May 8, 2019, Update: Senate Committee Adopts Amendments which Strengthen Bill C-81- Accessible Canada Act
Bill C-81, An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada, continues its journey through the legislative process. If it becomes law, this Act may lead to new requirements for advancing accessibility in federal employment, transportation, services, information and communications, and other areas.
On May 2, 2019 the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology (SOCI) made a number of amendments to Bill C-81. Many of these amendments were adopted in response to the written and oral submissions that the Senate received from disability groups and members of disability communities across Canada. ARCH supported disability communities in their advocacy, and made our own oral and written submissions to the Senate. A common theme among these submissions was the need for the Senate to make changes to strengthen Bill C-81 and ensure that it achieves its purpose of a barrier-free Canada.
What Amendments Did the Senate Committee Adopt?
Including Timelines: SOCI adopted amendments which add a timeline of 2040 for realizing a barrier-free Canada. Amendments also clarify that this timeline does not authorize any delay in removing or preventing barriers to accessibility, and that action to advance accessibility should be taken as soon as reasonably possible. Including timelines is an important accountability mechanism, which many disability organizations advocated for, including the AODA Alliance, the Council of Canadians with Disabilities and ARCH.
Taking Intersectionality Into Account: SOCI adopted an amendment which incorporates intersectionality into the principles of Bill C-81. Laws, policies, programs, services and structures must take into account disability and the multiple and intersectional forms of discrimination faced by persons with disabilities. This change means that organizations will have to take into account intersectionality when developing their accessibility plans. Throughout the legislative process, ARCH and other disability organizations have consistently advocated for incorporating barriers related to intersectionality into Bill C-81. Persons with disabilities and disability communities have been firm that laws, policies and programs about disability and accessibility must address the lived experiences of whole persons, not just their disabilities.
Protecting Existing Human Rights of People with Disabilities: SOCI adopted an amendment which clarifies that nothing in Bill C-81 or its regulations limits the legal obligations that organizations already have to accommodate persons with disabilities under the Canadian Human Rights Act and any other federal laws. ARCH and other disability advocacy groups highlighted to SOCI the importance of this amendment.
Protecting Existing Human Rights of Passengers with Disabilities at the Canadian Transportation Agency: Under Bill C-81, we expect that most complaints by passengers with disabilities about barriers in air travel, train travel, and every other kind of transportation that the Federal Government regulates, will go to the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA). The Bill gives the CTA power to make regulations to set enforceable standards on what barriers these transportation providers must remove and prevent.
However, subsection 172(2), a provision that is currently in the Canada Transportation Act, effectively means that once the CTA make these regulations and transportation providers, like airlines, comply with these regulations, they do not need to do anything more. This is problematic because the regulations that the CTA sets may not meet the duty to accommodate protections that people with disabilities have under human rights law. Under subsection 172(2), if a passenger with a disability complained to the CTA that an airline or other transportation provider should have accommodated their disability, their case would fail if the airline complied with the CTA regulations. A more detailed analysis of this issue is in ARCH’s Final Report: Legal Analysis of Bill C-81, available by going to: www.archdisabilitylaw.ca/initiatives/advocating-for-accessibility-in-canada/arch-reports-and-recommendations. ARCH and the AODA Alliance highlighted to SOCI the importance of repealing the problematic section 172(2) of the Canada Transportation Act.
SOCI did not repeal subsection 172(2), but adopted an amendment which changes it. The amendment allows the CTA to find that there is a barrier to accessibility, even if the transportation provider has complied with all the CTA regulations. For passengers with disabilities, this means they could file a complaint with the CTA that they faced an undue barrier in the federal transportation system, and insist that the transportation provider do more than what the CTA regulation requires. The passenger with a disability could win their case, even if the transportation provider has complied with all the CTA regulations. However, the CTA could only order the transportation provider to take “corrective measures”. The CTA could not order the transportation provider to pay the person damages or money compensation. This is different than for other complaints to the CTA about inaccessibility of the federal transportation system. Generally for these other complaints, the CTA can order the transportation provider to take corrective measures and to pay damages to the person who complained.
Recognizing Sign Languages: Communication is one of the areas in Bill C-81 for which new accessibility standards may be created. SOCI adopted an amendment that explains that communication includes the use of American Sign Language, Quebec Sign Language and Indigenous Sign Languages. Another amendment recognizes that sign languages are the primary languages for communication by Deaf persons in Canada.
Legal recognition of sign languages is an issue that Deaf communities in Canada have long advocated for. ARCH and other disability advocacy groups supported the Canadian Association of the Deaf in calling for Bill C-81 to recognize sign languages as an important acknowledgement that sign languages are not just disability accommodations, but are important for cultural and linguistic reasons.
These are some of the amendments that the Senate Committee adopted. While the amendments made address many of the issues raised by ARCH and other disability groups, they do not deal with all of our concerns and recommendations. A number of weaknesses remain in Bill C-81. One such weakness is the use of permissive language “may” rather than directive language “shall” or “must”. This language gives government and other bodies power to make and enforce accessibility requirements, but does not actually require them to use these powers. For example, the Bill allows the Government of Canada to make new accessibility regulations but does not require them to do so. Therefore, there is no assurance that such regulations, a cornerstone for advancing accessibility, will ever be made.
In addition to the amendments, the Senate Committee reported 2 observations to Bill C-81. The first addresses the concern expressed by many in the disability community that federal funding may continue to be spent on projects that perpetuate barriers. The observation encourages the federal government to ensure that any federal public money should not be used to create or perpetuate disability related barriers when it is reasonable to expect that such barriers can be avoided. The second observation emphasizes the importance of training in achieving a barrier-free Canada. It encourages the government to create standardized, effective training to ensure that all persons in Canada can expect the same level of access to all government services.
What Happens Next?
In the coming weeks, the amended Bill C-81 will come before the Senate for Third Reading. At that time, Senators will vote on whether to pass the Bill with the amendments adopted by SOCI. If the Bill passes Third Reading, it will return back to the House of Commons for approval. If it gets approval from the House, the Bill will then enter the final stages of the process to become a law.
ARCH is pleased that in response to submissions by disability communities across Canada, the Senate made a number of important amendments to strengthen Bill C-81.
Now, the Senate and the House of Commons must both act quickly to allow enough time for the Bill to finish it journey through the legislative process, before the Fall federal election is called.
If you support Bill C-81 becoming law with the changes that the Senate Committee has made, write to or tweet Minister Carla Qualtrough and Members of Parliament. Let them know they should pass Bill C-81 with all the amendments. For practical tips and information on how to do this, go to the AODA Alliance’s website: www.bit.ly/2vKXmV2
Recorded video of the Senate Committee’s study of Bill C-81, with sign language interpretation, and the written submissions made by disability groups to the Senate can be found by going to: www.sencanada.ca/en/committees/soci/studiesandbills/42-1 and selecting Bill C-81.
To read ARCH’s analysis of Bill C-81, and submissions ARCH made to the House of Commons and Senate, go to: www.archdisabilitylaw.ca/initiatives/advocating-for-accessibility-in-canada
March 20, 2019, Update: Bill C-81 – Accessible Canada Act – now at Senate SOCI Committee
Bill C-81, the Accessible Canada Act, is federal accessibility legislation aimed at achieving a barrier-free Canada. Since our last update on this Bill, in the December 2018 issue of ARCH Alert, the Bill passed first and second reading at the Senate and has now been referred to the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology (SOCI). SOCI, chaired by Senator Chantal Petitclerc, will study the Bill and may recommend that the Senate adopt changes to it.
SOCI’s study of the Bill provides an important opportunity for people with disabilities and disability organizations to share their views about Bill C-81 with Senators. SOCI will likely begin its study of the Bill at the beginning of April. Persons with disabilities and disability organizations who wish to send written comments or appear before SOCI can contact the clerk of the Committee, Daniel Charbonneau, at (613) 301-7565 or SOCI@sen.parl.gc.ca
In October 2018, ARCH, together with the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD) and the AODA Alliance, wrote an Open Letter setting out 9 key concerns and changes that are necessary to strengthen Bill C-81. These include having timelines in the Bill, using language that requires accessibility standards to be made, eliminating exemptions from complying with accessibility requirements, and a number of other important concerns.
To date, over 95 disability organizations and groups from across Canada have signed on to support the Open Letter, showing how important these changes are to disability communities. ARCH has produced a series of short briefing notes providing more detailed information about these 9 key concerns, as well as a template letter to Senators. People with disabilities and disability organizations can use these briefing notes and template letter as advocacy tools to share their views about Bill C-81 with Senators. The Open Letter, 9 briefing notes, and template letter to Senators can be found on ARCH`s website by going to: www.archdisabilitylaw.ca/initiatives/advocating-for-accessibility-in-canada
Although Bill C-81 has not yet become law, the Government of Canada has already begun the process of developing technical regulations to support the Bill if it gets passed into law. These technical regulations will set out a framework and specific requirements for federal organizations to follow when they develop accessibility plans, feedback processes and progress reports. The Government will also develop regulations about penalties for organizations who don’t comply with accessibility standards. As part of the regulatory development process, the Government of Canada is required to consult with people in Canada about the regulations before they become law. The Government of Canada has already begun a pre-consultation process about the technical regulations. People with disabilities and disability organizations who are interested in being part of this pre-consultation process can write to the Accessibility Secretariat at: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Government of Canada recently announced opportunities for staff and Board of Director positions within the new Canadian Accessibility Standards Development Organization (CASDO). CASDO has not yet been established. If Bill C-81 becomes law, CASDO will be a new organization charged with developing accessibility standards in federal employment, the built environment, communication, the procurement of goods, services and facilities, the design and delivery of programs and services, some aspects of information and communication technologies, and some aspects of transportation. For more information about the anticipated opportunities at CASDO, go to: www.bit.ly/2Hah5nA
The Government of Canada is also recruiting for the position of Chief Accessibility Officer, who will be a special advisor to the Minister responsible for Accessibility if Bill C-81 becomes law. For more information about this opportunity, go to: www.bit.ly/2H86cSa
* This update was extracted from ARCH Alert – Volume 20, Issue 1 – March 20, 2019, which can be accessed at
December 3, 2018, Update: Accessible Canada Act Update: Bill C-81 Passes House of Commons Third Reading
Bill C-81, the Accessible Canada Act, continues to work its way through the legislative process. In October 2018, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities (HUMA) held public hearings to study the Bill. HUMA heard from witnesses from government, industry and disability communities about their reactions to the Bill, and HUMA members had the opportunity to ask witnesses what changes they thought should be made to the Bill. ARCH was one of the organizations that had an opportunity to participate in the hearings. These public hearings can be watched online or a transcript can be read by going to: www.bit.ly/2NQEeAu
Many witnesses from industry and organizations that will have to comply with new accessibility requirements once the Bill becomes law emphasized the steps they are already taking to make their services and businesses more accessible. On the other hand, advocates from disability communities spoke about changes they felt were important to make in order to strengthen the Bill. The message from many disability rights advocates to HUMA was that the Bill presents a significant opportunity to advance accessibility and inclusion for persons with disabilities in Canada; but a number of changes are needed to ensure that the Bill will achieve its purpose of a barrier-free Canada.
In addition to appearing before HUMA, ARCH, together with the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD) and the AODA Alliance, wrote an Open Letter to Minister Qualtrough and the members of HUMA. The Open Letter sets out 9 key concerns and changes that are necessary to strengthen Bill C-81. These include having timelines in the Bill, using language that requires accessibility standards to be made, making compliance and enforcement of the Bill more streamlined, eliminating exemptions from complying with accessibility requirements, and a number of other important concerns. To date, over 90 disability organizations and groups from across Canada have signed on to support the Open Letter, showing how important these changes are to disability communities. To read the Open Letter in English and French, go to:
In early November 2018, following the public hearings, HUMA members proposed and debated a large number of amendments to Bill C-81. HUMA adopted most of the amendments put forward by Liberal members of the Committee and declined most of the amendments put forward by Conservative, NDP and Green Party members of the Committee.
In its amended form, the Bill now requires the CRTC, CTA and government to make at least one regulation about accessibility plans, feedback processes or progress reports within 2 years from the time the Bill becomes law. It still allows for organizations to be exempted from complying with accessibility requirements, but those exemptions are now limited to 3 years and reasons for granting the exemption must be made public. The Bill now requires organizations to take into account important principles set out in the Bill when they create their accessibility plans. The definitions of “barrier” and “disability” have been expanded by adding cognitive to the list of types of disabilities, and by clarifying that disability includes those that may not be evident. Communication and facilities were added as areas in which barriers must be identified, removed and prevented, and barriers must now be addressed in the design and delivery of programs and services, not just the delivery of programs and services. These are just some examples of the amendments to the Bill that were adopted by HUMA.
Many of the amendments made by HUMA are important changes, which ARCH and other disability organizations advocated for. However, even with these amendments, Bill C-81 still does not address the concerns set out in the Open Letter.
On November 27, 2018 the House of Commons passed Bill C-81 at Third Reading. To access the Third Reading debates, go to: www.bit.ly/2WBqKZY. The Bill will now be sent to the Senate for further study and debate. Like the House of Commons Committee, the Senate Committee that studies the Bill can make further amendments to it. ARCH and other disability organizations will continue to advocate for changes to strengthen the Accessible Canada Act so that it will advance accessibility and inclusion for persons with disabilities in Canada.
* This update was extracted from ARCH Alert – Volume 19, Issue 4 – December 3, 2018, which can be accessed at
October 3, 2018, Update: Accessible Canada Act Passes Second Reading, Now Before HUMA
On June 20, 2018 the Accessible Canada Act was introduced in the House of Commons and passed first reading. The Act passed Second Reading on September 26, 2018, after just three sittings of the House. The Act has been referred to HUMA, the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, for further study.
When it becomes law, the Accessible Canada Act, also known by its full title as An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada, will create new accessibility requirements for certain federally-regulated sectors. The purpose of the Act is to identify, remove and prevent barriers in:
- Federal buildings and public spaces
- Federally-regulated employment
- Information and communication technologies
- Federal procurement of goods and services
- Government of Canada programs and services;
- Federally regulated transportation, including air, rail, ferry and buses that travel across a provincial or international border; and
- Other areas that may be identified in the future.
In the July 2018 issue of ARCH Alert, we outlined some of the key elements of the Act, including how the Act proposes to fulfill its purpose, and how the new accessibility requirements will be enforced. To read the article in the July 2018 issue, go to:
For a more detailed analysis, read ARCH’s draft report, which describes what the Act proposes to do, key areas in which disability communities must consider how effective the Act will be, and areas in which the Act could be strengthened. Disability rights lawyers from across Canada contributed to this report, and we thank each of them for their time, invaluable contributions and dedication to this work. To read ARCH’s draft report, go to:
At Second Reading, the Honourable Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Public Services and Procurement and Accessibility, provided an overview of the Act and spoke about the many barriers experienced by persons with disabilities in Canada and the need to create a more inclusive and accessible society. Opposition Members of Parliament asked a number of questions, highlighting some of their concerns with the bill. These concerns included the omission of deadlines or timelines for achieving the purpose of the Act or for creating new accessibility requirements in the areas identified in the Act’s purpose; the use of legislative language that would permit but not require the government to pass accessibility requirements into law; and questions about whether and how the Act will implement the rights set out in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, an international law which Canada ratified in 2010. To read the Debates at Second Reading, go to www.bit.ly/2NhKBYu
After Second Reading, the Act was referred to HUMA, a standing committee of the House of Commons. This Committee is presently studying the Act and each of its clauses carefully. They are holding hearings to gather information from government, as well as organizations and individuals who are knowledgeable about barriers experienced by persons with disabilities, accessibility legislation, effective enforcement and monitoring of accessibility requirements, and other issues related to the Act. When the Committee has completed its study, it will report the Act back to the House of Commons and may make recommendations for amendments or changes to the Act.
HUMA held its first meeting on the Accessible Canada Act on October 2, 2018. At that meeting, HUMA heard from Minister Qualtrough and senior officers in the Accessibility Secretariat of the Department of Employment and Social Development Canada, who have worked on the bill. HUMA will continue to hold additional meetings. For more information and to find out whether a meeting is open to the public to attend, go to: www.bit.ly/2NQEeAu
If you need accommodations to attend a meeting of the HUMA Committee, contact the Committee clerk by email at HUMA@parl.gc.ca or by telephone at 613-996-1542.
In addition to attending meetings of the HUMA Committee, another way to participate in the Committee’s study of the bill is by sending a written submission or statement to the Committee. HUMA will accept written submissions of 2,000 words or less, and the deadline to send your submission is Thursday, October 25, 2018. Any written submissions will be posted on the Committee’s website in English, French and accessible e-text format. You can obtain alternate formats by contacting the Committee clerk.
ARCH will continue to provide updates about the Accessible Canada Act on our website, Twitter and in future issues of the ARCH Alert.
* This update was extracted from ARCH Alert – Volume 19, Issue 3 – October 3, 2018, which can be accessed at
July 17, 2018, Update: Accessible Canada Act Passes First Reading
On June 20, 2018 the Accessible Canada Act was introduced in the House of Commons and passed first reading. The Accessible Canada Act, also known by its full title as An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada, is presently a bill, and must work its way through the legislative process before becoming law in Canada. When it becomes law, it will create new accessibility requirements for certain federally-regulated sectors.
The purpose of the Act is to identify, remove and prevent barriers in:
- Federal buildings and public spaces
- Federally-regulated employment
- Information and communication technologies
- Federal procurement of goods and services
- Government of Canada programs and services; and
- Federally regulated transportation, including air, rail, ferry and buses that travel across a provincial or international border
The Government may identify additional areas in the future.
The Act defines a barrier as anything that hinders the full and equal participation in society of persons with a physical, mental, intellectual, learning, communication or sensory impairment or functional limitation.
The Act will apply to organizations under federal jurisdiction, including Parliament, the Government of Canada, government departments, Crown Corporations and agencies, the banking and financial sectors, broadcasting and telecommunications service providers, federally-regulated transportation service providers, and other private sector organizations that are under federal jurisdiction. The Act will also apply to the Canadian Forces and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
These organizations will be required to create accessibility plans, create feedback processes and submit progress reports. The accessibility plans must describe the organization’s policies, practices, programs and services to identify, remove and prevent barriers. These plans will need to be developed through consultations with persons with disabilities. The plans must be published and updated every 3 years. Organizations must create feedback processes to receive and respond to feedback from people about the barriers they encounter and how the organization is meeting its accessibility plan. These feedback processes must be published. Organizations must also prepare and publish progress reports that explain how they are fulfilling their accessibility plans. These reports must be prepared in consultation with persons with disabilities, and must include information about the main concerns raised through the feedback process and how those concerns are being addressed. Organizations must make these progress reports available to people who request them.
The Act creates a new body called the Canadian Accessibility Standards Development Organization. The mandate of this new body is to develop and revise accessibility standards, which will be regulations that set out the steps that organizations must take to identify, remove and prevent barriers. The new body also has a mandate to develop and revise information, products and services in relation to the accessibility standards, promote and conduct research into the identification and removal of barriers and the prevention of new barriers, and disseminate information about best practices. The majority of the new body’s board of directors will be persons with disabilities, and the directors should represent the diversity of Canadian society.
To develop accessibility standards, the new body will form committees that include experts, persons with disabilities, and representatives from sectors or organizations that will have to meet the particular standard. When new accessibility standards are created, they must be made available to the public. The new body must submit annual reports on its activities to the Minister responsible for the legislation, The Honourable Kirsty Duncan, who is the Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities.
The Act sets out a number of ways in which it will be monitored and enforced. An Accessibility Commissioner, who is a member of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, will be appointed and will have responsibility for some aspects of compliance and enforcement of the Act. The Accessibility Commissioner’s role is to give information or advice to the Minister about the legislation. The Commissioner must report on his/her activities annually to the Minister, and must include in the report an analysis of any systemic or emerging accessibility issues. This report may be published.
In order to determine whether organizations are complying with the legislation, and to prevent organizations from failing to comply, the Accessibility Commissioner or his/her officers can conduct inspections and make compliance orders requiring an organization to take steps to comply with the Act within a specified period of time. The Accessibility Commissioner or his/her officers can also issue notices of violation containing a warning or assigning a fine that organizations must pay for failing to comply with the accessibility requirements set out in the Act or regulations. Fines can be set at up to $250,000 and will depend on the extent to which an organization has failed to comply with the Act or regulations. Organizations will have rights to appeal these notices and fines.
With a few exceptions, people who have experienced physical or psychological harm, property damage, or economic loss due to an organization not complying with the regulations have a right to file a complaint with the Accessibility Commissioner. The Commissioner may investigate complaints, try to resolve complaints, and determine whether complaints are substantiated or not. For substantiated complaints, the Commissioner may order an organization to take steps to meet its accessibility requirements and pay compensation to the aggrieved person.
Some complaints would not be made to the Accessibility Commissioner. For example, complaints about barriers in broadcasting and telecommunication services would continue to be made to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), and complaints about federal transportation systems would continue to be made to the Canadian Transportation Agency or the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
The right to make an accessibility complaint to the Accessibility Commissioner would not affect or prevent someone from using the existing Canadian Human Rights Commission process to make a complaint about discrimination.
In addition, an independent Chief Accessibility Officer will be appointed, with responsibilities for monitoring and reporting to the Minister on the implementation of the Act.
When the Act was introduced into Parliament, Minister Duncan also announced that the Government of Canada has committed $290 million over six years to implement this new legislation. Approximately $18 million will be invested to expand the existing Opportunities Fund for Persons with Disabilities to connect persons with disabilities looking for employment with employers, and support employers to recruit, accommodate and retain employees with disabilities.
Disability organizations and activists are presently studying the Act and developing legislative analyses and advocacy positions, which will be disseminated to the community. When the House of Commons resumes in the fall, the Act will continue to work its way through the legislative process. It is very likely that the Act will be referred to a legislative committee for further study and recommendations. Disability organizations, stakeholders and members of the community will likely have opportunities to provide feedback and input on the Act to the legislative committee.
For more information and to read the full text of the Act, go to: www.bit.ly/2JsDjmA
To read the Government of Canada’s plain language summary of the Act go to: www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/programs/accessible-people-disabilities/act-plain-language-summary
* This update was extracted from ARCH Alert – Volume 19, Issue 2 – July 17, 2018, which can be accessed at