In June 2019, after a year of deliberation and amendments in the Canadian government, Canadians are celebrating the passing and royal assent of the Accessible Canada Act (ACA). This Act complements and adds detail and clarity to the Human Rights Act, passed in 1977, which prohibits discrimination by federally regulated agencies against a number of different groups including citizens with disabilities.
The existing Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, marital status, family status, genetic characteristics, disability, or pardoned offenses, and this new Act brings more detail, specific standards, and an Accessibility Commissioner to enforce the removal of barriers which will specifically accommodate the needs of those with disabilities. While the main goal is to make all of Canada accessible, it currently exclusively addresses agencies and industries regulated by the federal government.
Barriers prohibited by this act are not limited to physical barriers like steps and doors. Barriers in information and communication technologies are also prohibited, and all federally regulated agencies and industries must now offer accessible websites and online resources. It is mandated that barriers be removed in these instances:
- the built environment
- information and communication technologies
- communication, other than information and communication technologies
- the procurement of goods, services, and facilities
- the design and delivery of programs and services
While the ACA details specifically the types and locations of barriers that must be removed- digitally, physically, within the workplace- it does not specify what the removal of barriers should look like, opting instead to specify what goals and ideals should be met in order to consider the barriers removed. The principles include:
(a) all persons must be treated with dignity regardless of their disabilities;
(b) all persons must have the same opportunity to make for themselves the lives that they are able and wish to have regardless of their disabilities;
(c) all persons must have barrier-free access to full and equal participation in society, regardless of their disabilities;
(d) all persons must have meaningful options and be free to make their own choices, with support if they desire, regardless of their disabilities;
(e) laws, policies, programs, services, and structures must take into account the disabilities of persons, the different ways that persons interact with their environments and the multiple and intersecting forms of marginalization and discrimination faced by persons;
(f) persons with disabilities must be involved in the development and design of laws, policies, programs, services, and structures; and
(g) the development and revision of accessibility standards and the making of regulations must be done with the objective of achieving the highest level of accessibility for persons with disabilities.
The details of the barrier removal process will be left in the hands of a newly created organization called the Canadian Accessibility Standards Development Organization (CASDO), which falls under the jurisdiction of the Honourable Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Public Services and Procurement and Accessibility. CASDO and the standards it produces must take into consideration people with disabilities and the various ways they choose to interact with their environment. Those with disabilities will make up half of the membership in the decision-making process for the creation of these standards. CASDO is headed by the Chief Executive Officer.
The ultimate goal of the commission is to contribute to the realization of a Canada without barriers, on or before January 1, 2040. To meet its goal, the commission is charged with conducting research to develop and revise accessibility standards and recommending them to the Minister.
To enforce the enacted standards, a Commissioner will be appointed. If the commissioner has reason to believe that a regulated entity has violated a standard, he or she must issue a warning detailing the nature of the violation and possible penalties. The potential violator has the option of requesting a review of the alleged violation or accept that they had violated the standard. They may be required to pay a penalty fee or to enter into a compliance agreement. Once they have actually complied with the compliance agreement, the Accessibility Commissioner will issue a Notice of Compliance, and the violation is remedied. If they do not comply with the agreement, they will be served with a notice of default and a penalty fee. The enforcement by the Commissioner is final and cannot be reviewed or overturned in court.
While Canada still has a ways to go in formulating specific standards in accessibility for industries to follow, the Accessible Canada Act is a significant step in the right direction. Canada now has the means to create and enforce the specific standards to make federal resources available to everyone.