SENATE OF CANADA HANSARD MAY 13, 2019
Originally posted at https://sencanada.ca/en/content/sen/chamber/421/debates/287db_2019-05-13-e
Accessible Canada Bill
Hon. Jim Munson moved third reading of Bill C-81, An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada, as amended.
He said: Honourable senators, what a journey we have been on. What a journey all of us have been on.
Senators, as the sponsor of this bill, I’m pleased to speak tonight at the third reading of Bill C-81, An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada, also known as the Accessible Canada Act. I am humbled and honoured to speak to a bill that will no doubt become a proud part of Canadian history.
Making history takes dedication, hard work and perseverance. So I want to acknowledge the work of many people who helped get this bill to this stage.
I want to thank the chair and deputy chair of the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, Senators Petitclerc and Seidman, and all members who attended the committee meetings. Questions were engaging and led to an enlightening input from witnesses and to constructive amendments. This committee works so well together; I am honoured to be a member.
Thank you also to our clerk and administrator, Dan Charbonneau and Ericka Dupont, for arranging sign language, ASL, and CART services, Communication Access Real-time Translation, and the special room set-up, which helped to make the Senate committee meetings the most accessible to date. The Senate should be proud in this regard. We have shown leadership by example.
I also want to acknowledge the incredible work of the Minister of Public Services and Procurement and Accessibility, Carla Qualtrough. She and her team have shown great leadership on accessibility, and I can confidently say that Bill C-81 enjoys widespread support due to their efforts.
Most importantly, I want to recognize persons with disabilities, stakeholders, and organizations who all play a crucial role in accessibility in Canada. They have all invested tremendous work and energy into this historic bill, ensuring that it reflects the priorities of persons with disabilities. Their contributions have been instrumental in getting the bill in its amended form to this stage. Thank you for sharing your personal experiences and stories with us. I know it takes courage. We could not have done any of this without your involvement and expertise. Some of those folks are here in the Senate tonight.
Senators Petitclerc and Seidman gave excellent speeches at the report stage of the bill last week, summarizing the amendments that were adopted at committee. I will not go over the amendments and details again. However, I do want to highlight some important testimony.
Over the course of our committee hearings we heard repeatedly that the time for an accessible Canada act is now. Canadians facing barriers to fully participating in their workplaces and society told us and are still telling us to pass this bill into law. Here is what Bill Adair from Spinal Cord Injury Canada and with the Federal Accessibility Legislation Alliance, or FALA, told us at committee:
What people are telling us across the country who are participating with FALA is: We want the bill. Give us something to work with. Yes, push for the changes, but at the end of the day, before the election, we want the bill. That gives us structure and the framework so that we can get to work on removing barriers and we want it now. We’ve been waiting far too long and this is our day.
Senators, everyone is eager to see this bill become law. We must continue our essential work in order to take it over the finish line. This community has waited long enough for this recognition and respect.
Another significant and positive change is that Bill C-81 will shift the responsibility on to the system and away from the individuals facing barriers in their daily lives. Diane Bergeron from CNIB said during her testimony:
Having a disability is exhausting, and I do not say that lightly. But when you have to deal with discrimination, rights violations, different pieces of legislation, criticisms, people not thinking that you have value, it makes it worse. The current system is unfair and unacceptable.
Colleagues, we know the history. It is one of institutionalization, sterilization and social isolation. Canada had a system that took children away from their families and power away from our citizens. Persons with disabilities were seen as burdens and treated as if they were broken. Our country simply cannot continue to place the burden of advancing human rights on individuals. We can do better, and we must do better. In fact, with this bill we will do better.
In addition to this necessary shift in responsibility, the accessible Canada act, when passed, will set best practices and a framework that the provinces and the private sector can mirror. Most importantly, this bill will start to shift culture, perception and understanding of what inclusion in our society should really look like. I cannot come up with a better analogy that encompasses my hope for what this legislation will achieve than that of Minister Qualtrough. You have to be a sports fan to get this. I couldn’t agree more when she said at committee:
I think we will look back on this as a “TSN Turning Point” on disability rights and the way we talk about disability in this country.
The words of the minister.
Honourable senators, in 2017, approximately 6.2 million people, or about 22 per cent of Canadians aged 15 years and older, reported being limited in their daily activities due to a disability. This percentage is expected to increase in the coming years due to Canada’s aging population, since the prevalence of disability increases with age. This is why the government consulted with over 6,000 individuals from across the country with lived experience over the course of this bill’s development. They have continued to be consulted and included as witnesses and experts at committee so that we can use their knowledge and their experiences to help drive the change needed for a better tomorrow.
One of those witnesses was Steven Estey from Nova Scotia, from the Council of Canadians with Disabilities. This organization helped facilitate some of these consultations. Mr. Estey gave us a good summary of what that meant. He said:
. . . to talk to Canadians with disabilities about what they wanted in this legislation. We had a chance to talk to over a thousand people across the country. We had 22 separate consultations in towns and cities across the country. We had telephone consultations. We had Internet consultations. We really spent a lot of time trying to figure out what people wanted to see in this legislation. It’s an important thing for us to be involved with. We have really appreciated the opportunity and the support that we have had to be able to do that.
This is what inclusion looks like, honourable senators. Consultation, collaboration, cooperation and real input from real life experience. I know that the finer points of the bill have been outlined to you many times, including by myself, but I do want to talk again about the Canadian accessibility standards development organization. The landmark importance of the CASDO board membership aligning with the community’s mantra of “nothing about us without us.” Think about it. Because it’s the board membership who will be responsible, with their own lived experience, in making standards.
I’ve always said this, that you need to be in the room when it comes to communications. It is just as important in policy making; you need to be in the room to make a difference and to influence change. In this case, CASDO will set regulations that will lead to better results for people in this country. I hope it reoccurs in other areas of policy development. Applying a disability lens is crucial in moving forward.
Barbara Collier, Executive Director of Communication Disabilities Access Canada explained in her testimony at committee what that organization represents. Her list included people with or affected by cerebral palsy, autism spectrum disorder, Down’s syndrome, learning disability, fetal alcohol syndrome, cognitive and intellectual disability, acquired brain injury, aphasia after a stroke, dementia, head and neck cancer, Lou Gehrig’s disease or ALS, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.
Senators, these are common conditions. It made me realize again that we will all face barriers to fully participating in society at some point in our lives. This is legislation that will affect us all in a positive way.
We learned at committee that many wheels are already in motion in anticipation of the bill coming into force. Job postings are already online for the chief accessibility officer and the CEO and board of the Canadian Accessibility Standards Development Organization, or CASDO. In fact, CASDO is expected to open its doors this summer. We know that the organizations responsible for accessibility have taken advanced steps towards planning regulations. In fact, the Canadian Transportation Agency, or CTA, has already released the first draft of its accessibility regulations.
Committee members gave the bill and its adopted amendments a deserved thorough study and consideration despite time constraints. I know that many of these amendments came right from the community, witnesses and organizations; I think we should pass the bill with these changes and let the other place do its job and reflect on our amendments. This is the process of our democracy and of our Parliament. We all need to move swiftly.
I will say it again: An accessible Canada act is a long-overdue recognition for human rights equality for 6.2 million — or one in five — Canadians. The 2017 disability survey also indicated that of the approximately 1.5 million Canadians with a disability aged 15 to 64 who are unemployed, approximately 654,000 are potential candidates for work in an inclusive, discrimination-free and accommodating labour market.
Yes, senators, there is a business case for inclusion. There is a huge untapped talent pool that could help improve Canada’s shrinking labour market.
As I mentioned, the spirit of collaboration on this bill has been and continues to be exceptional. I’m always an optimist, so over the course of study and consultations it became obvious that the removal of barriers is universal in scope and understanding. Together, our society is ready to take this step, the first of many towards a fair and equal-opportunity society. The momentum is with us.
Colleagues, I am proud of Bill C-81. I am proud of the amendments made at committee. We need to send the amended bill to the other place this week so that we can receive it back in time to do what Canadians have been asking us to do through testimony, letters, emails and phone calls: Give Canada a framework toward being barrier-free and accessible for all.
This is the time, colleagues. This is their time. It’s our opportunity to help make this happen and to be on the right side of history.
I will close tonight with some words from the great Jean Vanier, the master of inclusion. As you know, he passed away last week at the age of 90. At a 1998 Massey Lecture entitled Becoming Human, he said:
As we become more conscious of the uniqueness of others, we become aware of our common humanity. We are all fundamentally the same, no matter what our age, gender, race, culture, religion, limits or handicaps may be.
Honourable senators, as I said at the beginning of my speech, we are on a shared journey. What we have discovered on this journey is a new path of inclusion, a path where, as they say in the disability community:
Nothing About Us Without Us.
I recognize we haven’t satisfied everyone. That’s the way it is when you’re building something we have never had before: a Canada without barriers.
But we have done our job. We have discovered more about each other. We have captured the meaning of empathy. We have amended the bill. We recognize there will always be next steps. This is a step toward a more inclusive society.
Thank you very much.
Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!
Hon. Thanh Hai Ngo: Honourable senators, I rise today at third reading stage of Bill C-81, An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada.
For one last time, I want to express my full support for the bill and commend the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology on its excellent work. I also want to acknowledge the work of the chair of the committee, Senator Petitclerc, as well as that of the deputy chair, Senator Seidman, on a decisive and historic bill for Canada.
I won’t get into the details of the thorough review undertaken by the committee, since Senators Petitclerc and Seidman already did so quite eloquently. However, I’d like to draw your attention to the remarkable work that the committee has done since March 21, 2019.
The committee studied the bill in depth over the course of four meetings, with the intention of widening its scope. After hearing testimony from 20 interest groups four organizations, the committee did indeed make changes that are favourable to the primary goal of the bill.
Although I’m not a member of that committee, it is clear that those long, well-informed deliberations led to the adoption of 11 amendments. Through those deliberations, the vast and unique needs of many groups of disabled persons were identified by the committee, which led to specific amendments that improve Bill C-81 without jeopardizing its long-awaited passing.
To sum up, the changes to the bill remain faithful to its principles while doing more to recognize, eliminate and prevent barriers in all areas of federal jurisdiction. This new version of the bill also takes into account the fact that seniors living with disabilities also experience multiple and intersecting forms of marginalization and discrimination.
Another amendment recognizes sign languages as the primary language for communication by deaf persons in Canada and an integral part of their accessibility. After all, the recognition of sign languages constitutes an essential part of their culture and a valuable tool that enables them to participate in society.
Honourable senators, these are some examples of the positive changes that were made to the bill in consultation with experts and in collaboration with the extensive work that was previously accomplished in the other place.
I feel this bill should also act as a signal and reminder to the government regarding the recent news of 34 developmentally disabled federal workers who hold segregated and redundant jobs in Ottawa. Their contract is set to end in March 2020. I hope that, once enacted, this law will eventually represent further actions for every Canadian with a disability in order to help them become full, equal members of society.
After all, a barrier-free Canada requires us to understand the norms, societal attitudes and stigma that prevents people with intellectual, cognitive and physical disabilities from fully participating in society.
I truly believe this bill, once enacted, will be a tool for many organizations that are ready and have been patiently preparing for the implementation in order to respond to these emergent challenges and obstacles.
Honourable senators, this historic law is a testament of the great work that was accomplished in the hallmarks of this great chamber in defence of the rights of minorities.
It marks a new beginning. We will transform and address accessibility by becoming proactive instead of reactive for Canadians who do not want to be treated as a burden but as full and equal members of society as we continue to grow and learn how to become more inclusive. Thank you.
Hon. Marty Deacon: Honourable senators, I rise to speak to Bill C-81, An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada. I have listened with great interest to my colleagues, as well as to the many witnesses we had at the Social Affairs Committee. I speak today to share with you my perspective, my story, based on a lifetime of learning and action in this very important area.
When I arrived in Senate 15 months ago, there was much to learn; there is still much to learn. For instance, when I arrived here, I had incorrectly assumed that accessibility had already been addressed as a national issue with a fulsome national strategy. Why? Because my own formal leadership on accessibility began in Ontario, 14 years ago. I thought — silly me — that the same regulations were being mandated nationally, given how much time had elapsed since this successful law in Ontario was implemented and began its implementation in 2005.
Honourable senators, 2019 is far too late in the game to be discussing and mandating accessibility for all at the federal level, and it’s why the bill before us is so important.
In my previous life, as an educator, every day I was faced with an issue by a student, their family, a teacher or a community member who challenged fair, equitable and inclusive access. One case — and sometimes it just takes one — in particular crystallized for me what would be become a lifetime commitment to universal accessibility.
Imagine now a single mother with six children, all under the age of 10. Three of them carry the positive gene for Duchenne’s disease, a severe type of muscular dystrophy that over time reduces muscular function. It eventually results in the young person being immobilized, weakened and in need of a wheelchair.
The family survives on a low income, and, frankly, the school and the community are their lifeline. As principal of the school, on a one-floor facility, my staff and I gave the family everything we had, from meals to fundraisers, to transportation, to tutoring, and finally to the purchase of a well-used wheelchair for her oldest son, Ricky.
This school goes up to Grade 6, and now it becomes time for Ricky to graduate from junior school and move on to middle school. We meet with a team of educators and medical support people to determine the best plan for Ricky. As a former secondary school administrator, new to elementary administration, I learn that due to Ricky’s physical needs he will not be able to attend the middle school just down the road. There are just too many accessibility issues. Eventually, I learn that he will have to take a 50-minute bus ride to the nearest school that will provide some sort of wheelchair access.
How do I tell his mother, with so much on her plate already, that her son will now spend over 100 minutes a day with strangers, with different untrained bus drivers, travelling on several highways, with no significant network of support, and that in two years, if Ricky is able to keep on attending school, his ride to high school will be even more challenging and disconnected with yet another group of young people, all at the same time his condition worsens and that in two years she will have to go through this all over again with her next child?
As it turned out, it was a hard lesson I needed to learn. This was in 2005, the same year that the Ontarians with Disabilities Act became law. As you know, the act was aimed at identifying, removing and preventing barriers for people with disabilities. It applied then to government, non-profit and private sector businesses in Ontario that have one or more employees.
My own school board needed an established leader to commit to this AODA work for at least three years. Somewhat fortuitously, I was invited to take on this role. It was going to be tough work, very political, but an opportunity to bring many internal and external stakeholders together to do the right thing. Most of the table I worked with was represented by those representing diverse accessibility needs in our community. My job would be to ensure that all aspects of the act were being addressed, that all staff and volunteers were trained, that we had an accessibility policy and procedures, and that we had a multi-year accessibility plan with annual public updates, timelines and monitoring in place. I continued this leadership for 10 years. The work was ongoing and a challenge politically, financially and ensuring equity while the voices of all were heard.
Senator Moncion highlighted her work related to the AODA at second reading. I will not repeat her message. However, I will indicate how the “visible” and “invisible” needs of those with a disability are far-reaching and diverse. We started with the built environment and spaces in 130 buildings and new builds. I learned more about architecture, facility design, ramps, lifts, nine styles of elevators, more than I dreamed possible. One basic washroom to upgrade for one child was $35,000; one elevator was half a million dollars. How do you prioritize? Every student matters.
These are the more visible physical needs we are familiar with. It’s the invisible needs that are often overlooked; that is, making sure every individual — just as we do in the Senate — feels they are part of their community.
As a result of deep consultation, we were determined that every decision had to result in our students being able to attend a school within their family of schools, which is a geographically smaller region. This would not be the closest to their home, perhaps, but still in their community — full stop. We had to find the way and we did. Every decision was and continues to be backward mapped with this in mind; that is, to find a way to keep our students and families in their community.
Honourable senators, imagine your son or daughter being told they could go on a bus for a class trip with their classmates on a bus all by themselves — not with their friends, not with their peers.
One of my proudest moments was meeting with 200 bus drivers, getting some buses retrofitted, modified and ensuring more of our students could travel and experience being with their classmates. The visible need was physically getting the student to their destination by ensuring the best barrier-free environment. The invisible need was ensuring the student would not be stigmatized on a separate bus and they could contribute and participate in this class trip to the same extent as their peers — something they deserve.
This is why this legislation is so important. It will aim to make federally regulated entities so much more accessible. However, it will also unlock the potential of a huge group of Canadians who have been held back in one way or another. It will allow them to participate and contribute to their community in ways that, quite frankly, they should have been able to do long ago. With this legislation, Canada could become a world leader in accessibly. This leadership is sorely needed.
In my role as an international coach and sports leader travelling internationally, I saw first-hand and continue to see first-hand the great disparity in the respect and understanding of what it means to try to embrace and provide support for those with a disability. I observed countries that “hid” those with disabilities, countries whose representatives said to my face, “We have no citizens with disabilities.” I watched first-hand a political leader of a G7 country, while on Canadian soil, say, “There is no place for athletes with a disability in a major sporting event.”
Thankfully, this culture is changing. I’m excited to say, after 12 years of advocacy, my sport will have its debut at the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo. To get to this point, again, we had to educate the countries that did not support their para-athletes and para-children, and did not demonstrate their beliefs in accessibility or inclusion. This has taken over a decade.
This past weekend, at Carleton University in Ottawa, I was able to speak with families and para-athletes from many countries about what sport means to them, what it means to be barrier-free and the work that must still continue around the world. The passage of Bill C-81 for Canada will set the kind of example needed to keep this momentum going.
Senators, I want to shift my thinking before I wrap up. I want to thank the steering committee of the Social Affairs Committee — Senator Munson, Senator Seidman and our chair, Senator Petitclerc, for guiding us through such a comprehensive and in-depth process. You have heard that said earlier this evening. It is so very true. It was a collective effort by all groups and caucuses represented at committee, and that showed in fulsome but respectful discussions that played out at clause-by-clause consideration of the bill, which led to some good amendments in the legislation.
To the large but important number of Canadians who will be directly affected by this legislation, I can say to you with confidence that every member of the Social Affairs Committee has listened to your concerns. I want to thank the many individuals who gave us such compelling evidence at committee, as well as the hundreds who took the time to write and meet with us. Colleagues, many of these stakeholders have been advocating for years. They are very tired, exhausted but hopeful for the immediate passage of this bill.
While no piece of legislation is perfect, I am confident that the bill before us gives us a solid foundation and permission to rebuild our culture in the years to come. A senator last week reminded me that there is progress and there is perfection. This bill is no different. Bill C-81, the time for all is now. Thank you.
Hon. Yonah Martin (Deputy Leader of the Opposition): Honourable senators, I rise today also to speak very briefly at third reading of Bill C-81, An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada. Bill C-81 enacts the accessible Canada act in order to enhance the full and equal participation of all persons, especially persons living with disability, in our society. This bill will require federally regulated entities across the country to ensure accessibility to workplaces, public spaces, employment, programs, services and information.
Bill C-81, as others have stated, is an important step in the right direction to address the barriers that many Canadians face. The message that we have heard from advocates has been the same: Bill C-81 is a good bill and deserves to be enacted into law but no one can be certain of the full effect that this bill will eventually have. This will require further knowledge and learning from a practical perspective and a commitment to work in consultation with stakeholders across Canada.
I want to associate myself with some of the very important comments that have been made in this chamber and especially recognize our colleague Senator Munson, who has dedicated so much of his life to really be quite a voice and a champion for Canadians with disabilities and, of course, on issues like autism. He has been a cosponsor on a number of events, and we have done some meaningful work together. I know that one of the motions that we cosponsored that recognized June as Deafblind Awareness Month recognizes this important subgroup of Canadians who are living with some incredible challenges.
This motion was adopted unanimously in 2015, and it was sort of thanks to our retired former colleague Senator Vim Kochhar who many of us know to be a real champion and a strong voice for Canadians living with physical disabilities as well as other disabilities. Through his outstanding effort and inspiration, we have worked together to achieve certain outcomes through the Senate. Senator Kochhar also cofounded the Canadian Helen Keller Centre and Rotary Cheshire Home, which is said to be one of the only facilities in the world where those who live with deaf-blindness can live independently.
Some of the intervenors who have come to the Hill have spoken about their work to help Canadians living with deaf-blindness communicate. Their work is truly astonishing. It’s a real calling for them to serve in this capacity. They work in a unique space where they allow those who cannot communicate otherwise to communicate with the outside world.
I also know that the work of our former colleague Senator Asha Seth also led to a motion to designate May as National Vision Health Month. That, too, was unanimously adopted in the Senate.
I stand together with many of you who have spoken on this measure and also recognize the great work of our Social Affairs Committee, the chair, the deputy chair and committee members to ensure that important amendments were adopted that will help towards ensuring a barrier-free Canada as is envisioned in this bill.
I had the opportunity to meet with the Canadian Association of the Deaf and President Frank Folino, who was also a witness during committee hearings on this bill, as well as Bill Adair, Executive Director, Spinal Cord Injury Canada. They expressed their firm support of passage of Bill C-81 as a very important step, but they were also hopeful that there will be continued vigilance and effort towards proper implementation and, of course, that same intention beyond implementation. In some ways we have achieved this important milestone, but our work will begin to ensure that implementation and the work beyond implementation will be successful.
I recognize these men and others who have been the real heroes and champions who inspired this important legislation and once again thank our colleagues Senator Munson, Senator Ngo and members of the Social Affairs Committee for your leadership helping this chamber arrive at this significant moment in our legislative history.
Your Honour and honourable senators, I am definitely ready for the question.
Hon. Tony Dean: Thank you Senator Martin and others who have spoken. Thank you, Senator Munson, for your very fine sponsorship of this legislation.
I have some brief introductory remarks and then I want to speak specifically about the inclusion of communication in this bill as a category of challenge in the spectrum of disabilities.
I rise to add my voice to Bill C-81, An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada. We all know now that the stated policy objective of this important and historic piece of legislation is to enhance the full and equal participation of all individuals, with a special emphasis for those living with disabilities. The bill is designed to achieve a barrier-free Canada through the identification, removal and prevention of barriers in areas of federal jurisdiction.
Many groups, including various disability advocacy groups, support Bill C-81 and are urging us to pass this bill before our summer break. Senate leaders met on April 4 to sign an agreement to ensure several pieces of legislation are voted on prior to the break and the next federal election. This bill is one of them.
I want to take this opportunity to congratulate the facilitator of the Independent Senators Group, the Leader of the independent Senate Liberals, the Government Representative in the Senate and the Senate Conservative Leader on this important modernizing step. You will know, I think, that I and others here believe that we could benefit greatly from more organized and effective business planning of this sort. Moreover, that’s what Canadians expect of us, and they expect and deserve timely votes on all bills, but particularly on bills that are inclusive of all members of our society and that aim to protect some of our most vulnerable people, bills like Bill C-81.
An act to ensure a barrier-free Canada is a direct response to a 2016 federal budget announcement that made a commitment to “eliminate systemic barriers and deliver equality of opportunity to all Canadians living with disabilities.”
Among other things, the bill aims to guide future interpretations of the accessible Canada act by setting out important principles and including a provision that states that all persons, regardless of their abilities or disabilities, must be treated with dignity, enjoy equality of opportunity, be able to fully and equally participate in society without barriers and have autonomy.
It also establishes the application of the accessible Canada act bringing greater clarification to which bodies and entities are bound by accessibility legislation and allows the Governor-in-Council to designate a minister to be responsible for this act.
Another important piece of this legislation is the proposed establishment of the Canadian accessible standards development office, CASDO, which Senator Munson has spoken about eloquently.
I emphasize that the CASDO would be overseen by a board of directors whose majority identify as persons with disabilities. The board would be responsible for setting the organization’s strategic direction and managing the activities and affairs in accordance with its mandate.
The inclusion of people with disabilities on the board would ensure fair representation for the many Canadians who don’t currently have a voice in accessibility standards.
Honourable senators, while no single area of accessibility is more important than any other, I would like to now focus some remarks on the issue of communication.
I am delighted that communication is recognized in key definitions in this bill, including in the definitions of barrier and disability. This legislation says that “barrier” means anything including physical, architectural, technological or attitudinal that is based on information or communications or anything that is the result of a policy or practice that hinders the full and equal participation in society of persons with a physical, mental, intellectual, learning, communication, sensory impairment or functional limitation.
It also defines “disability” as a physical, mental, intellectual, learning, communication, sensory impairment or functional limitation, whether permanent, temporary or episodic in nature that an interaction with a barrier hinders a person’s full and equal participation in society.
This recognition of communication is critically important, as communication includes the half million Canadians who have speech and language disabilities that are not caused by significant hearing loss and who do not require or use sign language. They may have lifelong disabilities, such as cerebral palsy, autism, spectrum disorder, Down syndrome, learning or cognitive disabilities. Other people may have acquired disabilities that affect communication, such as traumatic brain injury, stroke, dementia, ALS, multiple sclerosis and much more.
Having a communication disability can affect one or more areas of a person’s ability to speak, to understand what others are saying, read or write. People with theses disabilities may communicate using unclear speech, writing, typing, pictures, symbols, speech-generating devices, sign language interpreting, captioning and communication assistive devices.
Recognizing the broad scope of communication is also consistent with the optional protocol to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, of which Canada is a signatory. This is obviously important for many reasons, but I’d like to highlight a tangible example for honourable senators to consider.
Similar to the need for sign language services for people who are deaf or translation services for people who don’t speak English or French, victims, witnesses and accused persons with speech and language disabilities may require appropriate communication supports in police, legal and justice services. Despite the fact that people with speech and language disabilities are at high risk for all types of abuses and crimes — and remember, for violators, the best victims are often the ones who are perceived not to be able to tell. Communication support services in police, legal and justice services are not routinely provided as an accessibility accommodation.
Communications intermediaries are qualified speech-language pathologists who have extra training from Communication Disabilities Access Canada, CDAC, to work in justice settings. CDAC maintains a database of trained intermediaries with limited funding from a small private foundation. These services are provided to people who require assistance, understanding questions posed to them or supporting them communicating what they want to say to police, legal and justice professionals.
In a case in Canada I recently learned about, an elderly woman indicated to her son, a police officer, that she had been sexually assaulted by a personal support worker in a retirement or long-term care facility. The woman had a stroke two years before the incident, which left her with aphasia, a communication disorder that results from damage to the language centres of the brain. She had difficulty understanding spoken language and expressing her thoughts in words, as well as difficulties in reading and writing. She communicated what happened using gestures, some speech and pointing to pictures.
The Crown attorney recognized that she would require assistance to communicate in court and engaged a communication intermediary who conducted an assessment. The intermediary concluded that the woman could effectively communicate in court if provided with appropriate communication intermediary support to ensure that she rephrase questions posed to her in ways she could understand and to facilitate her responses using pictures. The judge denied the woman access to the communication supports that she required to testify.
This case illustrates the lack of understanding about accessibility accommodations required by a victim, witnesses or an accused person who has speech and language disability.
Having strong accessibility legislation in place makes it mandatory for all justice services to provide people with the communication accommodations and supports they need, including communication boards, speech-generating devices, sign language interpretation, captioning and communications assistance devices, and is an important move in ensuring that the policy objectives of this bill are realized. Access to appropriate supports for people living with disabilities that affect communications would go beyond our justice system and would also include access to health services, education and more.
Honourable senators, I want to share with you one other brief story, the story of a friend of mine of 30 years who in the past several months came to know all too well the challenges associated with difficulty in communications. Kim Clarke Champniss, as some of you will recall from his work in the heyday of MuchMusic as a veejay, TV producer and a challenging interviewer of the world’s top rock and roll artists, lost his voice permanently in the past months due to radical throat surgery that was used to address throat cancer.
I’ve watched Kim over the last weeks and months heroically take on this challenge, including the challenge of access to supports and technologies that would assist in his ability to continue engaging in the world with his upbeat energy and curiosity about the human condition. Kim will get through this. He would say, “I’m all right, Tone. I’m all right.” But Kim would also wish for better services for those who were alongside him and those who will undoubtedly follow him with communications challenges.
I would urge the government to ensure someone with a disability that affects their speech, language and communication be considered as a member of the board of the proposed Canadian Accessibility Standards Development Organization, CASDO, which was mentioned earlier. Their contributions would greatly benefit the 500,000 people living with speech and language difficulties and ensure that no one is left behind.
I would also like to recognize that standards and regulations under Bill C-81 will need to be updated every five years, which allows for changes in innovation. They will also require public review before they are adopted.
I close by saying, senators, that Bill C-81 needs to pass now. We have an obligation as parliamentarians and senators to protect the needs of all Canadians, especially those who are among the most vulnerable in our society. I strongly believe that acknowledging this community is an essential part of meeting the objectives of this bill, which will ultimately aim to remove and prevent barriers for all people in this country.
I end by thanking Barbara Collier, who has been a tireless advocate for a communications amendment passed in the House of Commons. With these final words, I would ask my honourable colleagues to join me in voting in favour of Bill C-81, An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada. Thank you, all.