As promised in the 2015 election campaign, the federal government has introduced accessibility legislation. Bill C-81, An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada (Accessible Canada Act) is the result of a cross-country consultation process with Canadians and received First Reading on June 20, 2018.
Bill C-81 is aimed at ensuring the full and equal participation in society of Canadians with disabilities. To accomplish this important goal, Bill C-81 requires certain federally regulated entities to identify, remove and prevent accessibility barriers in six broad areas: employment, the built environment, information and communication technologies, the procurement of goods and services, the delivery of programs and services, and transportation. The scope of Bill C-81 is largely consistent with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (AODA).
Federal employers can anticipate that Bill C-81, or a similar version thereof, will likely become law in due course. Employers should prepare by taking proactive steps to identify and address barriers impacting persons with disabilities in the above-referenced areas.
Guidance from Ontario in relation to AODA is a valuable resource for getting started in this exercise, keeping in mind that the federal legislative requirements may ultimately differ from those under AODA. In particular, employers should develop an accessibility policy in consultation with employees with disabilities and/or persons with expertise in the area. Employers with an existing accessibility policy should review the policy in consultation as noted above and make any needed changes or enhancements.
What Bill C-81 Requires
If passed in its current form, Bill C-81 will require most federally regulated entities to fulfill three key obligations:
- Prepare and publish accessibility plans;
- Facilitate feedback on plan fulfillment and barriers; and
- Prepare and publish progress reports on plan fulfillment.
Covered entities will need to prepare and publish an accessibility plan respecting their policies, programs, practices and services for identifying, removing and preventing barriers in the six areas referenced above. An updated version of the plan will be required at least every 3 years or as prescribed. Persons with disabilities must be consulted in the course of preparing the plan (and updated versions) and the plan must describe the manner of consultation. Specific information as to the form of the plan and the method of publication are reserved for the regulations (which have not yet been released).
Covered entities also need to establish and publish a process for receiving feedback concerning the fulfillment of the accessibility plan and any barriers encountered by employees or other persons.
In addition, covered entities need to prepare and publish a progress report concerning fulfillment of the accessibility plan. Persons with disabilities must be consulted in the course of preparing the progress report and the report must describe the manner of consultation. The progress report must also describe feedback received and how the feedback was considered.
Forthcoming regulations will set out certain details relevant to the above requirements, including:
- the form in which the accessibility plan and progress reports are to be prepared;
- timing for publishing the progress reports; and
- the manner for publishing the accessibility plan, feedback process and progress reports.
Enforcement officers are authorized to carry out inspections to assess compliance. Non-compliant entities may be subject to the following:
- Compliance order – the entity may be ordered to terminate the contravention or take any specified step to achieve compliance;
- Notice of violation – the entity may receive a notice of violation with either a warning or a penalty;
- Administrative monetary penalties – depending on the nature and severity of the violation, the entity may be fined up to CAD 250,000.
- Compliance agreement – in certain cases, the entity may be able to agree to address the violation, potentially reducing the fine.
Bill C-81 is at the first stage of the legislative process. Deliberation will not occur until Parliament resumes sitting in the Fall. We will continue to monitor and report on the progress of the Bill.