On October 12, 2004, the Government of Ontario, through the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration, introduced Bill 118 - the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2004. If passed, Bill 118 will undoubtedly render Ontario significantly more accessible to those with disabilities and, more importantly, address the needs and longstanding grievances of persons affected by disabilities.
As its title suggests, Bill 118 aims to make Ontario universally barrier free.
If passed, Bill 118 will repeal the current Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2001, which currently only applies to prescribed governmental institutions. Bill 118’s scope is much broader. Unlike the current Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2001, the private sector will for the first time be subject to legislated accessibility standards.
Although Ontario’s Human Rights Code currently imposes accessibility obligations on employers, landlords and service providers, those obligations are, for the greater part, incapable of precise definition or uniform application. Under the Human Rights Code, Ontario’s public and private institutions and businesses must accommodate disabilities (as defined in the Code) to the point of "undue hardship", which is at best a nebulous and particularly difficult concept to define in most circumstances. Though Bill 168 will not render the Human Rights Code obsolete in this regard, it promises, unlike the Human Rights Code, to establish clearly defined accessibility standards applicable to numerous segments of the public and private sectors.
In short, Bill 168 proposes to render Ontario more accessible to those with disabilities by the following means:
1. Defining Accessibility Standards: Bill 168 provides for the establishment of accessibility standards by regulation, which, once promulgated, will apply to persons and organizations in the public and private sectors that employ other persons or that deal with the public by offering goods, services, facilities or accommodations, including those that own or occupy premises that are open to the public. Specific standards committees, comprised of community groups and stakeholders, will be formed for the purposes of defining accessibility standards. The standards will require organizations to implement measures, policies or practices or do such other things in order to identify and remove, and prevent the erection of, barriers for persons with disabilities.
2. Imposing Mandatory Accessibility Standards: Once defined, accessibility standards will bind identified segments of the public and private sector in Ontario. Compliance timelines will be set by regulation.
3. Enforcing Accessibility Standards: All organizations covered by the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2004, once passed, will be required to prove, through annual filings of accessibility reports, compliance with all accessibility standards affecting their operations. Annual accessibility reports will be made public, and organizations will be subject to inspections and spot audits. Significant fines may be imposed for breaches of the proposed Act.
Although Bill 118 is not yet law, it is widely expected to be in the near future. The government is committed to ensuring that this important Bill become law.
Although accessibility standards have yet to be defined, organizations affected by this development (including notably employers, service and accommodation providers and building owners and occupants) are encouraged to proactively review their operations, premises, practices and policies with a view of identifying and developing strategies to identify and remove barriers to those with physical, development and mental disabilities.
Since it is simply a matter of time before Bill 118 becomes law and accessibility standards are defined, it would be a worthwhile exercise and expenditure of time and resources for organizations, including employers, to consider (1) establishing an accessibility working group, (2) auditing potential barriers, (3) identifying and listing accessibility barriers and (4) developing strategies to address barriers.
We will keep monitoring Bill 118 as it progresses through the Legislature. In the meantime, should you have any questions or comments, or wish further information, please do not hesitate to contact any member of our Employee and Labour Relations group.
The foregoing provides only an overview. Readers are cautioned against making any decisions based on this material alone. Rather, a qualified lawyer should be consulted.
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