September 1, 1997
The Hon. Marilyn Mushinski
Minister of Citizenship, Culture & Recreation
77 Bloor Street West, 6th Floor
Dear Ms. Mushinski:
Re: Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee
Thank you for meeting with representatives of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee on August 20, 1997. Although our meeting time with you was cut short because of your other commitments in the legislature, we were able to address some of the issues which have ansen since our iast meeting with you in June of 1996.
We are pleased that the government finally seems to be starting to move forward on the public consultation and ultimately the introduction and passage of the Ontanans with Disabiiities Act. It is especially important to our membership that at this meeting you have now set your target at mid to late fall of 1998, for the introduction into the Legislature of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act. Although we still believe that the government has been unnecessarily slow in moving to this point, this is the first time that the government has actually set out any type of specific time frame instead of its oft repeated phrase that the law will be passed in the first tenn of this government. As we said durng the meeting, it is critical that the legislation be introduced into the Legislature early enough to allow for comprehensive public hearngs around the province after second reading of the bill while still leaving enough time for the legislation to be proclaimed before the end of the government's current term.
We were also pleased to hear you reiterate during the meeting that you support a meaningful Ontarians with Disabilities Act-- one with teeth. We also appreciated learning from you that the Premier is also committed to this goal. As you know, our goal is to not only see the introduction of an Ontarans with Disabilities Act, but to see the passage of such a law that is strong and effective. Once again we want to say, as we did during the meeting, that we are prepared to do whatever we can to assist you in ensuring the enactment of an Ontarans with Disabilities Act which is a strong and effective as possible at achieving the goal of a barrier-free Ontaro for people with disabilities by the year 2000. Based on your acknowledgement at the meeting that you support an Ontarians vith Disabilities Act that has teeth we assume that you have the same objective.
We also raised at this meeting the importance of having both the Premier and members of your caucus involved in the development and passage of an Ontarians with Disabilities Act. We strongly believe that the Premier's leadership and direct involvement in this matter is critical if a strong, effective Ontarians with Disabilities Act is to be enacted. As you know, we have an outstanding request to the Premier that he meet with us. To date he has declined our requests for a meeting. We appreciate your agreement to carry out the request for a meeting to him directly and are hopeful that he will reconsider his position and agree to meet with us in the near future. We look forward to hearing from you or the Premier's office in response to this request.
With respect to the request that we made to you and your staff at the meeting to assist us in setting up a meeting with the caucus, we hope that one can be arranged in the near future. We were interested in your announcement at the meeting that Derwyn Shea, your Parliamentary Assistant, will be chairing a caucus committee on the Ontarians with Disabilities Act. We look forward to receiving more information as the Committee progresses. We want to reiterate our offer to assist you, your Parliamentary Assistant and this new Caucus Committee in any way possible and, to this end, hope that our request for a meeting with the caucus, which you agreed to carry for us, is met with a positive response.
An important part of the meeting was our discussion about the process that the government will use to consult with the public leading to the development of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act. We want to strongly urge you, as we did during our meeting, to announce the public consultation process as soon as possible. We are delighted that the public consultation process is soon to be under way, we are deeply concerned about the fact that it has been substantially delayed. When we first met you in June of 1996, we proposed reasonable time lines and guiding principles to govern the public consultation process. Had you accepted those at that time, we would not now be at the early stage of starting the public consultations or merely discussing how they should be conducted. Rather, the public consultations would have been completed by now, and we would now have been preparing for the introduction to the legislature this fall of an Ontarians with Disabilities Act. People with disabilities deserve much better. Your government will now be confronted with a very serious challenge to be able to conduct effective public consultations over the next months, to develop an effective Ontarians with Disabilities Act, and to get it through the legislative process, replete with public legislative hearings after the bill is introduced. It is vital that this process gets started immediately. We indicated to you that if a government discussion paper could be prepared and made available to the public by October, 1997, it would be reasonable for public consultations to be convened at the beginning of January, 1998. We certainly cannot wait any longer.
Prior to our meeting we did discuss with your staff, some ideas which were under consideration by the Ministry for a public consultation process on the Ontarians with Disabilities Act. We emphasized with them, as we did during our meeting with you and in our prior correspondence with you, that the public consultation process must be entirely open, fully accessible to all people with disabilities at the local level across the province, and undertaken without precorditions.
In response to your questions about the consultation process we hope that we made our concerns clear. We believe that in addition to an open, accessible process, it will be importart that the process directly involve elected public officials, including members from your government. It should not leave the corsultation to private consultants at all, nor should it be solely conducted by the bureaucracy. Involvement of members of the legislature in the process from the earliest stages will give them an opportunity to hear directly from people with disabilities about the barriers they face and the ways to remove them through the Ontarans with Disabilities Act.
In terms of some of the other aspects of the consultation process that we discussed with your staff, we had a great deal of difficulty with the concept of having expert workshops that would be held before the public consultation process. It is our understanding from your staff, after you left the meeting, that in light of our feedback, the idea of holding such expert workshops before the public consultation process is off the table. Your staff indicated they may still wish to consider holding such workshops later in the process, but this would not hold up the process of getting a discussion paper circulated widely and securing direct public input across the province. We would be pleased to discuss this further with you and your staff should the idea again revive later.
One key area in which we still have a number of concerns that were not resolved at our meeting are the possible changes that your government may be contemplating to the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Ontario Human Rights Commission. We asked for clarification from you of your intentions and the intentions of your government in relation to the Ontaro Human Rights Code and the Ontario Human Rights Commission. It is critical that these issues be dealt with before the public consultation begins, so that people making submissions can decide what, if any role, the Ontaro Human Rights Commission should play in enforcing the Ontarians with Disabilities Act. We have not yet taken any position on whether the Human Rights Commission should play any part in this new law's enforcement and implementation, in signficant part because we do not know what shape the Commission will be in after your intended changes to it and its governing legislation. It will be impossible for people to make any recommendations with respect to the enforcement of an Ontarians with Disabilities Act and, in particular the role of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, without knowing whether its status or finding will be significantly changed by this government.
There are three main areas of concen which we raised with you at the meeting in this regard:
a) Funding: Your government had promised to increase funding to the Ontario Human Rights Commission as part of its election commitments in 1995. This reflected a recognition that the Commission was previously underfunded. Instead of keeping this solemn election promise, you have instead reduced funding to the Commission. Disability cases are now being turned away by the Commission more frequently than ever before. If these cuts are not reversed, and the promised new funding is not given to the Commission, there is serious grounds for doubting that the Commission could take on any new work under the Ontarians wth Disabilities Act
b) Your government said that it intends to make substantial reforms to the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Commission. There is no information yet about the shape, content or timing of these reforms, nor any indication of what impact they will have on the Commissions effectiveness at rooting out discrimination
c) Your government has received the report of the red tape task force which recommends serious problematic changes to both the process for filing human rights complaints and to the critically important duty to accommodate the needs of people with disabilities, now enshrined in the Human Rights Code. The Red Tape Task Force recommended changes which would pose a real and serious threat to the fundamental human rights of people with disabilities.
You did not provide any answer to the question as to when your government will restore the funding which has been cut from the Ontario Human Rights Commission, and when it will provide the increased funding promised during the election campaign. We still welcome a response to this inquiry. With respect to the other issues raised, we were advised by your staff that there would be some sort of public consultation initiated sometime in the future with regard to procedures for enforcing the Human Rights Code. We were also told that there will be no changes to the substantive content of the Code. The recommendations of the Red Tape Task Force would be included as part of the review on procedural matters, we were told.
We welcome any further details that you could provide with regard to the reforms to the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Ontario Human Rights Commission. We would also strongly urge that the recommendations of the Red Tape Task Force concerning the Human Rights Code now be categorically and immediately rejected. They would significantly undermine human rights protection for people with disabilities in Ontario - a flat contradiction of the Government's election commitments underlying the Ontarians with Disabilities Act. We have also had a chance since our meeting with you to reflect further on the indication that your intended Human Rights Review will only address procedural matters. One of the most serious problematic portions of the Red Tape Task Forces proposals on human rights concerns proposed tampering with and changes to the fundamental duty to accommodate persons with disabilities to the point of undue hardship. That is a core element of the substantive guarantee of human rights to persons with disabilities. It is not a procedural matter. As such, it seems that if your Human Rights Review is limited to procedural matters then the Red Tape Task Force's recommendations regarding the duty to accommodate must fall outside the scope of that review. May we have your confirmation that this is the case, and may we have your confirmation that the Red Tape Task Force's recommendations regarding the duty to accommodate are thus off the table.
We believe that a strong and effective Ontarians with Disabilities Act has the support of the public. We hope that you have had an opportunity to review the public opinion poll, conducted pro bono on our behalf by the Canadian arm of the Lou Harris polling oranization, which we gave you during the meeting. The poll clearly shows that there is substantial public support for a strong and effective Ontanans with Disabilities Act. This support is bolstered by a resolution passed by the Windsor City Council, a copy of which we also gave to you at the meeting, which supports our proposal for strong and effective legislation. We were somewhat surprised in light of this compelling evidence that you did not answer our question during the meeting about whether you also believed there was strong public support for a strong and effective Ontarians with Disabilities Act. We hope that upon reflection you will agree with this reality. It seems a matter of common sense.
We came out of the meeting with you pleased with some of the areas in which there seem to be breakthroughs, specifically the news that the public consultation process will begin soon, that there will be a caucus committee, chaired by Derwyn Shea, to deal with this intiative and, most importantly, that the government is targeting mid to late fall of 1998 for the introduction of legislation. Hovever, there remain important additional issues to be addressed. It was unfortunate that you were able to meet with us for only 30 minutes out ofthe 60 minutes scheduled for the meeting because of your obligations in the Legislature. However, we are pleased that you agreed to our request for a meeting, now scheduled for October 23, 1997, so that we can continue to discuss some of these matters.
We look forward to the opportunity of meeting with you then, and, we hope, to be successful in our efforts at getting a meeting with the Premier and your caucus.
David Lepofsky, C.M.
cc Hon. Mike Harris