Speaking Notes, Marie-Claude Landry, Chief Commissioner, Canadian Human Rights Commission
Presentation to the House of Commons’ Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities
Thursday, October 4, 2018
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Thank you for inviting the Canadian Human Rights Commission to take part in your study of Bill C-81. With me is Marcella Daye, Senior Policy Advisor at the Commission.
Bill C-81 is a positive step towards ensuring that everybody can live free from barriers. Barriers in the buildings we work in, barriers built into the technology we use, and barriers created by attitudes and stigma that prevent people from contributing fully to society.
This bill will improve accessibility. And so, we congratulate the Government on this important initiative.
For the CHRC, the bill provides for a new Accessibility Commissioner and a new accessibility unit. It also designates the CHRC as the Monitoring Mechanism for the UNCRPD. We welcome this designation. The Canadian Human Rights Commission supports this bill, and we urge its passage.
I would like to highlight two sets of changes that the CHRC believes will have a positive impact on the success of the bill’s implementation.
Our first suggestion is about making sure the legislation begins to work immediately. This comes in two parts:
One, the bill states that the government, “may” choose to put in place regulations. We believe that the legislation should require government to make regulations.
It needs more. It needs a kick-start to action.
We recommend in subsection 117(1) to change “may” to “shall” and to add the words “which may include” at the end of this subsection.
We therefore propose that subsection 117 (1) would now read as follows:
“Subject to sections 118 -120, the Governor in Council shall make regulations, which may include.”
We also recommend that the bill require timelines to be set for organizations to meet any standard which is passed into regulation. We propose to add to the end of subsection 117(1)(c) the words “and timelines for their implementation.”
With our proposal subsection 117(1)(c) would now read as follows:
“establishing standards intended to remove barriers and to improve accessibility in the areas referred to in section 5, and timelines for their implementation.”
With both these changes, we believe the legislation will inspire and compel concrete action. It will ensure that neither the government, nor organizations, will be able to let good intentions gather dust. And it will embed accountability.
Our second suggestion is about the lack of clarity around the application of this legislation in First Nations communities. They are not excluded. But they are also not specifically included. We are concerned that this lack of clarity may lead to a gap in human rights protection for Indigenous peoples.
This is why we welcome the Government’s commitment for more robust consultation with First Nations, the Inuit and the Métis Nation.
The Commission is familiar with the consequences of excluding a group of people from human rights protections. Prior to 2008, section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act excluded persons living on First Nations reserves. It was intended as a temporary measure. It remained for 30 years. We must ensure that such a gap does not happen again.
Bill C-81 has the potential to bring about incredibly positive changes for those living with disabilities in First Nations communities. We urge the government to work quickly, in consultation with First Nations towards the effective implementation of the Accessible Canada Act on reserves. Such work must of course take into account their rights, unique interests and circumstances.
We also encourage the government to provide adequate resources to First Nations governments to meet the urgent needs that exist in far too many communities.
One last note before I conclude…
During your review of the bill, you will likely hear many concerns; including, the very broad exemption powers in the Act, and the lack of recognition of American Sign Language and la langue des signes québécoise.
We believe that concerns of civil society, such as these, merit consideration by this Committee.
The CHRC is committed to putting in place the people, tools, expertise and partnerships needed to play our part in this ambitious legislation. This includes our setting up of working groups with CTA, CRTC, FPSLREB, and the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.
I thank you again. We look forward to answering your questions.