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The Wynne Government Appoints a Person to Conduct an Independent Review of the Disabilities Act Who has Respected Expertise in Accessibility, But who Lacks Much-Needed Independence

He Worked as the Government’s Special Advisor on Accessibility For Most of the Period He is To Now Independently Audit

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update United for a Barrier-Free Ontario for All People with Disabilities Twitter: @aodaalliance

February 9, 2018


On Wednesday, February 7, 2018, the Wynne Government announced that it had appointed the Honourable David Onley to conduct the next mandatory Independent Review of the implementation and enforcement of the 2005 Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). The AODA Alliance has serious concerns about this appointment, despite Mr. Onley’s deep and commendable commitment to accessibility for people with disabilities.

This Independent Review should be conducted by a person who was, at all material times, independent of and uninvolved with the Government and its implementation of the AODA. Mr. Onley does not meet this important requirement. For almost the entire period of late 2014 to 2018 (the period that this Independent Review is required to especially examine), the Wynne Government employed Mr. Onley right in the midst of the Government’s administration that implements and enforces the AODA and that Mr. Onley would now be assigned to independently review.

From fall 2014 to fall 2017, the Wynne Government employed Mr. Onley as its Special Advisor on Accessibility. He reported to the Ministry and the Minister that had lead responsibility for the AODA’s implementation and enforcement. His mandate was to advise the Ministry and Minister on the very subject of this mandatory Independent Review. He was therefore neither independent of nor uninvolved in the Government’s activity in this area over those key years.

The AODA is ground-breaking legislation which requires the Ontario Government to lead Ontario to become fully accessible by 2025. It requires the Ontario Government to enact and enforce a series of accessibility standards. Those regulations must spell out what organizations in Ontario must do to tear down the accessibility barriers that impede 1.9 million people with a physical, mental, sensory, intellectual, communication, learning or other disability when they try to get a job, shop in stores, eat in restaurants, ride public transit, get an education, or enjoy other opportunities available to the public.

Section 41 of the AODA (set out below) requires the Ontario Government to appoint an Independent Review of the AODA’s implementation and enforcement. The AODA requires this external audit every few years, along specified time lines, in order to have an independent Reviewer find out if Ontario is on schedule for full accessibility by 2025, and if not, to advise the Government and the public on what changes are needed to get on schedule. This is an important outside check and balance in the AODA, so Ontarians with disabilities and all Ontarians can be assured that this province will become fully accessible by 2025, the deadline which the AODA imposes. The Independent Review must consult the public, including people with disabilities.

Before now, there have been two successive AODA Independent Reviews. In 2010, the first AODA Independent Review by Charles Beer rendered its final report. In 2014, the second AODA Independent Review, conducted by former University of Toronto Law Dean Mayo Moran, rendered its final report. Both Charles Beer and Mayo Moran were welcomed as independent and amply qualified Reviewers.

Both Charles Beer and Mayo Moran rendered excellent reports. Each found that despite some progress on accessibility in Ontario, substantial improvements were needed. Each called for the Ontario Government to show new leadership on accessibility and to revitalize the AODA’s implementation. The Mayo Moran report emphasized that after almost ten years on the books, people with disabilities reported that the AODA had not made a significant difference in their lives.

In June 2010, the AODA Alliance made public its detailed analysis of the 2010 final report of the Charles Beer AODA first Independent Review. In April-May 2015, we made public our analysis of the 2014 final report of the Mayo Moran second AODA Independent Review, both what we agreed with and what we did not agree with.

It is essential that a person appointed to conduct an AODA Independent Review meet two equally important qualifications: First, they should have sufficient knowledge or expertise to conduct the Independent Review. There is no doubt that David Onley meets this requirement.

The second requirement is that the person be fully independent and impartial, and be seen by the public as being fully independent and impartial. We regret that Mr. Onley does not meet this vital second requirement

As the Wynne Government’s Special Advisor on Accessibility, Mr. Onley was in a position to give confidential formal and informal advice to the Minister who is responsible for the AODA and the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario (responsible for the AODA’s implementation). He was also in a position to receive confidential Government briefings on the AODA’s implementation and enforcement. He could well be present at and have taken part in discussions when public officials and/or politicians discussed how to respond to criticisms of the Government on its implementation and enforcement of the AODA.

Mr. Onley was the Government’s Special Advisor on Accessibility for most of the 3.5 year period that the new AODA Independent Review is assigned to especially examine and critique. If he conducts this AODA Independent Review, he can be called upon to sit in judgement of his own advice to the Government, and of actions by the Government that were taken based on his advice to the Government.

Over the 13 years since the AODA was enacted in 2005, the non-partisan AODA Alliance has led the grassroots campaign to get the Government to effectively implement and enforce this law. We commend the Government where it has done well, and bring to public light where the Government has fallen short. In the case of both of the earlier AODA Independent Reviews, we played a leading role in bringing forward serious concerns about the Government’s implementation of this legislation. Our input figured prominently in the final reports of the 2010 Charles Beer first AODA Independent Review and the 2014 Mayo Moran second AODA Independent Review.

In 2015, in his role as the Government’s Special Advisor on Accessibility, Mr. Onley has publicly disputed serious concerns that the AODA Alliance made public about the Wynne Government’s implementation and enforcement of the AODA. On June 12, 2015, the Toronto Star published a guest column by AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky. (Set out below). In it, we gave specific examples of serious problems with the Government’s implementation and enforcement of the AODA. This guest column marked the tenth anniversary of the AODA’s enactment.

Four days later, the June 16, 2015 Toronto Star included a responding letter to the editor by Mr. Onley (set out below). In it, Mr. Onley identified himself as the Government’s Special Advisor on Accessibility. Mr. Onley’s published letter disagreed with Lepofsky’s guest column. It defended the Government’s efforts on accessibility. His letter accorded with and paralleled the Government’s communications strategy then in effect.

Of course Mr. Onley was entirely entitled to have such views and to write the Star about them. Unfortunately, however, his doing so will raise a reasonable appearance of partiality, not impartiality, when the AODA Alliance presents the same concerns to this Independent Review that were in Lepofsky’s 2015 Toronto Star column.

To justify its appointment of Mr. Onley, the Government may point to the fact that Mr. Onley commendably made accessibility for people with disabilities his core theme during his term as Ontario’s Lieutenant Governor, that Mr. Onley has a great deal of knowledge about the barriers facing people with disabilities from his life experience and his service with the Government, and that he has given speeches to a great many audiences around Ontario about disability issues, including, among other times, during his three year term as the Wynne Government’s Special Advisor on Accessibility. As a result, he has garnered a great deal of respect in the community.

All of that is true. However it doesn’t answer the concerns raised here.

The person who conducts the AODA Independent Review must be independent and must be seen to be independent. The most learned and wise judge, including a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, still must excuse himself or herself from presiding in a case where they are asked to pass judgement on matters in which they were themselves involved in any way.

The Government might also argue that Mr. Onley only gave advice and made speeches while he was working at the Government. He did not direct the AODA’s implementation or enforcement. Even if so, he was still situated in the heart of the Government’s implementation and enforcement of the AODA. That alone supports the serious concerns raised here.

The Wynne Government did not need to appoint Mr. Onley to conduct this Independent Review, in order to get his advice on what needs to be done to effectively implement and enforce the AODA. For the last three years, the Wynne Government employed Mr. Onley for the very purpose of advising the Government on accessibility.

We strongly urge Mr. Onley to weigh these concerns, and to opt for someone else to conduct this Independent Review. Doing so would meaningfully serve the needs of people with disabilities, whose accessibility needs are so close to his heart. People with disabilities, municipalities, businesses and other obligated organizations will need to invest a great deal of time and effort to bring their message to this Independent Review. The public’s money will be spent to operate this Independent Review. It is important that the only public perception of the person conducting the AODA Independent Review is one of complete impartiality. They should not appear to be in a position to review their own work, and that of the people within Government who hired them and with whom they worked for three years.

If, despite these concerns, the Wynne Government plans to forge ahead as it has planned, then at the very least, it needs to take strong, concrete action to try to reduce these concerns. For example, the Government should now make public all the advice Mr. Onley gave, whether formally or informally, whether publicly or privately, regarding accessibility, during the term that he served as the Special Advisor to the Government on Accessibility. The public should know what advice the Government sought from him and what advice he gave, as well as any advice he gave without it having been sought. Ordinarily the Government keeps such information secret. It should waive that secrecy here.

The AODA gave Ontario 20 years (from 2005 to 2025) to reach full accessibility. With less than seven years left to go, Ontario is, by all accounts, not on schedule to reach that goal. The Ontario Government has no comprehensive plan in place to ensure that this goal is reached on time. The Government has not effectively implemented some key recommendations from the past two AODA Independent Reviews.

2025 is fast approaching. People with disabilities are therefore depending on this next AODA Independent Review to help break the Government gridlock, no matter which party is elected to government in the June 7 Ontario election. As such, it is very important for the person conducting this next AODA Independent Review to be, and to be seen to be, impartial and independent of the Government they will review.

In closing, we wish to express our profound regret at having to raise these concerns. We don’t mean to imply anything untoward about Mr. Onley. His admirable dedication to accessibility for people with disabilities is well-known, widely-recognized and much-appreciated.


Text of the June 12, 2015 Toronto Star Guest Column by AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky The Toronto Star June 12, 2015

Originally posted at Opinion

Ontario falling short on accessibility goals

Ten years ago this week, Ontario’s 1.8 million people with disabilities won a huge victory. After years of tireless grassroots advocacy, we convinced Queen’s Park to unanimously pass a landmark law requiring the government to lead Ontario to become fully accessible by 2025.

It gave 20 years to tear down the many barriers blocking Ontarians with disabilities from fully participating in jobs, schools, transit, public services, restaurants and stores. Ontarians with physical, mental or sensory disabilities faced physical barriers (such as steps to enter a school), technological barriers (such as websites lacking simple features to make them compatible with adapted computers for blind and dyslexic people); and bureaucratic barriers (such as municipal officials ordering a restaurant to rip out its front door’s accessibility ramp).

The Wynne government has organized parties to celebrate this law’s 10th anniversary, calling itself a world leader on disability accessibility. But how are we really doing?

The government got off to a good start in the first years after this promising law was passed. We’ve made more progress than would have been the case without it.

However, Brad Duguid, the minister responsible for the implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, rightly conceded last week that government efforts flagged in recent years. A government-appointed independent review reported last year that after a decade, this law hasn’t made nearly the promised impact on Ontarians with disabilities. Its report showed that we are not on schedule for full accessibility by 2025.

Ontario has fallen short on several fronts.

As former lieutenant governor David Onley has declared, massive disability unemployment isn’t just a national crisis. It’s a national shame.

Many if not most public buildings remain physically inaccessible. Blind people with guide dogs are still too often denied access to restaurants or taxis. In 2010 the government launched its new Presto smart card for paying public transit, replete with accessibility problems.

Ontario’s public service claims to lead by example on accessibility. Too often it leads by the wrong example, as it did in 2011 when it wrongly tried to abolish a legally mandatory fund that finances workplace accommodations for Ontario public servants with disabilities.

The government failed to act on our repeated urging to get more tourism and hospitality providers to become more accessible for the 2015 Pan/Parapan Am Games. Of a billion potential tourists with disabilities worldwide, many will be watching to see if we’re an accessible destination worth a future visit. When you see that torch crossing Ontario, imagine the trail of increased tourism accessibility it could have blazed, had the government listened to us.

Why are we doing so poorly? Ontario hasn’t created all the accessibility standards needed to ensure the province reaches full accessibility by 2025. Nor has it effectively enforced the accessibility standards we have. The government knows of years of rampant private-sector violations of this law. Yet it too often sat on its hands, leaving unspent millions of dollars dedicated to the act’s implementation.

Still, there is hope. Queen’s Park announced some helpful new measures last week (though not enough to ensure full accessibility by 2025). There remains enough time to reach our goal, if the government goes substantially further.

We need Premier Kathleen Wynne to keep her pledge to direct all ministers to fulfil all unkept government accessibility promises. We need new accessibility standards created; for example, one to tear down barriers in our education system that contribute to massive disability unemployment. The revitalized leadership on accessibility that last year’s independent review urged Wynne to show could build on her government’s first steps announced last week.

Our non-partisan grassroots accessibility movement is more determined than ever, now energized with powerful social media. People who see accessibility barriers to stores, restaurants, tourism sites, or transit during the 2015 Games, can video them and broadcast them online. The hashtag “#accessibility” reaches a huge audience.

Inaccessibility for us is or will be inaccessibility for you. If you don’t have a disability now, you’ll almost certainly get one as you age.

A majority of MPPs who voted for the Disabilities Act in 2005 and their staff have since left Queen’s Park. We aim to get their replacements as fired up about this issue as were their predecessors.

An impossible uphill challenge? We’re used to it. We live those every day. Grassroots tenacity won this law in 2005. It can work again.

David Lepofsky is a blind Toronto lawyer and activist for reforms for the rights of persons with disabilities. Twitter: @davidlepofsky

Text of the June 16, 2015 Letter to the Editor in the Toronto Star by David Onley

The Toronto Star June 16, 2015

Letters to the Editor

Accessibility: Province on right track; Parapan Ams a missed chance for T.O. tourism, Opinion June 13

Parapan Ams a missed chance for T.O. tourism, Opinion June 13

I respectfully disagree with my longtime friend and accessibility advocate, David Lepofsky. If making Ontario accessible were purely enforcing the regulations and standards of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), we would need to do nothing more than create a massive societal checklist, hire thousands of enforcement officers and wait for the list to be complete.

A more accessible society requires far more than just regulating and enforcing accessibility standards. It requires significant dialogue within our culture, something I believe is taking place in a hugely positive way and at an increasingly accelerated pace.

The province’s recently released Path to 2025: Accessibility Action Plan aims to engage employers and address the systemic economic issues associated with accessibility by forging partnerships with the business community. It is investing $9 million into new employment opportunistic funds. The first fund will expand the Community Loan Program that provides low interest commercial loans for small business and is projected to create up to 1,100 new jobs for people with disabilities and others facing barriers to employment.

The other employment fund is based on creating partnerships with businesses across Ontario as they transition to accessible workplaces, leading to additional employment opportunities for persons with disabilities.

Has a real cultural dialogue begun? Are institutions, firms, schools, hospitals buying into the message of social equality for people with disabilities by integrating the existing AODA standards into their very organizational fabric? The answer is a resounding “Yes!”

As the accessibility adviser to Ontario’s Minister Responsible for Accessibility, and as someone who personally encounters daily accessibility challenges in our community, I believe that our provincial government’s action is encouraging, and that we are on track for a more accessible Ontario by 2025.

David Onley, former Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, Toronto

Provision of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Requiring Appointment of the AODA Independent Review

Review of Act
41. (1) Within four years after this section comes into force, the Lieutenant Governor in Council shall, after consultation with the Minister, appoint a person who shall undertake a comprehensive review of the effectiveness of this Act and the regulations and report on his or her findings to the Minister. Consultation
(2) A person undertaking a review under this section shall consult with the public and, in particular, with persons with disabilities. Contents of report
(3) Without limiting the generality of subsection (1), a report may include recommendations for improving the effectiveness of this Act and the regulations. Tabling of report
(4) The Minister shall submit the report to the Lieutenant Governor in Council and shall cause the report to be laid before the Assembly if it is in session or, if not, at the next session. Further review
(5) Within three years after the laying of a report under subsection (4) and every three years thereafter, the Lieutenant Governor in Council shall, after consultation with the Minister, appoint a person who shall undertake a further comprehensive review of the effectiveness of this Act and the regulations. Same
(6) Subsections (2), (3) and (4) apply with necessary modifications to a review under subsection (5).

Text of the Ontario Government Web Page’s February 7, 2018 Announcement of the Wynne Government’s Appointment of David Onley to Conduct the Third AODA Independent Review

Originally posted at: Province Selects The Honourable David C. Onley to Review Ontario’s Accessibility Laws

Ontario Continues to Make Progress toward Becoming a Barrier-free Province

February 7, 2018 9:00 A.M.

Accessibility Directorate of Ontario

Ontario has appointed the Honourable David C. Onley to conduct the third review of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).

The province will consult with the public and will analyze accessibility progress made in other jurisdictions. The review will be completed by the end of 2018 and will consider the evolution of the current AODA and its goals for an accessible Ontario by 2025 and beyond.

David C. Onley is a former broadcast journalist. He served as the 28th Lieutenant Governor of Ontario from 2007 to 2014, and was the first person with a physical disability in the role. He has consulted on accessibility in the private and public sector, including as Special Advisor on Accessibility. Mr. Onley has been inducted into the Canadian Disability Hall of Fame and was named to the Order of Canada in 2017.

Ensuring that everyone in Ontario can contribute to their community and achieve their goals is part of Ontario’s plan to create fairness and opportunity during this period of rapid economic change. The plan includes a higher minimum wage and better working conditions, free tuition for hundreds of thousands of students, easier access to affordable child care, and free prescription drugs for everyone under 25 through the biggest expansion of medicare in a generation.

Quick Facts
The second review of the act was conducted by Mayo Moran, Provost and Vice-Chancellor of Trinity College at the University of Toronto, and was completed in 2015. The government has since implemented a number of Morans recommendations, including the appointment of a Minister Responsible for Accessibility and the development of new accessibility standards.
With the passage of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, Ontario became an accessibility leader, establishing standards in key areas of daily life and implementing them within clear timeframes.
Accessibility standards have been developed in five key areas of daily living: customer service, information and communications, employment, transportation and the design of public spaces.
The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act includes legislative requirement for a comprehensive review of the effectiveness of the act and its regulations every three years after tabling.
Ontario is working to develop new accessibility standards for health care and education to remove barriers.

Additional Resources
Find details on the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005.
Read about how were moving towards accessibility through Access Talent: Ontarios Employment Strategy for People with Disabilities.
Learn the steps for businesses to comply with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005.


Tracy MacCharles

The third legislative review of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act is a substantial project and a valuable step in our journey to becoming an accessible province by 2025. Its broad scope will have a significant impact on our work to remove barriers for people with disabilities in our province. The Honourable David C. Onley is a committed accessibility advocate and brings unique experience to the role. We look forward to his recommendations.

Tracy MacCharles

Minister Responsible for Accessibility

It is an enormous privilege to be asked to conduct the third review of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, and a pleasure to accept. Since the acts introduction in 2005, Ontario has made great progress towards becoming a functionally accessible province by the target date of 2025. While much remains to be done, I believe the goal is achievable and look forward to making recommendations that will get us there. I thank the Honourable Tracy MacCharles for the confidence she has shown in appointing me and I am eager to begin.

The Honourable David C. Onley

Media Contacts

Mahreen Dasoo
Ministers Office

Anne-Marie Flanagan
Communications Branch

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