Accessible Canada Act – The Act to Ensure a Barrier Free Canada

Canada has just passed a new law to strengthen accessibility for people with a disability in federally regulated workplaces and organizations.

The Act to Ensure a Barrier Free Canada, also known as the Accessible Canada Act (the “Act”), came into force on July 11, 2019 and aims to create a “Canada without barriers” by the year 2040. A similar legislation – the Accessibility for Ontarian with Disabilities Act – exists in Ontario and aims to achieve this goal by the year 2025. 

The new Act will require organizations under federal jurisdiction to develop accessibility plans that account for the various barriers people with disabilities face in their built environments, when accessing services in the public, and in their employment. 

This Act will apply to the federally regulated private sector, the Government of Canada and Parliament. The Act’s primary mandate is to address accessibility issues in a proactive manner, by removing barriers before they create harm. This is significant given that a reactive response, through the human rights litigation process, has been the only impactful way to address these issues for over four decades. 

The Act will introduce the following changes:

(a) Accessibility Standards

The federal government has established the Canadian Accessibility Standards Development Organization (CASDO), whose mandate is to develop and revise accessibility standards for federally regulated industries. CASDO will provide these standards to the Minister of Public Services and Procurement and Accessibility (the “Minister”), who will create regulations that federal organizations must follow.

In addition to the standards set out by CASDO, federally regulated groupings will be subject to industry-specific regulations, as per Part 4 of the Act:  

  1. Regulated entities that carry on broadcasting undertakings; 
  2. Regulated entities that are Canadian carriers or telecommunications service providers; 
  3. Regulated entities in the transportation network; and
  4. Other regulated entities.

These industry-specific accessibility regulations will be detailed in each industry’s governing legislation acts, as follows:

Industry Grouping

Acts in which the Accessibility
Regulations will be Found

Entity Responsible for Establishing and
Enforcing Industry-Specific Accessibility  Regulations

(1) Regulated entities that carry on broadcasting undertakings The Broadcasting Act The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications (CRTC)
(2) Regulated entities that are Canadian carriers or telecommunications service providers The Telecommunications Act The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications (CRTC)
(3) Regulated entities in the transportation network The Canada Transportation Act The Canadian Transportation Agency
(4) Other regulated entities The Accessible Canada Act The Governor in Council

Organizations in these defined industries must refer to their industry’s governing legislation to find information regarding industry-specific regulations. The CRTC and the Canadian Transportation Agency will be charged with crafting the accessibility  regulations these federally regulated organizations will rely on to ensure they are providing a barrier free environment. The Governor in Council will make regulations for other regulated entities. 

These regulations will detail how organizations should assemble their accessibility plans, how to solicit feedback from the public regarding existing barriers in their organization, and how to produce meaningful progress reports. Once the regulations are drafted, regulated organizations will be required to produce their accessibility plan one year after the day fixed by their respective regulations. 

(b) Enforcement

The Act will also create the new role of the Accessibility Commissioner. The Accessibility Commissioner will have the power to conduct investigations into organizations that have received complaints under the Act. The CRTC and the Canadian Transport Agency will also enforce the Act for their respective industries.

The Act will create a formal complaint process for individuals who have suffered physical or psychological harm due to an organization’s failure to abide by the applicable regulations. The Commissioner has the authority to issue warnings and/or fines of up to $250,000 per violation for contravention of the regulations. 

Organizations may be inspected regardless of whether they received complaints. This is known as a “proactive inspection” and is one of the ways the Act is attempting to remove the burden from individuals with disabilities who have long been tasked with demanding accessibility on their own.

Final Thoughts

The Accessible Canada Act will create new standards for federally regulated industries in the hopes that more people are able to access and fully participate in the spaces they work and regularly utilize. Now that the legislation is in force, federally regulated employers should begin to educate themselves about the Act and start to consider the implications this Act may have on their built environment, their hiring practices, and how their employees’ interact with members of the public –  specific to-dos and deadlines are still coming. We will provide updates on the Accessible Canada Act as they become available.

If you have questions about accessibility in your workplace, get in touch

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