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The Toronto Star
March 25, 2001 Page A-12

Second-Best Choice


The commitment by Ontario's Human Rights Commission to
step up its action on behalf of disabled people is welcome indeed.

Keith Norton says the commission will actively seek out
organizations whose facilities are not easily accessible and take
action against those that aren't.

The new policy, however, is a second-best solution to
the problems of disabled people, made necessary by one of the most
shameful failures of the Mike Harris government to keep its

In 1995, Harris promised a strong Ontarians with
disabilities law.

But once elected he wiped existing legislation off the
books and launched a three-year "consultation" that produced a bill
so empty that advocates for the disabled were insulted.

Two years later there's no visible sign Harris intends
to redeem his promise to disabled Ontarians.

The commission's new policy falls into this vacuum.

But it doesn't replace the need for a clear law against
barriers to disabled people.

Such a law would help both disabled people and
organizations that serve them - retailers, supermarkets, transit
systems, banks and the like - by creating clear rules that apply to

As matters now stand, companies doing their best for
the disabled have to bear higher costs than those doing nothing. As
long as there is no requirement to act, many won't.

With Harris' continued dithering, the commission's
resolve to play a greater role is some solace.

The commission will ask large organizations to report
on access to their facilities, ask them to prepare plans and, if
there are no plans, initiate formal complaints, conduct hearings
and issue orders that may well lead to court challenges.

This is more complex and time-consuming than helping
the disabled need be.

A strong law providing for prosecution of violators,
rather than lengthy and convoluted hearings, would be much simpler.

But in the face of broken promises, second best is
better than nothing.


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