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ODA Committee Update
dated Nov. 17, 2004
posted Nov. 28, 2004


Tenth Anniversary of the Birth of the ODA Movement Quickly Approaches - But How Did this Grassroots Movement Actually Get Started?

November 17, 2004


Tomorrow's first day of Second Reading debate on Bill 118, the proposed Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, comes just eleven days before the tenth birthday of the organized ODA movement. This organized movement was launched back on November 29, 1994.

Those involved in this province-wide grassroots campaign for a barrier-free Ontario got involved at different points in time. Many may not know what happened back on November 29, 1994, to get this ever-growing ball started rolling.

To help you find out about the birth of the organized movement, we reproduce below three pages from the history of the ODA movement, written by ODA Committee Chair David Lepofsky, and published in the National Journal of constitutional Law. It is entitled: "The Long, Arduous Road To A Barrier-Free Ontario For People With Disabilities: The History Of The Ontarians With Disabilities Act -- The First Chapter."

If you would like a copy of this 180-page publication in MS Word format, or just want to offer your feedback on this saga and our tenth anniversary, email us at:



a) The Birth Of The Organized ODA Movement

The realization within Ontario's disability community that a new
law was needed to tear down the barriers facing persons with disabilities
did not take place all at once as the result of a single catastrophic event.
Rather, it resulted slowly from a simmering, gradual process. That process
led to the birth of Ontario's organized ODA movement.

How then did the organized ODA movement get started? Most would
naturally think that it is the birth of a civil rights movement that later
spawns the introduction into a legislature of a new piece of civil rights
legislation. Ironically in the case of the organized ODA movement, the
opposite was the case. The same ironic twist had occurred 15 years before
when the Ontario Coalition for Human Rights for the Handicapped formed in
reaction to the Government's introduction of a stand-alone piece of
disability rights legislation.

In the early 1990s, after the enactment in the U.S. of the
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990, sporadic voices in Ontario
began discussing the idea of seeking the enactment of something called an
"Ontarians with Disabilities Act." There was little if any focused attention
on what this new law would contain. It was understood from the outset that
an ODA would not be a carbon copy of the ADA. For example, some parts of the
ADA were already incorporated in the Ontario Human Rights Code. There was no
need to replicate them again.

In the 1990 Ontario provincial election campaign (which happened
to take place just days after the U.S. had enacted the Americans with
Disabilities Act) NDP leader Bob Rae responded to a disability rights legal
clinic's all-party election platform questionnaire in August 1990 with a
letter which, among other things, supported appropriate legislation along
the lines of an Ontarians with Disabilities Act. Rae's letter didn't spell
out what this law would include. This letter did not get serious airplay in
that election campaign. It was not well-known when the NDP came from behind
in the polls to win that provincial election. Because the NDP had not been
expected to win, it was widely seen as campaigning on a range of election
commitments that it never anticipated having the opportunity to implement.

Despite sporadic discussions among some in the early 1990s,
there was no grassroots groundswell in Ontario supporting an ODA. There was
also no major grassroots political force building to push for one. This was
quite similar to the fact that there was no organized grassroots disability
rights movement pushing for the inclusion of disability equality in the
Ontario Human Rights Code in 1979, before the Ontario Government proposed
its new disability discrimination legislation in that year. In the early
1990s, Ontario disability organizations involved in disability advocacy were
primarily focused on other things, such as the NDP Ontario Government's
proposed Employment Equity Act, expected to be the first provincial
legislation of its kind in Canada. That legislation, aimed at increasing the
employment of persons with disabilities as well as women, racial minorities
and Aboriginal persons, was on the agenda of the provincial New Democratic
Party that was then in power in Ontario.

What ultimately led to the birth of a province-wide, organized
grassroots ODA movement in Ontario was the decision of an NDP back-bench
member of the Ontario Legislature, Gary Malkowski, to introduce into the
Legislature a private member's ODA bill in the Spring of 1994, over three
years into the NDP Government's term in office. By that time, the NDP
Government had not brought forward a Government ODA bill. Malkowski decided
to bring forward Bill 168, the first proposed Ontarians with Disabilities
Act, to focus public and political interest in this new issue. Malkowski was
well-known as Ontario's, and indeed North America's, first elected
parliamentarian who was deaf. Ontario's New Democratic Party Government,
then entering the final year of its term in office, allowed Malkowski's bill
to proceed to a Second Reading vote in the Ontario Legislature in June,
1994, and then to public hearings before a committee of the Ontario
Legislature in November and December 1994.

In 1994, word got around various quarters in Ontario's
disability community that Malkowski had introduced this bill. Interest in it
started to percolate. Malkowski met with groups in the disability community,
urging them to come together to support his bill. He called for the
disability community to unite in a new coalition to support an Ontarians
with Disabilities Act. A significant number of persons with disabilities
turned up at the Ontario Legislature when this bill came forward for Second
Reading debate in the Spring of 1994.

Over the spring, summer and fall months of 1994, around the same
time as Malkowski was coming forward with his ODA bill, some of the
beginnings of the organized ODA movement were also simmering within an
organization of Ontario Government employees with disabilities. Under the
governing NDP, the Ontario Government had set up an "Advisory Group" of
provincial public servants with disabilities to advise it on measures to
achieve equality for persons with disabilities in the Ontario Public
Service. In the Spring of 1994, this Advisory Group set as one of its
priorities working within the machinery of the Ontario Government to promote
the idea of an ODA.

This public service Advisory Group met with several provincial
Cabinet Ministers and later with Ontario's Premier, Bob Rae, to discuss the
idea of an ODA. It successfully pressed the Government to hold public
hearings on Malkowski's ODA bill.

As 1994 progressed, Malkowski's bill served its important
purpose. It sparked the attention and interest of several players in
Ontario's disability community in the idea of an ODA. No one was then too
preoccupied with the details of the contents of Malkowski's ODA bill.

Malkowski's bill had an even more decisive effect on November
29, 1994, when it first came before the Legislature's Standing Committee for
debate and public hearings. On that date, NDP Citizenship Minister Elaine
Ziemba was asked to make a presentation to the Committee on the Government's
views on Malkowski's bill. She was called upon to do this before community
groups would be called on to start making presentations to the legislative
committee. The hearing room was packed with persons with disabilities, eager
to hear what the Minister would have to say.

Much to the audience's dismay, the Minister's lengthy speech
said little if anything about the bill. She focused instead on the
Government's record on other disability issues. The temperature in the room
elevated as the audience's frustration mounted.

When the committee session ended for the day, word quickly
spread among the audience that all were invited to go to another room in
Ontario's legislative building. An informal, impromptu gathering came
together to talk about taking action in support of Malkowski's bill.
Malkowski passionately urged those present to come together and to get
active on this cause.

I was one of the 20 or so people who made their way into that
room. In an informal meeting that lasted about an hour, it was unanimously
decided to form a new coalition to fight for a strong and effective
Ontarians with Disabilities Act. There was no debate over the content of
such legislation at that meeting. However, there was a strong and united
realization that new legislation was desperately needed, and that a new
coalition needed to be formed to fight for it. This coalition did not spawn
the first ODA bill. Rather, the first ODA bill had spawned this coalition.

Days later, in December 1994, the Legislature's Standing
Committee held two full days of hearings into Malkowski's bill. A
significant number of organizations, including disability community
organizations, appeared before the Legislature's Standing Committee to
submit briefs and make presentations on the need for new legislation in this
area. Among the groups that made presentations was the Ontario Public
Service Disability Advisory Group which had pressed for these hearings to be
held. Its brief later served as a core basis for briefs and positions that
would be presented by the brand-new Ontarians with Disabilities Act


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