Image of black text with drop shadow that reads: Ontarians With Disabilities Act Committee

Letter to the Honourable Helen Johns,
Minister of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation

c/o Marg Thomas
1929 Bayview Avenue, Toronto ON M4G 3E8
Tel: (Voice direct) 416-480-7686 Fax: 416-480-7014
Voice mail: 416-480-7012
TTY: c/o Susan Main 416 964-0023 ex. 343
Web site:

October 30, 2000

The Honorable Helen Johns
Minister of Citizenship,
Culture and Recreation
400 University Avenue, 6th Floor
Toronto, Ontario M7A 2R9

Dear Minister,

Re: Ontarians with Disabilities Act

Thank you for your October 17, 2000 letter which indicates that
you are continuing to do research on the Americans with
Disabilities Act. It is clear to anyone with a disability living
in or visiting the U.S. that this legislation has had a profound
effect on opening the door to full participation for persons with
disabilities in American society.

I am pleased to let you know that I, along with Ms. Patti Bregman
of the Canadian Mental Health Association, Ontario Division were
invited to attend an extraordinary international conference last
week, sponsored by the U.S. Government in honour of the 10th
anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This
invitation-only symposium was attended by experts in the area of
disability rights and legislation from more than 35 countries.

This symposium, "From Principles to Practice" gave us an
opportunity to spend four days with delegates from around the
world discussing the development and implementation of disability
rights legislation in many different jurisdictions. We heard
first hand from those directly involved in the implementation of
disability rights legislation about the things that worked, and
the areas in which further exploration would be useful.

While there were many good ideas exchanged, it was stated
consistently that without an effective enforcement mechanism that
included a variety of mandatory approaches, the legislation will
not be effective. The message from every jurisdiction, many of
which have experience with disability rights legislation, was
that voluntary measures are not the solution. This is consistent
with the position that the ODA Committee has taken from its
inception and is reflected in our Blueprint for the ODA that we
delivered to your Government over two years ago.

We have always made it clear that we do not see the Americans
with Disabilities Act as the sole basis for designing a strong
and effective ODA. We want to extract from the most effective
parts of any and all legislation around the world. Within this
context, however, it is important to point out that we heard
consistently both from those who are responsible for implemeitng
the American law and those who advocate for persons with
disabilities under it that this legislation, while certainly not
perfect, has led to substantial advances in the U.S. for
Americans with disabilities over the past decade. It has
transformed that country in a positive way. It most certainly
has not been "devasting" for people with disabilities, as Premier
Harris recently suggested to the Canadian Press. Nor, according
to the experts that we met, including some whose focus was on the
effect on business and how business has responded, was the
legislation devastating for business.

We acquired a very substantial volume of printed material from
this conference. We would be pleased to share it with you. If
you wish to have access to it, please have your staff get in
touch with me. We would be pleased to lend it to you so that
your staff could make copies of any documents you wish. In
turn, we understand that you recently visited the U.S. to learn
about the Americans with Disabilities Act. We would appreciate
it if you would provide us with any information and documentary
materials that you obtained during those meetings.

We note that you have recently questioned whether provincial
legislation is necessary and whether this issue should be
addressed by federal legislation, pointing out that the
Americans with Disabilities Act is federal legislation. While
the enactment of a strong federal Canadians with Disabilities
Act would be beneficial for people with disabilities, the reality
is that most of the barriers faced by persons with disabilities
fall within provincial, not federal jurisdiction. Unlike the U.S
model, a national Canadians with Disabilities Act would not
remove the barriers that a strong and effective Ontarians with
Disabilities Act would. Whatever the Federal Parliament may do,
we need a strong and effective Ontarians with Disabilities Act,
to which your Government committed itself.

Finally, we are very concerned and confused by your letter of
October 17, 2000. It was written some two weeks after your
leaked draft, secret Cabinet proposal for the Ontarians with
Disabilities Act was revealed to the public. Your letter to me
says that your consultations on the Ontarians with Disabilities
Act are still ongoing. Yet the document suggests that you have
already decided on the approach that the Government should take.
Neither you nor the Premier have publicly rejected the clear
position on a toothless Ontarians with Disabilities Act proposed
in that document.

People with disabilities have been waiting five long years for
our government to keep its promise. During that time the
government is paying with tax dollars for the construction of
avoidable new barriers that they will later have to take down.
We are waiting for your Government to finally acknowledge that
people with disabilities deserve to be fully included in Ontario
life and that your government is prepared to meet its commitments
to make that truly happen.

Yours sincerely,

David Lepofsky, C.M.
Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee

cc: Hon. Mike Harris 325-7578
Norman Sterling 326-2913
Dalton McGuinty 325-9895
Dwight Duncan 325-2201
Steve Peters 325-7262
Ernie Parsons 325-4757
Howard Hampton 325-8222
David Christopherson 325-3189
Marilyn Churley 325-3252



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