June 14, 1999
Monday, June 14th, 1999: For Immediate Release
Ontarians With Disabilities Act Committee
DISABILITY COALITION CALLS FOR
INVESTIGATION INTO BARRIERS FACING
VOTERS WITH DISABILITIES
Monday, June 14th, 1999: The Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee, a broad, non-partisan community coalition, has called for an investigation into the barriers which Ontarians with disabilities faced when they tried to vote in the June 3 Ontario election. Organized to advocate for the enactment of a new law to tear down barriers which face 1.5 million Ontarians with disabilities in all areas of life, this coalition wrote to Chief Election Officer, Warren Baillie, to raise this issue twice. The first time was before the election campaign began. A second letter was sent during the campaign. Baillie never answered their letters.
"We want a thorough investigation because it is frankly astonishing that people with disabilities had to face serious barriers to vote during this election which was ironically held during National Access Awareness Week", said Patti Bregman, legal counsel to the ODA Committee. "These barriers raise serious constitutional questions and should have been prevented, especially since we warned Elections Ontario and the party leaders about them well in advance of voting day."
Examples of barriers which voters with disabilities have reported to the ODA Committee include a refusal to provide sign language interpreter services, some inaccessible polling stations, and the inadequate accommodation of voters who were blind or vision impaired.
In a new letter to Warren Baillie (see below), the ODA Committee has emphasized the need for prompt action. In this past election, the Committee and many people with disabilities were active in raising disability issues, and in trying to get the disability vote out.
"It is a cruel irony that voters with disabilities wanted to have their say at the polls in light of Premier Harris' broken 1995 election promise to pass a new law to tear down the barriers they face in all aspects of life. Yet, the very fact that that law was never passed made it predictable that the 1999 election would be full of barriers. Our call for a barrier-free election appears not to have been taken seriously. We want to find out why, and to make sure that this never happens again," said Bregman.
Contact: Patti Bregman (416) 482-8255 ex. 222
Letter to Chief Election Officer
40 Orchard View Blvd, Suite 255
Toronto, ON M4R 1B9
June 14, 1999
Warren R. Baillie
Chief Election Officer
51 Rolark Drive
Scarborough, ON M1R 3B1
By Fax: 326-6200 and mail
Dear Mr. Baillie,
We are writing as legal counsel on behalf of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee.
As you know on April 6, 1999 David Lepofsky, chair of the ODA Committee, wrote to you asking for your assistance in ensuring a barrier-free election for 1.5 million Ontarians with disabilities, most of whom are eligible voters. Mr. Lepofsky wrote to you on May 25, 1999 to raise concerns about some of the barriers that people with disabilities had already encountered in the election campaign leading up to the June 3 election. You have not yet responded to either of those two letters.
As it turns out, people with a variety of disabilities did in fact encounter significant barriers during this election. Among the barriers that we have heard about are 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 is not an exhaustive list of the barriers that were actually encountered during this past election, but just a sample of some of the problems confronting people with disabilities as they tried to participate in the election process. The very fact that these barriers exist in Ontario in 1999 is unacceptable to people with disabilities and should be unacceptable to your office.
We are very concerned that even after Mr. Lepofsky's letter to you dated April 6, 1999, a full month before the election was called, this election fell far short of the goal of a barrier-free election. This has left a cloud over this election. We are asking that there be a full and objective investigation of the barriers facing people with disabilities during this election, not only those created by your own policies and practices, but barriers which were created at the local level by poor planning or a failure to appropriately accommodate a voter with a disability. The investigation should also look at any policies that created barriers. The investigation should ascertain which barriers are inherent in the Election Act itself. The investigation should offer recommendations on how to ensure that this never happens again.
We hope that you will recommend to the Government that they move quickly on a strong and effective Ontarians with Disabilities Act that would remove these barriers and prevent new ones from being created.
This is a very serious matter as it infringes on the citizenship rights of people with disabilities, which are fundamental to our very system of government. The fact that there were such barriers in an election bears on the very results of the election itself, whose outcome was quite close in a number of ridings.
We hope and trust you will support our call for this investigation, and that the investigation will be announced immediately. We would be pleased to do whatever we can to help this be successful, in order to ensure that Ontario's next election will in fact be barrier-free for Ontarians with disabilities.
CC: Premier Mike Harris
Dalton McGuinty, MPP
Howard Hampton, MPP
Frances Lankin, MPP
Dwight Duncan, MPP
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