Opening remarks for CC CFAA Virtual Discussion

Speaking Notes
Marie-Claude Landry, Ad. E.
Chief Commissioner
Canadian Human Rights Commission
Opening remarks for CC CFAA Virtual Discussion

May 27, 2021

1-4 pm

10 minutes 
 

check against delivery

Good morning (for those in the West)/afternoon and thank you very much for joining today’s discussion. 

It is certainly a pleasure to be here with all of you. 

It is very important to me that I begin by acknowledging the land from which I am speaking today as being the traditional and unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinabè Nation.

I also would like to honour all the traditional territories being represented here from our various locations.

For those of you who I have not met, I am Marie-Claude Landry, Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, and Chair of the Council of Federal Accessibility Agencies. 

National Accessibility Week (May 30-June 5)

Before I talk about our Council and why we are here today - as National Accessibility Week begins in a few days, I want to thank each of YOU for your efforts in raising awareness about accessibility, and working to proactively identify and eliminate barriers and create a more accessible and inclusive Canada. 

With COVID-19, this past year has been difficult for everyone, particularly for people with disabilities.

COVID-19 has expanded the circle of vulnerability in Canada and created new barriers to the full participation of people with disabilities. 

I want to take this opportunity to say a big thank you to everyone for their advocacy this year, for pushing for accessibility and inclusion for all, and for helping to ensure that the rights of people with disabilities in Canada are at the forefront of Canada’s plan for building back better as we recover from Covid-19. 

I encourage everyone to take some time next week during National Accessibility Week, to pause and celebrate the valuable contributions made by YOU, and all Canadians with disabilities over the past year - thank you everyone!

Introduction

Today, we are here to talk about accessibility, and our shared goal of creating a barrier-free Canada and making Canada a world leader in disability inclusion. 

We are fortunate to have representatives from over 30 organizations participating in today’s discussion and we look forward to hearing from all of you during the roundtable.  

However, we do recognize that we could not bring all interested organizations or individuals here today. The Council and our partners will continue to discuss how we can ensure a diversity of voices are represented in our future work.

The purpose of today's discussion is to introduce you to the Council of Federal Accessibility Agencies. We want to tell you a bit about our work, hear from you on several important issues, and answer questions you may have about the Council.

As we know, the Accessible Canada Act establishes a framework for the proactive identification, removal, and prevention of barriers to accessibility for persons with disabilities. 

The Act applies to organizations under federal responsibility, which are:

  • the Government of Canada, including government departments, Crown Corporations and agencies;
  • the federally regulated private sector, including organizations in the transportation sectors, broadcasting and telecommunications services, and the banking and financial sectors;
  • Parliament, including the Senate, the House of Commons, the Library of Parliamentary and the Parliamentary Protective Service; and,
  • the Canadian Forces and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

The Council of Federal Accessibility Agencies (CFAA)

Several organizations are responsible for enforcing the Accessible Canada Act.

These organizations have come together to form the Council of Federal Accessibility Agencies. 

Today, I am so pleased to open this discussion with the Council. 

Our organizations are working together to advance accessibility. 

We have formed the Council to ensure cooperation where our roles and responsibilities overlap. 

We will make sure that accessibility complaints are handled by the right organization. And we are working to develop complementary policies and practices. 

Our collaboration will help ensure a more seamless implementation of the Act. 

The Council is composed of my colleagues:

  • Scott Streiner, the Chair and Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Transportation Agency;
  • Ian Scott, the Chair and Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission;
  • David Thomas, the Chair of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal;
  • Edith Bramwell, the Chair of the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board; and
  • the Council will also include the Accessibility Commissioner upon their appointment.

Work of the CFAA

Since the Council was formed in August 2019 - each of our organizations has continued to engage rights holders and stakeholders, including people with lived-experience, to ensure that the voices of people with disabilities inform the Council’s work.

We are pleased to be here together for the Council’s first engagement session. The Council established two working groups to assist in carrying out our important work – one to facilitate a No Wrong Door approach to accessibility complaints, and one to work on Proactive Compliance.

Through our work we are all guided by the understanding that accessibility is a fundamental human right.

We are all committed to ensuring that this right is protected, promoted and realized in practice across Canada.

The Accessible Canada Act is about proactive compliance.

Rather than waiting for people to request accommodations, it shifts the onus on employers and service providers to remove and prevent barriers.

Today, my colleague Scott will tell you a little about the “No Wrong Door” complaint process.

This process will ensure that regardless of where people bring their complaints, our organizations will work together to ensure that they are referred quickly and easily to the organization best suited to address the issue.

Importantly, this will be done proactively by our organizations to ensure there is no additional burden on complainants.

This is about putting people first.

Now, I would like to address up front some questions you may have about the Accessible Canada Act and the role we are playing at the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

What is the timing of the appointment of the Accessibility Commissioner?

A question I am frequently asked and one I am sure is top of mind is - when will the Accessibility Commissioner be appointed?

Unfortunately, I do not have a specific date to provide, however, I can explain the process and anticipated timing. 

While the Accessibility Commissioner will be a full-time employee at the Commission, the Commission is not responsible for their hiring. 

The Government of Canada, through a recommendation from the Minister of Justice, will appoint the new Commissioner. 

We are hopeful that the Accessibility Commissioner will be appointed prior to the coming into force of the first set of regulations under the Act. This will likely be within the coming months. 

Once they are appointed, we are looking forward to welcoming this individual to the Commission and to this Council, to work with all of us.

I want to assure you that even in the absence of an Accessibility Commissioner, we are building strong relationships between our organizations and our staff as we design our programs to support the implementation of the Accessible Canada Act

Timeline for Accessible Canada Act and regulations – when will things get moving – when can I file a complaint? 

Next, there are a few other questions I am frequently asked, such as: when can a complaint be filed? When will we see change implemented? When will barriers be removed?

Let me begin by saying that first and foremost, the Accessible Canada Act is about the removal and prevention of barriers. 

As I mentioned, the Act puts the onus on employers and service providers by requiring them to take proactive measures to identify, remove and prevent barriers for people with disabilities. 

Furthermore, it will require federally-regulated entities to develop and publish Accessibility Plans in consultation with the disability community, introduce a process for receiving and responding to feedback about accessibility, and report on progress annually. 

The Council anticipates that over time, as a result of the proactive identification and removal of barriers, there will be less of a need for individuals to file complaints. 

But as regulations for the Accessible Canada Act are developed and come into force in the coming years, regulated entities will be given time to comply before complaints can be filed. 

While all organizations involved in regulating accessibility are working hard to align our policies and practices, there will sometimes be differences. 

For instance, the first organization to move ahead with regulations to advance accessibility is the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA), through the Accessible Transportation for Persons with Disabilities Regulations, which came into force in June 2020. Individuals can submit complaints to the CTA about accessibility issues related to those regulations.

However, it will be a few years before other accessibility regulations are in place and complaints can be accepted by other organizations involved in regulating accessibility.

We will speak more about our collaborative approach to proactively managing accessibility related complaints throughout today’s discussion. 

Conclusion

Finally, let me be very clear – as we await the full implementation of the Accessible Canada Act, the Commission WILL continue to receive and process discrimination complaints related to disability under the Canadian Human Rights Act

This will continue even after the Accessibility Commissioner is appointed and is able to receive complaints related to accessibility. The Accessible Canada Act does not replace the Canadian Human Rights Act. Rather, it provides new venues for filing complaints related to accessibility.

In addition to cooperation among accessibility agencies, we are also committed to working alongside rights holders, regulated entities and other stakeholders to ensure the systems we are building will work for those they are intended to serve, and that together, we will continue to contribute to a barrier-free Canada. 

I would like to finish by acknowledging that this legislation is complex, and change will take time.

We believe, as I hope you do, that these changes will be worth the wait. 

We are all committed to working together to make Canada more accessible for all Canadians. 

In the spirit of “nothing without us,” we are also all committed to working with YOU to make Canada more accessible for all Canadians.

Now, I would like to give the opportunity to my colleagues to briefly introduce themselves before we get started.

Scott,
Ian,
Edith,
David

Finally, I would like to turn to our facilitator Jeff Willbond, the Director General, Proactive Compliance at the Canadian Human Rights Commission - Jeff over to you.

Thank you!

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