Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee
Canadian Paraplegic Association Ontario, 520 Sutherland Drive, Toronto, Ontario M4G 3V9 Tel: (416) 422-5644 Fax: (416) 422-5943 Contact: Diana McCauley or Vicky Williamson
Spina Bifida & Hydrocephalus Association of Ontario, 35 McCaul Street, Suite 310, Toronto, Ontario M5T 1V7 Tel: (416) 979-5514 Fax: (416) 979-0894 Contact: Steve Kean

October 3, 1996

Hon. Marilyn Mushinski
Minister of Citizenship
77 Bloor Street West, 7th Floor
Ontario M7A 2R9

Dear Ms. Mushinski:

Re: Ontarians with Disabilities Act

I am writing on behalf of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee, of which I am co-Chair, as a follow-up to your public presentation to the A.R.C.H. Annual General Meeting in Toronto on September 28, 1996. This is also a follow-up to my letter to you dated July 25, 1996, to which you have not replied. We acknowledge your public commitment on September 28, 1996 to fulfil your Party's election promise to pass an Ontarians with Disabilities Act during this Government term, and to work together with the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee to address this promise. We also specifically acknowledge your public commitment on September 28, 1996, as accurately reported in the Toronto Star of Sunday, September 29, 1996 that the government should not pass an act that has "no teeth" and that this legislation must "be meaningful." We also noted with interest your announcement that as of about a month previous to the September 28 public presentation, your ministry had assigned a staff person with responsibility to explore the gaps which the ODA Committee has identified.

While these public statements are desirable they are only lip service. In terms of practical action, you and your government have not yet made any substantial progress to fulfil your party's election promise to develop and pass an Ontarians with Disabilities Act. We are deeply concerned about this delay. If a new law is to be passed which will achieve a barrier-free society for persons with disabilities by the year 2000, it must be in place and working well before the end of your current term of office. This concern is made all the worse because we have waited through the summer for you to respond to our proposals on the process for developing and implementing an Ontarians with Disabilities Act -- a response which you had expected to present to us by mid-summer, according to your discussion with us at our June 14, 1996 meeting with you.

May we respectfully request that you follow up on your important acknowledgement of the need for an Ontarians with Disabilities Act to be "meaningful" and to "have teeth," with prompt, real and meaningful action. May we request of you The following three actions:

1. Could you please advise us of your proposal for a process for working together with us and with the broader community to develop an Ontarians with Disabilities Act, including your position on the guiding principles which we tabled with you on June 14 of this year. To date, you have not responded on this issue. As of your September 28, 1996 presentation you indicated it would be "premature" to give us a target date for introduction of such legislation, even though you were well able to give a target of twelve months for your proposed reforms to the Ontario Human Rights Code. If you can provide a target date for amendments to the Ontario Human Rights Code, the same is feasible for an Ontarians with Disabilities Act. Once we have received your proposals for an implementation process, we would wish to engage in a meaningful, albeit brief discussion with you on the process in order to ensure that it is as fair, expeditious and inclusive as possible. Any public consultations must, in our view, be conducted with out any pre-conditions on the options to be considered. For example, your limited consultation last fall on the workplace Equal Opportunity Plan was conducted with the fatally-flawed precondition that any equal opportunity initiative must be voluntary and non-legislative. Such preconditions would doom any consultation to failure.

2. We ask that you direct your ministry's policy staff to immediately undertake to research and develop a wide range of policy options for measures that can be considered for inclusion within an Ontarians with Disabilities Act, to promote the goal of a barrier-free society for persons with disabilities through identification and removal of existing barriers and prevention of new barriers before they are created. Such policy research could, for example, look to different methods of implementation and enforcement that have been tried or considered in other jurisdictions in the U.S., Europe, and elsewhere. We would appreciate it if any research on these policy options could be shared with us and with others in the community who are interested in promoting a barrier-free society for persons with disabilities. You would then be able to benefit from the constructive feedback on that research that we could provide.

3. Finally, we ask that you assist us in our efforts to get a meeting with Premier Harris as soon as possible to discuss the implementation of his election promise to pass an Ontarians with Disabilities Act. As you know, he has consistently refused to meet with us since the day he took office. At our June 14, 1996 meeting with you we asked your assistance in arranging an opportunity for us to join with you in a meeting with the premier. At that time, and subsequently, you provided no answer to this request until your public appearance at the A.R.C.H. Annual General Meeting on September 28. At that meeting, in response to my repeating this request, you gave a flat "no."

Even though you are the minister responsible for disability issues, it is not realistic to expect that a meaningful Ontarians with Disabilities Act with teeth can be developed without the leadership of the premier and the co-operation of all of the other ministries of the Crown on which such legislation would have an impact. For that reason, we respectfully propose that it is in both our interest and yours to join together to seek a meeting with the premier. We ask that you reconsider your refusal to help in this regard.

We look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience with regard to the three specific proposals set out in this letter.

Yours sincerely,

M. David Lepofsky, C.M., LL.B., LL.M.

cc: Naomi Alboim, Deputy Minister, 77 Bloor St. W., 6th Floor, Toronto, M7A 2R9

Karen Cohl, Assistant Deputy Minister, Policy & Planning Division, 77 Bloor St. W., 5th Floor, Toronto M7A 2R9

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