New Federal Accessibility Legislation on the Horizon

June 8, 2018

New legislation intended to increase accessibility and remove barriers that prevent persons with disabilities from participating in society is expected to be introduced in the House of Commons this month. The legislation is likely to create new accessibility requirements for federally-regulated employers and service providers, such as banks, interprovincial transportation, telecommunications, and Government of Canada services. It is also expected to impact federal lands and First Nations reserves.

Background

In 2016 the Government of Canada announced its intention to create federal accessibility legislation. The Honourable Carla Qualtrough, then Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities, stated that the new legislation was intended to create "…an inclusive society where all Canadians have an equal opportunity to succeed, and are equal participants."

Canada already has strong legal protections that promote equality and prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability. These protections are set out in the Charter, our provincial and territorial human rights statutes, and international human rights treaties which Canada has ratified. Despite these legal protections, persons with disabilities in Canada continue to experience discrimination on the basis of disability in employment and virtually all aspects of social life.

The new federal accessibility legislation is expected to set standards for accessibility and barrier removal in the following federally-regulated areas: employment, access to buildings and other public spaces, transportation, program and service delivery, information and communications, procurement of goods and services, federal lands and First Nations reserves. It is anticipated that the legislation will have broad legal implications for federally-regulated employers, service providers, and First Nations reserves.

In addition, the legislation may create new legal options for persons with disabilities who encounter barriers as a result of federally-regulated employers or service providers failing to comply with their accessibility requirements. It is not yet known what enforcement and monitoring mechanisms will be built into the new legislation to ensure that obligated employers and organizations comply with the new accessibility requirements. Mechanisms under consideration include the availability of individual complaint processes as well as auditing and review processes.

Community Consultations

In developing the legislation, the Government of Canada conducted extensive consultations with disability communities, Indigenous communities and First Nations. In addition, 8 national disability, Indigenous and First Nations organizations were funded to lead their own community consultations and provide further input to the Government on key community concerns, areas that the legislation should focus on, and how the legislation should be enforced. A common theme among the consultation reports produced by disability organizations was the need for persons with disabilities to be involved in the development, implementation and monitoring of the new legislation. First Nations and Indigenous organizations emphasized the need for the Government to engage in proper, ongoing consultation in accordance with the commitment to a nation to nation relationship.

ARCH was one of the partner organizations that participated in a community consultation project led by the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association. One of  ARCH`s key recommendations is that the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, an international human rights treaty which Canada has ratified, should inform the new legislation. The Convention is an important source of law that was developed by states with a great deal of input from persons with disabilities. It contains a number of provisions that are directly relevant to the new federal accessibility legislation. For example, the Convention specifies requirements in relation to accessibility of information and communications, technology, employment and political processes. In this way, the federal accessibility legislation provides an important opportunity for Canada to implement its international legal obligations under the Convention.

Next Steps

Current Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities, the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, has confirmed the Government’s intention to introduce the federal accessibility legislation in the House of Commons during the current Spring session. Disability communities anxiously await the introduction of the legislation, which holds much promise for addressing the barriers that prevent persons with disabilities from participating fully in our society.

More information about the legislation will be posted to the blog once it becomes available.

To read more about ARCH`s work on the federal accessibility legislation, including detailed legal analysis and recommendations for the new legislation, please go to:  Proposed Federal Accessibility Legislation and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities  and www.archdisabilitylaw.ca/node/1204Considerations for Effective Implementation and Enforcement of the Proposed Federal Accessibility Legislation .