This summer the Federal government tabled Canada’s first national accessibility law in efforts to advance accessibility for people with disabilities, where the Federal government has pledged $290 million over six years towards supporting its implementation. Bill C-81, the Accessible Canada Act, is intended to enhance the full and equal participation of all persons, particularly by the identification, removal, and prevention of barriers. A barrier is defined broadly within the act, as encompassing "anything architectural, physical, technological or attitudinal … that hinders the full and equal participation in society of persons with a physical, mental, intellectual, learning, communication or sensory impairment or a functional limitation."
If this bill is passed, most federally regulated employers and service providers will be required, among other legislated obligations, to: develop and publish accessibility plans; facilitate feedback on plan fulfillment and barriers; and prepare and publish progress reports on plan fulfillment. The Accessible Canada Act requires accessibility and barrier removal in: employment; the built environment (i.e. access to public spaces and buildings); information and communication technologies; the procurement of goods and services; the delivery of programs and services; transportation; and other areas provided for under the regulations.
Ontario employers will be familiar with many of the obligations included in this bill, as similar to the Ontario accessibility legislation, the bill will impose accessibility standards on employers and service providers to identify, remove, and prevent barriers.
The Accessible Canada Act will also legislate the administration and enforcement of the act through:
- inspections and the power to conduct investigations of potential contraventions of the legislation
- the right of individuals to file a complaint and the implementation of a relevant complaint process
- monetary penalties, where the maximum penalty in respect of a violation is $250,000
- compensation for those who have suffered physical or psychological harm, property damage or economic loss, or more broadly any other adverse effects due to contraventions of the legislation.
Currently, this bill is at First Reading. As a result of the most recent federal Cabinet Shuffle, Carla Qualtrough is the federal minister with lead responsibility for Bill C-81 and is expected continue the strong commitment to accessibility issues within the Federal government.
Given the broad implications of the Accessible Canada Act, employers should prepare by being proactive in identifying and addressing barriers impacting people with disabilities.
Accessibility legislation is expected to be implemented at both the provincial and federal level across the country. Three provinces have already implemented accessibility legislation: Ontario passed the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act in 2005; Manitoba passed the Accessibility for Manitobans Act in 2013; and Nova Scotia passed the Nova Scotia Accessibility Act in 2017. Additionally, British Columbia has, as recently as this past July, pledged to establish a provincial Disabilities Act this fall.
As accessibility legislation continues to be implemented across the country, employers should consider how they are going to manage the impact of the implementation of the accessibility legislation at both a provincial and federal level, and more generally accessibility and accommodation issues within the workplace.
Simmy Sahdra is an associate in the Labour and Employment Group with McCarthy Tétrault in Toronto. She can be reached at (416) 601-8418 or firstname.lastname@example.org.