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Access for persons with disabilities to secret vote reaffirmed by Human Rights Settlement

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December 21, 2000

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For immediate publication

Toronto - A settlement reached between two voters with visual disabilities and the City of Ottawa could set a standard for future election practices. In complaints filed with the Ontario Human Rights Commission, Mr. Dubois and Mr. Green claimed that they were unable to cast a secret ballot independently as required by law during the 1997 municipal elections because the City could not accommodate their needs during the election process. As a result of the complaint, the City of Ottawa reviewed its practices to ensure that accommodations would be made to facilitate the ability of persons with a visual disability to vote during the 2000 municipal election.

Chief Commissioner Keith Norton stated that, "Under the Ontario Human Rights Code, the accessibility needs of persons with disabilities must be accommodated, whenever possible, in such a way that their dignity is respected. I commend the City of Ottawa on the actions it has taken to accommodate such needs, and I encourage all city councils to be vigilant in ensuring that their services respect the needs of persons with disabilities."

As part of the settlement, the City of Ottawa engaged a consultant to review its practices and policies and to identify any direct or systemic barriers that prevent full accommodation of independent and secret voting for persons with visual disabilities. The settlement sets a standard that can be used by other municipalities.

In the settlement, the City of Ottawa acknowledged that the consultative process used to determine accommodation for the 1997 municipal elections failed to identify measures that would have enabled persons with visual disabilities to cast their votes. As a result of the complaint, the City of Ottawa took a number of steps to assess existing barriers for voters with a visual disability and to ensure that they were removed. A key part of the process involved consulting with members from that community for their input and advice on how their needs could best be accommodated.

Michael Smith, Manager of the Human Rights Division of the City of Ottawa, stated, "I am proud that the City of Ottawa has been able to deliver on its commitment to remove impediments for voters with a visual disability in time for the 2000 Municipal Election. The steps we have taken demonstrate that we take these concerns seriously and will make every effort to ensure that all Ottawa residents can fully participate in municipal activities, including the opportunity to vote with dignity."

The complainants, Mr. Dubois and Mr. Green were pleased that the City of Ottawa had acknowledged its legal duty to ensure that visually impaired persons have secret and independent access to the municipal ballot. "Thanks to our joint efforts with the Ontario Human Rights Commission and the City of Ottawa, systemic barriers in the electoral process which had prevented visually impaired persons from casting their ballots secretly and independently were both identified and addressed."

For information:

City of Ottawa
Michael Smith, Manager
Human Rights Division
(613) 244-5300 Ext. 4084


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François Larsen