Proposed Accessible Canada Act - Plain Language Summary of the Bill
This document is an overview of the Government of Canada’s billFootnote 1 for the Accessible Canada Act. A bill is a proposal to make a new law or change existing laws that is presented to Parliament for consideration.
Following extensive consultation with Canadians with disabilities, the Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities is proud to propose accessibility legislation to Parliament. This meets the Government’s commitment to improve accessibility for all Canadians and would apply to matters under federal authority. The Minister’s proposal, in response to the mandate from the Prime Minister, would lead to more consistent accessibility in areas within federal jurisdiction across Canada and would ensure that the Government of Canada leads by example.
Overview of the bill
Once approved by Parliament, the Act would add to the existing rights and protections for people with disabilities, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Canadian Human Rights Act and Canada’s approval of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The preamble also describes the rationale for the Act, including the impact that barriers to accessibility continue to have on Canadians with disabilities and their families, the compounding effects of multiple forms of discrimination, and the need to address ongoing and systemic inequalities between people with and without disabilities in Canada. Lastly, the preamble talks more broadly about the benefits that improved accessibility would have for all Canadians, regardless of their abilities.
Benefiting all Canadians by removing and preventing barriers to accessibility
The purpose of the bill is to make Canada barrier-free in areas under federal jurisdiction.
The bill outlines how to identify and remove accessibility barriers and prevent new barriers, under federal rule, including in:
- built environments (buildings and public spaces);
- employment (job opportunities and employment policies and practices);
- information and communication technologies (digital content and technologies used to access it);
- procurement of goods and services;
- delivering programs and services; and
- transportation (by air as well as by rail, ferry and bus carriers that operate across a provincial or international border).
The bill also allows the Government to identify other priorities in the future.
The bill defines key terms used in the law. The terms “disability” and “barrier” are important because they describe who the Act is directly intended to benefit and how the Act would be successful.
- means anything – including anything physical, architectural, technological or attitudinal, anything that is based on information or communications or anything that is the result of a policy or a practice – that hinders the full and equal participation in society of persons with a physical, mental, intellectual, learning, communication or sensory impairment or a functional limitation.
- means a physical, mental, intellectual, learning, communication or sensory impairment—or a functional limitation—whether permanent, temporary or episodic in nature, that, in interaction with a barrier, hinders a person’s full and equal participation in society.
What are the principles of the bill?
The principles of the bill are meant to guide its future interpretation. They are rooted in the understanding that barriers to accessibility are at the heart of inequalities between Canadians with and without disabilities. The principles are consistent with Canadian and international law and communicate the goals of the bill. The main principles are:
- inherent dignity
- equal opportunity
- barrier-free government
- inclusive design
- meaningful involvement
Who would have to comply?
The Act would apply broadly to organizations under federal responsibility (“regulated entities”):
- Parliament, including the Senate, the House of Commons, the Library of Parliament and the Parliamentary Protective Service (with some tailoring of compliance and enforcement provisions to respect parliamentary privilege);
- the Government of Canada, including government departments, Crown Corporations and agencies;
- the federally regulated private sector, including organizations in the transportation sectors, broadcasting and telecommunications services, and the banking and financial sectors; and
- the Canadian Forces and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), while allowing for considerations related to bona fide occupational requirements, such as certain physical requirements necessary in order to carry out certain jobs.
Importance of the Canadian Human Rights Act
Canada has a strong framework for protecting the human rights of Canadians. The Canadian Human Rights Act promotes equality of opportunity and protects people from discrimination. The bill supports the objectives of the Canadian Human Rights Act and does not diminish any obligations under that Act.
Role and responsibilities of the Minister
The bill allows the Government to name a minister to be responsible for the Act, and describes that minister’s powers and responsibilities under the Act. This Government has identified the Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities to take on these powers and responsibilities, which include:
- implementing policies and programs related to accessibility;
- collecting, analyzing and publishing data related to accessibility;
- cooperating with provincial and territorial governments to organize efforts on accessibility; and
- reporting annually to Parliament on their activities in support of accessibility.
The Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities would also be responsible for launching periodic independent reviews of the Act and reporting on those reviews to Parliament.
In addition, the Government of Canada will appoint, by Order in Council, an independent Chief Accessibility Officer who will be responsible for monitoring and reporting to the Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities on the implementation of this Act across all sectors. The independent Chief Accessibility Officer will also be responsible for reporting and providing advice to the Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities on emerging and systemic issues.
Parliament itself will undertake a review of this Act five years after the first regulation is made under the Act.
The Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities would not be the only person or organization with responsibilities for accessibility. The Minister of Transport and the Canadian Transportation Agency would continue to be responsible for ensuring accessible transportation in the federal transportation network, with an enhanced mandate, responsibilities, and powers. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission would continue to be responsible for accessibility with respect to broadcasting and telecommunications services, with new responsibilities for accessibility plans and progress reports. New powers may be considered as part of the review of the legal framework for broadcasting and telecommunications announced in Budget 2017.
The Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities would implement the Act for all other sectors, and for employment and the built environment.
Duties of regulated entities
The bill outlines three duties for all regulated entities.
- Accessibility plans: Regulated entities would have to create accessibility plans in consultation with people with disabilities. These plans would describe their strategies for improving accessibility and meeting their legal duties. They would have to publicly publish these plans (and let the Government of Canada know when and where they are published) and update them every three years (or sooner, if there are new rules).
- Feedback tools: Regulated entities would have to set up ways to receive and respond to feedback from their employees and customers. Feedback could include complaints about how the organization is fulfilling its accessibility plan or barriers encountered by individuals.
- Progress reports: Regulated entities, in consultation with people with disabilities, would have to prepare and publish progress reports that detail how they fulfill their accessibility plans. In the reports, they would also have to explain how they consulted people with disabilities. Progress reports must describe the main concerns of the feedback they received and how they responded to it.
Future regulations would detail how regulated entities must implement these requirements. Details may include when and how accessibility plans and progress reports must be published.
Creating accessibility standards
The bill proposes creating the Canadian Accessibility Standards Development Organization, which would develop model accessibility standards. In general, these standards would set out how organizations can identify, remove, and prevent barriers. The accessibility standards would only create legal obligations for organizations when they are made into regulations by the Government of Canada.
The standards organization would have a board of directors to set its strategic direction, oversee its activities and give advice to its Chief Executive Officer. The bill also specifies that the majority of the directors should be people with disabilities and should reflect the diversity of Canadian society. Director positions would be part-time and would be appointed by the Governor in Council for terms of up to four years.
To develop accessibility standards, the bill allows the standards organization to form technical committees that include experts, persons with disabilities, and representatives from sectors or organizations that would have to meet the standards. Accessibility standards would be published and submitted to the Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities, who would consider making them mandatory under the law. Stakeholders and the public would have opportunities to comment on the standards and the standards organization would undertake research and give technical help. Finally, the bill proposes that the standards organization will submit an annual report on its operations to the Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities, who would then table it in Parliament.
How the Act, Regulations, and Standards Work Together
- Through an Act, Parliament gives authority to a person or agency (called an enabling Act). An Act is a law that sets out broad rules and gives the people or agencies certain powers, including the power to make more specific rules (regulations) and enforce them.
- Regulations are a form of law: they are mandatory and binding.
- A regulation is a document of rules created by a department or agency and approved by the Government.
- The approval of Government of Canada regulations follows a set process that engages stakeholders, studies the impacts of the regulations, and offers opportunities for public comment.
- A standard is a document intended for common and repeated use. It is created by consensus and approved by a recognized body. A standard sets out rules, guidelines, or characteristics for activities or their results aimed at achieving an optimal degree of order or level of quality. Standards are voluntary and do not have the force of law unless they are adopted in legislation or regulations.
Enforcing accessibility law
The bill proposes new obligations for regulated entities: accessibility plans, accessibility feedback tools and progress reports. As accessibility standards in the priority areas are developed and adopted into regulation, regulated entities would have more responsibilities.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission will be responsible for compliance and enforcement with respect to broadcasting and telecommunications services using their existing powers. The Canadian Transportation Agency will be responsible for compliance and enforcement activities within the transportation sector with enhanced powers. An Accessibility Commissioner will be appointed by the Governor in Council and will report to the Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities who will be responsible for compliance and enforcement activities as well as handling complaints for all other activities and sectors in federal jurisdiction.
To make sure regulated entities meet their obligations, the bill proposes that a mix of proactive compliance activities be used. These activities include:
- Inspections: Officers would carry out inspections to make sure regulated entities are following the requirements of the Act and its regulations.
- Compliance audits: Officers could examine records and other relevant information from regulated entities to make sure they are following the Act and its regulations.
- Compliance orders: If an officer thinks that a regulated entity is not meeting its responsibilities, they could issue an order to the regulated entity to stop or start any activity to meet the responsibilities.
- Notice of violation with warning: If there is good reason to believe that a regulated entity has violated the law, officers could issue this notice with a warning to comply with the Act and its regulations.
- Notice of violation with penalty: If there is good reason to believe that a regulated entity has violated the law, officers could issue this notice and a fine.
- Administrative monetary penalties: Depending on the nature and severity of non-compliance, an officer could require that the regulated entity pay a fine (up to $250,000).
- Compliance agreement: Once a notice of violation has been issued, regulated entities could enter into compliance agreements to agree to address the violation in a specific way by a specific time. Entering into a compliance agreement could also reduce the fine.
Within these enforcement activities, regulated entities would have rights to appeal decisions or ask for administrative review to ensure that there were no errors.
The legislation provides the right for individuals to complain and receive compensation, if they experience physical, psychological, or monetary harm because an organization did not meet their new obligations under the Act and regulations.
Four bodies will be responsible for dealing with accessibility complaints:
- The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission would continue to receive complaints related to accessibility barriers in relation to broadcasting and telecommunications services;
- Complaints related to the federal transportation system would continue to be dealt with by the Canadian Transportation Agency;
- Complaints by federal public servants and Parliamentary employees who are eligible to bring an issue to the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board would be dealt with by the Board;
- All other complaints would be submitted and decided by the Accessibility Commissioner.
This right does not negate the existing complaints process under the Canadian Human Rights Act, which authorizes the Canadian Human Rights Commission to deal with complaints related to discrimination under the Act.
Changing the culture and raising awareness
Since 2016, National AccessAbility Week has been held each year from the last week of May to the first week of June. It is a week for Canadians to promote inclusion and accessibility in their communities and workplaces, to celebrate progress and to be inspired to further break down barriers. The Act would set National AccessAbility Week to start officially on the last Sunday of May.
Coming into force
The proposed Act would come into force (or effect) on a day or days set by the Governor in Council.
If Parliament passes the bill, some other Acts which deal with matters under federal authority would need to be revised: including the Canadian Human Rights Act, the Canada Transportation Act, the Telecommunications Act and the Broadcasting Act.
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