ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE UPDATE

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United for a Barrier-Free Ontario

On the 15th Anniversary of the Landmark Ontario Legislature’s Disabilities Act Resolution, the Wynne Government Refused to Directly Answer an Opposition Question on Why the Government is Charging the AODA Alliance Chair $2,325 to Answer His Freedom of Information Application, for the Government’s Plans for Enforcing the Disabilities Act

October 30 2013

SUMMARY

During Question Period in the Ontario Legislature on October 29, 2013, NDP Opposition MPP Cheri DiNovo tried without success to get answers from the Wynne Government on why the Government wants to charge AODA Alliance chair David Lepofsky the steep sum of $2,325 to get answers to his August 15, 2013 Freedom of Information Act request. She asked the minister with lead responsibility for developing new accessibility standards under the AODA and for enforcing that legislation, Dr. Eric Hoskins.

Dr. Hoskins replied by applauding his Government’s work. However he entirely ducked Ms. Di Novo’s important question.

We set out below the relevant passage from Ontario Hansard, the official record of debates in the Ontario Legislature. We also reproduce from Hansard two petitions which NDP MPPs Catherine Fife and Teresa J. Armstrong commendably tabled that day in the Legislature, calling for effective enforcement and action under the Disabilities Act. Below we highlight why this is such a cruel irony for the many Ontarians who are urging the Government to get Ontario back on schedule for full accessibility by 2025, as the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act requires.

We thank all members of the Ontario Legislature who help press our issues.

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MORE DETAILS

A Cruel Irony Several Times Over

It is a cruel irony that this unjustifiable stonewalling took place on October 29, 2013.

First, this Ontario Government stonewalling took place on the same day that a Standing Committee of the Manitoba Legislature was holding public hearings and clause-by-clause debates on Bill 26, Manitoba’s proposed new disability accessibility law. In the Manitoba Legislature, unlike in the Ontario Legislature, Real progress was made yesterday. The Standing Committee of the Manitoba Legislature passed several amendments to strengthen their bill, at the request of Manitobans with disabilities.

The efforts of the AODA Alliance were raised in both the Ontario and Manitoba Legislatures on the same day. We were but one of the presenters at the Manitoba public hearings.

We will later report on the gains that the unstoppable Barrier-Free Manitoba won during those proceedings in Winnipeg last night. We were honoured to be able to lend our support to the extraordinary advocacy campaign that Barrier-Free Manitoba has waged for five years.

As a second cruel irony, this Ontario Government stonewalling took place on the 15th anniversary of October 29, 1998. That was the historic day when the Ontario Legislature passed its landmark Disabilities Act resolution. That resolution called for a Disabilities Act to be enacted in Ontario that honoured 11 principles that Ontario’s disability accessibility movement formulated. Learn more about the historic events leading up to the Ontario Legislature’s unanimous passage of its October 29, 1998 resolution on the Disabilities Act.

One of the 11 principles that the Ontario Legislature unanimously adopted 15 years ago requires effective enforcement.

Also on October 29, 1998, Dalton McGuinty (then Ontario’s Opposition Leader and later to become Ontario’s Premier) promptly and publicly promised that the Ontario Liberal Party would honour that resolution, if elected to power. He would later promise in writing that the Disabilities Act would be effectively enforced. He did so in both the 2003 and 2007 elections.

There have now been 279 days since the AODA Alliance wrote the Ontario Government for information on the Government’s plans to keep its election promise to effectively enforce the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. To date, we have no public response to that request. To read the AODA Alliance’s unanswered January 22, 2013 letter to the Ontario Government, requesting the Ontario Government’s plans for enforcing the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.

There have been 76 days since AODA Alliance chair David Lepofsky submitted his August 15, 2013 request to the Ontario Government under the Freedom of Information Act for the Government’s plans for keeping its promise to effectively enforce the AODA. To learn more about the Government’s telling the AODA Alliance chair he must pay an estimated $2,325 to get his Freedom of Information application answered. We have still not heard whether the Government will waive this fee, as David Lepofsky requested on October 2, 2013.

It is a third cruel irony that earlier this year, on May 28, 2013, to mark National Access Awareness Week, the same Dr. Eric Hoskins who yesterday refused to directly answer MPP Cheri DiNovo’s question, said in the Ontario Legislature that fulfilling his accessibility mandate is his “top priority.” He stated: “As the minister now leading our government’s efforts to make Ontario more accessible and inclusive, I would like to take this opportunity to state clearly and unequivocally that accessibility is a top priority for me, for my ministry and for our government."

It is a fourth cruel irony that instead of answering the clear and specific question that Ms. Di Novo asked, Dr. Hoskins talked instead about other things, like the Government’s appointment of University of Toronto Faculty of Law Dean, Mayo Moran to conduct the mandatory Independent Review of the AODA’s implementation. He said: “It also gives me the opportunity to update the House, as well, on the important work and the status of the AODA reviewer, because as the Legislature knows, every five years we’re legally mandated to review it. Mayo Moran, the dean of the faculty of law at the University of Toronto, has undertaken that important work right now.”

Contrary to the requirements of the Disabilities Act, the Government failed to appoint the AODA Independent Review by the statutory deadline of May 31, 2013. It has never publicly explained or justified the fact that it delayed appointing this Independent Review until September 10, 2013, fully 102 days past the legal deadline for doing so. We had to mount a campaign for weeks to press the Government to obey its own Disabilities Act. We repeatedly voiced a serious concern about this: How can the Government expect other public and private sector organizations to obey the strict time lines in accessibility standards enacted under the Disabilities Act, when the Government itself disregards such an important deadline that is mandated right in the Act itself?

To learn more about the Government’s 102-day violation of its own Disabilities Act

Ontario Hansard Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Question Period

ACCESSIBILITY FOR THE DISABLED

Ms. Cheri DiNovo: My question is to the Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Employment. On the 15th anniversary of the Ontario Legislature’s disabilities act resolution, the AODA Alliance is working to ensure that the government actually keeps its promises. On January 22 of this year, David Lepofsky, chair of the AODA Alliance, wrote to the Liberal government for information regarding the plans and actions to keep its election promise to effectively enforce the act.

After nearly seven months with no response, Lepofsky had to resort to filing a freedom-of-information application. Finally, on October 2, he was told by the government that this information would cost him $2,325 plus possible additional fees.

Why does the government believe it is acceptable to demand such an unreasonable sum from a volunteer organization that has no disposable funds? How free is freedom of information?

Hon. Eric Hoskins: I thank the member opposite for the question. I’ve got the greatest respect for David Lepofsky. I’ve met with him as well, and with members of the alliance, and they do a fantastic job at making sure that this issue continues to be at the forefront of our society’s ambitions.

I know that we’re working very hard as well to make sure that businesses—for example, the public sector has already complied fully with the legislative and regulatory requirements of the act. Businesses are working hard as well, and I’ve made it a priority to make sure that they are doing their part on the various elements, the standards, the regulatory and legislative requirements that are there.

It also gives me the opportunity to update the House, as well, on the important work and the status of the AODA reviewer, because as the Legislature knows, every five years we’re legally mandated to review it. Mayo Moran, the dean of the faculty of law at the University of Toronto, has undertaken that important work right now.

Petitions

ACCESSIBILITY FOR THE DISABLED

Ms. Catherine Fife: “To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:

“Whereas it is the duty and responsibility of the Ministry of Economic Development to oversee and enforce accessibility standards and requirements set forth under the Accessibility for Ontarians With Disabilities Act, 2005 (AODA);

“Whereas there are over 1,950 people living with disabilities in the Waterloo region who are unemployed;

“Whereas there are physical as well as systemic barriers preventing Ontarians with disabilities from finding meaningful employment;

“We, the undersigned, petition the Parliament of Ontario as follows:

“We ask that the Ministry of Economic Development utilize an independent review process and expand current AODA enforcement activities beyond the assessment of voluntarily submitted accessibility reports, and use the powers, authority and penalties set forth under the act to ensure compliance with the requirements therein; and

“We ask that all ministries of the Ontario government work collaboratively to take action and assist Ontarians with disabilities to gain meaningful employment through the following mechanisms: removal of physical barriers; ensuring accessible transit; incentivizing job creators; creating an emphasis on affordable and accessible training and educating people with disabilities for gainful and sustainable employment; removal of ODSP penalties that discourage employment, such as health insurance for all employed with disabilities.”

I fully support this petition and I will be giving this petition to Kate.

ACCESSIBILITY FOR THE DISABLED

Ms. Teresa J. Armstrong: “To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:

“Whereas it is the duty and responsibility of the Ministry of Economic Development to oversee and enforce accessibility standards and requirements set forth under the Accessibility for Ontarians With Disabilities Act, 2005 (AODA);

“Whereas there are over 1,950 people living with disabilities in the Waterloo region who are unemployed;

“Whereas there are physical as well as systemic barriers preventing Ontarians with disabilities from finding meaningful employment;

“We, the undersigned, petition the Parliament of Ontario as follows:

“We ask that the Ministry of Economic Development utilize an independent review process and expand current AODA enforcement activities beyond the assessment of voluntarily submitted accessibility reports, and use the powers, authority and penalties set forth under the act to ensure compliance with the requirements therein; and

“We ask that all ministries of the Ontario government work collaboratively to take action and assist Ontarians with disabilities to gain meaningful employment through the following mechanisms: removal of physical barriers; ensuring accessible transit; incentivizing job creators; creating an emphasis on affordable and accessible training and educating people with disabilities for gainful and sustainable employment; removal of ODSP penalties that discourage employment, such as health insurance for all employed with disabilities.”

I affix my signature to the petition and deliver it to page Arianna.