March 3, 2011
TO THE EXECUTIVE OF ALL POLITICAL PARTIES REGISTERED IN ONTARIO
Pursuant to my duty under Section 29 of the Ontario Human Rights Code, I am writing to all registered political parties in Ontario to help promote awareness about the importance of accessible elections for voters and candidates with disabilities as well as those seeking nomination.
In March 2010, I made a submission before the Standing Committee of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario on behalf of the Ontario Human Rights Commission raising concerns about Bill 231, the Election Statute Law Amendment Act. The Bill enacts new provisions for accessible polling stations and voting equipment that apply to provincial elections beginning this year.
The Bill does not address other disability-related barriers that electors, candidates and individuals seeking nomination can face before, during and after elections. These include:
- Inaccessible facilities: Political party, constituency and riding association offices as well as nomination, fundraising, campaign rally and all candidate debate events located in facilities with entrances, stairs, washrooms and other features that are inaccessible to persons with mobility related disabilities
- Communication and other services: meetings and events offering no sign language interpretation, real time captioning, deaf-blind intervention or attendant care, making them inaccessible to persons who are deaf, deafened, deaf-blind or hard-of-hearing or who have other types of disabilities
- Inaccessible print and information technology: materials produced or used by parties, riding associations, candidates or individuals seeking nomination that is inaccessible to persons with vision disabilities. This includes flyers, brochures, position papers, etc. not available in alternative formats such as electronic text, Braille or large print. Websites not designed to meet international accessibility standards are also a barrier
- Disability-related expenses: expenses incurred by candidates or other individuals with or without disabilities that are not reimbursed
Voting and standing for election are fundamental rights of democracy that any citizen may choose to exercise. A number of laws, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms require us to ensure citizens with disabilities may do so without discrimination. Tribunals and courts uphold both democratic and equality rights for persons with disabilities. The Ontario Human Rights Code sets out the duty to accommodate persons with disabilities to the point of undue hardship. In 2005, all parties of the Legislature passed the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act to set standards for achieving an accessible province. In 2010, Canada ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD). Article 29 expressly provides for “the right and opportunity for persons with disabilities to vote and be elected”.
The obligation to uphold these laws during elections is under examination across Canadian jurisdictions. In 2010, in Hughes v. Elections Canada, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal found in favour of an elector with a disability who filed a complaint after experiencing physical barriers at his polling station. In January 2011, the Council of Canadians with Disabilities wrote to the House of Commons on the importance of accessible elections. In February 2011, it released a paper on implementing the UN CRPD, including reforms to the electoral process.
Although the passage of Bill 231 is a step in the right direction for Ontario, there is still much more to do. The OHRC is talking to Elections Ontario and other organizations concerned about accessible elections. We believe the executive of the registered political parties have a critical role to play.
Resources are available to help. Elections Ontario has published Draft Site Accessibility Standards for polling stations that could be adapted elsewhere. Non-partisan organizations such as the Canadian Hearing Society, the CNIB, the Canadian Paraplegic Association Ontario and the Ontario March of Dimes worked together with the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario to publish three guides in 2008: Accessible Campaign Information & Communication; Accessible Constituency Riding Association, Central Party and Campaign Offices; Accessible All Candidates Meetings.
Some of these non-government organizations helped host accessible all candidate debates in Toronto during past elections. Such collaborative efforts would be welcome again for the upcoming provincial election, especially in other regions of Ontario.
The OHRC would be pleased to learn about your experiences and concerns and offer our assistance where appropriate. We also will be reviewing reports from Elections Ontario, as well as hearing directly from other organizations and individuals about barriers that voters, candidates and those seeking nomination may face over the coming months.
Barbara Hall, B.A, LL.B, Ph.D (hon.)
cc: Greg Essensa, Chief Electoral Officer of Ontario
Bas Balkissoon, Chair of the Standing Committee on the Legislative Assembly
Hon. Madeleine Meilleur, Minister of Community and Social Services
David Lepofsky, Chair of the AODA Alliance
Len Mitchell, Chair, Canadian Hearing Society
Jim Maher, Chair, CNIB
Al Hanks, Chair, Canadian Paraplegic Association Ontario
Elizabeth Greville, Chair, Ontario March of Dimes
Tony Dolan, Chair, Council of Canadians with Disabilities
Marc Mayrand, Chief Electoral Officer of Canada
 Communist Party of Canada (Ontario)
Family Coalition Party of Ontario
Freedom Party of Ontario
The Green Party of Ontario
New Democratic Party of Ontario
Northern Ontario Heritage Party
Ontario Liberal Party
Ontario Libertarian Party
Ontario Provincial Confederation of Regions Party
Party for People with Special Needs
People First Republic Party of Ontario
Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario
Reform Party of Ontario