Accessible Canada Act Update – Bill C-81 Passes!

The Accessible Canada Act (the “ACA” or Bill C-81) became law in Canada on July 11, 2019. The passing of the ACA is an important and positive step towards creating a barrier-free Canada and recognizing the autonomy and dignity of persons with disabilities.

The ACA seeks to identify and remove existing barriers, and prevent new barriers to accessibility in a wide range of areas including:

    • Employment (job opportunities, employment policies and practices)
    • Built environments (buildings and public spaces)
    • Information and communication technologies
    • Goods, services and facilities
    • The design and delivery or programs and services
    • Transportation
    • Other designated areas.

The ACA recognizes that everyone in society benefits from the equal and full participation and inclusion of persons with disabilities and is aimed at ensuring that the needs of persons with disabilities are accommodated without discrimination. The new legislation applies broadly to private and public entities that are federally regulated including the Canadian Forces, transportation, telecommunications, broadcasting, and banking sectors. These entities will be required to submit Accessibility Plans and progress reports and have a duty to consult persons with disabilities, in preparing the initial and updated plans and on progress reports. This reflects the legislation’s ambitious goal: to realize a barrier-free Canada by 2040.

One of the critiques of the earlier versions of the ACA was that, contrary to provincial accessibility legislation such as the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, Bill-C 81 contained no timelines for implementation. Fortunately, the ACA was amended to impose the 2040 deadline. This is a welcome amendment and hopefully will assist in holding the Federal Government accountable for developing and implementing accessibility standards and programs within a certain timeframe.

The Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion is responsible for the ACA and has the authority to provide information, advice and assistance on accessibility issues that the Federal government has jurisdiction over and can make recommendations and implement accessibility policies, programs and projects. The Minister also has the duty to work with provinces and territories to coordinate efforts on improving accessibility.

Other highlights of the ACA include:

    • Establishing an annual National AccessAbility week each May
    • Requiring an Independent Review of the ACA by the Minister and a report of the review, which must be done in consultation with the public, persons with disabilities and other prescribed stakeholders
    • The Accessibility Commissioner’s broad authority to investigate complaints and order compliance and monetary penalties against regulated entities for non-compliance
    • The appointment of a Chief Accessibility Officer that will monitor implementation of the ACA and act as a liaison between the Minister and Canadian Accessibility Standards Development Organization (the “CASDO”) on systemic or emerging accessibility issues
    • Unless there is an available review mechanism under certain federal legislation, an individual can file a complaint with the Accessibility Commissioner if they have suffered any physical or psychological harm, or property or economic loss as well as any adverse impact created by a regulated entity who fails to comply with the standards of the ACA.
    • The ability to appeal a decision about a complaint made under ACA to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal

One of the critical elements of the ACA is CASDO, which primarily develops and reviews accessibility standards and provides information and services relating to these standards and best practice to meet these standards. The ACA gives the CASDO administrative and financial powers to aid in developing and implementing accessibility standards. In August 2019, the Federal Government made its first appointments to the CASDO Board of Directors, which represents a diverse group of disability rights advocates. The Board must have a majority of directors who are persons with disabilities.

PooranLaw will continue to monitor further developments in implementing Bill C-81.