The Federal Government has recently commenced a nationwide consultation process with Canadians to inform the development of federal accessibility legislation. Specifically, the government is seeking input on the following:

  • feedback on the overall goal and approach;
  • to whom would apply;
  • what accessibility issues and barriers it could address;
  • how it could be monitored and enforced; and
  • what else the Government of Canada could do to improve accessibility.

Thus far, there is limited opportunity for public oral consultation. Brief in-person sessions are taking place in 18 cities across Canada. These sessions began in September and will continue through to November. A consultation schedule is available here. Canadians may also participate by submitting an online survey , or through social media .

Several provinces have already introduced similar accessibility initiatives. Of these initiatives, Ontario’s Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (“AODA”) is the only in-force legislative accessibility regime. The public policy rationales for the AODA parallel the federal government’s initiative, including:

  • the pursuit of equality;
  • the inclusion of persons with disabilities;
  • the reflection of changing public understanding of disability in society; and
  • the elimination of barriers to accessibility for persons with disabilities.

In Ontario, the AODA is very broad in scope, applying to almost every person or organization in the public and private sectors of the Province of Ontario. Manitoba and Nova Scotia have also taken substantive steps towards enacting accessibility legislation. British Columbia is not yet at a legislative stage, but the government of British Columbia has held public consultations regarding accessibility issues, resulting in “Accessibility 2024”, a 10-year action plan.

Other than the limited initiatives above, disability law is generally otherwise confined to provincial building codes and human rights legislation, which address disability-related issues as a component part rather than as the primary focus of the statute. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms further guarantees equal protection and benefit of the law to persons with disabilities with respect to government action. Also, the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms operate in the federal sphere as a forum for persons with disabilities to bring complaints of discrimination.

While the federal government is not yet at the legislative stage, it has set accessibility standards for federal buildings, the Internet and workplaces. These accessibility standards apply to federal government agencies and Crown corporations only.

Until a federal scheme becomes clear, it remains to be seen how the federal government will integrate or ensure consistency with already existing provincial accessibility legislation; the federal government’s constitutional ability to legislate over and above the provinces’ existing standards remains questionable. Similarly, in provinces where accessibility legislation has not yet been implemented, there exists the jurisdictional issue of whether such a scheme will be confined to the federal sphere, and if not, where the legislative authority for broader compliance measures will be derived from.

The federal government’s public consultation will be open until February 2017.