July 27, 1998
The Honourable Isabel Bassett
Minister of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation
6th Floor, 77 Bloor Street West
Toronto, Ontario M7A 2R9
Re: Ontarians with Disabilities Act
We are writing further to our letter to you dated July 16, 1998, to which you have not yet responded. We wish to bring to your attention further serious concerns regarding the Ontarians with Disabilities Act consultation process which your Ministry is now conducting. We would very much appreciate your response, and your assistance with these matters as soon as possible, in order that the consultation process may give you the best possible input and advice in the preparation of the Act.
1. Your Ministry appears to have been keeping secret the list of people invited by the government to participate in the consultation meetings. We have been attempting, without success, to get a copy of this list. As we understand it, your Ministry has responded to requests for this information in a confused and contradictory way. Some are told that the information is not available. Others get no responses. Still others are told that the information will be sent to them. Of those, some are later told that this offer was made in error.
We urge you to immediately release to the public the list of all invitees. For the consultation to be successful, and to secure public confidence, it is important that the public know with whom you are consulting, both from the disability community and other stake-holders. There is no legitimate reason for keeping this information secret. May we be provided with a copy of this list as soon as possible?
2. We forewarned you that it was very important that the consultation process be open and accessible. Our concerns have turned out to be well-founded. We are receiving feedback from all corners of the province that the invitation-only nature of the consultation sessions is unfair. Many who want to express their views to you and your Parliamentary assistant in person are being denied this opportunity. The results of the consultation process will suffer as a result, as will the legislation.
Again, your Government's dealings with this issue seem confused and contradictory. As we understand it, some who have asked to be given a chance to appear in person have simply been told that they cannot, for this is an invitation-only process. Others have been told that their request will be considered. Still others are told to share their views with the ODA Committee, leaving an incorrect impression that it is the ODA Committee and not the Government who is doing the consulting.
We believe that the only solution to this problem is for you to open the process up now, and invite members of the public to attend and present their views at the consultation meetings that you are holding across the province.
3. There is a similar serious concern about the fact that your consultation sessions appear to be planned as closed-door discussions. This means that the public, including the disability community, will have no way of knowing what feedback and advice others are giving during the various sessions to which we are not invited. This will further undermine the public's confidence in this process. Openness yields accountability. It also provides all with a meaningful chance to respond to the views and advice provided by others, and therefore improves the consultation process immeasurably.
We therefore ask that you open up the process to public scrutiny, by allowing the press and the public to attend the consultation sessions. We also ask that you commit to release to us and to the public the minutes or transcripts or other notes of the meetings and sessions held across Ontario, so we and others can assist you by providing feedback on them.
4. We have already shared with you our serious concern about the fact that your Discussion Paper tries to prevent consideration of certain important options, such as mandatory requirements in the employment sector, and the creation of a new agency to enforce the Act. We have every intention of addressing these options during our meeting with you, and are encouraging all others who are invited to the closed sessions to do the same. We again urge the Government to withdraw those policy decisions, and bring an open mind to the table.
5. Finally, we note that in the written invitation to our session with you during the closed meetings on the morning of August 4, your Ministry has asked us to provide you with written responses in advance. Moreover, we have been asked to provide a list of the persons who will be attending the meeting from the ODA Committee. We regret that because of the extreme short notice that you have given to us and to the public, we will not be able to furnish that information in advance of the August 4 meeting. We regret any inconvenience this may cause. However, it is an obvious consequence of the fact that you have chosen to delay this consultation for so long, and then chose to give us all far less preparation time than we had advised that we would need.
To assist us in our preparation, we would appreciate receiving more information about how you plan to conduct the session. This will allow us to spend the short-time between now and August 4 planning our presentation so that we can make the most effective use of time possible.
It is unfortunate that you did not accept the many offers we made over the past nine months to assist you in the design of this consultation process (which your Ministry had been developing for two years). The result would have been a process in which people with disabilities felt their participation was valued and one which would have given you the kind of information you need if the Ontarians with Disabilities Act is to accomplish its goal of a barrier-free society. Finally, we have been hearing from our members across the province that there are delays of up to one week or more between requesting copies of the discussion paper and its delivery. This is a serious problem given the short time frame for the consultation. We trust that you will look into this and ask that your Ministry ensure that requests for the discussion paper are dealt immediately on a high-priority basis.
We again wish to offer any help we can provide to rectify the concerns we outlined above so that the consultation process is successful. We look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible regarding these matters, and look forward to our meeting with you on August 4 at 10 a.m. We also hope and trust that you will accept our invitation, communicated to the Premier this past week, to attend our open forum on the Discussion Paper, to be held at Queen's Park from 4:30 to 7:00 p.m. that day.
M. David Lepofsky C.M.,
Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee