Summary of the Accessible Canada Act (Bill C-81) in clearer language
August 17, 2018
By David Berman, CPWA CPACC RGD and colleagues
David Berman Communications
About this document
This document is a summary of the English version of the first published draft of the Government of Canada’s bill for an Accessible Canada Act.
How bills, acts, regulations, and standards work together in Canada
Bill: Bill C-81 is a bill. A bill is a proposal to Parliament to make a new law (or to change existing laws).
Act: The Accessible Canada Act is an act. An act is a law that sets out broad rules and gives persons or agencies certain powers. One of those powers is to make more rules (called “regulations”). Another of those powers is to enforce the rules.
Regulations: Regulations are a kind of law. A regulation is a document of rules that a department or agency creates. The regulations are then approved by the Government. The Government has a system for making regulations. They consult with everyone concerned. They study what could happen. They ask for comments from everyone.
Standards: A standard is a document meant for repeated use. A committee creates a standard. Then a group of experts about the topic approves the standard. A standard sets rules, guidelines, or characteristics for activities or their results. Standards make it easier for everyone to know when things are as good as they need to be. Standards are not laws until a regulation (or other laws) mention them.
A guide to the bill
If you need to know exactly what is in Bill C-81, you must read the bill or have a specialist interpret it for you.
To get the full bill, accessible versions of the bill, or related documents, visit this Accessible Canada Act resource webpage.
If you choose to explore the actual bill, use this guide to know the parts of the bill:
Preamble describes the rationale for the Act, as a guide for future interpretation.
Part 1 establishes the Minister’s mandate, powers, duties, and functions.
Part 2 creates a new organization called the Canadian Accessibility Standards Development Organization. (In French, it’s name is “Organisation canadienne d’élaboration de normes d’accessibilité”). This part also describes the new organization’s mandate, structure, powers, duties, and functions.
Part 3 established an Accessibility Commissioner. The Accessibility Commissioner gives the Minister information, advice, and reports about the administration and enforcement of the Act. The Accessibility Commissioner gives an “annual report” to the Minister every year.
Part 4 says which organizations have rules to follow, and what they must do. The bill calls these organizations “regulated entities”. Regulated entities must do many things. They must publish “accessibility plans” and “progress reports”, and put in place “feedback processes”. They must consult with persons living with disabilities as they create those documents.
Part 5 gives the Accessibility Commissioner many powers. The Accessibility Commissioner can inspect regulated entities. They can also demand those entities to provide information, change their behaviours, or pay fines.
Part 5 describes the role of the Accessibility Commissioner.
Part 6 promises a “complaints process”. People will be able to complain if they were hurt by regulated entities not following the rules. There will be a system for compensating people who suffer physical or psychological harm, property damage, or economic loss.
Part 7 is about appointing a Chief Accessibility Officer. This part also explains their duties and functions. The Chief Accessibility Officer must tell the Minister about systemic or emerging accessibility problems.
Part 8 let’slets Parliament make regulations. The regulations must include establishing accessibility standards. The regulations must also make rules for the structure of accessibility plans and progress reports. This part also says that the week starting the last Sunday in May of every year is National AccessAbility Week. (In French, the name is Semaine nationale de l’accessibilité.)
Part 9 describes how the Act applies to Parliament (including the Senate and the House of Commons), and the members of the Senate and the House of Commons.
Parts 10 and 11 say what changes need to be made to some other existing Acts. Other Acts must change to match the new Act. (For example, The Canadian Human Rights Act promotes equal opportunity and protects people from discrimination. Bill C-81 supports the goals of the Canadian Human Rights Act, and does not weaken any existing rules in that Act.)
Summary of the bill
- The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms promises everyone the right to equal protection under the law and equal benefit of the law. It promises this without discrimination (including discrimination based on disability).
- The Canadian Human Rights Act says that everyone should have an equal opportunity to make for themselves the life that they can and want to have. This Act says that everyone has a right to have their needs accommodated without discrimination (including discrimination based on disability).
- Going out of our way to thoroughly find, remove, and prevent barriers to accessibility improves the rights of persons with disabilities under the Canadian Human Rights Act.
- Canada is a “State Party” to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Canada promised to take steps that respect accessibility, and to make and monitor accessibility standards throughout Canada.
- Barriers to accessibility affect all Canadians. In particular, such barriers affect people with disabilities and their families. Barriers stop persons with disabilities from participating fully and equally in Canadian society.
- The Parliament of Canada knows that our society must ensure the economic, social, and civic participation of all Canadians, regardless of their abilities. We must allow everyone to fully live their rights and responsibilities in a barrier-free Canada.
The purpose of the bill is to bring about a Canada without barriers. The Government of Canada plans to identify and remove barriers (while preventing new barriers) in areas within their jurisdiction that the Government has decided deserve priority. Those six areas are:
- employment (for example, job opportunities and employment policies and practices)
- the built environment (for example, buildings and public spaces)
- information and communication technologies (for example, digital content and technologies used to access it)
- procurement of goods and services
- delivery of programs and services
- transportation by air
- transportation by rail
- transportation by ferry
- transportation by bus companies that drive across provincial or international borders.
The Government can add more areas to this list later.
The Definitions section defines key terms used throughout the bill. Here are the main ones (word for word):
“Accessibility Commissioner means the member of the Canadian Human Rights Commission that is appointed under subsection 26(1) of the Canadian Human Rights Act and that is referred to in that Act as the “Accessibility Commissioner”.
barrier means anything — including anything physical, architectural, technological or attitudinal, anything that is based on information or communications or anything that is the result of a policy or a practice — 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.
disability means a physical, mental, intellectual, learning, communication or sensory impairment — or a functional limitation — whether permanent, temporary or episodic in nature, that, in interaction with a barrier, hinders a person’s full and equal participation in society.
Minister means the member of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada designated under section 4.
regulated entity means an entity or person referred to in subsection 7(1).
Standards Organization means the Canadian Accessibility Standards Development Organization established under subsection 17(1).”
The principles of the bill guide its future interpretation. These are the five principles:
- “Everyone gets treated with dignity, regardless of their abilities or disabilities.
- Everyone must have the same opportunity to make for themselves the lives that they are able and wish to have, regardless of their abilities or disabilities or of how their disabilities interact with their personal and social characteristics.
- All people must have barrier-free access to full and equal participation in society, regardless of their abilities or disabilities.
- All people must have meaningful options and be free to make their own choices, with support if they want, regardless of their abilities or disabilities.
- Laws, policies, programs, services, and structures must consider the abilities and disabilities of individuals and the different ways that they interact with their environments, and persons with disabilities must be involved in the development and design of laws, policies, programs, services, and structures.”
The Minister and the Chief Accessibility Officer
The Government of Canada will name a minister that will be responsible for the Act.
The minister’s powers and responsibilities include:
- implementing policies, programs, and projects about accessibility
- collecting, analyzing, and publishing data about accessibility
- cooperating with provincial and territorial governments to organize efforts on accessibility
- reporting to Parliament what they did, every year
The Minister must launch independent reviews of the Act, then report on them to Canada’s Parliament.
The Government will also choose a Chief Accessibility Officer. The Chief Accessibility Officer must watch over the implementation of the Act across all sectors, then tell the Minister how it is going. The Chief Accessibility Officer must tell the Minister about new and systemic accessibility issues.
The Minister is not the only person or organization in the federal government with accessibility responsibilities:
- The Minister of Transport and the Canadian Transportation Agency still handles the accessibility of the national transportation network. The Agency’s mandate gains enhanced responsibilities and powers.
- The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission still handle the accessibility of broadcasting and telecommunications services. The commission also has new responsibilities for accessibility plans and progress reports. (The Government can also add new powers as part of the review of the legal framework for broadcasting and telecommunications announced in the 2017 federal budget.)
The Minister will be in charge of the Act for all other federally regulated sectors (the ones not mentioned in the previous two paragraphs). The Minister also handles employment and built environment issues for all federally regulated sectors.
Parliament must review the Act five years after the first regulation goes into force.
Who must comply (i.e. “regulated entities”)
These are the organizations regulated by the Act (“regulated entities”):
- Parliament (this includes the Senate, the House of Commons, the Library of Parliament, and the Parliamentary Protective Service)
- Senators and Members of Parliament (and their constituency offices)
- the Government of Canada, including government departments, Crown Corporations, and agencies
- organizations in the private sector that are federally regulated (including organizations in the transportation sectors, broadcasting and telecommunications services, and the banking and financial sectors)
- public transportation companies that provide:
- transportation by air
- transportation by rail
- transportation by ferry
- transportation by bus companies that drive across provincial or international borders.
- the Canadian Forces and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (allowing for considerations related to occupational requirements, such as certain physical requirements deemed necessary to carry out certain jobs)
- “any person, partnership or unincorporated organization that operates a work or carries on an undertaking or business that is within the legislative authority of Parliament (other than a work, undertaking or business of a local or private nature in the Yukon, the Northwest Territories, or Nunavut)”
For further clarity, David Berman Communications is providing these examples of organizations and communities not regulated by the bill:
- provincial governments
- territorial governments
- municipal governments
- Indigenous communities
- most businesses (all businesses in sectors that are not federally regulated)
- all non-government organizations that are not federally regulated
- all not-for-profits organizations
- all schools, colleges, and universities
- public hospitals, libraries, and other institutions
- professional practices (such as law firms)
- bus companies that stay in one province
- public transportation not named above
- all media that are not federally regulated
- suppliers to regulated entities
Duties of regulated entities
The Act will demand that regulated entities do three things:
- “Accessibility plans”: Regulated entities must create accessibility plans (or revise them if they already exist). They must consult persons with disabilities as part of doing so. These plans must tell their strategy for improving accessibility. They must share their plan with the public (and let the Government of Canada know when and where they did so).
- “Feedback”: Regulated entities must set up ways to get feedback from people. Feedback can include complaints about how the organization is following its accessibility plan. Feedback can also include barriers people encounter. The regulated entities then must respond to that feedback.
- “Progress reports”: Regulated entities must write progress reports. The progress reports explain how they did what they promised to do in their accessibility plans. They must consult people with disabilities as part of doing so. These reports must tell how they consulted people with disabilities. The reports will describe the main feedback issues and what the regulated entity did as a result.
Future regulations will say when and how regulated entities must do these things. Future regulations will also add to the list of what regulated entities must do.
Canadian Accessibility Standards Development Organization
The government will create the Canadian Accessibility Standards Development Organization (CASDO). This organization will develop accessibility standards. These standards will set out how organizations can identify, remove, and prevent barriers. The accessibility standards do not become laws until the Government chooses to make them into regulations.
CASDO’s board of directors will design CASDO’s strategy, oversee its activities, and give advice to its Chief Executive Officer. The board of directors is a group of 11 people or less, with a majority being persons with disabilities at all times (“as far as possible”). The directors are chosen by the Government and should “be representative of the diversity of Canadian society.” Directors are part-time. Directors are on the board for four year terms, and can have more than one term.
CASDO’s board of directors will create technical committees. These committees include experts and persons with disabilities. The committees also include people from organizations and industry sectors that must meet the standards.
The committees will develop accessibility standards. CASDO publishes the accessibility standards. CASDO then submits standards to the Minister. The Minister considers making them into regulations. Stakeholders and the public get opportunities to comment on the standards. CASDO will also conduct research and give technical help. CASDO must give a report on its operations to the Minister every year, for tabling in Parliament.
CASDO can also be hired by other governments, organizations, or businesses to develop standards.
Regulations will give regulated entities more responsibilities. Some federally-regulated industries already have federal accessibility regulations they must follow.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission still handles compliance and enforcement about accessibility for broadcasting and telecommunications services.
The Canadian Transportation Agency still handles compliance and enforcement about accessibility in the transportation sector. This Agency gets stronger powers to do so.
The Government will name an Accessibility Commissioner. The Accessibility Commissioner will be appointed as a member of the Canadian Human Rights Commission. The Accessibility Commissioner will report to the Minister. The Minister handles compliance, enforcement, and complaints about regulated entities.
The government has many ways to make regulated entities follow the rules. These include:
- Compliance audits examine records and other relevant information from regulated entities.
- Compliance orders go to regulated entities that may not be doing everything they have to do. The compliance order tells them to do something (or to stop doing something).
- Notices of violation: If there is good reason to believe that a regulated entity has violated the law, they may get a notice of violation. The notice may come with a fine.
- Fines: Depending on the nature and severity of non-compliance, regulated entities can get a fine of up to $250,000.
- Compliance agreements: After getting a notice of violation, regulated entities may work out a compliance agreement. They can agree to fix the problem in a specific way by a specific date. This can reduce a fine.
Regulated entities can appeal decisions or ask for administrative review (to make sure there were no errors).
People have a right to complain about harm from a regulated entity not following the law. Harm can be physical, psychological, or economic. The person complaining may get compensation.
Four groups handle accessibility complaints:
- The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission still handles complaints about broadcasting and telecommunications services.
- The Canadian Transportation Agency will handle complaints about the federal transportation system.
- The Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board handles complaints from federal public servants and Parliamentary employees.
- The Accessibility Commissioner handles all other complaints.
These four groups must cooperate to make sure that the complaints are handled quickly and efficiently.
This right to complain does not weaken the existing complaints system of the Canadian Human Rights Act. The Canadian Human Rights Commission handles complaints related to discrimination under that Act.
National AccessAbility Week
The week starting on the last Sunday in May will be called National AccessAbility Week.
When the Act (and its regulations) will become law
The Act comes into effect on a day that the Government will set. (The bill does not say anything about when the Act will come into effect. The bill does not say anything about how soon the first regulations will exist.)
Topics not in the bill
Many words and phrases that came up in various stakeholders recommendations and discussions do not appear in the bill. Here are some of them:
Thank you to the Parliament of Canada’s for permission to borrow language from their document called Plain Language Summary of the Proposed Accessible Canada Act.