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The Toronto Star Reports on Objections from the Disability Community to the Wynne Government’s Appointing Its Former Accessibility Special Advisor to Conduct the Next Independent Review of the Government’s Implementation and Enforcement of Ontario’s Accessibility Law

Government Defence of Its Action Doesn’t Stand Up Under Scrutiny

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

March 9, 2018


The Toronto Star’s March 8, 2018 online edition and its March 9, 2018 print edition includes an excellent report on the strong objections from Ontario’s disability community to the Wynne Government’s appointing David Onley, the Government’s former Special Advisor on Accessibility, to conduct the next mandatory Independent Review of the Government’s implementation and enforcement of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. We set out below the slightly longer version that appeared online.

The Toronto Star article detailed the objections to Mr. Onley’s appointment which we first made public in the February 9, 2018 AODA Alliance Update. The Toronto Star also reports that our concerns are echoed by the Ontario Autism Coalition, the ARCH Disability Law Centre, the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians, Citizens with Disabilities Ontario, Deaf Blind Services Ontario, the Older Women’s Network, the Ontario Disability Coalition, and Guide Dog Users of Canada. That diverse range of supporters shows how serious this issue is.

The Toronto Star article is the first place where the Wynne Government and Mr. Onley publicly respond to our concerns. An advantage of media coverage is that a news organization can at times get the Government to respond to issues, when the Government had hitherto remained silent.

Below we also give you an analysis of the Government’s responses. Put simply, they are no real answer to our serious concerns.

In other accessibility news, voting by party members is supposed to close today for the next leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party. On February 4, 2018, the AODA Alliance released an open letter to the candidates for the Ontario PC leadership, seeking their commitments on accessibility for people with disabilities. We have tweeted this open letter to each leadership candidate many, many times, and emailed the letter to each of their campaigns. As of now, none has replied.

Stay tuned for more news on our non-partisan campaign for accessibility as the June 7, 2018 Ontario election approaches. Below you will find links to helpful background information, and information on how to sign up for or unsubscribe from these Updates.


Toronto Star Online March 8, 2018

Originally posted at Advocates question independence of provincial accessibility review
Former lieutenant-governor David Onley defends his appointment to lead review of landmark legislation. By LAURIE MONSEBRAATEN Social Justice Reporter
Thu., March 8, 2018

Accessibility advocates are questioning the Wynne government’s recent appointment of former lieutenant-governor David Onley to lead the next independent review of Ontario’s landmark accessibility legislation.

They say Onley, a childhood polio survivor, who completed a three-year appointment last fall as the government’s special adviser on accessibility, should not be reviewing the same policies and actions he so recently defended in that role.

“There is absolutely no question about the record and the commitment of Mr. Onley on disability advocacy,” said Laura Kirby-McIntosh of the Ontario Autism Coalition. “But the concern is, he is being asked to review the government he was part of. And optically, that is a little bit awkward.

“Politics is about perception. The difficulty here is the optics are bad. He doesn’t have the independence that he needs,” she added.

Ontario’s 2005 Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) commits the government to ensure the province’s 1.8 million people with disabilities have the opportunity to learn, work and play to their full potential by 2025.

To drive momentum over the 20-year timeline, the legislation mandates the appointment of a person to conduct a comprehensive review of the act every four years. The review must consult people with disabilities and other members of the public and may make recommendations to improve the act’s effectiveness.

Lawyer David Lepofsky of the AODA Alliance, who first raised concerns about Onley’s appointment last month, praised the former lieutenant-governor’s advocacy on accessibility, but said he is the wrong person to lead the review.

“The purpose of these reviews is for someone outside the government to take an independent look at how much progress has been made, whether we are on schedule for full accessibility by 2025, and if we’re not, where the shortcomings are and what needs to change,” he said.

“This independent review comes when we’ve got less than seven years before we hit the deadline of 2025,” Lepofsky added. “This is going to be an important time for us to say we’re not on schedule and things need to change dramatically. So it is very important that the person conducting this next review be and be seen to be impartial and fully independent of government.”

ARCH Disability Law Centre, a legal aid clinic dedicated to defending and advancing equality rights of people with disabilities, is also concerned.

“For ARCH the issue is really about ensuring public confidence throughout this review process,” said Robert Lattanzio, the clinic’s executive director. “If there is even a perception of a lack of independence, that just undermines the entire exercise.”

Onley says Lepofsky and other accessibility activists have misunderstood his role as special adviser and says the bulk of his work was with the public, not the government.

“Not only did I keep an arms-length relationship from the accessibility directorate, but they kept an arms-length relationship from me. It was mutually understood,” he said in an interview Thursday. “We were separate.”

Despite writing a letter to the Star in 2015 that said he believed Ontario was “on track” to meeting its accessibility goals by 2025, Onley said he does not hold that view today.

“In my analysis over the past two years, I now see things are not moving as quickly as I perceived at that time,” he said. “We have to move the needle on accessibility. And a large part of that will be the full implementation of the AODA.”

A spokesperson for Tracy MacCharles, minister responsible for accessibility, said Onley’s role as special adviser involved consulting with stakeholders with a variety of views on the AODA.

“His mandate did not involve drafting the legislation, its regulations, or reviewing how they have been implemented, their compliance and enforcement,” Mahreen Dasoo said in an email.

“As such, whether from a legal or operational perspective, Mr. Onley’s past role as special adviser does not disqualify him from reviewing the legislation,” she added.

Other groups questioning the appointment include the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians; Citizens with Disabilities Ontario; Deaf Blind Services Ontario; Older Women’s Network; Ontario Disability Coalition; and Guide Dog Users of Canada.

A Closer Look at the Government’s Defence of the David Onley Appointment

In the March 8, 2018 Toronto Star, the Wynne Government and Mr. David Onley for the first time offered public responses to the objections to Mr. Onley’s appointment to conduct the next AODA Independent Review. Here is a closer look at these.

The Star quotes Mr. Onley as saying he was independent from the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario, the Ministry office that leads the AODA’ implementation and enforcement.

“Onley says Lepofsky and other accessibility activists have misunderstood his role as special adviser and says the bulk of his work was with the public, not the government.

‘Not only did I keep an arms-length relationship from the accessibility directorate, but they kept an arms-length relationship from me. It was mutually understood,’ he said in an interview Thursday. ‘We were separate.'”

This is no answer. We did not misunderstand his role with the Government. The Accessibility Directorate of Ontario reports through a deputy minister to the minister responsible for the AODA. That was Brad Duguid from mid-2014 to mid-2016, and Tracy MacCharles from mid-2016 to the present. Mr. Onley was hired by the minister, and reported directly to the minister.

He was therefore clearly and obviously part of the Government’ machinery for dealing with accessibility, and was the Minister’s Special Advisor on Accessibility. The minister has a range of important duties on accessibility imposed directly by the AODA.

The suggestion that “the bulk of his work was with the public, not the government” is also no answer. He admits here that at least some of Mr. Onley’s work was with the Government. Moreover, when he went out to speak to and hear from the public, he did so on behalf of the Government. He was being paid to do so by the Government. When Mr. Onley appeared on TVO’s The Agenda with Steve Paikin on February 3, 2015 along with AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky, he was accompanied to the TVO studio (off camera) by one of Minister Duguid’s policy advisors, the one leading work in the minister’s office on accessibility.

The Toronto Star also reports this response from the Wynne Government:

“‘His mandate did not involve drafting the legislation, its regulations, or reviewing how they have been implemented, their compliance and enforcement,’ Mahreen Dasoo said in an email.

‘As such, whether from a legal or operational perspective, Mr. Onley’s past role as special adviser does not disqualify him from reviewing the legislation.'”

That misses the point. It does not answer the fact that if he conducts this AODA Independent Review, Mr. Onley would be sitting in judgement of his own work, and that of the minister he advised and those who the minister was responsible to oversee.

At times, when the Government wanted to promote its work on accessibility, it would point, among other things, to the fact that it had hired David Onley as its Special Advisor on Accessibility to the minister. Going beyond this, the responsible minister, Brad Duguid, and his deputy minister, Giles Gherson, specified duties on accessibility implementation that were situated in Brad Duguid’s office, during Estimates proceedings before the Ontario Legislature Standing Committee on Estimates on November 24, 2015:

Mr. Taras Natyshak: The Premier indicated to the AODA Alliance that the Minister of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure has created a new position within the ministry, the director of accessibility integration and planning, to work with the ministry to ensure that accessibility is integrated into all business practices. Does that position still exist in your ministry as the Premier described it, and, if so, who currently fills that position?

Hon. Brad Duguid: Sorry, could you repeat what the position was? I didn’t

Mr. Taras Natyshak: It is the director of accessibility integration and planning. A key outcome of this work is the integration of accessibility criteria into Ontario’s Youth Jobs Strategyan investment funding programservices and supports.

Hon. Brad Duguid: Deputy?

Mr. Giles Gherson: Last year, David Onley was appointed adviser to the minister on accessibility issues, and he has a staffer in his office to support him. That really became the role that you’re describing now.

Mr. Taras Natyshak: Is that specifically that role? David Onley holds that

Mr. Giles Gherson: It is part of that role.

Mr. Taras Natyshak: Part of that role. So is there a director of accessibility integration? Is there a specific person?

Mr. Giles Gherson: In the deputy’s office? No, there isn’t, because the position was moved, essentially, into David Onley’s office.

Mr. Taras Natyshak: So will that position ever be made, created, filled?

Mr. Giles Gherson: For what purpose?

Mr. Taras Natyshak: For the purpose stated by the Premier.

Mr. Giles Gherson: But then she appointed, following that, David Onley, the former Lieutenant Governor.

Mr. Taras Natyshak: I’m as confused as you are, I think. No? This is a position that the Premier indicated was created within the ministry, and now what you’re telling me is that the position was never really created within the ministry.

Mr. Giles Gherson: No, that’s not true. It was created.

Mr. Taras Natyshak: So is David Onley the person

Mr. Giles Gherson: No. The function that was described by the Premier has been subsumed by David Onley and the staff.

Mr. Taras Natyshak: So then there’s no longer a need to create this position because David Onley has taken on that position?

Mr. Giles Gherson: The function is being fulfilled.

Mr. Taras Natyshak: So again, there is not currently a director of accessibility integration, a specific person with a full-time job and a paycheque, I’m assuming. That position has never been created.

Mr. Giles Gherson: No, it was created.

Mr. Taras Natyshak: Is David Onley that person?

Mr. Giles Gherson: No.

Mr. Taras Natyshak: Who is the person, then?

Mr. Giles Gherson: The position was created and then the position was evolved to David Onley’s office.

Mr. Taras Natyshak: Okay, and what is David Onley’s title within that office?

Mr. Giles Gherson: He’s his own title. He’s adviser to the minister.

Mr. Taras Natyshak: He’s the adviser to the ministerwhich is a different position than director of accessibility integration and planning.

Hon. Brad Duguid: It’s a different position, but as the deputy said, David Onley subsumed some of those responsibilities. If they had continued to pursue that position, there would have been duplication, is what the deputy’s saying. David Onley advises us on that kind of information. That role has now beenwell, that role is now encompassed in the special adviser’s role.”

Why was the minister being asked this at that committee? Back on December 23, 2014, a year earlier, Premier Wynne wrote the AODA Alliance detailed letter setting out what her Government was doing about accessibility. Among other things, she said that there was a new position at the ministry that was then responsible for the AODA, which focused on incorporating accessibility into all its economic development activity. Premier Wynne wrote this:

“As referenced in your letter, the ministry has also worked to incorporate accessibility into all of its economic development and employment strategies, programs and initiatives. In support of this, a Director of Accessibility Integration and Planning position was created within the deputy minister’s office. A key outcome of this work is the integration of accessibility criteria into our Ontario Youth Jobs Strategy, and investment funding programs, services and supports.”

One year later, at the Legislature, Minister Duguid was asked where that promised staff position was. Minister Duguid and his deputy minister told the Standing Committee that that function had been assigned to David Onley’s office. If so, then Mr. Onley ran an office which had staff directly involved in AODA implementation.

But there’s more. Elsewhere at that Standing Committee on that date, Minister Duguid (who hired Mr. Onley) talked about the Government’s efforts to educate obligated organizations including business on their accessibility duties. He in effect described how Mr. Onley, as the Special Advisor, was part of the Government’s public education effort:

“with David Onley as the special adviser on accessibility, that really is his message. When he’s out speaking to the business communityand you may have seen him in the pastthe room goes quiet. People listen. He’s one of the most respected leaders in accessibility anywhere in the world, and he’s really a big help in pushing us to do more, while at the same time getting out there and helping us communicate with the business community on how important this is.”

The final Reports of the two previous AODA Independent Reviews, the one in 2010 by Charles Beer and the one in 2014 by Mayo Moran, each called for more effort by the Government to educate the public, including obligated organizations, on accessibility. If David Onley conducts the next AODA Independent Review, he would have to sit in judgement of his own efforts, on the Government’s behalf, to educate the public on accessibility between 2014 and 2017.

Finally, the Enables Me website, included a report based on an interview with Mr. Onley’s work as the Minister’s Special Advisor on Accessibility in 2015. It described Mr. Onley as, among other things, advising on the AODA’s implementation. It included this:

“David Onley is currently the special advisor in accessibility to Brad Duguid, Minister of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure, where he continues to help to advise and advocate on the implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). He hopes to be able to accelerate the process, especially culturally through different speaking engagements, and appearances on television.”

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