Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology Second Meeting to Study Bill C-81 April 10, 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
Second meeting to Study Bill C-81
April 10, 2019

Witnesses (Panel One):

– Christianne Laziner, Vice Chairperson, Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC)
– Marie-Claude Landry, Chief Commissioner, Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC)
– Catherine Ebbs, Chairperson, Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board
– Scott Streiner, Chair and CEO, Canadian Transportation Commission (CTA)

Summary:

Christianne Laziner started by telling the committee that the CRTC has adopted and updated regulatory policies and mandatory codes of conduct for accessibility. She said with Bill C-81, the CRTC has new tools available to enforce the legislation, including monetary penalties and a commitment to making the “no wrong door approach” work for all.

Marie-Claude Landry urged the Committee to adopt the bill quickly. She said the CHRC was eager to see the legislation come into force and for the government to move quickly through the regulatory process and set the intentions of the bill into action. She said the CHRC is already preparing for implementation.

Scott Streiner said the CTA has already published accessibility regulations in the Canada Gazette I, which he called a single, robust, and enforceable accessibility regulation . He said the CTA is hoping to publish the regulations, inclusive of feedback, in the Canada Gazette 2 before the summer. However, Streiner said domestic regulatory reform is not enough – he said Canada will be advancing discussion at the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Triennial conference in Montreal this fall. Streiner said the bill provides the CTA new powers to advance accessibility, including expanded investigation powers and increased AMPs. He said the heads of all agencies are committed to a well aligned approach and noted the heads of each agency have been meeting to discuss.

Senator Munson asked the witnesses what would change for Canadians with disabilities within the first few days of the legislation coming into force. Streiner said the “no wrong door approach” would result in a seamless, effortless experience for people navigating the complaints process. He said powers to initiate investigations, order remedies for pain and suffering and new compliance tools including increasing AMPs from their current $25,000 maximum to $250,000 would provide changes immediately.

Senator Forrest-Neissing asked Streiner and Laziner how and under what circumstances they would provide exemptions. Laziner said the CRTC anticipates situations where it would be necessary, and that as an administrative tribunal, they offer a transparent and open process with all evidence published online. She said they look at evidence from those requesting and affected by the exemption. She said the three-year exemption timeframe can be shortened at the discretion of the agency. Streiner said the CTA has had the right to grant exemptions since 1980 but has never used the tool. He said they would not readily do it without evidence and good reason, for example an organization that can prove they are meeting the same goals in a different way than prescribed in regulations.

Senator Poirer asked for clarification on funding to the agencies, as she noted Minister Qualtrough outlined funding for the CTA but did not mention funding for the CRTC. Laziner said the CRTC is funded by industry, meaning when the agency enters implementation, it will be funded by their industry members.
Senator Dasko asked what the gaps in accessibility are in each industry and how this legislation would help. Streiner said the one person one fare rule is specific to some airlines, but this legislation would provide greater consistency across all Canadian airlines. Laziner said a current gap of telecommunications is the build out of broadband to rural and remote communities, and disability plans not being readily available. She said this legislation would ensure the disability plan was offered on the drop-down menu of every salesperson across the country when they’re selling services to consumers.

Witnesses (Panel Two):

– Bill Adair, Executive Director, Federal Accessibility Legislation Alliance (FALA)
– Kerri Joffe, Staff Lawyer, ARCH Disability Law Centre
– Steven Estey, Government and Community Relations Officer, Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD)

Summary

Bill Adair started by telling the Committee that FALA has 11 recommendations for amendments, including the need to recognize ASL/LSQ – not in an official language capacity, he said, but written right into the legislation so it is an expectation of government to provide ASL/LSQ interpretation. He said FALA also supported clearer language to address overlapping marginalization.

Kerri Joffe said ARCH has three recommendations, the first being to get rid of the permissive language in the legislation – for example section 117.1 says the Minister “may” make regulations. Joffe said it should be changed to “must.” Joffe said Section 6 (principles) should address barriers to poverty and intersectionality, including recognition that persons with disabilities are more likely to live in poverty, the unique barriers faced by women and girls, and the intersectionality of race, nationality, or ethnic origin. The third recommendation from ARCH was to ensure the bill does not diminish existing human rights for persons with disabilities. Joffe said in practice, C-81 could undermine existing human rights legislation if businesses assume regulations under C-81 replace the CHRA duty to accommodate and therefore do not accommodate individual requirements. She said the bill should explicitly state that nothing lessens obligations under the CHRA.

Steve Estey said all other jurisdictions with accessibility legislation have timelines for standards and full accessibility. He said with no backstop, it is easy for people to say they’re working hard towards accessibility but difficult to measure.

Senator Munson said that ASL/LSQ amendments had been rejected in the House of Commons. He asked how the Senate could word an amendment related to ASL/LSQ that would be accepted in the House. Adair said in HUMA they tried to work it into the preamble, but it did not adhere to legislation drafting practices. He said it was a vital component to be mentioned somewhere in the Act without bringing up official language status.

Senator Forrest-Neissing asked if there has been any resistance to including ASL/LSQ. Adair said resistance was encountered at HUMA, but FALA is continuing to bring it up because it’s an important factor. He said for someone watching the Committee meeting on ParlVu at home, it would take one week for the ASL/LSQ interpretation to be uploaded. He cautioned this was not inclusion.

Senator Megie asked what impact Bill C-81 would have on provincial legislation. Joffe said it would set the tone for other provinces and territories to start moving legislation forward. Estey said provinces are paying close attention and Bill C-81 can provide them with a framework/template.

Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology
Third meeting to study Bill C-81
April 11, 2019

Witnesses (Panel One):

– Barbara Collier, Executive Director, Communication Disabilities Access Canada
– Diane Bergeron, Vice President, Engagement and International Affairs, Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB)
– Zinnia Batliwalla, National Manager, Government Relations and Advocacy, March of Dimes Canada

Summary:

Barbara Collier said Communications Disabilities Access Canada endorses the recommendations put forth by ARCH, FALA, and the AODA Alliance. She said the legislation has the potential to develop meaningful communications standards that would allow Canadians with communication disabilities to access formal communication support when they need it – for example with police, legal and justice systems, or when giving medical consent. She said she wanted to see an acknowledgement that people have the right to a variety of methods of communication and support that suite their needs and the context. She said section 6 (principles) should include that all persons have the right to communicate using their preferred method of communication and support.

Diane Bergeron said the legislation was strengthened at the HUMA committee. She said the legislation could be better, but it is her belief that no legislation in Canada is perfect and that while CNIB believes there is room for improvement, the passage of the legislation is time sensitive. She said she wants to see the government put new structures in place and start drafting and implementing powerful regulations that will ultimately create a more accessible and inclusive Canada. She said CNIB wants the government to make any and all results from Bill C-81 public as quickly as possible. Second, she said the Government should publish their expected timelines for implementation during the summer including what the expected results would be within the next year, two years and five years. Finally, she said in order to truly review and analyze the impact of the legislation, the Government should allocate funding for disability organizations to monitor implementation of the legislation.
Zinnia Batliwalla said March of Dimes Canada is prioritizing the passage of legislation, as it has the potential to do more now than if it died on the Order Paper. She said March of Dimes had some concerns around accountability that they would address either before or after the legislation is passed. Specifically, she said the permissive language was concerning, and the lack of dates and timelines make it difficult to measure progress.

Senator Forrest-Neissing asked if the two-year timeline to publish the first regulations was reasonable. Bergeron said the two-year timeline was reasonable to provide time for input into regulations. She said the sooner regulations are put into place, the sooner implementation can begin, and monitoring can start for the 5-year feedback process.
Senator Eaton asked if the legislation would lead to a cultural shift beyond the federal level. She asked what it would take to make a real difference. Bergeron said the intent of the legislation is going to help with a cultural shift. She said the government has an opportunity and obligation to lead and that provincial, municipal, and private businesses would follow.

Senator Poirer said $185.7 million was allocated for administrative costs to set up the new bodies. She asked if this was the best way to use this funding. Bergeron said the voice of persons with disabilities in creating their own future is a value that can’t be put into numbers.
Senator Megie asked if there is a place for braille in modern communications. Bergeron said at one time, she would have said braille was being reduced with emerging technologies. However, she said you can’t learn to spell or construct a sentence by speech. Refreshable braille displays are leading to an upswing in reintroducing braille and increased rates of literacy, she said.

Witnesses (Panel Two):

– David Lepofsky, Chair, Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance
– Neil Belanger, Executive Director, B.C Aboriginal Network on Disability Society
– Camille Desforges, Deputy Executive Director, Confédération des organismes de personnes handicapées du Québec

Summary:

Neil Belanger told the committee that Canada couldn’t move forward on accessibility rights without passing Bill C-81 as a first step. He said that First Nation and Aboriginal Communities in Canada have twice the rate of disability compared to the overall population. He said the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) passed a resolution calling for separate and distinct disability legislation. However, he said his recommendation on amendments are that there must be Indigenous representation on the CASDO board, and that ASL/LSQ and Indigenous Sign Language (ISL) must be included.

David Lepofsky said the bill is weak on implementation, as it does not require any federal standards to be implemented. He said the regulations that are required within the first two years are on procedural affairs, not tangible accessibility requirements. He said there is time to provide amendments to the legislation. He said the government needs to ensure no public money is spent on infrastructure that creates new accessibility barriers. He said Minister Qualtrough said the federal government had no constitutional authority to put conditions on transfer payments, but Lepofsky said such conditions would be allowed under current spending powers of Parliament. Lepofsky also said the Act threatens existing Human Rights.

Senator Seidman quoted Lepofsky as recommending an accessibility deadline of January 1, 2040. She said HUMA heard the same recommendation and rejected the amendment. She asked how the Senate could pass that amendment and get the house to also pass it. Lepofsky said as the chamber of sober second thought, the Senate may be able to return the issue to the House and convince members to adopt a 2040 deadline. He said without the tool of a timeline, efforts on implementation and review would be considerably harder.

Senator Forrest-Neissing told Belanger that she was concerned if there were a separate and distinct bill tailored to the needs of Indigenous peoples with disabilities, they would be creating a subcategory that would dilute the inclusivity of the bill. Belanger said in the past, legislation has not been particularly beneficial to First Nations communities. He said the government recognizes the spirit of self-determination and said it would not create a subcategory, but instead it was something First Nations and Aboriginal communities have a right to do. He said the process needs to move forward as engagement hasn’t happened yet.

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