Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance February 25th Update

With only 9 years, 10 months and 3 days left for the Government to lead
Ontario to become fully accessible for people with disabilities by 2025, the
Ontario Government has taken the backwards step of planning to reduce its
already-paltry enforcement of the AODA. This is so even though the
Government knows that there remain rampant violations of that legislation
among over 60% of private sector organizations with at least 20 employees.
This is so also despite the fact that the final report of the Mayo Moran
AODA Independent Review, delivered to the Government last November,
recommended that the Government strengthen, and not weaken its enforcement
of this important legislation.

This is revealed in a February 25, 2015 article in the Toronto star set out
below. We first learned this information in a February 19, 2015 letter from
Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid to the AODA Alliance, also set out
below. Minister Duguid was answering our January 21, 2015 letter to him, in
which we asked for detailed information about AODA compliance and
enforcement.

According to Minister Duguid’s newest letter, 33,097 of the 53,181 private
sector organizations in Ontario with at least 20 employees have violated the
AODA, by failing to file a mandatory accessibility self-report with the
Government by the end of 2014. Fully 28,357 failed to file that mandatory
accessibility self-report in 2012 and 2014. That makes them repeat
offenders.

Yet in the face of this, Minister Duguid’s letter reports a huge cut in the
number of those organizations that the Government will audit in 2015. In
2013, the Government audited 1,906 private sector organizations. In 2014, it
audited 1,954 organizations in the private sector. Yet, in 2015, the
Government plans only to audit 1,200, a reduction of about 800 private
sector organizations.

The Government has promised us over and over that the AODA would be
effectively enforced. On May 10, 2005, when the Legislature unanimously
passed the Disabilities Act, the Government proudly proclaimed at a Queen’s
Park news conference that there would be spot audits, inspections, and
available monetary penalties and enforcement for violators. Then-Minister
Marie Bountrogianni reiterated why it is important for the AODA to be
effectively enforced, not voluntary, referring to the previous Conservative
Government’s weak and unenforceable disability law:

“They will be given of course chances to remedy their situation. It’s not
about punishment. It’s about doing the right thing. However if they do not
comply, there is a fine — fifty thousand dollars for individuals and a
hundred thousand dollars for corporations. So we’re serious. That was
missing in the previous act. That was one of the things that was missing in
the previous act. And without that enforcement compliance, when you just
leave it to the good will of the people, it doesn’t always get done. And so
we know that we know that from the psychology of human nature. We know that
from past research in other areas, like the environment, like seatbelts,
like smoking. And so we acted on the research in those areas.”

We know from information the Government has previously given to us that when
the Government actually does deploy its enforcement powers, they get a high
rate of improved compliance. We have also documented that the Government has
money on hand to conduct more enforcement efforts. In every year since the
AODA was passed in 2005, the Accessibility Directorate has been
under-budget. A total of 26.2 million dollars in its budget over those years
has gone unspent.

On a related topic, in our January 21, 2015 letter to Minister Duguid, we
asked what steps the Government had taken to keep Premier Wynne’s 2014
election promise to establish and publicize a toll-free number for the
public to report AODA violations. That promise was set out in Premier
Wynne’s May 16, 2014 letter to the AODA Alliance, during last year’s
election campaign. We have been campaigning for that toll-free line for over
two years.

In his February 19, 2015 reply, Economic Development Minister Duguid said
that the public can now call toll-free to 1-866-515-2025 to report AODA
violations. In the Toronto Star, a spokesperson for the Minister made it
seem as if this has been available to the public for some four years. We
don’t understand why, if that line had been available for four years, the
Government would not tell us. We don’t know why Premier Wynne would promise
to establish such a phone line in last year’s election, if it had already
existed for years.

We could find no Government announcement on the web telling the public that
they can use this phone number for that purpose. If you Google that phone
number, the Government’s website says it is for organizations to learn how
to comply with the AODA. The audio announcements on that phone number, as of
the start of this week, do not tell a caller that they can use this number
to report AODA violations. AODA Alliance chair David Lepofsky has twice
tried calling this number to report an AODA violation. The first time was on
February 19, 2015, minutes after receiving Minister Duguid’s letter. The
second time was on Monday, February 23, 2015.

During his first attempt, the operator told him that they don’t take reports
of AODA violations on that number. The operator referred him to the option
of personally filing a human rights complaint with the Ontario Human Rights
Tribunal. On the second attempt, four days later, the operator routed his
call to an operator at the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario, who said he
would take the report of an AODA violation.

We are concerned that up until now, this number has not been publicized to
the public at all, despite Premier Wynne promising to establish and
publicize this number. The Government should now widely publicize it.
Moreover, a caller who dials that number would, as of the start of this
week, have no idea from the announcement on the phone line that it is a
place to report AODA violations.

We encourage anyone who experiences or witnesses an AODA violation to call
1-866-515-2025. Select your language. Then press 1 for an individual
calling, not an organization. Then you should press 0 to get to an operator.

We will have more to say about this toll-free number in future AODA updates.
We don’t know what number the Government has for TTY calls, but will provide
it when we obtain it.

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