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Canada: Federal Accessibility Legislation One Step Closer To Law

Posted in Accessibility News

Last Updated: March 11 2019
Article by Jackie VanDerMeulen and Megan Beal

The Accessible Canada Act (Act), first introduced in June 2018 in Bill C-81, is now being considered by the Senate, and could soon be law.

The purpose of the Act is to make Canada’s federal sector barrier-free. If enacted, it will apply to federally-regulated entities like banks, telecommunication companies, transportation companies, and the Government of Canada. It will not apply to certain businesses in Yukon, the Northwest Territories, or Nunavut.

It will apply to the areas of:

The specific standards for these areas will be developed by the Canadian Accessibility Standards Development Organization (Organization). This new organization will also make recommendations to the Minister, and provide information, products and services related to accessibility standards. The Organization is permitted to charge for the information, products and services it creates. This is unlike the free resources that are available in other provinces with accessibility legislation.

The Act contains different standards for regulated entities: (a) in broadcasting; (b) that are Canadian carriers or telecommunications services providers; (c) in transportation; and (d) in other industries. Although the standards are different for each group, the Act generally requires regulated entities to:

The Act will be enforced by the Accessibility Commissioner. The Commissioner will be a member of the Canadian Human Rights Commission appointed under the Canadian Human Rights Act. To ensure compliance, the Act contains the following enforcement measures:

The Act is part of a wave of accessibility legislation creating mandatory standards to identify, prevent, and remove barriers for individuals with disabilities. Ontario’s Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 was one of the first pieces of accessibility legislation. Manitoba has since introduced The Accessibility for Manitobans Act, which started impacting the private sector in November 2018. Nova Scotia is also in the early stages of implementing An Act Respecting Accessibility in Nova Scotia.

The substance of accessibility legislation is in the regulations specifying the standards to be met. These standards have not yet been published for the federal sector; however, clues about possible standards may be drawn from the provinces with accessibility legislation. In Ontario, Manitoba and Nova Scotia, standards require policy development, and employee training. This is intended to assist individuals with disabilities and to create awareness about accessibility barriers. Other standards, like transportation, the construction of public spaces and websites standards, are technical and specific. We expect a similar approach in the federal sector.

It is encouraging that Ontario, Manitoba and Nova Scotia have focused on educating and assisting employers to comply. Timelines for compliance have been staggered. We hope the federal government will take a similar approach. But, we expect the availability of individual remedies will encourage more complaints in the federal sector. It may also make non-compliance more expensive for employer in the federal sector what we have seen elsewhere. For example, in Ontario, non-compliance is typically resolved through voluntary compliance or small administrative monetary awards.

We will provide updates on this federal legislation as they become available.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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