asked Minister Qualtrough why the legislation only targets federally regulated entities, instead of private sectors that would have a wider reach. Minister Qualtrough said she saw this legislation as a precursor to a national employment strategy for persons with disabilities, or a similar larger discussion with federal and provincial leadership. She said all Federal, Territorial and Provincial Ministers responsible for accessibility are meeting soon to discuss the relationship between federal and provincial accessibility legislation – the first meeting of this kind, she said.
Senator Moodie said she was concerned around exemptions, specifically around the ability of government agencies to exempt themselves. Minister Qualtrough said that exemptions are only granted for 3 years, and the rational will be published in the Canada Gazette. She said exemptions will mainly be for innovative accessibility solutions that have been put in place to do the same thing, but in a different way than prescribed in regulations.

Senator Dasco said she’s been hearing a lot of organizations and individuals say the legislation does not go far enough in insisting federal money isn’t spent to perpetuate further barriers. Minister Qualtrough said the language in the bill is as far as it can go without crossing provincial jurisdictions. She said, for example, putting conditions on provincial transfer payments would impose conditions on the provinces that goes beyond federal power.

Senator Deacon said her previous experience before her appointment to the Senate, was in Ontario working to implement the AODA. In her opinion, the success factor for her organization and the entire province in implementing the legislation was the mandatory training. Minister Qualtrough said training is not prescribed in the legislation because it is horizontal to prepare, however she noted the SDPPD funding stream would offer funding for organizations to implement the Act and inform the creation of subsequent training. She agreed that in order to create the culture change, training would be necessary.

Senator Omidvar noted that the first regulations by regulated entities need to be put in place within two years of the bill coming into force. She asked Minister Qualtrough how Canadians can be sure the regulations will be substantial regulations. Minister Qualtrough said CASDO was the safeguard against unsubstantial regulations, as the first regulations would be based on the agreed upon priorities set by the CASDO board.

Senator Munson asked departmental officials for clarification on administrative monetary penalties or non-compliance within federal departments. James Van Raalte said, for example, if ESDC was found to be non-compliant and then fined, the Deputy Minister responsible for the department would be responsible for the compliance infraction, and the fine would come from the department’s budget and go into general revenue.

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