Following seven months of consultation, an Advisory Panel representing the Nova Scotia Department of Community Services has produced a document entitled, Access and Fairness for All Nova Scotians: The Minister’s Advisory Panel on Accessibility Legislation: Report and Recommendations.  The report can be accessed at the following link.

The Nova Scotia government is committed to introducing accessibility legislation by the fall of 2016.

Coinciding with the accessibility recommendations, the Nova Scotia Department of Justice has released a discussion paper entitled: Protecting the rights of people who rely on guide and service animals in Nova Scotia. As the use of service animals continues to increase in Nova Scotia, the government wants to ensure it is protecting the rights of people who rely on these animals while clarifying the following:

  • Qualifications for an animal to be deemed a service animal.
  • Training and identification expectations for the service animal, the trainer of the animal and the owner of the animal to receive legal protection.

The deadline for public comments is July 31, 2015.  The discussion paper can be accessed at the following link.

What RCC Did / Next Steps:

Retail Council of Canada (RCC) has been an active participant throughout the consultation process for both initiatives. RCC is generally pleased with the report and recommendations on the development of accessibility legislation and with the government’s push for specific criteria in defining service animals.

Accessibility:

In addition to serving as a member of a government led stakeholder committee that looked at accessibility challenges for Nova Scotians receiving client and transportation services, RCC also provided a written submission in December 2014 (see below). An excerpt from the RCC submission was quoted on Page V of the Advisory Panel’s Report and Recommendations.

RCC will continue to monitor the actions of government on this file leading up to the legislation’s tabling in the House of Assembly. RCC’s optimism for balanced legislation stems from consistent and repeated comments from government and stakeholders during the consultation process that strong accessibility legislation should not create undue hardship in society at large. Furthermore, the Nova Scotia government remains committed to developing its legislation from best practices learned from existing accessibility legislation in Ontario and Manitoba.

A second report will be released at a future date detailing specific public feedback on accessibility standards development and other policy recommendations.

Service Animals:

RCC will be providing written comment by the July 31, 2015 deadline. Should RCC members wish to provide comments for inclusion into the RCC response, please send them to Jim Cormier, RCC’s Atlantic Director ([email protected]) by July 15, 2015. Alternatively, should RCC members wish to provide their own submission in this public consultation process, they can do so via email ([email protected]) or regular mail (Service Animals Consultation, Nova Scotia Department of Justice, Policy, Planning and Research, PO Box 7, Halifax, NS, B3J 2L6)

Background:

Accessibility:

According to Statistics Canada, one in five Nova Scotians has some sort of limitation which gives the province the highest rate of disability in Canada.

RCC had a positive influence on the following recommendations for a new Accessibility Act:

  • Create an impartial accessibility board tasked with identifying, implementing and enforcing standards/regulations/setting out provisions concerning appeals and penalties.
  • Task the provincial government to lead by example (improve accessibility; work with municipalities to drive positive change throughout both levels of government).
  • Ongoing consultation with affected stakeholders to ensure a ‘practical implementation’ of standards with a multi-level, phased in approach and timelines that are ‘aggressive but fair, taking into account the resources required to comply with a given standard’ Pg. 7.
  • A recognition of RCC’s argument that there are retailers conducting business in old and/or heritage buildings that were not designed for today’s accessibility standards.
  • Keep a certain level of flexibility in the Act’s interpretation to: allow for exceptions to any given standard; allow an initial phase in period where adherence to standards is voluntary and government acknowledges business efforts to comply with the legislation.
  • Develop incentive provisions (certifications, government grants, tax reductions) to help diminish the financial burden associated with compliance.
  • Adequately fund a monitoring and compliance framework (similar to Ontario and Manitoba) with consistent procedures to identify/accept/resolve complaints of non-compliance and to set compliance timeframes.
  • Develop penalty provisions to effectively address situations of non-compliance.
  • Ensure that the new Act does not run counter to the provisions related to people with disabilities under the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act.

Service Animals:

RCC is pleased that to-date, government is proposing to only extend rights protection to clearly defined and identifiable guide dogs and service animals that meet specific training standards. The province is proposing to increase the current fines for breaking any new laws and bring them in line with the standards in other jurisdictions.

RCC Letter to NS Minister of Community Services re Accessibility Legislation:

December 18, 2014

Hon. Joanne Bernard
Minister of Community Services
c/o Ms. Kerry Deagle: [email protected]

Dear Minister,

As a member of the Client Service and Public Transportation Sub-Committee, working to support the overall goals of your Advisory Council on Accessibility, Retail Council of Canada (RCC) has included below, some recommendations regarding pending accessibility legislation for Nova Scotia.

RCC is the voice of retail.  We represent 45,000 member-store fronts – from the largest retail chains to the small, independent stores on streets in neighbourhoods across Canada.  Retail is now the largest employer in Canada and contributes greatly to the economy in towns and cities all across Nova Scotia.  The retail sector accounts for thirteen percent of Nova Scotia’s employment and retail trade generates $13.5 billion in annual sales in the province. 

RCC members support efforts to create a more accessible province.  Not only do retailers believe that it is the right thing to do, they also know the importance of creating a welcoming customer and employee experience to success in what is an intensely competitive retail sector. Whether it be through their in-store or online offerings, retailers are continually evaluating their client service, the physical structure of their stores and their vicinity and even the public transportation systems that help move customers and employees.  Improving accessibility to retail business gives retailers better access to potential customers.  More customers usually means better sales and thus, RCC is supportive of reasonable measures that will improve accessibility across Nova Scotia.

RCC supports the goals of the Advisory Committee but we ask that you please consider the following points as your Department drafts accessibility legislation:

  • Groups that will be affected by proposals related to accessibility legislation must be consulted before the legislation is finalized and passed into law.
  • Enabling legislation would be the preferred approach over regulation or rule-making, as it allows a greater ability to enhance the legislation as required.
  • Ensure that legislation is harmonized with the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities.
  • If legislation requires organizations to prepare and file accessibility reports dealing with the prevention and removal of barriers, there should be different levels of reporting requirements depending on the size of affected business.  This could avoid unnecessary red tape for small businesses.
  • Government should make every effort to develop a traditional and limited definition of ‘service animals’ especially as it relates to the emerging area of ‘comfort animals’ (used by people with anxiety) and the use of non-traditional service animals.
  • The focus of the legislation should be on education and incentives to reward compliance.  The focus should not be on blaming, shaming and levying penalties for non-compliance.  Penalties should be reserved only for the most egregious offences and for repeat offenders.
  • Provincial and municipal governments should lead by example in implementing any of the changes that stem from accessibility legislation.  This will provide an opportunity for government to remove accessibility barriers and assess the effectiveness of the changes before implementing the changes in the private sector.
  • Changes stemming from accessibility legislation should not be implemented all at once. RCC would prefer to see a step-by-step approach to allow greater opportunity for change to occur in a successful manner.
  • When implementing accessibility changes in the private sector, the approach needs to be practical, flexible and economically responsible.  Government will need to understand that there will be different challenges in improving accessibility for the private sector versus the public sector.
  • Retailers support the idea of conducting their business in buildings that meet the principles of ‘universal design’ and ‘visitability’.  However, many independent retailers rent space in old buildings that were built at a time where accessibility was not a major consideration.  In Nova Scotia, many of these buildings are between 100-200 years old and are located in the downtown cores of towns and cities across this province.  Many of these buildings could not be renovated to conform to modern day accessibility principles without considerable expense and closure of all or part of the retailers’ rental space.  If landlords were obliged to make these expensive upgrades, the potential for rent increases and building closures would create an untenable situation for independent retailers.  RCC recommends that these buildings be ‘grandfathered’ to allow retail operations and the downtown cores that house them to continue to survive.  If ‘grandfathering’ is not an option for government, RCC would like to see significant incentives for building owners to make the changes necessary for their buildings to become accessible.
  • The Minister should conduct a regular review of the Act.  An independent review of the Act should occur on an ongoing basis, at a predetermined time (eg: every four years).

Again, RCC and its members are supportive of the government’s efforts to improve accessibility in Nova Scotia.  We appreciate being part of the consultation process and we trust that the concerns of our members will be considered as the government moves toward developing accessibility legislation for Nova Scotia.

Please do not hesitate to contact me, should you wish to discuss.

Sincerely,

Jim Cormier
Director (Atlantic)
Retail Council of Canada

If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact: Jim  Cormier, Director Government Relations (Atlantic) at: [email protected] or 902-422-4144