From October 15th through November 30th, Montreal is holding public consultations on the preliminary version of its Action Plan for Universal Accessibility 2019-2020. We welcome the citys willingness to listen and find ways to act to improve accessibility.
Objectives for making municipal services accessible are certainly commendable. However, the Action Plan remains far too vague when it comes to how businesses and new constructions are to be made accessible.
We have attended a couple of consultation meetings, and the lack of accessibility to businesses was one of concerns most often expressed by participants. With fully one third of Montrealers living with mild, moderate, or serious incapacities, it is time to take decisive action.
Rosannie Filato, the member of Montreals Executive Committee responsible for accessibility issues, stated in an interview November 2nd on CBC Radio Ones Radio Noon that the municipal administration intends to pursue discussions with the other levels of government and look at its own urban planning laws to see what it can change to make businesses universally accessible. It is reassuring to see that she is aware of the scope of the problem and willing to find the solutions for which thousands of Montrealers have so long waited.
In this respect, we note that Montreal already has the power to impose accessibility guidelines stricter than the current minimum standards without approval from the Quebec government. The administration must be courageous and audacious.
The preliminary Action Plan does not in any way directly address the discrimination caused by the appalling state of accessibility of businesses. Surprisingly, it makes no mention of discrimination at all. Accessibility is a right recognized by many laws, policies, and charters at all levels of government municipal, provincial, and federal and it is enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (ratified by Canada in 2010). The Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms prohibits not only discrimination based on disability, but also discrimination in access to public places, such as commercial establishments. This is exactly why Montreals Action Plan must put a stronger focus on the issue of accessibility, not only of businesses, but of residential buildings as well.
The government of Quebec, for its part, needs to adopt laws and regulations on universal accessibility that spell out specific obligations, precise deadlines, and penalties for non-compliance or missed deadlines, as is presently done in Ontario and Manitoba. The Plante administration must put pressure on the government to introduce such a reform. Should the province prove unwilling to act, the city must seek the appropriate powers for itself. As it is, the city is doing little more than raising awareness in the private sector. And yet inaccessible businesses continue to be renovated and to open because business owners are not sufficiently informed about the available grants, nor made aware of the economic potential of full accessibility (one UK government study has pegged the buying power of disabled clientele at around £212 billion annually).
Ms. Filato recognizes the importance of communicating with small and medium-sized businesses. This is encouraging, and the Action Plan should better reflect this commitment. Still, it is clear that an enforceable regulatory framework is the only way that real change will ever happen on the ground.
The consultations currently underway, and the statements by the administrations representative, show that the Plante administration is taking universal accessibility and the rights of the disabled seriously. The city must however further improve its Action Plan to recognize and fight against the discrimination experienced by people with disabilities as they navigate their daily lives. Montreal can truly spearhead an accessibility revolution in Quebec by assuming the leadership role that, in Ms. Filatos words, it needs to take.