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The Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs’ Chair and Vice-Chair Make Strong Speeches in the Senate to Support the Committee’s Amendments to Improve Bill C-81, the Proposed Accessible Canada Act

These Speeches Show Why the Federal Government Should Agree to Pass All Those Amendments

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities Twitter: @aodaalliance

May 10, 2019


On Wednesday, May 8, 2019, the full Senate voted to formally accept the report of the Senate’s Standing Committee on Social Affairs on Bill C-81, the proposed Accessible Canada Act. Below we set out the two strong speeches made in the Senate at that time, by the Standing Committee’s chair and vice chair. Together these speeches show why the House of Commons should vote to pass all the amendments to Bill C-81 that the Senate’s Standing Committee adopted. These speeches make a compelling case for those amendments.

On May 6, 2019, the AODA Alliance wrote federal Disabilities Minister Carla Qualtrough. We asked the Federal Government to agree to pass all the Senate Standing Committee’s amendments. The Minister has not yet responded. To our knowledge, she has not yet made that commitment. If the Federal Government does not pass all those amendments in the House of Commons, that will both weaken Bill C-81 and risk Bill C-81 not being finally passed by Parliament before it rises for the fall election.

The Senate is moving the bill to Third Reading debates. We understand that those debates will occur next week, with a final vote on or before Thursday, May 16, 2019. The Senate’s acceptance of the Standing Committee’s report is a formality, needed to move the bill to Third Reading.

We are eager for you to email or tweet as many Members of Parliament as you can. Press them to agree to pass all the amendments that the Senate Standing Committee made to Bill C-81. For action tips on how you can help press the Federal Government to agree to pass ALL the amendments to Bill C-81 that the Senate passed, and to read our May 6, 2019 letter to federal Disabilities Minister Carla Qualtrough (explaining why we need all these amendments passed), visit To find your MP’s email address or Twitter handle, visit and search for their contact information.

To read the text of the Senate Standing Committee’s amendments to Bill C-81, and a good explanation of them by the ARCH Disability Law Centre, visit /

To watch the captioned video of AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky’s opening statement at the Senate Standing Committee on April 11, 2019 (10 minutes), visit:

To watch a captioned video of the portion of the Senate Standing Committee’s question-and-answer after that opening statement, where the AODA Alliance answers questions directed to us (26 minutes), visit

For all the background on our efforts to get the Federal Government to enact a strong and effective national accessibility law, visit

Please send us your feedback. Email us at


Hansard Senate of Canada May 8, 2019

Originally posted at

Thirty-fourth Report of Social Affairs, Science and Technology CommitteeDebate
The Senate proceeded to consideration of the thirty-fourth report of the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology (Bill C-81, An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada, with amendments and observations), presented in the Senate on May 7, 2019.

Hon. Chantal Petitclerc moved the adoption of the report.
She said:

Honourable senators, I rise today in support of the thirty-fourth report of the Social Affairs, Science and Technology Committee. The report deals with Bill C-81, An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada.

Bill C-81 proposes to enact the accessible Canada act, with the objective of enhancing the full and equal participation of all persons living with disabilities in society through the identification, removal and prevention of barriers within areas under federal jurisdiction. It would also make related amendments to a number of other acts.

The proposed legislation adds to the rights and protections currently available to persons with disabilities, including those set out under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Canadian Human Rights Act and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Bill C-81 was referred to the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology on March 21, 2019.

Pursuant to the leaders agreement, the committee was supposed to report back by yesterday, May 7, 2019, and it did. I sincerely thank my committee colleagues who, despite the tight deadlines created by that agreement, were able to study the bill very efficiently. The committee wouldnt have been able to complete its report on time if it werent for our highly efficient clerk, Daniel Charbonneau, and Library of Parliament analysts Laura Munn-Rivard and Mayra Perez-Leclerc. I sincerely thank them.

A few groups wanted to take part in our study. We thank them for their interest and, above all, for their understanding since they were unable to appear in person.

In its study of the bill, the committee endeavoured to follow the principle, nothing about us without us, consulting with advocacy groups, accessibility experts and other relevant witnesses from the disability community across Canada. On behalf of the committee, thank you to the members of the disability community who offered their knowledge, expertise, ideas and insights on this important piece of legislation.

Over 4 meetings, the committee heard from 20 witnesses and received more than 70 emails from the public and more than a dozen briefs from experts and organizations. Based on the testimony we received, the committee made 11 amendments and 2 observations to Bill C-81 with the goal of strengthening the legislation.

With regard to a timeline, January 1, 2040 has been added to the legislation as a deadline by which Canada must become accessible to persons with disabilities. To address concerns that a deadline acts as a disincentive to quick implementation, Bill C-81 is also amended to state that nothing in the act authorizes any delay in the removal of barriers or the implementation of measures to prevent new barriers as soon as possible.

As well, the preamble section of the bill is amended to state that the identification, removal and prevention of barriers to accessibility must be done without delay.

The deadline of January 1, 2040 was suggested by multiple expert witnesses, including the Honourable David Onley, as a reasonable time frame. Witnesses said that identifying a date was necessary to measure progress, strengthen accountability and propel the implementation of Bill C-81.


Clause 6 of the bill, which sets out the principles of the proposed legislation, is amended by the committee to reflect the fact that people with a disability face many intersecting forms of marginalization and discrimination. This issue was raised several times in committee and in the briefs we received. The purpose of this amendment is to recognize the unique challenges faced by people living with disabilities. For example, handicapped seniors regularly face ageism and may also live in poverty. This enhancement of Bill C-81s principles is important because the legislation provides that the organizations concerned take these principles into consideration when developing their accessibility plans.


Sign languages in Canada receive express recognition in the amended legislation in two ways.

First, clause 5.1, the clarification provision regarding the identification, removal and prevention of barriers under the area of communication other than information and communication technologies, is amended to include the use of American Sign Language, Quebec Sign Language and Indigenous Sign Languages.

Second, another amendment in the same clause recognizes sign languages as the primary language for communication by deaf persons in Canada.

Many witnesses stated that for people in the Deaf community, sign language is their primary language and a critical part of their culture, enabling them to participate in society.

As well, witnesses pointed to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which states that:

Persons with disabilities shall be entitled, on an equal basis with others, to recognition and support of their specific cultural and linguistic identity, including sign languages and deaf culture.


The bill is also amended by adding clause 121.1 to indicate that nothing in any provision of the new accessible Canada act or its potential accompanying regulations limits an otherwise regulated entitys duty to accommodate.

Several witnesses stated that it was important that Bill C-81 not lessen the federal governments existing human rights obligations. Experts from the community of people living with disabilities noted that experience with provincial accessibility legislation suggests that regulated entities could fail to provide accommodations because they mistakenly believe that compliance with accessibility regulations fulfils or eliminates their duty to accommodate.


The legislation is amended to modify section 172(2) of the Canada Transportation Act, with the goal of removing the Canadian Transportation Agencys ability to dismiss a complaint about inaccessibility in the federal transportation system if the transportation provider has complied with regulations made by the agency.

Some witnesses expressed concern that the regulations made by the Canadian Transportation Agency may not meet the legal duty to accommodate up to the point of undue hardship and may not address individual requirements of people with disabilities.


Finally, two committee amendments, to clauses 94(4) and 143, bring Bill C-81 in line with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act. With the adoption of the accessible Canada act, members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police will be able to file complaints with the accessibility commissioner and receive compensation, just like other public servants.

Your committee also made two observations to the federal government, which are appended to the report. The committee encouraged the government to ensure that public money is never used to create or perpetuate disability-related barriers when it is reasonable to expect that such barriers can be avoided. Furthermore, the committee strongly encouraged the government to create standardized, effective training that will ensure that all Canadians can expect the same level of access to all government services.

Honourable colleagues, the Senates legal counsel discovered a technical error in the French version of amendment 5(b) of the report that the committee tabled on May 7, 2019. The report states, remplacer les lignes 22 et 23. However, it should state, remplacer les lignes 22 à 26. The word et should be replaced by à, and the number 23 should be replaced by 26 in the French version. This is a human error that must be fixed so that we can immediately start building a barrier-free Canada for the 6.2 million Canadians living with a disability.

Motion in Amendment Adopted

Hon. Chantal Petitclerc: Therefore, honourable senators, with leave of the Senate, in amendment, I move:
That the thirty-fourth report of the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology be not now adopted, but that it be amended in amendment 5b), in the French version, by replacing the instruction line with the following: b) remplacer les lignes 22 à 26 par ce qui suit :.

The Hon. the Speaker: Honourable senators, since Senator Petitclerc moved the adoption of the report, she cannot amend it without leave. Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion in amendment?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

(Motion in amendment of the Honourable Senator Petitclerc agreed to.) [English]

(Later that day in the Senate)

Thirty-fourth Report of Social Affairs, Science and Technology Committee Adopted On the Order:
Resuming debate on the motion of the Honourable Senator Petitclerc, seconded by the Honourable Senator Verner, P.C., for the adoption of the thirty-fourth report, as amended, of the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology (Bill C-81, An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada, with amendments and observations), presented in the Senate on May 7, 2019.

Hon. Judith G. Seidman: Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technologys thirty-fourth report on Bill C-81, An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada.

Our committee studied this piece of legislation extensively and heard testimony from 20 advocacy groups and umbrella organizations. These included the Federal Accessibility Legislation Alliance, a network comprised of 85 organizations; the Canadian Association of the Deaf; Barrier Free Canada, advocates for accessibility legislation; AGE-Well, Canadas technology and aging network; March of Dimes Canada, an organization that offers a wide range of programs and services to persons with disabilities; the Canadian National Institute for the Blind; the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, a national human rights organization of people with disabilities; Confédération des organismes de personnes handicapées du Québec; and the Canadian Human Rights Commission, all who bring representation of Canadas disability communities.

Although virtually all of the testimony we heard called on us to pass this bill with a degree of urgency, without exception witnesses expressed concerns about certain omissions they asked us to address. While the reflected desire for this legislation was strong, the desire to improve it was even stronger.

After much deliberation and discussion, our committee adopted 11 amendments. Today, I rise to speak to two of these amendments in particular that were raised with consistency throughout our committee hearings.

First, the amendment that addresses the issue of timelines. What we heard from many advocacy groups is that timelines are an essential accountability measure and are necessary if we are to achieve the purpose of this legislation. For example, Ms. Donna Jodhan, the President of Barrier-Free Canada, said during her testimony on May 1:

Bill C-81 requires timelines. Timelines are essential to ensure that key accessibility measures are taken. Timelines are also required so that progress on accessibility can be measured. In particular, we support recommendations for the bill to include a timeline for achieving a Canada without barriers and timelines with which accessibility standards are developed and enacted by law.

As another example, Ms. Zinnia Batliwalla, the National Manager, Government Relations and Advocacy for March of Dimes Canada, said during her testimony on April 11:
To enable organizations like ours to measure progress and urge change, timelines allow us to better work with our government partners to ensure we are actively moving toward an accessible and inclusive Canada.

Steven Estey, the Government and Community Relations Officer for the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, said during his testimony on April 10:

Bill C-81 is silent on those timelines. That concerns us, not because we feel there is a lack of good intention, not because we feel that officials dont want to move forward, but because five or ten years down the road, we can begin to have meetings. If there is no backstop or wall against which we can say the time has come, people can say, Were working very hard. Were doing good things. There is no way to say that were going to get there by a certain time. We are concerned about that.

The former Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, the Honourable David Onley, who has been long involved in developing Ontarios accessibility legislation, made an interesting point. He said that if we make only one amendment to this legislation, it must be around timelines. During his testimony on May 1, the Honourable Mr. Onley stated:

I was part of the discussions at the very beginning in 2005 and the first chair of the ministers advisory committee on the implementation of the act. I, along with most of the members of the first advisory committee, felt that moral suasion and goodwill would be sufficient to achieve the objectives . . . .

Having listened, as I mentioned, to hundreds of people from across the province and taken submissions via email and in person, my views changed. I now believe quite firmly that the only way were going to achieve true and full accessibility is for the various standards and objectives to have a definable date in place and a government that is willing to enforce the implementation of these measures.

This is the type of consistent testimony that led the committee to support the date of January 1, 2040, for Canada to become barrier-free. This will give the federal government and the obliged federally regulated entities 21 years to take the necessary steps to reach their accessibility requirements, a time frame that is neither too far nor too near. It was said to be one that is realistic and will be seen in our lifetimes.

However, we also made an amendment to ensure that accessibility measures would not be delayed or postponed but enacted as soon as possible. In fact, we added a new clause to the bill, clause 5.2, which states:

Nothing in this Act, including its purpose of the realization of a Canada without barriers, should be construed as requiring or authorizing any delay in the removal or implementation of measures to prevent new barriers as soon as is reasonably possible.

The other amendment I would like to address is the recognition of sign languages as the language of the deaf community. Many organizations that represent Canadas deaf community spoke about the importance for Bill C-81 to recognize sign languages as a way to ensure that deaf persons have equal access to information, communication, employment, government services, transportation and other federally regulated sectors.

As an example, Bill Adair, the Executive Director of the Federal Accessibility Legislation Alliance, said during his testimony on April 10:

. . . we want Bill C-81 to recognize ASL and LSQ as the languages of people who are deaf in Canada. We are not asking for official language status. We are asking that sign languages be included as an integral part of Bill C-81.

This is why. If it were not for the use of signing here today, any person in this room who is deaf would not be privy to my remarks and to the discussions that will follow. This is true of all public hearings. Indeed, the very name implies that these meetings are for those who can hear.

More importantly, if catastrophe were to suddenly strike us, a person who is deaf would not have access to potentially life-saving information. This was the case recently in Pearson Airport when a fire broke out.

Please ensure that ASL and LSQ are written right into Bill C-81 so that there is an expectation for federally regulated entities to provide resources and newsworthy information in sign languages.

Frank Folino, President of the Canadian Association of the Deaf, said during his testimony on May 1:

We commend the Government of Canada and the minister for introducing Bill C-81, which is an important and positive step toward becoming an accessible Canada. However, an integral part of Bill C-81 will achieve its purposes of a barrier-free Canada with legal recognition of ASL and LSQ as the languages of deaf people because this does make a tremendous difference for deaf Canadians, through accessibility, information, communications and services.

Our committee learned about the deaf culture, one which has its own defining characteristics and includes sign languages, cultural norms, historical traditions and heritage. For all of us, this new understanding was very significant and led us to amend the bill to recognize the important role that sign languages play in the lives of Canadas deaf community.

Honourable colleagues, I am extremely proud of the collaboration of our committee members. We have weighed and considered very carefully the passionate testimony we heard from the disability communities. Although the needs of the disability communities are broad and unique, we believe we were able to focus on a few clear amendments that will add value to Bill C-81 without endangering its passage. Through our work, we are convinced that we have both reaffirmed our committee to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and made a meaningful piece of legislation even better in response to overwhelmingly consistent requests from the disability communities to the benefit of all Canadians.

Honourable colleagues, I hope that you will support the report of our Social Affairs, Science and Technology Committee on Bill C-81. Thank you.

The Hon. the Speaker: Are honourable senators ready for the question?
It was moved by the Honourable Senator Petitclerc, seconded by the Honourable Senator Verner that this report, as amended, be adopted now. Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion? Hon. Senators: Agreed.
(Motion agreed to and report, as amended, adopted.)

The Hon. the Speaker: Honourable senators, when shall this bill be read the third time?
(On motion of Senator Munson, bill, as amended, placed on the Orders of the Day for third reading at the next sitting of the Senate.)