The British Columbia Accessibility Act in British Columbia, Canada was a huge disappointment for many people in the disability community. This bill is basically an extension of the C-81 bill, which the Canadian Parliament passed back in 2018, to strengthen accessibility laws for residents in the province of British Columbia.
The political team behind British Columbia’s Bill 6 connected with the disability community and formed an advisory committee called the “Advisory Committee on Accessibility” in June 2019. According to Forrest Smith, the President of Greater Vancouver Association of the Deaf (GVAD), the people on the committee consisted of [Representatives from] the Neil Squire Society, the Rick Hansen Foundation, the British Columbia Disability Alliance, Inclusion British Columbia, BCANDS, along with some others. In his “British Columbia Accessibility Act” vlog posted on Feb 26, 2021, Smith said that the team met regularly with approximately 20 people attending each time. “That was with the Minister of Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction [SDPR], Shane Simpson. He was always there; in fact, I don’t think he ever missed a meeting. These meetings also included the Deputy Minister, and of course, Samuel Turcott, the Lead for the Accessibility team. They were also at all the sessions. They were good meetings.” (Forrest Smith)
After the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the Advisory Committee on Accessibility team continued to meet virtually but their basic objective changed into a “COVID-19 Disability Working Group”. Then on December 17, 2020, Nicolas Simons, the new Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, called the Advisory Committee on Accessibility and informed them that the goal was now to get Bill 6 into legislation during the spring session.
Smith also said in his February 26 vlog, “I wanted to be proactive and not wait until after they’ve had their first reading. Readings are part of the parliamentary process. Once the legislation has had its first reading, it’s harder to change because it has became a public document. I don’t want the same as what happened with Federal Bill C-81 because it wasn’t until the second or third reading that ASL, LSQ, and ISLs were added to that bill, which was late in the process. I would rather we get that information in the British Columbia legislation before it’s brought forward for the first reading, but we can’t see the full document until it’s brought forward [in the legislative assembly].”
The Deaf Accessibility Caucus was born after an entire weekend of phone calls to leaders across the entire province of British Columbia to discuss the bill. Originally, there were a total of 21 separate key recommendations, which was narrowed down to five and then finally two.
They created an email template for the community to send out to their Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) representatives before the second reading on May 10, 2021. In this email, the letter highlighted the British Columbia Deaf Accessibility Caucus’ (BCDAC) two key recommendations for the bill. The recommendations are as follows: (1) Formal recognition in Bill 6 of the Deaf community’s status as a cultural and linguistic minority, and (2) guaranteed Deaf representation on the Provincial Accessibility Committee. People were encouraged to attach the document for their MLA to read (review the full document here).
Despite the amount of planning the committee put together along with the BCDAC team’s work on the key suggestions, the final bill has none of the above. The BCDAC team is not the only team that is upset with the bill. Stephanie Cadieux, a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) who is also the Caucus Chair and Critic for Gender Equity, Accessibility, & Inclusion, shared with Deaf Vee Journal in an interview that she is “disappointed with the outcome” of the bill. Cadieux believes that it has opened some doors for the disability community because now there is a bill to amend. There are small victories within the bill that she wanted to also encourage people to recognize like the inclusion of ASL.
Disability Alliance British Columbia tweeted this post on June 3, 2021, “DABC is disheartened to learn that yesterday, the 1st day in Committee stage for #Bill6 – the Accessible BC Act – saw the first 12 clauses of the bill passed with little dissent, despite there being legitimate concerns expressed by ourselves & others in the disability community. We want to express our discontent that a bill of such significance to the disability community should not have been tabled in the legislative assembly in the first place without active participation by the disability community in its drafting. The round of consultations that the BC Government undertook in 2019 is not reflected in the bill presented before the House. You can find our full list of concerns about the bill here.” Disability Alliance British Columbia proceeded to provide a link explaining all the concerns that they have about the bill. (Read issues here from DisabilityAllianceBC) Cadieux also emphasized that during the second reading, she was blocked from putting forth any amendments because the floor was not accepting any amendments at the time.
Braam Jordaan, the CEO of Convo Global, says that the discovery that this bill had been passed without much consideration of what the Deaf and Disability communities shared with them through varying methods “does not sit well” with him:
“About the Accessible British Columbia Act (ABCA) to be passed by the BC parliament, it does not sit well with me. The Deaf community (and many other organizations) took hours and hours of volunteer work to get the legislation corrected because it applies to us and we understand. Now it is up to the mostly ‘able-bodied’ politicians with ZERO life experience to decide/pass the act? It is becoming political now. How do they decide that does not apply to them?” (Braam Jordaan)
Smith believes that the next step is for Deaf community members to get more involved with the government. Cadieux had echoed the same sentiment hoping to see some Deaf Canadians involved in the Government, whether it be in committees or as a MLA. There is a Provincial Accessibility Committee that will have more information about applications in the fall and Smith strongly supports the idea of any Deaf Canadian who lives in the British Columbia area to apply for the committee. Keep an eye out for more details shortly.