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Ontario Government's
New ODA Bill 125
hansard November 29, 2001


Ontario Hansard Thursday, November 29, 2001




Mr Dwight Duncan (Windsor-St Clair): On a point of order, Mr Speaker: I seek unanimous consent, notwithstanding the order of the House dated November 21, 2001, with respect to Bill 125, that the hearings with respect to Bill 125 not go ahead in the communities where fully accessible services to the disabled, particularly those who are hearing-disabled and those who have no access to the hearings because of lack of time to book handi-transit facilities, are not available.

The Speaker (Hon Gary Carr): Is there unanimous consent? I'm afraid I heard some noes.

Mr Duncan: On a point of order, Mr Speaker: my understanding is that as of now we do have sign interpreters available for the hearings in Ottawa, which are scheduled for tomorrow.

My understanding as of half an hour ago is that there are not adequate sign translators available for any of the other hearings centres.

Second, it has been brought to our attention that a number of those who wish to make presentations to the committee are not able to access handicapped-accessible transportation because there's been a lack of time to prepare for that.

It would be, in our view, in the interest of the House and of the government's desire to pass its bill to provide meaningful accessibility to those with disabilities to participate in these public hearings. Due to the time rush on this, my understanding is that there are significant gaps with respect to those important issues.

The Speaker: I thank the member. We did have some discussions on this and, as you know, I was aware of it. The clerks of the committee have been involved in this process. I thank the member for bringing that to my attention. I was aware of it.

The government House leader may have some clarification to help with the circumstances.

Hon Janet Ecker (Minister of Education, Government House Leader): I was going to say that subsequent to this matter being raised, the clerks and the government are endeavouring to do whatever we can to ensure that these hearings are accessible. There's been considerable discussion with all three parties about trying to make sure we have agreements on the committee hearings -- the days, the time allowed. As you know, last week we actually -- I'll use the word -- bent the rules a little to allow the clerks to proceed with advance notice to again help make sure everybody had the time to get to these hearings. So we on this side of the House, and I know certainly your staff, sir, are doing everything we can to ensure that people do have the opportunity to attend and state their case at the hearings. So I do believe they should continue.

The Speaker: First the member for Windsor-St Clair, then the member for Niagara Centre and then I'll wrap up.

Mr Duncan: The undertakings that were made by all three parties --and I take the government House leader and the government at their word -- assumed that those in the disabled community would have access to these hearings. In fact, my leader raised that issue in a question in this House some weeks ago, prior to the bill even receiving second reading. We were informed at that time that efforts were already being undertaken. It is now our understanding that notwithstanding that, these committee hearings on a piece of legislation dealing with the Ontarians with Disabilities Act will not in fact be accessible to those with disabilities.

I should also say that the official opposition is prepared to come back in January or February to deal with this, in order to allow these hearings to be fully accessible. It would seem ironic, if I might, sir --

The Speaker: I think you've made your point. We'll go around and then I'll clarify. Perhaps the member for Niagara Centre could quickly add to it. Again, the reason I'm trying to assist in these circumstances is that I know we have been involved and are doing everything -- we are legitimately going to try to help. If it is helpful for the point of order, I will listen to the member for Niagara Centre.

Mr Peter Kormos (Niagara Centre): Mr Speaker, I appreciate your patience with this matter. This is incredibly serious because what it constitutes, should there not be full accessibility -- this is where I say the Speaker has some distinct jurisdiction -- is a violation of the Human Rights Code of Ontario. We, as a Legislature, and we, as members of this assembly, and you, as Speaker, I submit, have to do everything that we can, and that you, as Speaker, have an oversight role that can be played to ensure the government in its very own conduct of these hearings doesn't in fact violate the Human Rights Code.

I do not want to be a party to a violation of the Human Rights Code, nor does any member of this caucus. We intend to recommend to anybody whose accessibility is denied that they promptly initiate litigation with the Ontario Human Rights Commission against the government and against the ministers responsible, but we want your assistance in ensuring it doesn't come to that. That would be a catastrophe, a disaster and a shameful event, should people in this province have to litigate against this government on the Human Rights Code as a result of this government's attempt to conduct hearings around an ODA.

The Speaker: I want to thank all the members. I want to thank the House leader for the official opposition. He came and brought his concerns to me. We discussed that. I have a report of what's been done. I thank the member, and I'm sure that with goodwill, if we can be of any assistance, and I know the minister as well as the House leader will as well -- I assure you that all the resources of the Legislative Assembly and the clerks will be going to ensure there is full access. I know the committee Chair has been working diligently and hard in that regard as well.

Hopefully, with the goodwill of all people involved, we are going to be able to get over some of the bumps and hurdles we have. I say to the government House leader or the minister that if there's anything I can do, if there's anything we can do, to assist in that, we will do that. I'm sure I can say this on behalf of all the members: it will be the intention of all the members of this House to have it fully accessible to all members of the public. With goodwill involved, I'm very confident we can do that, and again I stand ready to assist in any way if the office of the Speaker may help.


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