Ontario’s Liberal government must take action to prove that it will – finally – enforce its own equal access laws for the disabled.
David Cooper / Toronto Star
Data collected by lawyer David Lepofsky, of the non-profit Accessibility for Ontarians With Disabilities Act Alliance. show that businesses in violation Ontario’s accessibility law are not facing fines or compliance orders.
Published on Mon Nov 18 2013
Imagine a blind person with a guide dog is turned away from a store or restaurant. Not only is that refusal a sign of bad judgment, it’s also a breach of Ontario’s accessibility law.
Unfortunately, the 2005 legislation that promised equal access for the disabled within Ontario businesses has actually accomplished very little. And that should be an embarrassment for the provincial government.
After all, the Liberals got a moral boost by passing the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. But the reality is that the act is little more than whimsical window dressing because the vast majority of businesses don’t comply with the basic rules. To make matters worse, the government has done nothing to enforce those rules. It’s a sham.
As the Star’s Laurie Monsebraaten reports, 70 per cent of Ontario’s private businesses with 20 or more employees (about 360,000 across the province) have not bothered to comply with the law’s most basic reporting requirements. That rule says businesses had to file an electronic report with the government by Dec. 31, 2012, detailing how they accommodate disabled customers, train staff and listen to feedback.
The time to take action is long overdue.
The government should immediately tell the public, through a comprehensive plan, how it will finally enforce these hard-won rights. This plan must detail follow-up for inspections, compliance orders and fines. It is these requirements that give the law teeth and it’s now clear that without proper enforcement, little improvement will be made.
The data analysis comes from lawyer David Lepofsky, of the non-profit Accessibility for Ontarians With Disabilities Act Alliance. According to Lepofsky’s analysis, using government documents obtained through a freedom of information request, not one of the businesses in violation has faced a compliance order or fine. That’s just wrong.
It’s not bad enough that it took the Ministry of Economic Development 11 months to provide Lepofsky with the information he requested. Now, as he says, it turns out that the laws are largely irrelevant, and it’s clear why the government did not want to produce the documents.
It’s not going to harm businesses to answer questions, especially for such basic rules as accepting service dogs or training workers to interact with people of various disabilities.
And it’s not too much to demand that the government fulfill its promise for equality – or just admit that it’s doing nothing to help the disabled.