Letter to House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities
Dear Committee Members,
The following is offered as a written submission regarding Bill C-81 (An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada) on behalf of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA).
As the non-partisan, non-profit advocacy agent of Canada’s Jewish Federations, CIJA represents approximately 150,000 members of the Canadian Jewish community. In developing this submission, CIJA consulted widely with Jewish non-profit social service agencies at the forefront of supporting people with disabilities across the country. This includes Federations, disability advocates and agencies, and Jewish child and family service organizations in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal – among other cities.
In addition to providing the attached submission for consideration, we formally request an opportunity for CIJA to offer verbal testimony to the committee as it examines Bill C-81.
CIJA and our partner social service agencies across Canada strongly support Bill C-81 and urge committee members to ensure its swift passage. However, the legislation can be strengthened in two key respects. First, the bill should be amended to explicitly require broader, ongoing consultations with a diversity of representatives from the disability sector. Second, the bill should be amended to ensure that the mandate of the Standards Organization includes providing information and resources that help foster a culture of accessibility among employers subject to the bill.
Bill C-81 is an important step forward in advancing inclusion for people with disabilities in Canada. CIJA and our Jewish social service agency partners across Canada welcome this historic legislation and are proud to have a played a meaningful role in supporting this process.
For the past two years, in concert with Jewish Federations of Canada-UIA, CIJA has conducted a national disability policy “fly-in”, bringing together Jewish experts and advocates from across the country to meet with federal elected officials to advance various policies related to accessibility. A federal accessibility/inclusion law was foremost among them, and we are gratified to see that this proposal has come to fruition in the form of Bill C-81. We are particularly pleased that the bill includes essential elements, such as the creation of an Accessibility Commissioner and strong compliance and enforcement provisions, that mirror suggestions we and our partners encouraged the government to adopt. These will be crucial in ensuring the success of the legislation in affected workplaces across the country.
Requiring Robust Consultations
In its current form, Bill C-81 includes various provisions related to consultation with the disability sector. This is laudable and important. However, in our consultations with relevant social service agencies and disability advocates regarding the bill, a recurring theme was the need to ensure ongoing consultations with representatives reflecting a broad array of disabilities and at various stages of development and implementation of Canada’s accessibility standards.
This could be achieved by enhancing consultation provisions related to the Canadian Accessibility Standards Development Organization, the Chief Accessibility Officer, and regulated entities.
First, the “mandate” section of the Standards Organization (Section 18) could be amended to explicitly affirm that consultations with the disability sector are a core part of its work. This could be achieved by adding a clause such as: “consulting with representatives reflecting a broad range of physical, mental, intellectual, learning, communication, and sensory impairments.” This language is drawn directly from the definition of “disability” provided in Section 2 of the bill.
Similarly, Section 28 states that “the board of directors [of the Disability Standards Organization] may, in accordance with the by-laws, appoint advisory or other committees.” We suggest it be more directive by amending this section to state that “the board of directors will, in accordance with the by-laws, appoint an advisory committee composed of representatives reflecting a broad range of physical, mental, intellectual, learning, communication, and sensory impairments, and may appoint other committees.”
Second, Part 7 of the bill establishes a Chief Accessibility Officer tasked with advising the Minister of “systemic or emerging accessibility issues.” This is an essential element of the bill, and one that will help ensure this entire process is successful in making Canada more inclusive and accessible. However, there are no provisions in this part of the bill requiring the Chief Accessibility Officer to consult with the disability sector. We propose adding a clause to the effect that the Chief Accessibility Officer will “appoint an advisory committee composed of representatives reflecting a broad range of physical, mental, intellectual, learning, communication, and sensory impairments, and may appoint other committees.”
It is important to note that this would be distinct from the advisory committee to be established within the Standards Organization. The advisory committee of the Standards Organization would be focused on practical and immediate regulatory matters pertaining to the standards regime. The advisory committee reporting to the Chief Accessibility Officer would be focused on systemic, long-term challenges and emerging trends affecting accessibility in Canada.
Third, Section 60 (4) of the bill (“duty to consult”) requires regulated entities to “consult with persons with disabilities in the preparation of its accessibility plan and every updated version of its accessibility plan.” While entities are required to set out the manner in which consultations take place, we believe Section 60 (4) could be strengthened by an amendment that requires consultations with representatives reflecting a range of “physical, mental, intellectual, learning, communication, and sensory impairments.”
Fostering a Culture of Accessibility
CIJA’s Jewish social service agency partners across Canada also underscored the importance of fostering awareness and a culture of accessibility among employers subject to Bill C-81. To be clear, robust accessibility plans and regulatory compliance are central to making regulated entities more accessible for employees. At the same time, additional emphasis should be made on ensuring greater understanding of accessibility and the unique and diverse needs of individuals with disabilities, both as a means of ensuring regulatory compliance and as a catalyst for a positive shift in workplace culture as it affects accessibility.
For example, Section 18 of the bill establishes the mandate of the Standards Organization, which includes “the dissemination of information, including information about best practices, in relation to the identification and removal of barriers and the prevention of new barriers.” We suggest this be amended to specifically refer to “the dissemination of information and practical resources to regulated entities for the purpose of fostering greater compliance and a culture of accessibility”. This will provide the nascent Standards Organization with a clear mandate to proactively engage regulated entities with resources (such as online and toll-free telephone support) that ensure greater knowledge of the regulations, practical advice in implementing them, and free materials to educate all employees about accessibility issues in the workplace.
We thank you for your consideration of this submission and look forward to discussing this matter with committee members in person. Thank you for all that you do to make Canada more inclusive and accessible for people with disabilities.
Shimon Koffler Fogel
CEO, The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA)
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