Enforcement has lagged behind legislation when it comes to businesses developing and carrying through on plans to accommodate disabled customers, train staff and gather feedback from customers on their efforts – and report back to the province.
By: Laurie Monsebraaten Social justice reporter, Published on Thu Feb 20 2014
As Ontario scrambles to enforce its accessibility legislation for the disabled, government documents show the province had a detailed enforcement plan ready almost two years ago.
The June 2012 “briefing note” obtained through a Freedom of Information request outlines a two-year strategy to target 3,600 businesses, issue compliance orders, and conduct audits of violators.
As reported by the Star last fall, at that point no orders had been issued and no audits had been conducted, despite government statistics showing the vast majority of businesses covered by the legislation had failed to comply with the law’s reporting requirements.
“Clearly the bureaucrats had a plan. What happened to it? Where is the political will to enforce this legislation?” said lawyer David Lepofsky of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance.
The province’s 2005 Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) includes a Customer Service Accessibility Standard, enacted in 2007, that requires companies with 20 employees or more to e-file reports on how they accommodate customers with disabilities, train staff and receive customer feedback. The plans had to be filed with the government by Dec. 31, 2012.
But by last November, 70 per cent of companies about 36,000 across the province had not yet filed a report.
“Filing an accessibility report is a legislated requirement. . . Failure to do so is considered a major violation of the act,” says the briefing note, entitled “AODA Compliance and Enforcement Strategy.”
A spokesman for Eric Hoskins, the minister of economic development, trade and employment who has been responsible for the legislation since last February said the briefing note was an “internal planning document” and was never given to the former minister.
“We are currently developing a publicly available compliance plan and will be posting it in short order,” said Gabe De Roche.
The ministry is also planning to conduct 1,700 compliance audits this year to ensure companies are carrying out their customer service plans, he added.
Last fall, when the Star first reported the government’s inaction on the file, Hoskins called the percentage of businesses in compliance “unacceptably low” and vowed to crack down on violators.
In November, the ministry sent 2,500 enforcement letters to businesses that failed to submit their reports, and since then almost half of those who got the letters have complied, De Roche said.
Up to 500 remaining businesses are being issued compliance orders that require them to file within 30 days or face fines of between $500 and $2,000, he added.
“Since November, the ministry has been able to successfully increase the number of compliance reports (from 15,000) to over 17,000,” he said. “We are continuing to work to increase this number.”
Lepofsky welcomed the government’s plan to publicly post its compliance strategy. But he said the additional 2,000 companies that have come into compliance is still a “microscopic drop in the bucket.”
“So we have gone from 36,000 companies who have not filed their reports to 34,000. You do the math. That’s still a huge majority of companies who have no plan to deal with customers with disabilities,” he said.