Lawyer appeals $4,250 fee to access information on how Ontario’s accessibility law is being enforced. By Laurie Monsebraaten Social justice reporter
Mon., Jan. 30, 2017
Lepofsky says the provincial government is keeping secret the details behind a promised crackdown on businesses that ignore accessibility legislation.
The Wynne government is denying Ontarians the right to know the details behind its promised 2015 crack-down on businesses that ignore their responsibilities under the province’s landmark accessibility legislation, an accessibility activist says.
Lawyer David Lepofsky asked the government for details of its plan to beef up enforcement the day after it was announced. That was in a June, 2015 Toronto Star story about the government marking the 10th anniversary of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) with a 10-year provincial action plan.
It would ensure the province’s 1.8 million people with disabilities can live, work and play to their full potential by 2025 as set out in the 2005 legislation.
But in August,2015, government officials said it would cost Lepofsky’s AODA Alliance, the non-partisan advocacy group he chairs, $4,250 to cover government staff time to retrieve the relevant documents.
Lepofsky, who has been fighting on behalf of the volunteer coalition since then to have the fee waived, is making his case Tuesday, in a hearing before the Information and Privacy Commission of Ontario.
“Not only has the government already spent the $4,250 to collect this information, but they are now spending much more on lawyers and a hearing to continue to deny me and the public the right to know how they are implementing and enforcing this legislation,” he said in an interview.
According to the 2015 Star story, the government had planned to double compliance audits to 4,000, or 1 per cent of Ontario’s 400,000 businesses starting in 2016.
Lepofsky said he was “simply asking to see a detailed explanation of the policy” along with data and reports to back up the proposed enforcement measure and other actions on implementing the act.
In documents filed in advance of Tuesday’s hearing, government lawyers argue the fee is being charged to offset costs to the public.
Lepofsky’s request is “broad” and lists 31 questions, most of which have sub-questions that bring the total number of requests to about 84, the lawyers say.
“The user-pay system encourages requests that are reasonable in scope and offsets costs to the public in circumstances such as the present case, where ministry staff were redirected from enforcement activities to satisfy the… request,” they add.
They also argue government staff provided many documents in Lepofsky’s request for free and tried unsuccessfully to narrow the scope of the request in an attempt to lower the fee.
In a new argument, not included in the government’s refusal in January 2016 to waive the fee, government lawyers say Lepofsky’s coalition made no attempt to pay the cost through fundraising.
“I can’t believe they are suggesting people with disabilities should have to go out and beg for funds to pay for this information when the issue of fundraising has never been raised before,” Lepofsky said.
“We don’t charge for the hundreds of volunteer hours we spend responding as part of government consultations on the act,” he added. “This is outrageous.