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Bill C-11: An Act to Amend the Canada Transportation Act, and the Railway Safety Act and to Make Consequential Amendments to Other Acts

Date: 
Wednesday, November 1, 2006

November 2006

Response To:

Bill C-11: An Act to Amend the Canada Transportation Act, and the Railway Safety Act and to Make Consequential Amendments to Other Acts.

Submitted By:

Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians / L'Alliance pour l'Égalité des Personnes Aveugles du Canada

November 2006

BACKGROUND TO THE AEBC

The Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians / L'Alliance pour l'Égalité des Personnes Aveugles du Canada (AEBC), appreciates the opportunity to comment on Bill C-11: An Act to Amend the Canada Transportation Act, and the Railway Safety Act and to Make Consequential Amendments to Other Acts.

Founded in 1992, the AEBC is a national, not-for-profit consumer organization "of" individuals who are blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted, who have come together to work collaboratively to improve our overall quality of life and to achieve the promise of the International Year of the Disabled Person 1981 "... full participation and equality." Part of this work involves providing comments on Policies that affect the lives of Canadians who are blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted.

Being able to travel independently and with dignity is a critical aspect of regular community life. Having access to all forms of transportation is particularly crucial in a nation as large as Canada. Public policy must enhance opportunities for all Canadians, including Canadians with disabilities, to travel unhindered throughout our country.

GUIDE DOG ISSUES

Traveling by air has become a greater hassle in the past number of years for travelers with various disabilities, including guide dog users, primarily because airplanes are being reconfigured to accommodate more rows of seats. Since there must be enough room for a guide dog to lie comfortably at its owner's feet, and since the average size of a guide dog is 100 pounds, the increase in seating is resulting in stress and discomfort to both guide dog handler and dog alike.

In order to comply with the voluntary guidelines set out by the CTA, which stipulated that there must be "enough room for a guide dog to lie down" in the cabin near its owner, the airlines, specifically Air Canada, began leaving one seat empty near the blind person, to give the dog room to be comfortable, where possible. Recently, however, they are finding reasons why this practice can no longer be followed, either because there is a lack of willingness to do so or because of too much overbooking.

Regardless of the reason, this failure to allow enough room for the guide dog is causing discomfort and possibly even medical consequences to both owner and dog.

Personal Experience of a Guide Dog Owner Who Is a Frequent Flyer:

"The process from the time of booking a flight to boarding is flawed. People with guide dogs are still facing the possibility of being bumped off a flight because there is insufficient room for their dogs.

Even though I am told my information has been entered into the computer, no one can assure me there will be enough room for my guide dog to lie comfortably.

In fact, during the last number of years, passengers have actually stepped on my guide dog. While I sat in the aisle seat, they have tried to reach the window seat by stepping over me and the dog--which usually results in their nearly falling on both of us. My dog has been cut by sharp metal under the seat.

I have watched passengers get into a debate over whether there was enough room for them and my guide dog, resulting in their being ushered off the plane. I have sat in such tight quarters that, when we landed, my legs were cramped and my guide dog so stressed that he was very reluctant to behave. I have had to move several times after all the passengers had been seated because the airline personnel did not seem to know where there was a spot suitable for myself and my guide dog. I have been given a seat and told my dog was to lie with his tail under the seat and his nose pointing forward, even when I was seated at the very back of a plane, directly in line with the aisle. My guide dog would have shot up the aisle like a missile if the plane slowed quickly or stopped in an emergency situation. Having a dog in an aisle on a plane is against all safety regulations!"

Blind passengers must be guaranteed the same rights on airlines that they are guaranteed in every province and territory in this country--the right to take their guide dogs on "public" transportation without extra cost or hassle. Since the blind person must always be in control of his/her dog and the dog must lie comfortably in the cabin at the feet of the blind person, airlines need to be held accountable and discharge their obligation to accommodate. There can be no claim of undue hardship as these are large companies, providing public transportation services. No one should have to travel in fear of not getting a comfortable seat with enough room for his/her dog to lie down. Assurances need to be written into the Act and any accompanying Regulations; so that blind passengers can point out that there is no other option for the airlines. The airlines must provide enough room for a blind person as a passenger and his/her guide dog--enough room for the guide dog to lie comfortably and without stress and for the blind passenger to sit comfortably like all other passengers.

Downgrading Access:

A comparison between the content of the existing Act with the proposed new Act reveals a number of changes, which could pose major problems for Canadians with disabilities, as they appear to provide a reduced emphasis on accessibility and accountability from the transportation industry.

Section 5 of the current Act provides:

"5. It is hereby declared that a safe, economic, efficient and adequate network of viable and effective transportation services accessible to persons with disabilities and that makes the best use of all available modes of transportation at the lowest total cost is essential to serve the transportation needs of shippers and travelers, including persons with disabilities, and to maintain the economic well-being and growth of Canada and its regions and that those objectives are most likely to be achieved when all carriers are able to compete, both within and among the various modes of transportation, under conditions ensuring that, having due regard to national policy, to the advantages of harmonized federal and provincial regulatory approaches and to legal and constitutional requirements, ..."

The revised Act would provide:

"5. It is declared that a competitive, economic and efficient transportation system that is safe and secure and respects the environment is essential to serve the needs of its users, advance the well-being of Canadians and enable competitiveness and economic growth in both urban and rural areas throughout Canada."

This amendment leads us to ask: is this change intended to signal a downgrading of access for persons with disabilities to Canada's transportation system?

ACCESS TO CANADA'S TRANSPORTATION SYSTEM

Sec. 5 of the revised Act further provides:

"5. It is declared that a competitive, economic and efficient transportation system that is safe and secure and respects the environment is essential to serve the needs of its users, advance the well-being of Canadians and enable competitiveness and economic growth in both urban and rural areas throughout Canada."

Those objectives are most likely to be achieved when,

  1. competition and market forces, both within and among the various modes of transportation, are the prime agents in providing viable and effective transportation services;
  2. regulation and strategic public intervention occur only if they are necessary to achieve economic, environmental or social outcomes that cannot be achieved satisfactorily by competition and market forces and they do not unduly favour, or reduce the inherent advantages of, any particular mode of transportation;
  3. the transportation system is accessible without undue obstacle to the mobility of persons, including persons with disabilities; and
  4. governments and the private sector work together for an integrated transportation system.

Historically, the interests of passengers with disabilities have not been well served by market forces alone. The most obvious example is the Via Rail case. The actions of Via Rail have forced the disabled community to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, and its decision is expected shortly.

Further, a variety of "Voluntary Codes of Practice" have been developed to enhance access by persons with disabilities to Canada's transportation system. To date, they have not accomplished what is needed, and they should be strengthened by transforming them into Regulations.

REPORTING REQUIREMENT

Sec.52. (1) of the current Act provides:

"Each year the Minister shall, before the end of May, lay before Parliament a report briefly reviewing the state of transportation in Canada in respect of the preceding year, including New Industry review."

The revised Sec. 52. (1) provides:

"Every three years the Minister shall prepare, and lay before the Senate and the House of Commons within the year after the end of the three-year period, a report briefly reviewing the state of transportation in Canada...”

This amendment would reduce accountability on the part of the transportation industry, rather than increase this essential component. The House of Commons needs to review the changing state of transportation in Canada far more frequently than every three years.

REVIEW OF THE ACT

The current Act provides:

"53. (1) The Minister shall, no later than four years after the day this Act comes into force, appoint one or more persons to carry out a comprehensive review of the operation of this Act and any other Act of Parliament for which the Minister is responsible that pertains to the economic regulation of a mode of transportation and transportation activities under the legislative authority of Parliament.
(2) The person or persons conducting the review shall assess whether the legislation referred to in subsection (1) provides Canadians with an efficient, effective, flexible and affordable transportation system, and, where necessary or desirable, recommend amendments to
(a) the national transportation policy set out in section 5; and
(b) the legislation referred to in subsection (1)."

The revised Act provides:

"53. (1) The Minister shall, no later than eight years after the day this subsection comes into force, appoint one or more persons to carry out a comprehensive review of the operation of this Act and any other Act of Parliament for which the Minister is responsible that pertains to the economic regulation of a mode of transportation or to transportation activities under the legislative authority of Parliament."

Again, the AEBC believes that Parliament must exercise its authority and conduct reviews on a far more regular basis.

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