David Onley’s Enduring Legacy Includes His Strong 2019 Call at the Senate for Enforced Timelines in Accessibility Standards and an End Date as the Only True Way to Ensure that Our society Becomes Accessible to People with Disabilities

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

Web: https://www.aodaalliance.org
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February 1, 2023

SUMMARY

An important part of the late David Onley’s enduring legacy is his May 1, 2019 statement to the Senate of Canada’s Standing Committee on Social Affairs. He called for Bill C-81, the proposed Accessible Canada Act, to be strengthened. In what we believe may have been his last appearance before that August body, David Onley summarized the culmination of his life-long journey, advocating for accessibility for people with disabilities.

David Onley told the Senate that earlier in his life, he had thought that moral suasion and good will would bring about the changes that people with disabilities need. However he ultimately learned that moral suasion and good will are not enough. We need more. We need enforced, mandatory accessibility standards with timelines and an end date.

Below you can read his statement to the Senate and his answers to the Senators’ questions. He appeared on a panel with three other presenters. You can read the entire presentations of all four presenters by visiting the Senate’s official May 1, 2019 transcript. His statement, delivered four months after delivering his scathing report to the Ontario Government about its poor implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, included this candid self-assessment of his journey:

“The Canadian Survey on Disability echoes what other surveys have concluded: Almost 20 per cent of Canadians, over 6 million people, have one or more disabilities that limit them in their daily activities. Moreover, people with disabilities form our single largest minority group. It is the only minority group that others can join, and do join, not by choice but by accident, disease or, in many cases, simply as a result of getting older.

These are some significant percentages, but the most significant statistic is this: When the immediate family members of Canadians with disabilities are included, it means that over 53 per cent of all Canadians are directly affected by disability. That means that right now the majority of Canadians are affected by disability in some way, either personally or through an immediate family member.

This is a very significant finding. The reason I think it’s important is because it tells us, given the fact that a significant percentage of incidents and we don’t know the exact number is related to one of the unfortunate by-products of aging. That is a decrease in mobility and a decrease in accessibility or functionality to get around. We can say with some degree of real confidence that a higher percentage of Canadians are going to experience disability and, through family members, have it affect them in their day to day life.

The reason I start by mentioning this is that I know you have had comments from other presenters on the importance of setting dates for objectives insofar as achieving standards are concerned, achieving goals related to accessibility. I agree with this wholeheartedly, and I must say it’s something that has taken me a while to get to, especially during the implementation of the AODA. I was part of the discussions at the very beginning in 2005 and the first chair of the minister’s 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.

The first review of the act done in 2010 by former MPP Charles Beer reached an opposite conclusion, as did the second review by the former Dean of the University Toronto law school, Mayo Moran. When I began my review in February 2018 I took that into account, but I was still fairly convinced that moral suasion and good economic arguments, of which there are many, would be sufficient to convince companies and individuals that achieving full accessibility was a reasonable objective and something that we should set our minds to very quickly.

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 we’re 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.

Had we had that set up in the AODA in 2005, I think we would be in a far different situation than we are right now. The original objective of the act was to make Ontario fully accessible by the year 2025. At the beginning, I remember thinking very clearly that this would be achievable within seven years, maybe 10 at the outside. But as my hearings went on and as I looked at the previous reviews and listened to people’s real-life stories of the barriers they were facing and the dispiriting situations that they found themselves in, I’ve come to reach a completely different conclusion.

I know there is a strong difference of opinion on this, but I would simply put it to you that as you look at other endeavours by government, whether they are matters related to climate change or the environment, or whether you’re dealing with students as I do at the University of Toronto in political science, you have to have a date, a deadline and a clear objective in mind. If you don’t, it just becomes an endless process.”

David Onley’s enduring message comes from this statement, combined with:

* The final report of David Onley’s AODA Independent Review that he delivered to the Ford Government four years ago yesterday, and

* The powerful guest column in the September 15, 2020 Toronto Star that was co-authored by David Onley, together with Charles Beer and Mayo Moran, the authors of the three AODA Independent Reviews conducted to date.

The AODA Alliance is dedicating its forthcoming brief to the 4th AODA Independent Review, now being conducted by Rich Donovan, to David Onley. We welcome your feedback on our posted draft of that brief, by February 5, 2023. Email your feedback to aodafeedback@gmail.com

In the statement set out below, David Onley urged the Senate to amend the proposed Accessible Canada Act to set the deadline of 2040 for Canada to become accessible. The AODA Alliance and others had been advocating for that deadline. In the House of Commons, the Trudeau Liberals had earlier opposed setting any such deadline.

David Onley appeared at the final hour of public hearings in the Senate on Bill C-81. His endorsement of our shared goal helped convince the Senators to amend that Bill to add that very deadline of 2040. When the bill went back to the House of Commons, the hitherto reluctant Trudeau Liberals voted to accept this amendment. We appreciate David Onley helping us all get over that important finish line. You can read all about the battle to get the Accessible Canada Act strengthened on the AODA Alliance website’s Canada page.

The Ford Government received the final report of David Onley’s 3rd AODA Independent Review 1,462 days ago. The best way to honour David Onley legacy is for the Government to at last implement his roadmap for reform.

MORE DETAILS

Senate of Canada Hansard May 1, 2019

Originally posted at https://sencanada.ca/en/Content/Sen/Committee/421/SOCI/58EV-54737-E

STANDING COMMITTEE
Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Social Affairs, Science and Technology
Issue No. 58 – Evidence – May 1, 2019
OTTAWA, Wednesday, May 1, 2019

The Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, to which was referred Bill C-81, An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada, met this day at 4:24 p.m. to give consideration to the Bill.

Excerpt 1

Hon. David Onley, former Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, as an individual: Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen, for this opportunity to speak to you about Bill C-81.

Over the past year, I conducted the third legislative review of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005, known locally in Ontario as the AODA. After hearing from hundreds of people all across Ontario, our review was submitted to the provincial government on January 31.

I believe my experience in that capacity and that arising from my seven years as Ontario’s first Lieutenant Governor with a physical disability enables me to share some insights which I hope will enhance and improve your deliberations for the Accessible Canada Act.

When I began as Lieutenant Governor in 2007, I adopted accessibility as the overarching theme of my term of office. I’ve defined accessibility as “that which enables people to achieve their full potential.”

I came up with that definition because I wanted people to see that accessibility is much more than what we think of when we just hear the term, things such as curb cuts, ramps, wheelchair parking spots and automatic doors. Accessibility is much more than just the ubiquitous blue wheelchair sign.

The Canadian Survey on Disability echoes what other surveys have concluded: Almost 20 per cent of Canadians, over 6 million people, have one or more disabilities that limit them in their daily activities. Moreover, people with disabilities form our single largest minority group. It is the only minority group that others can join, and do join, not by choice but by accident, disease or, in many cases, simply as a result of getting older.

These are some significant percentages, but the most significant statistic is this: When the immediate family members of Canadians with disabilities are included, it means that over 53 per cent of all Canadians are directly affected by disability. That means that right now the majority of Canadians are affected by disability in some way, either personally or through an immediate family member.

This is a very significant finding. The reason I think it’s important is because it tells us, given the fact that a significant percentage of incidents and we don’t know the exact number is related to one of the unfortunate by-products of aging. That is a decrease in mobility and a decrease in accessibility or functionality to get around. We can say with some degree of real confidence that a higher percentage of Canadians are going to experience disability and, through family members, have it affect them in their day to day life.

The reason I start by mentioning this is that I know you have had comments from other presenters on the importance of setting dates for objectives insofar as achieving standards are concerned, achieving goals related to accessibility. I agree with this wholeheartedly, and I must say it’s something that has taken me a while to get to, especially during the implementation of the AODA. I was part of the discussions at the very beginning in 2005 and the first chair of the minister’s 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.

The first review of the act done in 2010 by former MPP Charles Beer reached an opposite conclusion, as did the second review by the former Dean of the University Toronto law school, Mayo Moran. When I began my review in February 2018 I took that into account, but I was still fairly convinced that moral suasion and good economic arguments, of which there are many, would be sufficient to convince companies and individuals that achieving full accessibility was a reasonable objective and something that we should set our minds to very quickly.

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 we’re 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.

Had we had that set up in the AODA in 2005, I think we would be in a far different situation than we are right now. The original objective of the act was to make Ontario fully accessible by the year 2025. At the beginning, I remember thinking very clearly that this would be achievable within seven years, maybe 10 at the outside. But as my hearings went on and as I looked at the previous reviews and listened to people’s real-life stories of the barriers they were facing and the dispiriting situations that they found themselves in, I’ve come to reach a completely different conclusion.

I know there is a strong difference of opinion on this, but I would simply put it to you that as you look at other endeavours by government, whether they are matters related to climate change or the environment, or whether you’re dealing with students as I do at the University of Toronto in political science, you have to have a date, a deadline and a clear objective in mind. If you don’t, it just becomes an endless process.

The Chair: Mr. Onley, I apologize, but I will have to interrupt you.

Mr. Onley: That’s quite all right.

The Chair: I know we have many questions, and you will have a chance to go deeper into what you’re saying. Thank you for your opening remarks, but we would like to have time for everyone.

Excerpt 2

The Chair: We have a list of senators who have questions. Senators, please say from whom you would like an answer.

Senator Seidman: Thank you very much for your presentations. There is no question in my mind that this is quite a wonderful way to end our hearings, because you’ve all presented very powerfully and clearly, so I thank you for that.

Tomorrow, we will do clause by clause. I think we also hear your plea. We’ve heard over and over again in our hearings that the disability communities do not want us to do anything to jeopardize this legislation. They feel very strongly that it is an important beginning for disability communities, and I think we hear that as well.

We have looked at very clear, crisp amendments that would improve the legislation in what might be considered a mandatory kind of way that we think might be able to get to the house and back again. That is the issue here, because any amendments we make have to go back to the House of Commons.

I might start with you, Ms. Jodhan, and then move to everyone if they wish. If there were one area of legislation that you would ask us to strengthen, what would you choose?

Ms. Jodhan: I would ask you to ensure that timelines and deadlines are implanted into Bill C-81 so they could be adhered to more correctly. Without timelines and deadlines, it is not possible to have things happen in an orderly manner. So in response to your question, I think timelines and deadlines are what I would like to see strengthened.

Senator Seidman: Perfect. Thank you.

Mr. Onley: I would agree. You said it very succinctly: timelines and deadlines. You could even go to the point of calling for a realization of a Canada without barriers on or before January 1, 2040. It sounds like a long time, but it is not.

Unless there is a timeframe objective, it can become a lot of virtue-signalling. We’ve had enough of that over the decades.

Senator Seidman: Thank you, that’s very helpful. Mr. Sutton?

Mr. Sutton: I agree with my colleagues. Timelines are critical.

One thing we’ve seen in numerous jurisdictions is that, when it is not the priority of the government, things become sidetracked. It is so critical, because this government has made accessibility through this legislation their priority but future governments may not. We really want to see a vision and an end timeline.

For example, Ontario in 2025. We know that on January 1, 2025, we will not wake up to a fully accessible Ontario, but we know that a lot of things should have been implemented by then. From there we will work toward more standards and regulations. Timelines and deadlines are critical.

Excerpt 3

Senator Moodie: My question is directed to the Honourable David Onley. Your honour, can you give us some ideas I know we cut you short when you were presenting and I got the sense that there was a richness of the Ontario experience that you might have shared with us. What have we learned from the Ontario experience? What are the pitfalls here, besides the timelines which you spoke to very clearly?

Mr. Onley: I feel the big takeaway from the experience was that there are a lot of very frustrated people who are really expecting government to deliver on this. And while we were talking about the Ontario act, the conversation again and again, without any prompting from the presenters, inevitably moved over to the federal act, and considerable enthusiasm that, at last, there was going to be a national approach to accessibility.

I think that was probably the most overwhelming thing, because it just kept happening again and again, whether it was a hearing at Carleton University in Ottawa, or up in Thunder Bay, or in London or other parts of the province. Without any prompting, that message kept coming back again and again. So there is an expectation, and there will be profound disappointment if this is a watered down or weakened document. People are really looking for results.

Senator M. Deacon: Thank you to all of you for being here. Yes, we are getting near the finish line of a very long race. It is just the beginning, so we are thrilled to have all of you here today helping us solidify some of these next steps.

This comment or question is for the Honourable David Onley. I want to thank you. Your video still reigns across the province and the country for education and training. It is a video that’s still used, and I bring that up for a particular reason. You have talked about timelines, and we’ve heard that. The education and training piece, when you have finished your third review, learnings from AODA and our next step moving forward, we don’t see that as a specifically purposeful statement in this bill. I would love if you could comment on that aspect of education and training and what you believe it has meant for culture, in your experience, in Ontario.

Mr. Onley: It has certainly been an incremental process. I think it has been assisted by groups such as Roots of Empathy, to name just one, that have encouraged in their own way to help improve our society, as well as the different advocacy groups who have been inspired to continue working at this.

Prior to the cameras being turned on, Donna and I were talking about and I hear this again and again from others just how tired we are as advocates. There are only so many decades not years but decades that you can keep pursuing things without reaching a point where you just wonder how much longer you can keep on doing it.

I realize this doesn’t fully answer your question, but be assured that if there is quality content to this and people see that it is a strong bill and a strong act, that there will be considerable enthusiasm and support that will be directed towards it. I think it would then be an encouragement insofar as education and the training is concerned.

Senator M. Deacon: Thank you to all four of you for your continued and tireless advocacy.

Senator Ravalia: My question, too, is for the Honourable David Onley. Thank you to all of you for your presentations. Your honour, outside of the timelines, are there any aspects of Bill C-81 that you feel did not fully address what you so articulately said at the beginning: the ability to achieve one’s full potential?

Mr. Onley: No, I think it has been well covered. I really do. It is something that’s going to require work as this act comes into force, but it is also going to require the Province of Ontario, with many of the recommendations that I made in the review, and other provinces with their own initiatives this is not going to be, like in a football analogy, a Hail Mary pass where the act comes into force and Royal Assent is given and then we start holding parades for accessibility. We still have a long way to go, but it will be an encouragement to advocacy groups, to other provinces that have accessibility acts and encouragement, I hope, to provinces that don’t have accessibility acts to enact their own in their areas of jurisdiction.

Senator Ravalia: Thank you.

Excerpt 4

Senator Omidvar: I understand that, but I wonder if the Honourable David Onley would comment from his review of the AODA and his long years of experience in Ontario. As an Ontarian, I lived through that. Is there clarity or interplay or confusion? And how should we best be advised to deal with that?

Mr. Onley: Like everything else in Canadian politics, is this a federal or provincial matter? The answer is yes.

As long as people see that legitimate efforts are being made within the respective spheres of influence or responsibility, any of the overlapping that could inevitably occur will be seen with a real sense of goodwill as opposed to confusion.

It is fairly clear as to what areas are covered, insofar as federal responsibilities are concerned, and fairly clear as to what areas are provincial in this particular area. So I think pressing on with considerable vigour, in terms of its implementation, will be a great encouragement.