Christianne Laizner to the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology

Speech

Ottawa, Ontario
April 10, 2019

Christianne Laizner, Vice-Chair, Telecommunications
Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission

Check against delivery

Thank you, Madam Chair, for this opportunity to participate in the Committee’s review of Bill C-81, an Act to Ensure a Barrier-free Canada.

My name is Christianne Laizner and I am the Vice-Chair of Telecommunications at the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission – the CRTC.

The CRTC believes that a person’s ability to participate meaningfully in society is directly linked to their ability to access communications services. During the last three decades, the CRTC has adopted a series of regulatory policies to ensure that all Canadians can access communications services. We have updated these policies as new technologies and resources became available.

In the mid-1980s, for example, the CRTC began to mandate teletypewriter (TTY) relay services for Canadians to remove communications barriers within the telephone system. In 2009, the requirement was expanded to include the provision of IP-relay services and five years later, the provision of video relay service, which allows sign-language access to voice communications.

Thanks to a CRTC decision, a text messaging with 9-1-1 service is currently mandated.

Accessibility requirements for broadcasters have followed a similar evolution. Initially, broadcasters were required to close-caption only a percentage of programming; today, all English and French programming must be close-captioned. In 2009, the CRTC began to require that broadcasters provide described-video services four hours per week.

We are proud to say that our work has garnered international attention, particularly for innovation. This week, the CRTC is presenting Canada’s video relay service at the World Summit on the Information Society in Geneva at the request of the International Telecommunications Union.

The CRTC has also established mandatory codes of conduct, such as the Wireless Code and the Television Service Provider Code, to facilitate interactions with service providers. These codes ensure that contracts and bills are available in accessible formats, and extend trial periods to ensure that cellphones and services meet individual needs.

To explore whether a similar code of conduct should be established for Internet service providers, the CRTC is currently holding a proceeding that included public consultations. The record of that proceeding includes proposals that, if adopted, could establish similar protections for Internet subscribers. A decision regarding an Internet Code is expected in the next few months.

I should mention that the CRTC has a number of tools at its disposal to ensure compliance with regulatory obligations, including monetary penalties in certain situations.

Recently, the CRTC published a report that concluded that Canadians are subjected to an unacceptable degree of misleading or aggressive sales practices in the communications marketplace. We found that these types of sales practices have a particularly harmful impact on Canadians who are vulnerable due to a disability, their age or their first language. We are considering a number of measures to further empower consumers and ensure their fair treatment by service providers.

To develop regulatory policies, the CRTC consults with Canadians – including those with disabilities – along with service providers and other stakeholders by holding open, public proceedings. The input of Canadians with disabilities is crucial to developing effective accessibility policies – adhering to the principle of “nothing about us without us.” In removing barriers to communications, the CRTC’s website presents key content in ASL – American Sign Language – and LSQ – Langue des signes québécoise.

The legislation now before this Committee envisions a system where the complaints of Canadians with disabilities are dealt with effectively and expeditiously, regardless of whether they are addressed to the CRTC, the Canadian Transportation Agency, the Canadian Human Rights Commission, the Federal Public Service Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board, or the Accessibility Commissioner, whose office would be created by this Act.

The Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer of the CRTC is committed to making this “no wrong door” collaborative framework work for people with disabilities.

Canada’s communication system is vital to the economic and social prosperity of all Canadians. Communications is an industry characterized by innovation and constant change. This can unintentionally create barriers to the inclusion of people with disabilities. The CRTC welcomes the proactive approach proposed by Bill C-81 that will strengthen our mandate and build upon our accomplishments.    

Thank you.

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