Below is an excerpt from MP Hehr speaking in the House of Commons about the Accessible Canada Act (C-81):
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Saint-Laurent.
It is an honour and a privilege to rise in this House to discuss the important issue of accessibility and how our government is addressing the systemic barriers in our society through the proposed accessible Canada act.
As a Liberal, I tend to view public policy through the lens of equality of opportunity. Government policy should level the playing field for individuals and groups in society. For instance, whether one is born of a rich family or one that struggles, one should have every opportunity to succeed. In order for this to happen, there needs to be a role for government. Public health care, public education, and student loans and grants all contribute to ensuring that this basic premise is achieved. However, if we look at the unique challenges faced by Canadians with disabilities, the promise of equality of opportunity has fallen short thus far.
I know first-hand of these challenges and barriers that hinder full inclusion for Canadians with disabilities. On October 3, 1991, my life changed forever. I was a victim of a random act of gun violence and became a C5 quadriplegic. Overnight, things I never thought twice about became significant challenges in my day-to-day life: finding a home that I could physically enter, accessing caregivers simply to get out of bed in the morning, navigating university, accessing technology or even just trying to find employment that would accommodate my unique needs. Clearly, and in no uncertain terms, things I took for granted became more difficult.
My case is not unique. Fourteen per cent of Canadians are living with a disability. That is one in seven. These Canadians face significant and unique challenges solely because they have a disability. A recent study conducted by Statistics Canada found that Canadians with disabilities are significantly less likely to be high school or university graduates and are two times more likely to be unemployed or not in the labour force. Canadians with disabilities also face income challenges. Among Canadians with a disability, one in four is low-income compared to one in 10 for the general population.
Our government knows that everyone has something important to contribute to one’s community and to Canada, and this includes those in this country with disabilities. They just need the playing field to be levelled. Our government is following through on our mandate promise made by the Prime Minister to develop and introduce new accessibility legislation. We have developed legislation that is ambitious and that would lead to more consistent experiences of accessibility across Canada.
The proposed legislation is founded on six key principles: inherent dignity, equal opportunity, barrier-free government, economy, inclusive design and meaningful involvement. Let me be clear. We are taking a whole-of-government approach to the issue of furthering accessibility in this country. From our national housing strategy to the Elections Act to embracing visitability, we are enacting legislation that brings real change for Canadians with disabilities.
With the tabling of Bill C-81, the accessible Canada act, we are showing Canadians that we are serious about creating an accessible Canada. To inform the development of this new bill, our government conducted the largest and most accessible consultation on disability issues our country has ever seen. The consultation ran from June 2016 to February 2017. I am proud that more than 6,000 Canadians and over 90 organizations participated across the country.
Over and over again, we heard from Canadians that this legislation would need strong measures, with teeth, to make sure that it gets the job done. We listened, and we have a plan to make sure that accessibility is a priority for all areas under federal jurisdiction. Our government has tabled legislation that will ensure co-operation between the Government of Canada, people with disabilities and other stakeholders to create new accessibility standards and requirements.
As my colleagues have described, these new requirements would apply to all organizations in federal jurisdiction. These new requirements would identify and remove existing barriers and prevent new ones in priority areas, such as the built environment, service delivery, employment, transportation, information and communication technologies, and the procurement of goods and services.
We heard in our accessible Canada consultations that Canadians want legislation with enforcement. That is why our bill proposes measures to ensure meaningful and lasting change when it comes to barriers to accessibility. We want to make sure accessibility is practical, convenient and second nature.
We know that Canadians expect a range of strong compliance and enforcement measures that would be applied progressively. Our bill ensures that these measures would be supported by technical knowledge and progressive enforcement. This includes inspections and audits to verify compliance and a progressive suite of tools, including orders and warnings, compliance audits and monetary penalties of up to $250,000.
Our government knows that it is impossible to address all barriers to accessibility at once. That is why we would also ensure that there are mechanisms for individuals to have their specific circumstances addressed and barriers to accessibility removed.
In addition to the existing Canadian human rights process that responds to discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act, individuals would have the ability to bring forward cases of non-compliance with regulated standards under this new legislation. They could get redress for harm done to them, which could include reimbursement of expenses and lost wages or compensation for pain and suffering.
This bill represents a real transformation of the Government of Canada’s approach to accessibility. Up until this point, the responsibility for fixing accessibility issues has rested on people with disabilities, who had to pursue action through the Canadian Human Right Commission and the courts.
I am happy to say that Bill C-81 is changing that. No longer would Canadians with disabilities be expected to fix the system by themselves. Instead, these new proactive compliance and enforcement measures would help ensure that organizations under federal jurisdiction are held accountable for removing barriers and improving accessibility.
I believe strongly that this initiative, with its combination of encouragement and enforcement, would increase inclusion and fairness in our country. It would set the bar and become a model for organizations all over Canada and across the globe. If passed, this law would also ensure uniformity and fairness in its application.
This is why this legislation is receiving such widespread support. With this legislation we are continuing the march of progress for people with disabilities. It would lead to a more inclusive Canada and a more fair Canada, a place where equality of opportunity exists for people with disabilities in this country, a Canada where people with disabilities can reach their individual potential and be recognized as valued citizens.
Want to stay up to date? Sign up for email updates from Kent below: