Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee

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Please Support a Strong & Effective ODA


ODA Committee Update
dated March 27, 2003
posted April 15, 2003



March 27, 2003


To launch our activities in connection with the forthcoming Ontario provincial election, the ODA Committee has kicked off the next phase in our Barrier-Busters Campaign by calling for a barrier-free provincial election. We have written to Ontario's Chief Election Officer to encourage that all practical steps be taken to ensure that voters with disabilities can participate fully in the forthcoming vote.


The ODA Committee's March 26, 2003 letter to Chief Election Officer John Hollins, set out below, urges that there be no barriers in the upcoming election, for voters with disabilities to be able to get information about the election process, to getting to and around inside the polling station, to effectively communicate with poll staff, and to be able to use the ballot independently. We offer our help to achieve this important goal.
Soon we will be writing to the three political party leaders separately, to address barriers in the campaign process over which the Chief Election Officer has no authority.

You will also see below that with the letter to Mr. Hollins, we enclose two letters we had written in 1999 to his predecessor, raising these issues, as well as his predecessor's responses to us. We welcome your feedback on these materials at:


For voters with disabilities to be able to raise their issues in this election, it is vital that the election process itself be entirely barrier-free. As we state in our letter to Mr. Hollins, the Conservative Government pledged to Ontarians with disabilities in the fall of 2001 that no new barriers would be created against persons with disabilities in Ontario. The upcoming provincial election is one area where that will be a very important promise to be kept.


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
email: oda@odacommittee.net
TTY: c/o Susan Main 416 964-0023 ex. 343
Web site: www.odacommittee.net

March 26, 2003

John L. Hollins
Chief Election Officer

51 Rolark Drive
Scarborough, Ontario M1R 3B1
Fax (416) 326-6200

Dear Sir,

Re: Ensuring A Barrier-Free Provincial Election for Voters with Disabilities

I am writing on behalf of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee. We are a voluntary, non-partisan, province-wide coalition of individuals and community organizations. We have united to achieve a barrier-free Ontario for some 1.9 million Ontarians with disabilities through the enactment and effective implementation of a strong and effective Ontarians with Disabilities Act.

A provincial election is widely expected to be called as early as this spring. We want to ensure that this provincial election is a barrier-free one, in which voters with disabilities can participate fully. We want to encourage you to take all possible steps within your mandate to ensure that the election process will be barrier-free for all voters with disabilities, be their disability a physical, mental and/or sensory one. We offer you our help in this important activity.

Of course it goes without saying that the right of every citizen to vote is absolutely central to our cherished democratic process. Voters with disabilities need to be able to participate fully in this democratic process. This is vital not only because voting is a key right of all citizens, but also because it provides them with a way of ensuring that those who govern us are responsive to our needs. Among this election's issues will be ones of special importance to voters with disabilities and their families.

Beyond the requirements of barrier-free access to the vote as guaranteed in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Ontario Human Rights Code, the recently-enacted Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2001 amended Ontario's Election Act. It now requires that within three months after the election, every returning officer for an electoral district must prepare a report on the measures that the officer has taken to provide accessibility for electors with disabilities in the district. It also requires you to make those reports public. We want to make sure that those reports address the full range of barriers that can impede voters with disabilities.

We regret that in previous general elections in Ontario, voters with disabilities have faced too many barriers. Among these have been barriers to getting information about the electoral and voting process including the time and location for voting, barriers to getting effective directions to a polling station, barriers to finding out whether one is on the voters' list, barriers to getting on the voters' list, barriers to getting to polling stations, barriers to getting into or around inside a polling station, barriers to effective communication with polling staff, and barriers to the private independent use of the secret ballot.

When the current Ontario Government brought forward its new Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2001 in the fall of 2001, it committed, among other things, that no new barriers would be created in Ontario against persons with disabilities. We hope and trust that all would now agree that there is no reason why voters with disabilities should face any barriers in the upcoming provincial election. They can be prevented in advance with little or no cost, through effective planning.

We welcome the opportunity to help you ensure, as best as can be done within your mandate, that voters with disabilities do not face such barriers in the upcoming Ontario election. To this end, with this letter we are providing to you the text of two letters which we sent to your predecessor before the June 3, 1999 provincial election. Those letters are dated April 6 and May 25, 1999. They identify in greater detail the kinds of barriers that have been encountered or could be foreseen. We also enclose the text of the two responses that we received from your predecessor, dated July 20 and July 21, 1999.

We regret that your predecessor appears to have denied the extent of this general problem, and appeared to take a somewhat narrow view of the rights of voters with disabilities, at least in some respects. We also regret that he inadvertently may have taken an exaggerated view of some of the steps we were proposing.

We understood that in the 1999 election, he originally resisted providing funding for sign language interpreters, where needed by a deaf voter to be able to vote. We also understood that after the 1999 election, when faced with possible litigation over this from a private citizen, your predecessor ultimately agreed, after the fact, to some sort of funding arrangement. We hope that this will be generally available where needed, in the upcoming election.

Your predecessor expressed a concern in 1999 that we had raised these issues too close in time before the 1999 election. Immediately after the 1999 election, we advised your predecessor in writing that people with a variety of disabilities did in fact encounter significant barriers during that election. Among the barriers that we had heard about were the lack of sign language interpreters for people who are deaf and require sign language interpreter service in the voting process, the lack of appropriate accommodation for people who are blind and vision-impaired, and some inaccessible polling stations. This was not intended as an exhaustive list of the barriers encountered in that election.

In June 1999, we called for an investigation into the barriers that faced Ontarians with disabilities during the 1999 election, with a view to producing recommendations for strategies to prevent these from happening again. We do not know whether such an investigation was undertaken.

We hope and trust that having provided follow-up feedback to your predecessor immediately after that election, your office will have had the benefit of the last four years, including the 15 months since the Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2001 was passed, to plan for the next provincial election to be barrier-free. We understand that you have already been in touch with some community organizations, to be pro-active in this regard. We commend such efforts, and encourage as much pro-active planning as is practicable. You may wish to consult our list of organizational members on our web site at www.odacommittee.net for additional sources of expertise. As well, we encourage you to consult the Citizenship Ministry's Accessibility Directorate.

We also ask you to consult the list of issues in our enclosed letters to your predecessor. Where your predecessor declined to act on recommendations that we put forward four years ago, we ask you to reconsider our suggestions, or develop alternative solutions to ensure that the election is truly barrier-free. As one practical strategy, we encourage you to designate one official in each electoral district with lead responsibility for ensuring that voters with disabilities in that district are able to participate fully in the electoral process.

We are eager to hear what steps you are taking to achieve a barrier-free election for all Ontarians with disabilities.


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

cc: The Hon. Ernie Eves 325-7578
Carl DeFaria 326-9338
Chris Stockwell 325-7755
Dalton McGuinty 325-9895
Dwight Duncan 325-2201
Steve Peters 325-7262
Ernie Parsons 325-4757
Howard Hampton 325-8222
Peter Kormos 325-7067
Marilyn Churley 325-3252
Tony Martin 325-3720
Nadia Temple, Director, Accessibility Directorate
Jeff Adams, Chair, Accessibility Advisory Council of Ontario


1. April 6, 1999 letter from ODA Committee to Chief Election Officer

2. May 25, 1999 letter from ODA Committee to Chief Election Officer

3. July 20, 1999 letter from Chief Election Officer to ODA Committee

4. July 21, 1999 letter to ODA Committee from Chief Election Officer


Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee
c/o Marg Thomas
1929 Bayview Avenue, Toronto ON M4G 3E8
Tel: (ODA Committee Voice Mail) 416-480-7012
Tel: (Voice direct) 416-480-7686
Fax: 416-480-7014
email: thomasm@east.cnib.ca
TTY: Care of Susan Main 416 964-0023 ex. 343

April 6, 1999

Warren R. Baillie
Chief Election Officer

51 Rolark Drive
Scarborough, Ont. M1R 3B1
Fax: 326-6200

Dear Mr. Baillie,

I am writing on behalf of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee. The Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee is a non-partisan group of persons with disabilities, friends, family members and organizations that came together to work towards creating a barrier-free Ontario for people with disabilities through the enactment of a strong and effective Ontarians with Disabilities Act.

Ontario has at least one and a half million people with disabilities. Most are of voting age. They face serious and substantial barriers when they attempt to participate in life's daily activities. It is for that reason that we have been working for over four years to try to get a strong and effective Ontarians with Disabilities Act passed in this province, to remove the barriers we now face, and to prevent new barriers from being created. The democratic electoral process is but one vital area of life where we have faced too many barriers in the past.

We are writing to ask for your commitment to ensure that you and your officials across Ontario will do whatever they can to remove the barriers that might impede voters with disabilities from participating in the election, and to ensure that new barriers are not now created.

We are aware of the provisions of the Election Act which make specific reference to the accommodation of persons with disabilities. While these may help somewhat in working towards a barrier-free election, they are not sufficient. There are important steps that you can take to ensure that as many barriers as possible are removed. We provide some examples of barriers here, but do not offer this as a comprehensive catalogue. We urge you and your officials to learn about the many kinds of barriers which persons with disabilities face, and to seek out those barriers that can arise in the electoral process. The following is a helpful start, but it is only that. We are asking that you take the following steps:

Voter lists:

We understand that a decision has not yet been made on whether there Ontario will use enumerators in the next election or rely on the Permanent Voters list. If an enumeration is held, please make sure that the officials conducting it are trained to ensure that the process of collecting information is barrier-free. If the permanent voters' list is used, please make sure that the process for finding out if one is on the voters' list, or for getting added to it, is barrier-free. This is especially important since we have heard that the so-called permanent voters' list may have errors and problems with it, including being incomplete and inaccurate.

As some examples of steps you should take in this context, could you please provide us and voters with disabilities generally with information as soon as possible about what steps people can take to ensure that they are on this list or to get themselves added to the list. Of course, it is important to get this information to the wider population with disabilities in formats that are accessible to them. As we are a voluntary group without any source of funding, we cannot offer to do this for you.

The new legislation no longer requires the public posting of the voters list so people are required to go to the Returning Office or the municipal clerk to find out if they are on the list. For some people with disabilities it may be difficult for them to get to these locations. Could you please ensure that this information is available by telephone and TTY to people who can sufficiently identify themselves and that the process of looking into this is entirely barrier-free.

Can you also please ensure that the identification guidelines that you will be developing for voters who want to be added to the voters list on the day of the election take into account the needs of people with disabilities. For example, many voters with disabilities do not have driver's licences or passports, the most common form of photo ID used. Please ensure that alternate forms of identification can be used.

Written material:

In order that voters with disabilities may be fully informed about how to vote, where to vote and what process to follow to get added to the voters list, could you please ensure that this type of information, including the forms for proxy voting and getting added to the voter lists are widely available in alternative format such as braille, large type, audio cassette and electronic format. The fact that this information is available should be publicized widely. Any web sites established to disseminate information to the public should be designed to be fully accessible to persons with a wide range of disabilities. There is a great deal of information available on the Internet on this subject that would be of help to you.

Information by phone:

We were pleased to see that your office does have a TTY. Could you please ensure that all local returning offices and all other official election sites also have TTY equipment so that people who are deaf, deafened or hard of hearing can contact their local returning officer or other offices in this way for information. The fact that this service is available should be widely publicized.

Proxy voting:

This may be of assistance to a number of people with disabilities, particularly those in small retirement homes, hospitals and others who are too ill to travel. However, it is important that they learn about this option. We are requesting that information about proxy voting be made widely available in alternative formats and that it be widely distributed to the public, including for example to health centres, seniors centres and other locations where individuals with disabilities, family members and friends are likely to get them. Local organizations of persons with disabilities may be able to assist with the distribution of this information and to provide you with assistance on appropriate formats and language so the information is accessible, although they should not be expected to bear the costs of the distribution of this information.

The legislation gives the returning officers the right to review proxy votes to determine if the reason for the proxy being given is acceptable. We urge that returning officers be given instructions to take into account the many barriers faced by people with disabilities that may prevent them from attending to vote themselves. These may go beyond being too ill to travel and include things such as the lack of accessible, appropriate transportation. Polling stations:

The Elections Act requires that a polling place shall "insofar as is reasonably possible give access to wheelchairs" (s. 13(3)). We are asking that before choosing a site it be carefully reviewed, preferably in consultation with persons with disabilities or organizations with knowledge of accessibility, to ensure that they are fully accessible to all persons with disabilities. Not only should the doors be wide enough and ramps be available, but there must be full accessibility e.g. parking for people with handicap permits; the doors must be easily opened and closed; there should be sufficient space for a person using a wheelchair to vote privately in the voting booth, using a table that is at an appropriate level. You should not assume that just because a facility has a ramp, the ramp is necessarily sufficient. Regrettably, some ramps are so steep that they are difficult for persons using wheelchairs to access.

In addition to access for persons using wheelchairs, please keep in mind the types of accommodations required by persons with other types of disabilities. This may include, for example, people with learning disabilities who may require bold, clear signs to help direct them to the proper place and adequate lighting for persons with low vision. We urge you to consult widely with organizations representing people with a wide range of disabilities to ensure that all who want to will be able to vote.


Ballots and the ballot marking process should be easy and barrier-free. Ballot should be printed in large type for persons with low vision. Braille overlays should be available for visually impaired persons who use Braille. The marking area on the ballot should not be so small, nor the marking process be required to be so pinpoint accurate and precise, that it will be difficult or impossible for a person with a vision impairment or motor limitation to mark their own ballot without fear that they have inadvertently spoiled the ballot. The "notched ballot" at times used in Ontario is viewed by some with vision disabilities to be insufficient. Where a voter requires another to mark their ballot for them and an oath is required for this to occur, please allow this to take place in a private area so people are not required to publicly disclose the reason they cannot vote without assistance.

Sign Language Interpreters:

While the Election Act is clear that people who are deaf may have a sign language interpreter present at the poll to assist them, we are very concerned that it also allows them to be refused a ballot "for the time being" if an interpreter is not available. We would like your assurances that interpreters will be available for all deaf voters and that no one will lose their right to vote because an interpreter is not available. You may wish to speak to the Ontario Association of the Deaf and the Canadian Hearing Society about the necessary arrangements to ensure that voters who are deaf can fully participate on a footing of equality.

Broadcast Announcements by Your Office

If you use television to broadcast advertisements of information regarding the electoral process, please make sure that the advertisements are presented in a manner which is fully accessible to all persons with disabilities. For example, please make sure that the advertisements are closed captioned. As well, to assist persons who are vision impaired or otherwise cannot read print, make sure that any text appearing on the screen is also read aloud during the advertisement.

We appreciate that these and other necessary steps for achieving a barrier-free democratic election will present you and your officials with some challenges, but we are confident that with enough advanced planning, Ontario can achieve a barrier-free election. The examples of barriers covered in this letter are neither new nor unforeseeable. We will be urging our members to contact their local Chief Returning Officers or your office prior to the election to follow up on these and other barriers that may arise. We understand that it does take time to make arrangements and hope that by alerting you to our concerns you can help to make this the most accessible election in Ontario history. Again, we must emphasize that this letter's example is not intended as a complete and exhaustive catalogue of issues that must be addressed.

Yours truly,

David Lepofsky,

cc: Premier Mike Harris
The Hon. Isabel Bassett,
Dalton McGuinty, MPP
Howard Hampton, MPP
Gilles Morin, MPP
Dwight Duncan, MPP
Frances Lankin, MPP
Marion Boyd, MPP


Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee
c/o Marg Thomas
1929 Bayview Avenue, Toronto ON M4G 3E8
Tel: (ODA Committee Voice Mail) 416-480-7012
Tel: (Voice direct) 416-480-7686
Fax: 416-480-7014
email: thomasm@east.cnib.ca
TTY: Care of Susan Main 416 964-0023 ex. 343

May 25, 1999

Warren R. Baillie
Chief Election Officer

51 Rolark Drive
Scarborough, Ont. M1R 3B1
Fax: 326-6200

Dear Mr. Baillie,

On April 6, 1999 we wrote to you requesting that you take whatever action was necessary to ensure that there are no barriers to impede people with disabilities from fully participating in this election. In that letter we pointed out that there are at least one and a half million people with disabilities, most of whom are of voting age. We have not received a response to that letter, although we did see comments you made on some of our concerns reported in the media.

In the last election, Mike Harris promised that, if elected, he would pass an Ontarians with Disabilities Act in his first term. This did not happen and as a consequence people are continuing to face barriers in Ontario, including the election process.

Since the election was called people with disabilities are reporting to us about barriers they are encountering when they try to participate in the electoral process. We would like to bring to your attention some examples of those that are within your jurisdiction and ask that you take steps immediately to eliminate them and to address those matters addressed in our April 6 letter which have not yet been dealt with.

Elections Ontario television advertisements about the voter's list.

As you know, there are serious problems with the accuracy of the voter's list. The television ad that you are running asks people to call or contact Elections Ontario if they have questions. This ad is not accessible to people who are vision-impaired or who otherwise cannot read print. The ad asks people to phone a number or go to a web site, but the actual phone number and web site are simply flashed on the screen, not read aloud. It would have been easy to incorporate the voice over into the ad. Many people who are vision-impaired or who otherwise cannot read print use television as a way of getting news, information and entertainment. All Ontarians should be able to benefit from advertisements run by Elections Ontario, paid for by taxpayer dollars.

Advertising the location of advance polls.

We have been told that newspaper advertisements are used to tell people where and when advance polls will be held. This information is not available in any easily obtainable alternative format, creating a barrier for people who are vision-impaired or otherwise cannot read print. There have been difficulties with directions to the polling location and with polling stations not chosen for ease of access to public transportation. Ballots.

We have received complaints about the ballots used. Firstly, there are no large-print ballots available to people who are vision-impaired. One of our members was told that the ballots were using 16 pt type which is larger than usual. However, this is not sufficient for many people with low vision.

Secondly, one voter has contacted us about a problem using the template to vote. He reported that he asked to use the template, despite being discouraged from doing so. When he did use it, he found that it was difficult to use, unlike the federal templates, and that the poll officials were unable to give proper instructions on how to fold the ballot.

Telephone access for deaf, deafened and hard-of-hearing persons to the Returning Offices.

We did a survey of Returning Offices in Toronto. Not one of them had a TTY phone to allow people who are deaf, deafened or hard-of-hearing to call the Returning Office for information about the election. Again, given the serious problems with the voter's list, the new rules and new ridings, it is critical that information be made available to everyone. The lack of a TTY phone means that people who are deaf, deafened or hard-of-hearing face barriers in finding out whether they are on the voter's list, where to vote and when to vote.

Sign interpreters for people who are deaf.

We have been informed that voters who are deaf were told that if they required sign language interpreter services they would be required to hire and pay for their own interpreter service. This is of particular concern in view of the difficulties with the voter's list which increases the need for extended conversations with voting officials before a person is able to vote.

It is disturbing to us that people with disabilities have already faced barriers when they have tried to get information about voting or actually tried to vote in the advance polls. With only 9 days left in the election period it is imperative that you act immediately to ensure that people with disabilities are given access to the same information as all other voters and that voting procedures are modified where necessary to ensure that they are fully accessible to people with disabilities.

In an election in which people with disabilities are making choices about the candidates they will vote for on the basis of their commitment to barrier-removal, it is cruelly ironic that those same barriers may keep them from exercising their democratic rights.

Could you please let us know as soon as possible what changes you are making to ensure this is a barrier-free election.

Yours truly,

David Lepofsky,

cc: Mike Harris, MPP
Dalton McGuinty, MPP
Howard Hampton, MPP


Officer of the Assembly and Chief Election Officer

David Lepofsky
Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee
1929 Bayview Avenue
Toronto, ON

July 20, 1999

Please refer to your five page letter to me dated 6 April last. The volume of correspondence received before, during and following the election delayed an earlier reply to your letter containing some 23 different points.

You wrote on behalf of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee, a group working towards the enactment of a strong and effective Ontarians with Disabilities Act. Moreover, in the second and third paragraphs of your letter you wrote

"( ... ) The democratic electoral process is but one vital area of life where we have faced too many barriers in the past.

We are writing to ask for your commitment to ensure that you and your officials across Ontario will do whatever they can to remove the barriers that might impede voters with disabilities from participating in the election, and to ensure that new barriers are not now created.

We are aware of the provisions of the Elections Act which make specific reference to the accommodation of persons with disabilities. While these may help somewhat in working toward a barrier free election, they are not sufficient.

You then proceeded to formally request that I take specific steps relating to making the following barrier free. I summarize the main points below:

1. The process of collecting information by enumeration;

2. The process for confirmation and addition of names to the register;

3. The process of communicating by telephone and TTY;

4. The process for identification used by disabled electors;

5. The provision of information and official forms in alternative format such as braille, large type, audio cassette and electronic format;

6. The provision of fully accessible web sites to persons with disabilities;

7. The provision of TTY in all returning offices;

8. The provision of proxy voting information in alternative formats for widespread public distribution through local organizations of persons with disabilities;

9. The provision of specific instructions to returning officers concerning the disabled and proxy voting;

10. Consultation with persons with disabilities or their organizations concerning the location of accessible polling places. You included for accessibility review, entry doors, ramps, parking areas, voting booths, tables, signage and lighting;

11. The provision of ballots in large type, braille overlays for ballots, more space on ballots for marking them, and privacy for voting transactions;

12. The assurance sign language interpreters shall be available for all deaf voters and that no one will lose their right to vote because an interpreter is not available; and

13. The provision of broadcast information in fully accessible formats.

This summary of points is not completely inclusive but I think it adequately presents your main points.

May I, with respect, point out to you that your letter requested actions that require sober detached study and research at the very least. A thorough review and perhaps amendment of legislation, regulations, policy, training manuals, official forms and advertising programmes is essential to address the points raised in your letter. But your letter clearly asked for implementation for the expected election. I think your request was extremely extensive and that the time available precluded the resolution of many of the issues raised prior to the then pending election.

These concerns should have been raised immediately following the 1995 election. To raise these points on the eve of an election was tantamount to precluding the resolution and discussion of any perceived problems.

Moreover, on April 6 all the required equipment for the expected election, including forms, had been ordered and received. The training process for returning officers was in place with completed returning officers manuals. The training schedule for returning officers was in place. The advertising plan had been implemented. You shall remember the election was called on May 6 last. Through April, my office was on election alert. This, in my view, was not an appropriate time to attempt resolution of the concerns raised in your letter.

Furthermore, my office was addressing significant changes in electoral law. The time frame for the election was reduced to 28 clear days. A register of electors was introduced. And the number of electoral districts was reduced to 103. These changes imposed on my office logistical difficulties demanding focused attention and considerable dedicated time allocations.

In these circumstances I concluded it was not possible to appropriately address your concerns and decided to defer the issues concerned for later discussion following the election. In the last paragraph of your letter you acknowledge the challenges the position you presented posed and the fact "it takes time to make arrangements."

Meanwhile, the following overview of the Election Act provisions concerning my appointment, duties and powers as well as provisions of the Election Act that assist voters with disabilities was prepared for inclusion in this written response to your letter.

Before that response was ready the election had been called. Subsequently, your second letter dated 25 May arrived followed on 14 June by a letter from your organization's legal counsel, Patricia Bregman. Moreover I was informed you criticized my office in the press for not responding to your letter or implementing your suggestions. Please correct me if my information about the press coverage is incorrect.

I did not agree with some points made in your April 6 letter. As a matter of fact, I did not think many of the points raised had merit. Let me provide the cited overview of the Election Act and the policy and procedures employed for elections under that Act which addresses relevant issues with some comment to clarify the present and extant electoral law and practice.

The Election Act

The Acts of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario that governs the conduct of Ontario provincial elections is the Election Act and the Election Finances Act. This discussion focuses on the Election Act.

The Chief Election Officer is responsible for the administration of the Election Act. He or she is appointed by the Lieutenant Governor in Council on the address of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. He or she is appointed as an officer of the Legislative Assembly and reports through the Speaker to the Legislative Assembly. Sections 4 of the Election Act refers. The Chief Electoral Officer subscribes an Oath of Office and Oath of Allegiance that requires he or she uphold, enforce and administer the Election Act.

The Chief Electoral Officer cannot alter, amend or change any provision on the Election Act. That right and power is reserved to elected members of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. The Chief Electoral Officer under sub-section 4(7) of the Election Act may make appointments or give direction as he or she considers proper in certain situations for which no provision is made in the Election Act. The situations enumerated in the Election Act include mistake, miscalculation, emergency or unusual or unforeseen circumstance. The subsection provides for deficiencies in the Election Act in serious contexts only and the Chief Electoral Officer uses this subsection prudently and with reasonable foresight. The subsection is not used to rewrite the statute when the intent of the legislature is clearly expressed in the statute.


The Election Act discusses accessibility in the following subsections:

1. Subsection 13 (3) of the Election Act provides that a poll "shall so far as is reasonable possible give access to wheelchairs".

2. Subsection 14 (1) of the Election Act requires that polling places shall be provided in institutions including hospitals, psychiatric facilities, homes for the aged, nursing homes or other institution with 20 or more beds or more for persons who are disabled. In retirement homes, the number of beds required for establishing a polling place is 50.

3. Subsection 44 (2) requires returning officers shall select advance poll locations which give access to wheelchairs. This includes the returning officer's office which is an advance poll location.

4. Subsection 46 (4) prescribes a ballot box may be moved to facilitate voting by elderly and disabled electors.

Ballots Sections 33 to 36 of the Election Act discusses ballot paper and ballots.

1. The ballot is reverse printed so that circular spaces, numbers, names of candidates and required other information appears in the natural colour of the ballot paper and the remainder of the ballot shall be black. Subsection 34 (4) refers.

2. Subsection 4(9) requires the Chief Electoral Officer shall prescribe forms for use under the Election Act. The Chief Electoral Officer has prescribed the notching of ballots to assist visually impaired and blind electors. All ballots prepared for use at elections are so notched at the right top of the face of the ballot and further notched on the right side of the face of the ballot next to each candidate's name.

* See the attachment for details.

Please note the nomination of candidates ends at 2 p.m. on the 14th day before polling day (s.s. 9 (a) and 27 (1) and the first advance poll opens in the returning officer's office provided the ballots have been printed on the 12th day before polling day. The time between 2 p.m. on the 14th day before polling and 10 a.m. on the 12th day before polling day is 44 hours. Moreover, these ballots must be printed, proofed and distributed.

In the recent election, there were 568 candidates contesting the election in 103 electoral districts. In addition to advance polls there were 20, 652 regular polling places on polling day. The logistics involved in correctly printing, proofing and distributing ballots requires precision, speed and accuracy.

It is also important to note that s.s. 34(1) requires all ballots shall be of the same description and as nearly alike as possible. For this reason, printing guidelines are prepared and distributed to many printing firms in Ontario to achieve the required uniformity. In the last election 103 printing firms were involved in ballot preparation. This work requires technical precision in a constrained time frame. All printers prepared notched ballots and templates for them for use by visually challenged or blind voters.

These established procedures cannot be changed arbitrarily or hastily or without reasonable foresight.

Proxy Voting

The Election Act at s. 17 permits "An elector who has reason to believe that he or she will, for any reason, be unable to vote at the advance poll or on polling day may apply in writing to vote by proxy and appoint some other elector in the electoral district to vote for him or her at the election".

Disabled electors may opt to vote by proxy for any reason if they have reason to believe they shall be unable to vote at advance polls or on polling day. The generality of the provision permits a variety and array of specific applications including voting by proxy by a broad range of persons with different disabilities.

Advance Polls

Subsection 44(1) says that for the purpose of receiving the votes of electors who expect to be unable to vote on polling day ( ... ) advance polls shall be open at an office of the returning officer, provided the ballots have been printed, on the 12th, 10th, and 9th days before polling day; and at an office of the returning officer and at designated other locations on the 8th, 7th, and 6th days before polling day. There are 6 advance poll days in multiple locations in every electoral district. Disabled electors may opt to vote at advance pols. Advance poll locations must always be accessible places.

Disabled Electors at the Poll

Section 55 of the Election Act provides for specific assistance to disabled electors at the polls. Any person unable to read or disabled may receive the assistance of deputy returning officers with voting after subscribing the required oath or affirmation. In fact the ballot may be marked for the elector by the deputy returning officer as the elector directs.

A second option is for the elector accompanied by a friend to ask the friend to assist in the same manner as the deputy returning officer would, provided the required oath or affirmation and declaration are subscribed.

Thus any disabled elector may enlist the assistance of an official or a friend at any advance poll or on polling day.

Interpreter at the Poll

Electors have the right to the assistance of an interpreter who may translate as required if there are language or hearing difficulties. See s.56 of the Election Act. If an interpreter cannot be found, the elector may be refused a ballot. This section requires careful scrutiny.

A requirement is not imposed by section 56 on electoral officials to hire and compensate interpreters for every polling station for all the hours a poll is open. In fact this provision in extending this right to electors does not preclude the opportunity of bringing a person to the polls to interpret for them as necessary on a voluntary free basis. This has been the accepted practice for many years when there are language difficulties. Put another way, the language or hearing challenged elector has a right to the assistance of an interpreter just as a disabled elector has he right to the assistance of a friend.

In my experience no one has ever been refused a ballot in Ontario because of language or hearing difficulties. The hearing impaired communicate through friends or in writing when and if problems arise and language difficulties are usually solved by friends or relatives who come to the polls with electors who do not speak French or English. Meanwhile officials at the polls are usually bilingual in French speaking areas of Ontario. In polling places where other languages are frequently spoken, every effort is made to hire officials skilled in the language concerned and English. In particular circumstances when required interpreters may be hired, deployed and compensated by officials.

An elector being refused a ballot is a situation that would only arise if the elector's right to vote is challenged by an official or a scrutineer for a candidate. In such rare cases documents, declarations and lawful questions may be put to the voter through an interpreter. The challenge provisions may be found is subsection 47 (3) of the Election Act. My office would compensate interpreters hired for these specific purposes.

Experience has taught over the administration of many electors that the assignment of interpreters to assist at polls is not usually necessary. Moreover, equity might require persons skilled in foreign languages and persons skilled in signing be equally deployed. Cost and logistics, as a result are significant factors. If one person is assigned and paid for each poll the cost for 20,000 polls on election day at modest rates of $100 and $150 a day would be respectively $2,000,000 and $3,000,000. If the interpreters present number 5 to 10 the costs could be as much as $15,000,000 to $30,000,000.

Logistically space would be needed for interpreters. This space would require furnishings and each station might have as many as 14 officials not counting revision agents or candidates scrutineers. The space and deployment requirements would affect the polling place dynamics and the conduct of the election. The historical experience with Ontario Elections indicates these problematic logistics and costs are unnecessary and the need for the widespread distribution of interpreters is not demonstrable. Moreover, the majority of hearing impaired persons and non-English speakers have never had problems voting. Some of them regard the deployment of paid interpreters as a great waste of public money.

The Returning Office

The Returning Office is always an accessible location. There the disabled may directly or with the assistance of friends or relatives complete the

1. Transactions concerning registration;
2. Transactions concerning transfer certificates;
3. Certificates to vote (there are five types);
4. Proxy voting transactions; and
5. Voting in Advance Polls

For the first four types of transactions a friend, relative or representative may visit the returning office and complete the transaction. The disabled person need not appear.

The policy manual issued to returning officers clearly explains these duties and accessibility requirements.

Yours truly,

Warren R. Bailie
Chief Election Officer

Attachment (1)

cc: Hon. Mike Harris, Premier
Dalton McGuinty, MPP
Howard Hampton, MPP
Dwight Duncan, MPP
Frances Lankin, MPP


July 21, 1999

David Lepofsky
Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee
1929 Bayview Avenue
Toronto, ON
M4G 3E8

Dear Mr. Lepofsky:

Re: 25 May 1999 Letter

I wish to comment on the issues raised in your 25 May 1999 letter. The tone of your letter suggest you are not making requests but demanding substantial changes in electoral law and practice as well as the policy of my Office. Although I think your letter is very confrontational nevertheless I shall respond to the points raised seriatim.

1. I am not involved in the development or enactment into law of an Ontarians with Disabilities Act. That is a matter for the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.

2. The promises Premier Mike Harris may or may not have made are not my concern. You will have to raise this issue with the Honourable Premier directly. I have noted your letters are copied to him as well as others.

3. I am not now prepared nor am I able to address the issues raised in your April 6 letter.

Many of them if implemented would require amendment of the Election Act or significant changes in electoral law and practice. I think these types of issues require deliberation over time, discussion with stakeholders and a sense of consequence.

4. The television advertising was repeated. The second advertisement, with sound over, ran from 29 May to 1 June while the first without sound over ran from 21 to 25 May. All television ads were closed captioned. Meanwhile Voice Print carried our advertisements, a large print Guide to Changes in the Election Act was widely available and audio tapes were prepared in association with CNIB on the electoral process. Finally, the same information was broadcast over all radio stations in the Province 4 times daily. These were broadcast at peak periods, viz. Morning Drive Time, Midday, Evening Drive Time and Evening Prime Time peak listening periods. My office expended more than $5,000,000 for advertising for the election. Hearing, reading, and visually impaired voters were considered in the advertising strategy and planning.

5. Advance poll locations cannot be broadcast. There is simply too much information for electronic media to process. This data must be narrowcast and not broadcast because of the localized data involved which provides specific location addresses for particular electoral districts. However, the information centre at Elections Ontario that had TTY provided the information if voters called, as did our other telephone lines in Headquarters and Returning Offices. Moreover, this information was widely available from political parties and candidates as well as the media.

6. Ballots must be uniformly printed according to law. Vision impaired voters may benefit from the provision of templates or the notched ballots if they choose to vote without assistance. Moreover, an official or friend may assist vision-impaired voters at advance polls and on Election Day. Finally proxy voting is available to vision impaired voters. I do not think further actions are reasonably required to remove barriers to voting for vision impaired voters. I have no comment on the complaint you received from one voter about templates and folding ballots. You have moved from the particular to the general in this comment, which I do not think is a logical progression.

7. Returning offices in Ontario did not have TTY telephones. When the election was called, telephone company installers were on strike. In some cases, returning officers waited one week for telephone installations. Meanwhile TTY resources were and are available at Elections Ontario. During the entire election only 25 TTY calls were received on the Elections Ontario TTY line. It is my opinion TTY lines are not required in returning offices as adequate service is available by TTY from Elections Ontario to address inquiries and disseminate information concerning all electoral districts.

A second option is available free of charge across Canada through Bell Telephone. The Bell Relay System assists hearing and speech impaired persons through trained Bell Telephone operators who use TTY resources to contact persons with regular telephone lines. Dialling 711 on TTY equipment accesses the service. Conversely, regular telephone users may reach TTY users by calling 1-800-855-0511. All Canadian telephone subscribers pay 13 cents a month, I am told, to cover the cost of this service. This system may be used for communication with returning offices. And returning offices may reach hearing and speech impaired voters through Bell Relay System by dialling 1-800-855-0511 to provide responses to questions posed.

My inquiries indicate TTY equipment is available from the Canadian Hearing Society. The equipment is not available from Bell Telephone. The equipment must be purchased and cannot be leased. The cost range is between $329 to $699 per set. The most expensive models permit the use of the handset on regular telephones while the cheaper model does not. For 103 returning offices the costs would be between $33,887 and $71,997. If TTY units were purchased for returning offices they would be used once every four years for approximately four weeks. The equipment would otherwise be in storage. Staffing costs would also accrue if TTY were used in local returning offices.

At present a business case has not been developed to support the expenditures needed because TTY users may call Elections Ontario or Bell Relay System to communicate effectively with returning offices. Additionally, the volume of TTY calls received by Elections Ontario was very low; only 25 calls in total during the election period.

8. Our policy with the provision of sign language interpreters is very clear. Voters with hearing and speech impairment may be assisted by a friend who accompany them to polling stations or returning offices on a voluntary basis. This has been the historical experience in previous electors.

Elections Ontario may hire, deploy and compensate sign language interpreters when required for effective communication with hearing impaired electors when necessary. The assignment, generally, of sign language interpreters to all polling places during all voting hours is not required or necessary. I attach a copy of a letter from a hearing impaired voter for your information on this very point.

The voting process is not the same in substance as the medical care process. The Eldridge case has no application in these circumstances, in my view and I oppose any attempts to interpret Eldridge so as to apply it to polling stations for the purposes of "effective communication" with hearing impaired electors. I think the provision of medical care and the election process are essentially different in substance and form. Moreover, the application of section 15 (1) of the Charter is subject of the principles of reasonable accommodation and reasonable limits. At page 96 of his decision Mr. Justice La Forest ordered "sign language interpreters will be provided where necessary for effective communication in the delivery of medical services." The provisions of the Ontario Elections Act respecting the provisions of sign interpreters to the hearing impaired was not considered by the Court.

9. I have little comment on your general statement that there have been difficulties with directions to and locations of 21,000 polling stations or ease of access to public transportation. I want to note, however, that under the most favourable circumstances, directions to polling locations are bound to pose difficulties for some electors and officials and that these difficulties are not exclusively limited to the disabled. I am not at all sure misdirection and mislocation respecting polls is entirely avoidable.

The last three paragraphs contain allegations without particular evidence to support them. Furthermore, you request actions that are not supported by the Election Act or electoral law and practice generally. Inter alia you

1. The disabled have faced barriers when attempting to obtain information about advance poll voting or when they actually tried to vote in advance polls. You give no particular information about the number of persons involved, the location, time, place or circumstances involved, or whether voting was accomplished;

2. It is imperative you act immediately to assure the disabled are given access to the same information as other voters and the procedures are modified to assure accessibility. I think information is available to the disabled and polls are accessible. I do not have the power under the statute to alter voting procedures;

3. No facilities are fully accessible to all disabled persons. Only reasonable accessibility is possible. You make unreasonable demands nine days before polling day that cannot be accommodated;

4. I reject your opinion that barriers prevent the disabled from voting. In earlier comments on the Elections Act I discussed accessibility and measures in the statute law which assist disabled voters to exercise their franchise;

5. At this time there are no further changes in procedures contemplated or possible, that are capable of addressing your demands.

In concluding this letter may I inform you of the following? Preparations for the June 3 general election began following the June 8, 1995 general election. Legislation enacted by the Legislative Assembly in 1998 altered the Election Act significantly. The time frame for elections was reduced to 28 clear days, a registration process was provided for and the number of electoral districts was reduced from 130 to 103 matching federal electoral districts in Ontario. These changes required subsequent changes in electoral policies, procedures, equipment, advertising and training programs. Your letter dated 6 April arrived after these preparations for the election were completed and in place. The election was called on May 6 last.

In early 1999 a public information and communications program was implemented. This strategy included a "Special Interest Group Outreach". The target groups included seniors, literacy groups, visually impaired groups and physically challenged groups. Specifically the following were

1. Older Adult Centre Association;

2. One Voice

3. Ontario Coalition of Senior Citizens' Organizations;

4. Women and Seniors Centre of Hamilton-Wentworth;

5. Canadian Council for Multicultural and Intercultural Education;

6. Ontario Multicultural Association;

7. Access for New Canadians;

8. Canadian Hard of Hearing Association, Ontario;

9. Canadian Hearing Society;

10. Caption Resource Centre;

11. CNIB;

12. Low Vision Association of Ontario;

13. Voice Print;

14. Laubach Literacy;

15. Ontario Literacy Coalition;

16. London /Middlesex Literacy;

17. Dryden Literacy Association;

18. Literacy Ontario, Central South;

19. National Adult Literacy Database;

20. Advocacy Centre for the Elderly; and

21. Canadian Association of Retired Persons.

These and other groups were researched and contacted by telephone. The following materials were made available:

The Elections Ontario Voters Guide
The Elections Ontario large-print Voters Guide
An audio version of the Elections Ontario Voters Guide.
The Elections Ontario logo for web site links
A one-page summary document for fax and E-mail dissemination

Sixty groups in 14 special interest categories were contacted between January and June 1999 by the consultants hired to complete this project, Juniper Communications.

None of these groups raised barrier or accessibility issues. This project was a pro-active effort to explain changes in the Election Act before and during the election.

The requests and demands received from you were somewhat surprising issues arriving very late in the context of election logistics, planning and law.

Yours truly

Warren R. Bailie
Chief Election Officer

cc: Hon. Mike Harris, Premier
Dalton McGuinty, MPP
Howard Hampton, MPP


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