Since the beginning of 2016, four Montreal foster homes that provide care for people with mental and physical disabilities have had to close their doors, with as many as 170 more at risk across the province due to the provincial Liberal government’s budget cuts. This is just the latest in a long history of the government undermining disability rights in Quebec. The province’s accessibility laws as they stand are inadequate, lagging behind accessibility legislation elsewhere in Canada, and even these insufficient laws are seldom enforced. Rather than cutting resources from institutions that provide support to thousands of people with disabilities, the government must act urgently to adopt new accessibility laws with concrete targets and binding requirements for both the public and private sectors.
The current situation for accessibility and disability rights in Quebec is dire. More than one-third of discrimination complaints to the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission are about disability discrimination – a higher rate than any other type of complaint. However, individual complaints are simply not sufficient for dealing with large-scale systemic issues in public institutions. For example, only 9 of 68 metro stations in Montreal have elevators, and, at the current rate, the system will not be fully accessible until at least 2090. McGill, a publicly funded institution, also lags in accessibility, with a number of buildings with inaccessible entrances or that are entirely inaccessible altogether.
The Quebec government does not have a systemic plan to address inaccessibility, and the relevant laws are weak and unenforced. A 2004 bill requires municipalities and public agencies to submit annual accessibility plans, but there are no penalties for unsubmitted reports and no requirement to follow through. By 2011, only 16 out of 34 transit agencies in the province had submitted even a single annual plan. The bill also required the government to enact regulations regarding the accessibility of public buildings, which was never done; according to disability rights group Québec accessible, a 2008 report showed that only 54 per cent of public buildings are accessible. In the private sector, many types of buildings are exempt from accessibility requirements in the Building Code.
In contrast, Ontario adopted a bill in 2005 that aimed to make the province fully accessible by 2025 – including Toronto’s metro system, where 34 of 69 stations currently have elevators. The bill provides for the progressive implementation of accessibility standards in several areas, such as employment and transportation; requires the publication of independent implementation reports every three years; and applies to the private as well as the public sectors. Unlike Quebec’s lack of enforcement provisions, Ontario’s bill mandates inspections and fines for individuals and companies that fail to abide.
New accessibility laws in Quebec would not solve the province’s accessibility issues on their own, but could be the first significant step toward strategic and systemic improvement. As Quebec accessibility measures stand now, the government’s disregard for disabled individuals could not be more evident. Since the adoption of Ontario’s accessibility law, other Canadian provinces have followed suit in taking steps toward ensuring accessibility as a basic human right, and Quebec is overdue to join them.
—The McGill Daily editorial board