Bill C-81: Senate improves legislation to make Canada more accessible
The Government accepted all Senate amendments to improve legislation that removes and prevents barriers in Canada for those with disabilities.
Bill C-81, the Accessible Canada Act, came in response to extensive consultations on how to remove and prevent barriers in Canada for those with disabilities. The legislation improves accessibility in federal jurisdictions to enhance the full and equal participation of all persons in Canadian society. It builds on existing rights and protections for persons with disabilities, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Canadian Human Rights Act and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The bill also provides for the designation of National AccessAbility Week, starting on the last Sunday in May.
The Senate’s Role
The legislation arrived in the Senate in November 2018. After hearing from 20 witnesses over the course of four meetings, the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology proposed several key amendments to improve the legislation. One significant change was to set a deadline of January 1, 2040 to meet the objectives of a Canada without barriers. Another change recognized American Sign Language, Quebec Sign Language and Indigenous Sign Languages as a primary language for those who are deaf. A further amendment was made to allow the Canadian Transportation Agency to identify barriers even if transportation providers are not in contravention of an accessibility regulation.
“I am proud of Bill C-81. I am proud of the amendments made at committee,” said Senator Jim Munson, who sponsored the legislation in the Senate. “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.”
Minister of Public Services and Procurement and Accessibility Carla Qualtrough thanked the Senate for the changes and confirmed the Government would accept them all. “I would like to recognize the excellent work done in the other chamber and by our Senate sponsor, Senator Munson, on the bill,” she said in a speech in the House of Commons. “We took to heart the messages heard from these witnesses and proposed amendments to echo those voices and concerns. Our government supports all the amendments made to Bill C-81 brought forward in the Senate as we recognize that they reflect key priorities voiced by the community.” The Senate amendments were accepted by the House of Commons on May 29, 2019, during National AccessAbility Week.