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Ontario Government's
New ODA Bill 125

December 7, 2001

Presentation by the ODA Committee to the Standing Committee on Finance and
Economic Affairs - Hearings on Bill 125

Wednesday, December 5, 2001
Room 151 Legislative Building, Queen's Park

David Lepofsky
: Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman, members of the Committee. My
name is David Lepofsky, l-e-p-o-f-s-k-y. I am Chair of the Ontarians with
Disabilities Act Committee. With me to my left -- your right -- is Carole
Riback from whom you heard this morning, and to my right -- to my other left --
further to my left, and that's not a political comment -- is Kathryn Bremner,
whom you'll be hearing from this afternoon, both members of the ODA Committee,
active supporters of this movement, and role models to all who have been
seeking to tackle the barriers facing people with disabilities.

The Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee is a voluntary, non-partisan
coalition of over a hundred disability community organizations, and many, many
individuals, both those who have a disability now, and those who will have one
later. We have come together to advocate for the enactment of a strong and
effective Ontarians with Disabilities Act. Our goal is a barrier-free province
for all one point six million Ontarians with disabilities. We are organized in
twenty-three regions of the province. We bear no allegiance to any political
party. We have offered and continue to offer to work with all, and to work
together, to achieve our goal.

We have led the charge for this legislation since we formed in this building a
few days over seven years ago. In coming together, we have brought the issue
to the three political parties, solicited the promise -- now famous -- from
Premier Harris on the twenty-fourth of May, 1995 that the Ontarians with
Disabilities Act would be enacted in the government's first term; through
consultation with our membership, we devised the eleven principles for the
Ontarians with Disabilities Act that all your parties adopted unanimously three
years ago, as have many city councils; through further consultations we
developed a detailed blueprint for the Ontarians with Disabilities Act which we
shared with the government and the opposition three and a half years ago, and
which we have been eager to see translated into legislation. We view our role
as to provide positive proposals and to provide all parties with a road map
that will get them, and all of us, to where we seek to arrive.

You will find from the government's 1998 consultations on the Ontarians with
Disabilities Act that the disability community around the province, of their
own accord, rallied around our blueprint and our eleven principles. And you
are hearing at these hearings voices from around the province who are rallying
around the substance and the core focus of the amendments that we placed before
you in our brief.
Before I turn to the amendments that we wish to place before you, and the need
for them, I need to speak only briefly about these hearings themselves. We led
the charge for public hearings and our delighted that there are public
hearings. But in the name of those who cannot be here, because of the way
these hearings are being conducted, it is necessary that a barrier that has
been created in this process be highlighted.

The fact of the matter is that we advised the government months ago that people
with disabilities cannot be asked to appear at hearings on one day's notice.
Given the impediments to getting accessible public transit in this province,
you just can't do it. In fact -- and despite that advice -- these hearings
were scheduled with people getting but days' notice that they were happening,
where they were happening, and in some cases only twenty-four hours' notice
that they were invited to present.

That is a barrier. That is a huge barrier. That is -- forgive me -- a cruel

Whatever be the outcome of these proceedings, this hearing process will leave
an indelible stain on the face of this legislation. And I hasten to add that
the barrier about which I am speaking, which relates to the core of our
democratic process, is a barrier which this bill, if enacted, would not require
to be removed.

If I may turn to the substance of the legislation that is before the Committee,
I want to begin with what I believe to be common ground. It is now -- from
reading the speeches within the House -- undoubted, undisputed, between the
parties that are members of this legislature, that people with disabilities
face far too many barriers -- physical, technological, attitudinal, and so on
-- in their daily lives; that this is wrong; that this is bad for Ontario; that
we need to remove them; that we need to prevent new ones; and that doing so is
good for all Ontarians -- for people with disabilites, for business, for
government, for the taxpayer, for everybody.

So the only real question is, how do we do it? There is, even then, an
agreement between all -- now -- an agreement with our message as the ODA
Committee. And that is the message that it must be done through strong and
effective legislation. Well, in turning and looking at this legislation, I ask
the Committee a question. If a law had been tried -- if we tried through
legislation -- let's say for five years, and it wasn't good enough, do you
think that would be time to fix it? Well, the government thinks so. They have
proposed a five-year review.

What about ten or twenty years? Surely, it's long overdue. Well, the fact is
that we've had the Charter of Rights and the Human Rights Code in this
province, guaranteeing, enforceably, equality rights and human rights for
people with disabilities -- including provisions that address the kind of
barriers that we suffer from -- for twenty years.

We don't need to wait any longer. We don't need to wait another five years, to
know that we need a law with more effective enforcement than we have now. We
don't need to try a law that doesn't have effective enforcement, and just see
if we'll learn something new that we haven't learned in twenty years.

Similarly, if you've tried a policy for six and a half years, and it hasn't
solved your problem -- it hasn't made significant progress -- I ask the
Committee, isn't that long enough? We've tried a policy in Ontario. The
government tried a strategy of voluntary measures. The government tried a
policy of "leading by example" (the government's words). The government tried
a strategy of cleaning its own house first. We've tried it. It hasn't worked.
We need something better.

For purposes of turning to the bill, it's important for me to emphasize why the
amendments must be made now, not -- as some Committee members have posed in
questions -- sometime later. We need to make those amendments now because
we've already lost too much.

A child born on the twenty-fourth of May, 1995 when Premier Harris wrote to us
with his pledge is now school age, and has lost out on the opportunity of
having accessible child care -- probably -- in his or her own community, and
having those opportunities improved by strong and effective legislation.

A teenager, who was a teenager on the twenty-fourth of May, 1995, has now lost
out on the opportunity of having theatres and restaurants and coffee shops in
their community become more accessible, so that they can enjoy the social life,
the dating, the socializing that their peers have. Their teenage years are
over. We can't give them back.

A person entering senior citizenship on the twenty-fourth of May, 1995 -- if
they are still with us now -- their abilities have waned. The golden years of
their life could have been blessed with more opportunity than we're giving
them, because of the delay in having this legislation happen.

We can't wait any longer. We need the amendments to make this law strong and

I wish to turn to specific proposals for amendments. Now, given our thirty
pages of amendments -- only lawyers could write thirty pages and call it a
"brief" -- I'd like to focus on amendments that derive from one very important
theme, where we can show you that there are things that are not in this bill
that the government says should be there. Surely you should amend it, to put
them there.

We have, in Appendix 1(f) to our brief -- copies available for members of the
public present -- documented a range of areas where the government, through the
mouth of the Citizenship minister or others, has stated that there are certain
things in this bill which, on our analysis, are simply not there. We ask,
above all else, that you amend the bill to put them there. We have offered you
a focus on how to do that. Allow me to give some examples.

First, the government has stated that the purpose of this bill -- indeed, its
core vision statement -- is the achievement of a barrier-free Ontario. It has
said that's the purpose of the bill. Unfortunately, that's not what the bill
says. The bill merely says that the goal of the bill is "to improve
opportunities." Well, if you put three ramps down in three of the venues that
Carole Riback spoke about -- that she encountered in one day -- you've improved
opportunities. The bill's goal has been met.

That's far too little. Amend the bill to make it have the purpose that
minister Jackson says is the government's objective.
Number two: the minister has said that in this bill, people with disabilities
-- the disabled community -- will be put "in the driver's seat" to drive
change. Now, speaking personally for a moment, there's no one more eager than
me to experience what it's like in that driver's seat. And I promise, while
I'm in there, I will not park in a disabled parking spot -- if I can read the
sign. However, the fact of the matter is, the bill does not -- as the minister
has urged it should, or said it would -- give people with disabilities input in
setting standards; give people with disabilities a right of input in the making
of regulations; require consultations with the disability community for
establishing time frames. Indeed, it does not assure people with disabilities
-- either the community or the advisory council -- the opportunity or the
assured entitlement to monitor implementation or have input into any of the
barrier-free plans required under the legislation. It doesn't say that. The
minister says he wants it to. We agree. Amend it. Put it in there.

There's nothing to debate. It is the government's policy. Let's make sure the
bill conforms with that policy.

The government says, and the minister has said in the House and in the media --
you have the quotations and the citations before you -- the government says
that in this bill, organizations will be required not only to develop
barrier-free plans -- we prefer to call them that than accessibility plans --
but also to implement them. Compliance will be required, and the government
will enforce it. Right now, the bill doesn't say that. We say it should. We
say, amend it so that the provisions that provide for the barrier-free plans
provide that organizations, ministries, municipalities, and so on -- not only
do they have to make the plan, but they've got to make a comprehensive plan,
and they've got to implement it. And we say either amend the bill to provide a
mechanism for enforcement, and we've proposed one -- the Human Rights
Commission, not our first choice, but working within the framework of the bill
that's where we say we should go -- or alternatively, make it clear in the
regulation-making provisions that there is an opportunity, there is the power,
to make regulations defining enforcement procedures.

If I could go back to the disability community having input. It's not enough
to just say "we can be asked." Folks, we've been asked. On any number of
issues. The point is, we may not have been asked enough. We may not have
given enough time. But we need something more than being asked. We need a
requirement that somebody listen. And at the very least, we've proposed
provisions akin to those in the Securities Act for the Ontario Securities
Commission -- good for them, good for us -- which require that when we make
proposals, the government has to give an answer. They don't necessarily have
to agree. But at least, give us an answer, within certain time lines. And
that if the government's going to put forward proposals, they be posted, for an
opportunity for us to have input in writing or in person.

Because of the limitations of time, I'm not going to take you through all the
different changes that are needed to bring the bill in compliance with the
government's statement. But there is a bit more that I think is worthy of

The government has said that under this bill, no new barriers will be created
with tax dollars. Now, as I say those words, who could disagree with such a
goal? Unfortunately, the bill doesn't say that. It talks about the government
"having regard" to accessibility, "considering" accessibility. It doesn't say
it "has to do" accessibility. We say, amend the bill to comply with what
minister Jackson said in the house, with what undoubtedly would be beyond
dispute, whatever we might otherwise have differing views on, among people in
this room.

Beyond the amendments that we've proposed that are tied to Mr. Jackson's and
the government's words, we propose a series of other amendments to make sure
this bill has real force and effect. I can't list priorities, but I can give

Number one: a lot of this bill has been delegated to the Cabinet in the form
of making regulations. And a number of members of the Committee, from the
government side, have asked opponents to "have faith." That, even if you're
not happy with the bill, you'll be happy with the regulations. Let me suggest,
with respect, that after the six and a half year battle that we've gone through
to get a law passed now -- or brought forward now -- that was supposed to be
passed in the first term of the government, at the very least you can
understand why people with disabilities might be a little hesitant. What's the

We've offered it. Put time targets, or time deadlines, in the bill, by which
regulations have to be made. If the government is as committed as we are told
they are, to get those regulations going, to hear from people with disabilities
and to pass them, to make this law happen and make it work, put those time
lines into the bill. Make it the law that those time lines have to be met.

Let me take just a minute to respond to some other themes that have come up at
the hearings, that I think we need to address. Stated briefly, people have
been asked at these hearings whether this bill, unamended, is better than
nothing at all. We say, it is a tragedy to even ask that question. After six
and a half years, after such broad recognition of the barriers we face, after
twenty years of trying other strategies -- surely we can do better than to
debate whether something should be passed, ie. whether it's slightly better
than nothing.

Two years ago, this House unanimously resolved that an Ontarians with
Disabilities Act be passed that is strong and effective. Make the bill strong
and effective. Let's not have to debate whether it's nothing, or near nothing.

Similarly, we've heard it said that this bill, with its flaws, is the best
there is in Canada. With respect, it's just not true. What's offered as "new"
in this bill, what's proposed as "leading edge," either exists in other
provinces in some cases, or existed in this province until the government
abolished it -- namely the provincial Advisory Council, which the current
government abolished three months after taking office -- or is less than is
provided in other jurisdictions, such as the federal regulatory activity in the
area of employment, removal of barriers facing people with disabilities.

Let me conclude.

Let me suggest that we have reached a critical crossroads here. You've heard
extraordinary stories from people here and in other cities, about the barriers
they face, that this bill will not address. Our coalition has been hearing
those for six and a half or seven years. They tear at you. They hurt. People
are hurting.

Here is a chance, in a spirit of non-partisanship, to take the message you've
heard so unanimously, from so many different voices, and not debate whether
it's a "good first step," but simply debate whether it's a good step. Not to
debate whether this law does "something more than nothing," but to be able to
agree among all of us that it's strong and effective.

There is a cliche that "justice is blind." It is said that justice is supposed
to strive to experience blindness. We say that if justice has had the
opportunity to experience blindness, let's pass a strong and effective
disabilities act so that blind people and indeed, all people with disabilities,
have the same opportunity to experience justice.




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