Ontario Human rights Reform - A call to Action

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

ATTORNEY GENERAL SCHEDULES AND THEN CANCELS MEETING WITH AODA ALLIANCE DELEGATION
May 12, 2006

SUMMARY
This week, Attorney General Michael Bryant’s office contacted the AODA Alliance to meet to discuss Bill 107. His office confirmed the meeting for this upcoming Monday, May 15, 2006. After this, his office said it wanted to call off the meeting, because the AODA Alliance couldn’t include the entire AODA Alliance Board. The AODA Alliance has written the Attorney General to ask that the meeting go ahead on Monday, May 15, 2006 as scheduled. See that letter below.
As the AODA Alliance letter explains, it is especially important that the meeting go ahead that day. This is because since the we learned from the opposition that the Government plans to rush ahead next Wednesday, May 17, 2006 at 3:30 p.m. at the Legislature with a second day of Second Reading debates on Bill 107, its proposed law to weaken the Human rights Commission. We hope the Attorney General will meet with us on May 15.

c/o The Canadian Hearing Society
271 Spadina Road
Toronto, Ontario M5R 2V3
www.aodaallaince.org


May 12, 2006
To: The Hon. Michael Bryant, Attorney General of Ontario
11th Floor
720 Bay Street
Toronto Ontario M5G 2K1


Dear Sir,

Re: Bill 107 Proposed New Law to Weaken Ontario Human Rights Commission

We are writing to ask you not to cancel the Monday, May 15, 2006 Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance’s meeting with you that your office confirmed earlier this week, and that your policy advisor told us yesterday he is canceling.

Earlier this week, after your Government had brought Bill 107 forward to complete its first day of Second Reading debates in the Legislature, your office contacted me to schedule a meeting with a delegation from the AODA Alliance to discuss this bill. Your office scheduler agreed that you were available on Monday, May 15, 2006 at noon. We accepted that date.

Our delegation of volunteers immediately rushed to prepare for this important meeting.

I then received a call yesterday afternoon from your policy advisor, Mr. Douglas Sanderson. He said he was canceling the upcoming meeting because we had not arranged to have our entire 16-person volunteer board attend the meeting with you. He said the Minister would be prepared to meet on a future date with our entire board. I explained to your scheduler that it was important that our meeting proceed as scheduled, and that we had designated an approved delegation to attend the meeting with you.

I explained that there were real practical difficulties in arranging for all our volunteer board members to attend the meeting. They live in various parts of Ontario. They have varying disabilities, which in some cases require accommodations to arrange to transport them to the meeting. Mr. Sanderson didn’t suggest that you were unavailable to meet with us at the scheduled time, a time your scheduler had earlier proposed and approved.

We called Mr. Sanderson back to discuss this further shortly after he contacted me. However our voice mail message to him has not been answered.

Minister, it is very important that our delegation meet with you this Monday. We have learned from the opposition that you are pressing ahead with the second day of Second Reading debate next Wednesday, May 17, 2006. Second Reading debates began a mere 12 days after you introduced Bill 107 for First Reading, and we and the public first got to see the details of your substantial proposed changes to the human rights system.
Neither we, nor our predecessor coalition, nor our members have ever before had the Ontario Government or stipulate that a minister will not meet with a community organization about an important public policy issue unless its entire volunteer board attends the meeting. It seems unlikely that your office has imposed a similar precondition on any of the other stake-holders that you meet to discuss Bill 107, i.e. that you won’t meet with them unless their entire board attends.

On April 10, 2006 you had one previous meeting with a delegation from our Alliance. Your office didn’t require that that meeting include all 16 volunteer members of our board. Right afterwards, on the floor of the Legislature, you described that meeting as “very positive”, and that you had “a very good meeting” and “a very good discussion” with us. I am confident that you don’t cancel Monday’s meeting, you will have the same experience.

I can assure you that our delegation will be sufficiently knowledgeable, qualified and authorized to speak for us. While we are finalizing our contingent, among our delegation will be myself, who has been elected the Alliance chair, and Mr. David Lepofsky. As you know, Mr. Lepofsky is the former chair of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee. He was awarded the Order of Canada for his advocacy on disability human rights issues, and has been commended by Premier McGuinty and other members of your caucus on the floor of the Legislature for his volunteer efforts in this area.

To require our entire board to attend is to place an unfair barrier in the way of our having a fair opportunity for input. Given the limited time that you will have at the meeting (our last meeting with you was about 30 minutes), even if all 16 of our board members came from various parts of Ontario to your office, it wouldn’t be practical for each board member to do much more than introduce themselves in the time allotted.

It is very important that we get to speak with you before the resumption of Second Reading debates on May 17, 2006. Among other things, we want to address several of your Government’s statements on First Reading and on the first day of Second Reading debates on Bill 107. We also want to discuss and give input regarding the process for province-wide public hearings on Bill 107 to which you have committed.

We are concerned that your Government is rushing ahead with legislative proceedings on this bill without affording the broader community sufficient time to analyze its complicated terms and to formulate their detailed responses. We are troubled by rumours that your Government may plan to rush public hearings in June.

It will be essential for your Government to give the public until at least early July before public hearings on the bill commences, and to community groups sufficient prior notice of those hearings so that they can prepare and arrange to attend. Community organizations cannot be expected to marshal scarce resources, (often having to draw on volunteer assistance), to analyze such complex proposed new legislation, to consult with their membership to formulate a brief, and to get their board approval, without having at least four to six weeks lead time.

We were also troubled that your office only gave us some 24 hours’ notice of Bill 107 being brought forward for First Reading. At our April 10, 2006 meeting with you, you had agreed to our request to give us at least two days’ notice of First Reading. The difference between two days and one day’s notice is critical to us. People with disabilities requiring accessible public transit can’t be assured that they can book those scarce transit services with the notice your office gave.

In 2003, when your Government brought forward Bill 118, the proposed Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, your Government properly honoured our request that the public be given enough lead time and fair notice before public hearings were held. Bill 118 didn’t go to public hearings until over three months after it received First Reading, and almost two months after it passed Second Reading.

While in opposition in 2001, your party was properly critical of the previous Harris Government when it rushed public hearings on Bill 125, the proposed Ontarians with Disabilities Act and when it only gave as little as one day’s notice to persons with disabilities of important legislative proceedings on that bill. That practice was properly condemned as creating unfair barriers in the paths of persons with disabilities.

Please let us know as soon as possible whether you are prepared to go ahead with this Monday’s meeting that your office had scheduled. It would be very helpful to know this today so our volunteers can know whether to be available for Monday. We also hope that we will have more opportunities to meeting with you because of the importance and complexity of this bill.

Sincerely,

Catherine Dunphy, Chair, AODA Alliance


cc: Via facsimile The Hon. Premier Dalton McGuinty (416) 325-3745
Madeleine Meilleur, Minister Responsible for the AODA (416) 325-1498
Dwight Duncan, House Leader (416) 325-7755
Barbara Hall, Chief Commissioner, Ontario Human Rights Commission (416) 314-7752
John Tory, Leader of the Official Opposition (416) 325-0491
Howard Hampton, Leader of the New Democratic Party (416) 325-8222