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DisAbled Women's Network: DAWN ONTARIO

 

Backgrounder on the
Ontarians with Disabilities Act (ODA)

WHO IS THE ODA COMMITTEE?

The ODA Committee is a province-wide, grassroots, non-partisan coalition of many, many individuals and over 100 community organizations. They have united to achieve a barrier-free Ontario for its 1.5 million people with disAbilities through the enactment of a strong, mandatory Ontarians with Disabilities Act. Its members include those with all kinds of visible and invisible disabilities and those with no disabilities. They come from all corners of Ontario, from all points on the political spectrum and from all walks of life. They are organized in fully 21 regions of Ontario and are active across the province.

WHY DOES ONTARIO NEED A STRONG, EFFECTIVE AND MANDATORY ODA?

Over 1.5 million Ontarians with disAbilities face many physical, technological, informational, communication and other barriers of different kinds. These impede them from fully participating in all aspects of Ontario life, such as employment and the enjoyment of goods, services and facilities. Supplementing old barriers that have been here for a long time are new barriers that are now being created, and that will be created in the future if not prevented.

Voluntary efforts, such as public education and information campaigns, have not succeeded in removing these barriers and in preventing new ones. Neither have existing patchwork laws, such as the Ontario Human Rights Code, the Charter of Rights and the Ontario Building Code. Ontario needs a strong and effective ODA to achieve a barrier-free province in an effective, sensible way.

WHO WOULD BENEFIT FROM A STRONG, MANDATORY ODA?

As retired Supreme Court of Canada Justice Peter Cory wrote in the November 7, 2000 Toronto Star: "A strong, effective Disabilities Act would benefit us all. It would ensure that those with a disability would finally be included in the rich and rewarding life of other residents of Ontario. Those who now have no disability may well incur a disability as they get older, and they too would be spared these barriers.

Business will profit from both the spending power of consumers with disAbilities and talented employees with disAbilities who have so much to offer. The taxpayer will benefit from the increased economic activity and from the removal of barriers that prevent more persons with disAbilities from moving from social assistance to gainful employment."

WHO BENEFITS FROM THE STATUS QUO?

No one benefits from the status quo. People with disAbilities are forced to suffer the substantial and unfair burdens imposed on them by these barriers. Business loses out on the opportunity to benefit from employing more persons with disAbilities, and from selling more goods and services to persons with disAbilities. The taxpayer must shoulder the cost of more persons with disAbilities on social assistance, who would prefer to be gainfully employed, and thus to be paying taxes into the public purse.

DOES THE PUBLIC SUPPORT A STRONG, MANDATORY ODA?

There is overwhelming proof that the public would support a strong, mandatory ODA, including the following:

* the Ontario Government's June 2000 poll shows strong public support for an ODA which is mandatory, not voluntary, and that applies to both the private and public sectors.

* the ODA Committee's 1997 poll similarly shows strong public support for legislation addressing barriers facing persons with disAbilities.

* the Ontario Legislature unanimously passed 3 resolutions respectively for the ODA to be passed in the Harris Government's first term, for it to incorporate the ODA Committee's 11 principles to make it meaningful, and requiring a strong and effective ODA to be enacted into law by November 23, 2001.

* Over 20 municipal and local councils have passed resolutions similarly calling for the ODA to be enacted, in response to grassroots efforts across Ontario by ODA supporters.

* No major Ontario party has campaigned against the enactment of the ODA in either the 1995 or 1999 elections.

WHAT COMMITMENTS HAS THE ONTARIO GOVERNMENT MADE SINCE 1995 REGARDING THE ODA?

The Ontario Government has made the following commitments regarding the ODA, as acknowledged in public and internal Government documents:

* May 24, 1995: By Mike Harris' letter to the ODA Committee, an election promise to enact the ODA in the Harris Government's first term, to allocate new funds to accommodate persons with disAbilities, and for Premier Harris to work together with the ODA Committee to develop the ODA.

* May 16, 1996: by supporting a unanimous Legislature resolution, to keep the promises to enact the ODA in its first term and to work together with the ODA Committee to develop it.

* Oct. 29, 1998: By supporting a unanimous Legislature resolution, to enact the ODA which complies with 11 principles to make it strong and effective.

* 1999 election: to undertake a new consultation with the public on the ODA, and then to bring forward a new bill which is stronger than Bill 83, a bill that had died on the order paper after first reading in late 1999.

* Sept. 11, 1999: Citizenship Minister Helen Johns tells London Free Press that the ODA will be a "huge priority" for her.

* Oct. 21, 1999: Throne Speech commitment to bring forward an action plan on the ODA in that session of the Ontario Legislature.

* November 23, 1999: By supporting a unanimous Legislature resolution, to enact a strong and effective ODA into law by November 23, 2001.

* March 25, 2000: Citizenship Minister Helen Johns commits on London TV that the ODA action plan will be brought forward by June 2000.

WHAT STEPS HAS THE GOVERNMENT TAKEN TO FULFIL THESE COMMITMENTS?

* No ODA was enacted in the Harris Government's first term or in the first 1 and ½ years of its second term. No "action plan" for the ODA has been brought forward since it was promised in the Throne Speech 16 months ago.

* July to September 1999: Citizenship Minister Bassett and her Parliamentary Assistant Derwyn Shea held closed, invitation-only consultations on what to include in the ODA based on the Government's July 13, 1998 ODA Discussion Paper. That Discussion Paper recognized the problem of barriers, but limited the options for inclusion in the ODA to redress them.


* Nov. 23, 1998: Citizenship Minister Isabel Bassett introduced Bill 83 for first reading. Only three pages long, it did not require any barriers to be removed. This bill died on the order paper after first reading 17 days later. The Government acknowledged in its April 1999 Throne Speech that this bill was insufficient.

* Late 1999 to February 2001: Citizenship Minister Helen Johns stated she is holding ongoing consultations on the ODA. Documents released in mid-2000 revealed little record of this.

* Late August 2000: According to a leaked draft Cabinet submission, the Government planned to introduce a new bill in October-December 2000 significantly resembling Bill 83, as well as some limited non-legislative measures. A Government communication strategy was proposed to respond to the anticipated criticism of the Government for this approach.

WHAT RESOURCES ARE AVAILABLE TO YOU TO HELP WITH YOUR WORK ON THIS ISSUE?

To assist you in becoming more familiar with this issue, you have the benefit of the Citizenship Ministry staff who have had this issue for several years. In addition, we are pleased to offer you our help. You may especially find the following resources helpful:

* The ODA Committee's comprehensive April 1998 Brief to the Legislature on the ODA. It includes among other things, a detailed blueprint for the contents of the ODA which are faithful to the 11 principles which the Ontario Legislature unanimously endorsed by
resolution on October 29, 1998. It also includes a 50-page list of barriers facing persons with all kinds of different disabilities in Ontario in a wide range of activities. This list is not intended to be exhaustive. It reflects extensive feedback we received from people right across Ontario.

* The ODA Committee's website at www.odacommittee.net. This is a comprehensive resource on this issue. It includes, among other things, all correspondence between the ODA Committee and the Government among others on this issue, Hansard transcripts of statements about the ODA in the Legislature, a list of our many organizational members, all the major public documents concerning the ODA issue, and much, much more.

* The detailed report prepared by the Liberal Party's former disability critic, MPP Steve Peters, which was made public on November 23, 2000. That is an excellent report which resulted from a thorough and accessible series of public forums in some 15 communities across Ontario held last spring. Unfortunately, neither Premier Harris nor then Citizenship Minister Helen Johns accepted any invitations to attend these forums.

* The columns in the Toronto Star (available on the website) expressing support for a strong, effective ODA by the late Chief Justice of Canada Brian Dickson published on October 7, 1998 and by retired Supreme Court Justice Peter Cory, referred to above.

* The Ontario Human Rights Commission's February 19, 2001 Discussion Paper on Accessible Public Transit for People with Disabilities: This documents the need for provincial legislation to set standards to achieve barrier-free public transit. It provides a good illustration in this one sector of the need for a strong, mandatory ODA.

WHAT MAJOR CHALLENGES DOES THE NEW MINISTER OF CITIZENSHIP, CAM JACKSON, FACE IN UNDERTAKING HIS RESPONSIBILITIES REGARDING THE ODA?

He will face several significant challenges in discharging this new area of responsibility.

Among these are the following:

* There are only 275 days left until the November 23, 2001 deadline, unanimously set by the legislature, for passing the ODA into law.

* His Government has not yet held a consultation on the ODA which is open, public and accessible to all whose insights would help them. The results of the two limited, closed, invitation-only consultations held by their predecessors were never summarized and properly analyzed in a report, as far as we have been able to ascertain. Former Minister Helen Johns told us that feedback she received is largely in her head.

* Premier Harris gave none of Minister Jacksons's three predecessor ministers a mandate, authority or scope to undertake meaningful accessible discussions about the contents of the ODA, and to come
forward with a bill which is strong and effective.



 

A guide to Gender-Based Analysis of Canadian public policy:
Women Matter: Gender, Development and Policy, by Martha Muzychka, March 1995 (Provincial Advisory Council on the Status of Women, Newfoundland and Labrador)

 

 




 
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