Nov. 22, 2001. 02:00 AM
Advocacy groups for the disabled accuse the Ontario government of rushing a long-awaited disabilities act into law without giving them enough time to voice their concerns.
"(The bill's) been a long time coming ... but we think it needs some work," said Deanna Groetzinger, vice-president communications for the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada.
Eight groups, including the Ontario Association for Community Living and the Canadian Mental Health Association, sent an open letter to Citizenship Minister Cam Jackson this week saying the bill lacks any "real enforcement or mandatory barrier removal." The letter also said the bill doesn't do enough for the blind, deaf, hard of hearing or those with intellectual disabilities or disabilities caused by mental illness.
Jackson tabled the Ontarians with Disabilities Act this month and said it was aimed at increasing accessibility, opportunity and independence for the 1.6 million Ontarians with disabilities. The proposed law, which passed second reading last night, includes a plan to increase fines for illegally parking in a disabled spot to a maximum of $5,000, up from $500.
Patti Bregman, director of programs for the Canadian Mental Health Association, said the proposed law focuses too much on physical barriers.
The groups are worried their proposed amendments won't be properly heard if the government goes ahead with its plan to pass it before the Legislature breaks for Christmas. Five days of public hearings have been scheduled.
Jackson said the government wants to pass the act quickly because it's trying to comply with a deadline set by the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee, which asked for a law to be in place by Nov. 23, 2001.
Ontario residents with disabilities have been waiting for the new law since Premier Mike Harris promised the legislation in 1995.
Both opposition parties oppose the bill.
"They (the Conservatives) had six and a half years to honour their promise and now they are ramming it through," said Ernie Parson, the Liberal's critic for persons with disabilities.
"This isn't a bill that will improve
people's lives, with some very minor exceptions."
Copyright 1996-2001. Toronto Star
Copyright 1996-2001. Toronto Star Newspapers Limited