ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE UPDATE

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ONE WEEK LEFT TO ADVOCATE FOR ACCESSIBLE TELEPHONE AND INTERNET VOTING BEFORE STANDING COMMITTEE FINISHES CLAUSE-BY-CLAUSE REVIEW OF BILL 231 - MCGUINTY GOVERNMENT USES MAJORITY ON STANDING COMMITTEE TO DEFEAT MOST OPPOSITION AMENDMENTS PROPOSED TO ENSURE FULLY ACCESSIBLE ELECTIONS FOR VOTERS WITH DISABILITIES

April 15, 2010

SUMMARY

On Wednesday, April 14, 2010, the Legislature’s Standing Committee on the Legislative Assembly debated and voted on some of the amendments to Bill 231 that the three parties proposed. Bill 231 is the McGuinty Government’s proposed legislation to modernize elections in Ontario. The vast majority of amendments discussed were aimed at making elections accessible for voters with disabilities.

The Liberal majority on the Standing Committee systematically passed several amendments that the Government was proposing, and defeated almost all of the stronger amendments that the opposition Conservatives and NDP presented.

Because the Standing Committee did not finish its review of all the proposed amendments, we have one more week to advocate for approval of telephone voting and internet voting, to make elections in Ontario truly accessible for voters with disabilities. The Conservatives and NDP amendments would permit this, while the Liberal amendments would forbid it. (See discussion below.)

Our campaign for fully accessible elections has won more media coverage, and a question in Question Period on the floor of the Legislature (see below).

MORE DETAILS

1. COME TO THE FINAL ROUND OF STANDING COMMITTEE CLAUSE-BY-CLAUSE DEBATES ON BILL 231

On April 14, 2010, several voters with disabilities were present at the Legislature to monitor the proceedings. They buttonholed MPPs during breaks, to advocate for the bill to be strengthened.

The Standing Committee did not get through all or even most of the amendments that the three parties had tabled for discussion. The Standing Committee will resume its debates on these amendments on Wednesday, April 21, 2010 from noon to 3 pm, at the Legislature in Room 151. It is important for voters with disabilities to again be present to monitor these proceedings and show our concern for these issues. It's expected that the Standing Committee will finish its review of the bill at that time.

2. ONE MORE WEEK TO WIN AN IMPORTANT MEANS TO MAKE ELECTIONS TRULY ACCESSIBLE TO VOTERS WITH DISABILITIES

On April 14, 2010, the Standing Committee agreed to defer to next Wednesday’s meeting, the issue of accessible telephone voting and internet voting. The Government has been strongly opposed to this adaptive technology, or even permitting it as an option. In contrast, the NDP and Conservative Parties have proposed amendments at our request that would remove from Bill 231 the ban on using that technology.

However, as a surprise to us all, Liberal MPP David Zimmer said at the April 14, 2010 Standing Committee meeting that the Government would be bringing forward some sort of new amendment to address this. The text of this proposed amendment has not yet been made public.

We are not completely clear on what Mr. Zimmer was describing. From what Mr. Zimmer said, this amendment may mandate Elections Ontario to explore this technology over the next years and report back to the Legislature on it, perhaps by 2015. From the tenor of what the Liberal MPPs said at the Standing Committee (which we cannot yet verify against the record of the Standing Committee meeting), it may remain necessary for voters with disabilities to later come back to the Legislature to get the Elections Act amended to allow for the use of telephone and internet voting, even if Elections Ontario’s study proves that that technology works. As now written, even after the amendments that were passed on April 14 in the Standing Committee, telephone and internet voting would be banned.

If this understanding of what Mr. Zimmer said is correct, we don’t think that such an amendment is good enough. It has taken 11 years of campaigning for accessible elections just to get Bill 231 before the Legislature. It is not fair to force voters with disabilities to have to fight again to get another piece of legislation passed to remove a legal barrier to the use of that technology that Bill 231 would create.

In the 2007 election, the McGuinty Government promised to review all Ontario legislation for barriers to disability accessibility. Here the Government is actually creating a legislative barrier to accessibility technology that would continue in force even if Elections Ontario’s study proves that it works.

We urge everyone to contact the Premier’s office now to insist that the Government put forward a much stronger amendment. Urge the Premier to lift the ban on adaptive technology that would let voters with disabilities have far more access to vote independently and in private, and to verify their choice. Urge the Government to set a legislative deadline when voters with disabilities should have this right fully honoured, and not only in one polling station per electoral riding. Urge the Government not to keep voting down amendments that would provide more accessibility than do the Government’s weaker amendments to Bill 231.

You can contact the Premier’s office at:
dmcguinty.mpp.co@liberal.ola.org
or by phone at:
(416) 325-1941

3. WHAT ELSE HAPPENED ON APRIL 14 2010 AT THE STANDING COMMITTEE MEETING

Here are some highlights. We will circulate the transcript of the first day of clause-by-clause debates on Bill 231 once it is made available. You can watch the entire Standing Committee proceedings replayed on the cable TV Ontario Legislature channel, some time on Friday April 16, 2010.

At this meeting, the NDP and Conservatives argued for far more extensive amendments to make elections accessible. In sharp contrast, the Liberals defended a minimalist package of amendments which take only very limited and inadequate steps. The Liberal amendments passed to date won’t ensure fully accessible elections.

While there are still many amendments to be voted on, the Government used its majority to defeat virtually all the amendments that the opposition Conservatives and NDP advanced on accessibility. For example, the Government defeated a proposed NDP amendment, put forward at our request, that the Elections Act require all-candidates debates to be accessible. Liberal MPP Greg Sorbara said that this legislation was not from the outset supposed to deal with candidates, except for election finances. We would respond that if it can deal with candidates’ finances, it can deal with all-candidates debates too. There is no reason why this bill could not be amended to require that all-candidates’ debates be accessible to voters with disabilities.

Liberal MPPs often gave no reasons why they were voting against the stronger opposition amendments.

The Government amendments passed so far make a limited effort at addressing the need for an enforceable right to fully-accessible polling stations. They passed an amendment that baldly says that all polling stations must be “accessible.” They impose no definition of accessibility, nor any mandatory criteria for accessibility. We must trust Elections Ontario to figure this out, despite their troubling track record for doing so in the past. The Chief Electoral Officer has told the Standing Committee on the Legislative Assembly that Elections Ontario is in effect still learning about accessibility. We need the Legislature to tell Elections Ontario what accessibility means in clear, strong and mandatory terms.

The Government amendments passed on April 14, 2010 partially adopt an idea we presented. They require Elections Ontario to make public intended polling station locations six months before an election, so persons with disabilities can give feedback in advance of voting day on any accessibility problems. Voters with disabilities will have one month to find this announcement on the internet and then give Elections Ontario their feedback on these proposed polling station venues.

This is a step forward. However, the amendment that the Government introduced and passed on April 14, 2010 does not require Elections Ontario to publicize intended polling locations in advance, beyond posting them on the Elections Ontario website. It doesn’t require Elections Ontario to act on the feedback it receives from persons with disabilities. It does not require Elections Ontario to give reasons, if an accessibility objection is raised but Elections Ontario does not act on it. It provides no appeal from any decision by Elections Ontario not to fix an accessibility problem that voters with disabilities identify.

As a general matter the guts of Bill 231, even with the Liberals’ amendments to date, boil down to “trust Elections Ontario.” Elections Ontario has given us no reason to believe that that is good enough.

4. MORE RECENT MEDIA COVERAGE

Despite other major news stories filling up newspapers and newscasts, our campaign to strengthen Bill 231 has received yet more coverage, including:

Also see below the news release we issued on April 14, 2010 on this issue.

5. CONSERVATIVES RAISE BILL 231 IN QUESTION PERIOD IN THE LEGISLATURE

Below we also set out the question that Conservative MPP Ted Chudleigh asked the Government in the Legislature’s Question Period on April 14, 2010. He focused on the Government’s not establishing the Disability Rights Secretariat at the Ontario Human Rights Commission that is required under Bill 107. He then raised Bill 231 election accessibility issues. You can judge the answers the Government gave.


Thursday April 15 2010 Toronto Sun online
News - Toronto & GTA

Disabled voters get a boost

By ANTONELLA ARTUSO, Queen's Park Bureau Chief

A Liberal-dominated government committee has taken “baby steps” to improve access to the ballot box for the disabled but a fully accessible voting system still remains far out of reach, an activist says.

David Lepofsky, chairman of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, said the committee reviewing Bill 231 passed an amendment Wednesday that calls for at least one special voting machine per riding that allows the disabled to vote.

The committee also made a broad commitment to accessible polling stations.

But Lepofsky said the committee rejected proposed amendments from the NDP and Conservative members that would have further strengthened the bill, whose purpose is to modernize elections.

“It was 11 years ago today that we had our first press conference on elections accessibility at Queen’s Park,” Lepofsky said. “And finally 11 years later we get these limited measures. And they’re telling us we have to go through this all over again?”

In particular, while the committee seems willing to study telephone and Internet voting — as the Alliance is requesting — the members are still ready to go ahead with a bill that bans both forms of voting, he said.

“They may study it but it will still be illegal to actually deploy it unless we come back to the legislature and go through all of this to try to get amendments passed,” Lepofsky said.

Liberal MPP Greg Sorbara told the committee Wednesday the government may run afoul of the Charter of Rights if it brings in telephone or Internet voting for one group in society. “We decided early on, and it remains the government’s policy, that as a general matter we are not moving from a system of voting with polling places and paper ballots and attending at a polling place ... that we were not going to move towards electronic voting,” Sorbara said.


View Magazine On-Line Edition
Vol. 16 No. 16 • April 15 - 21, 2010 Hamilton - Niagara's Independent Voice - Online Edition

Accessible Elections Urged For Disabled

by Willy Noiles
April 15 - 21, 2010

Eleven years after disability activists first called for fully accessible elections and three years after Ontario’s three main political parties called for an action plan to bring about fully accessible elections, MPPs are debating a bill that won’t get them any further ahead unless amendments are made. The Ontario government’s standing committee on the Legislative Assembly was scheduled to do a clause–by–clause vote on Bill 231 this week before returning the bill to the House for third reading.

David Lepofsky, chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, appeared before the standing committee two weeks ago calling for amendments to what is essentially a “toothless” piece of legislation. “Eleven years later, people with mobility disabilities continue to face the indignity of receiving a card from Elections Ontario saying their polling station is accessible but never knowing until they get there if it really will be…People like me who are blind still face the double indignity that we cannot mark our own ballot and verify that we marked it right. We have to rely instead on someone else to mark our ballot, hope they get it right, hope they don’t spoil it and hope they don’t tell anyone—compounded by the fact that we are asked to swear an oath that the government has created their barrier in our path just to get that accommodation.”

It’s estimated there are more than one million voters in Ontario with disabilities. Prior to the 2007 provincial election, the three parties promised to develop an action plan to make all facets of provincial and municipal elections fully accessible to voters with disabilities. Along comes the Dalton McGuinty government’s answer: the Election Statute Law Amendment Act, introduced by Attorney General Chris Bentley just prior to Christmas. But, as Lepofsky said, “Bill 231 will not fix those barriers to accessible elections now; it will not ensure accessible elections ever.”

Lepofsky may be blind, but he can still spot a flawed piece of legislation a mile away. In a 15–minute presentation, he thoroughly shredded the legislation. “What will it do? At first, it provides that Elections Ontario can do research and hold conferences. Great. We don’t need legislation for them to do research. They say they’ve been doing it for over seven years. And conferences—that’s great. We won’t be able to vote and they’ll have conferences.”

The Alliance and disabled voters in Toronto Centre are still fuming over a polling station that was moved to a basement room that could only be accessed by stairs during the recent by–election. Several voters had to leave behind wheelchairs, scooters and walkers to painfully struggle down the steps at St Joseph’s College School near Queen’s Park to cast their ballots. Since that time, Lepofsky and the Alliance have been trying to get an answer as to why this happened. They finally got it: “because a principal decided that a volleyball game was more important than basic democratic rights for voters with disabilities.”

One lesson they’ve learned from that debacle is not to simply trust Elections Ontario to get it right. And that’s why they’re sceptical about Bill 231—because it essentially says ‘Trust Elections Ontario.’ “We suggest that ‘Trust Elections Ontario,’ no matter how hard–working and sincere they are, is not enough.” Elections Ontario’s own accessibility report acknowledged that 44 per cent of disabled voters reported difficulties with voting compared to just eight per cent of able–bodied voters.

The legislation does state Elections Ontario may use accessible voting machines, but they’re not obligated to. If anything, Liberal MPP Greg Sorbara went after a presenter from the Canadian National Institute for the Blind about how these machines will cost millions of dollars. Elections Ontario has quoted $11,000 per machine. Yet, its Sorbara’s government’s own legislation that forbids the use of cheaper technology. Lepofsky said that instead of forcing people into such choices, they should be using technology already tried and available at a cheaper cost.

“Telephone voting would be cheaper, easier, more appealing to everybody. It can be done with security, safety and privacy and it would cost way less. But not only doesn’t this bill require it, not only doesn’t this bill permit it, it forbids it.”

Since then, McGuinty has expressed openness to new technology to improve access to voting provided it’s secure. “I just don’t think we’ve evolved as much as we could have when it comes to ensuring that people have access to technology to participate in the democratic process,” McGuinty told the Toronto Sun last week. “Every day billions of dollars slosh back and forth in the global economy. That’s money exchanged via technology. So I think that we should be able to do something a little bit more when it comes to exercising our democratic rights.”

It makes sense. Some blind voters insist telephone voting is the one voting method that doesn’t exclude. (Although one wonders if it doesn’t end up excluding the deaf.) If implemented, it also has the potential to increase voter turnout. If you can vote from any secure telephone, it would, at the very least, take away one of the poorest excuses often uttered by those who don’t vote—“I was too busy.”

The week before, the standing committee had heard from Barbara Hall, chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission who advised them that Elections Canada had recently been ordered by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal to pay a voter who faced barriers to a polling station $10,000 in damages. Lepofsky said if MPPs are going to get hung up on cost, they should look at “the cost of doing accessibility versus the cost of not doing accessibility,” adding, “Let’s not solve this by litigation; let’s solve it by strong and effective legislation.”

The Alliance is open to the idea of implementing fully accessible elections in two stages with some things to be accomplished by the 2011 election and others deferred until 2015. But one thing they’ve heard enough of is lines like the one Chief Electoral Officer Greg Essensa uttered:

“We at Elections Ontario are still learning about accessibility.”

That doesn’t fly with Lepofsky. “How many of you think there is more to learn about the fact that people in wheelchairs can’t go down stairs to vote? Is that a tough one? How about this: How much do we have to learn about the fact that if you can’t get through the door, you can’t get in? There are pretty basic things. It’s not rocket science. But they say they’re still learning.”

Instead of government MPPs worrying about cost, they should be focused on improving this legislation because as Lepofsky said, “once a person with a disability gets to a polling station and finds that they can’t get in, they can’t come back the day after the election and vote then. The election is over.”


The Toronto Star April 15, 2010
Editorial

End voting barriers to disabled; Disabled voters snubbed, Editorial April 12

There is absolutely no excuse for not ensuring that all election polling booths are physically accessible for people with disabilities. This is state- sanctioned discrimination and a violation of sections 3 and 15 in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Section 3 states: "Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein."

Section 15(2) states all citizens are entitled to "equal protection and benefit of the law . . . without discrimination based on . . . mental or physical disability."

Several years ago, a group of us social justice activists fought for and won the right to vote for incarcerated psychiatric patients and other prisoners. Looks like more political lobbying, a class-action Charter case, and/or public exposure of all schools, churches, and community centres where polling booths are still inaccessible are necessary again.

Don Weitz, Toronto

It is quite obvious that the writer of this editorial has no experience of voting as a disabled person. I started off requiring a walker to help with mobility and now use an electric wheelchair.

Regardless, at any location I have voted, staff members have always gone out of their way to help compensate for my disability, even to the point of bringing the ballot to me if the voting area was difficult for me to access.

Any time I was unable to get out to vote, I chose the mail-in voting option. I have never found it impossible to cast a ballot. If there is a will, there is a way.

Bernie Gotham, Oshawa


York Region April 14, 2010
www.yorkregion.com
Posted at: http://www.yorkregion.com/opinion/letters/article/800328

There should be no barriers to voting in Ontario

Bill 231, a series of amendments to the Election Act, is now before the legislature, but it is not enough to take into account the full needs of voters with disabilities.

Statistically the number with disabilities is a 1:7 ratio. Not one of us knows today if we will fit into this number be it from stroke, accident or worsening health. Let's act today for tomorrow.

There is reference to some new ways for people with disabilities to vote, but there is no guarantee of a secret ballot.

A secret ballot is the most basic of all democratic responsibilities and rights.

Why does Canada and Ontario not include people with disabilities in their thinking when making decisions as to voting sites?

In a Toronto by-election a couple of months ago, one determined voter had to leave his chair and grapple, with help, down a stairway to cast his ballot.

Others struggle to reach the ballot box or even be able to see the ballot and know where to place their mark.

Elections Ontario officials say they are trying to do better. Let us hope they follow the law as written.

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities 2005 (AODA) is law and under it are standards that are now law. Other standards are being worked on by committees.

The customer service standard is law and within this standard are provisions for picking locations that are fully accessible.

There is a need politically to follow this standard and choose sites that are truly accessible.

There are portable polling stations for nursing homes, hospitals and even prisons, so those who cannot get out to a polling station can vote.

Why not accommodate the people with disabilities in the same manner?

As chairperson of the accessibility advisory committee for Whitchurch-Stouffville, I know every provision is being made to accommodate people with disabilities so each site is accessible.

Our committee will be reviewing each of the sites to assure they meet the needs of people with disabilities.

I want to commend the town on its forward thinking and hope that the legislators are as forward thinking when they make the amendments to Bill 231.

Daily, people with disabilities face barriers often in getting where they need to go.

Let's not make the voting procedure one of the barriers.

Heather Andrews
Whitchurch-Stouffville


Accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities act alliance
Media advisory - for immediate release

ELEVEN YEARS AFTER ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES LAUNCHED CAMPAIGN FOR ACCESS TO VOTING, MPPs TO VOTE TODAY ON WHETHER ELECTIONS LEGISLATION WILL BE STRONG OR TOOTHESS FOR VOTERS WITH DISABILITIES

April 14, 2010 Toronto: Today, from noon to 3 pm, in Room 151 at the Ontario Legislative Building at Queen’s Park, Ontarians with disabilities will learn whether new legislation will ensure for them fully accessible elections so they can get into all polling stations, and mark their own ballot independently and in private. The Standing Committee on the Legislative Assembly will vote on amendments to Bill 231, the McGuinty Government’s proposed new law to modernize elections in Ontario, including addressing the barriers over one million voters with disabilities continue to face.

Voters with disabilities will be on hand in Room 151 to comment on the clause-by-clause debates, and on the very different packages of amendments that have been proposed by the Government and the opposition parties.

“Today we will discover which MPPs will vote for or against fully accessible elections for voters with disabilities”, said David Lepofsky, chair of the non-partisan Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance that is spearheading the campaign to get the weak Bill 231 strengthened. “It is powerfully symbolic that these crucial votes will be cast on the eleventh anniversary of our April 14, 1999 Queen’s Park news conference that kicked off our campaign for fully-accessible elections.”

At March 24 and 31, 2010 public hearings before this Standing Committee, there was overwhelming support from the public, including the disability community and the Ontario Human Rights Commission, calling for Bill 231 to be substantially strengthened to ensure that elections are fully accessible to all voters with disabilities. On April 12, 2010, the Toronto Star ran an editorial supporting the call for amendments such as telephone voting, which Bill 231 now forbids.

“If we can bank by phone in private with security, why can’t we also vote by phone”, said Lepofsky. “That would appeal to a great many voters, including those without disabilities. It is cheaper and easier than the less effective options that the Government seems wedded to.”

Contact: David Lepofsky aodafeedback@gmail.com

Extensive background to this issue available at: http://www.aodaalliance.org


Ontario Hansard April 14, 2010

QUESTION PERIOD

ACCESSIBILITY FOR THE DISABLED

Mr. Ted Chudleigh: My question is to the Attorney General. In 2007, Dalton McGuinty promised to create a disability rights secretariat. It is now 2010, and despite the legal requirement to do so, this secretariat does not exist. Ontarians with disabilities want to know: Why did you break yet another promise?

Hon. Christopher Bentley: To the minister responsible for disability issues.

Hon. Madeleine Meilleur: This is a very good question; however, I'm very proud of what the Ontario government has done with regard to accessibility. As you know, we passed a bill in 2005 with the unanimity of this House for us to make sure that by 2025, Ontario will be fully accessible. We have been working so hard for the past two years to develop standards in accessibility, and we're very proud to say that the accessibility standards are almost all completed-some of them need approval from cabinet-and will be in place, and Ontario will be a leader in Canada and in North America.

The Speaker (Hon. Steve Peters): Supplementary?

Mr. Ted Chudleigh: There's still no secretariat. Many people with a disability face barriers when trying to exercise a constitutionally protected right to vote in elections. Members of the disability community say that your Bill 231 will not address a number of these obstacles. The Premier says he is open to new technologies to assist disabled voters, but your legislation forbids these technologies and goes so far as creating barriers to the use of cost-effective voting equipment used in England and the United States. The disability community demands action. This afternoon, we will consider motions to amend Bill 231.

Will the McGuinty Liberals account for their promise to improve accessibility in our democratic processes and allow these new technologies to be used?

Hon. Madeleine Meilleur: Bill 231 is proposing the most substantial improvement to Ontario's Election Act in the history of this province: to enhance accessibility in provincial elections. The reforms introduced in Bill 231 would significantly improve access to voting, particularly for persons with disabilities, while protecting election integrity. This is part of our government's ongoing commitment to improve the lives and participation of persons with disabilities in Ontario.

I am very proud to say that this bill, if passed, will make Ontario the first among the federal and provincial governments in Canada to allow the Chief Electoral Officer to provide accessible voting machines in every returning office for advanced polls so that voters with disabilities can vote privately and independently-very proud.