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A complete overview of Canada’s Accessibility Laws

If you do business in the Great White North, you need to stay on top of both federal and provincial accessibility laws.

- By Jennifer Doyle - May 26, 2021 Web Accessibility

This blog has been updated for accuracy and freshness.

Did you know that 22% of Canadians over the age of 15 live with at least one disability that limits their everyday activities? That’s 6.2 million Canadians who face barriers every day—from limitations in the physical environment to inaccessible websites and web content.

The Government of Canada and many provinces are currently working towards making Canada a more inclusive, barrier-free country. Confused about the federal or provincial laws that impact you and your organization? We’ve put together an overview of current and proposed legislation to keep you on top of accessibility requirements and timelines.

But first, let's take a look at the history of accessibility-related laws in Canada and how they helped to shape our federal and provincial legislation:

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms forms part of our constitution, which is the highest law in all of Canada. The Charter protects a number of our rights and freedoms, including banning the discrimination of people with a mental or physical disability.

The Canadian Human Rights Act

The Canadian Human Rights Act prohibits the discrimination or harassment of people on a number of grounds, including disability, race, age, religion, sex, etc.

Canadian provinces and territories also have their own human rights legislation.

The Employment Equity Act

The Employment Equity Act requires federal jurisdiction employers to eliminate barriers and increase representation of people with disabilities in the work force. This also calls for employers to provide reasonable accommodations in order to remove such barriers.

Standard on Web Accessibility

Canada's Standard on Web Accessibility, which took effect August 1, 2011, mandates Government of Canada websites and web applications to meet WCAG 2.0 Level AA criteria.

Federal and Provincial Accessibility Laws and Legislation

The Accessible Canada Act (Bill C-81)

In June 2018, Kirsty Duncan, the Minister of Science and Sport and Persons with Disabilities, proposed Bill C-81, the Accessible Canada Act: An Act to Ensure a Barrier-free Canada to parliament. This bill was created as a result of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s mandate to develop federal legislation that ensures greater inclusion of Canadians with disabilities.

One of the purposes of the act is to prevent accessibility barriers in information and communication technologies, including digital content and the technologies used to access it. Requirements of this act, including web accessibility, will likely follow WCAG. Organizations under federal jurisdiction are required to comply, or face a fine of up to $250,000.

On June 21, 2019, The Accessible Canada Act became law after receiving Royal Assent.

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA)

In 2005, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) became law, making Ontario the first in Canada to enact accessibility legislation of this scope. The AODA is based on the 2001 Ontarians with Disabilities Act and mandates a set of standards that public, private, and non-profit organizations must comply with. The aim of the act is to create a barrier-free Ontario by 2025.

Private or non-profit organizations with more than 50 employees and all public sector organizations must make their website and web content compliant with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA by January 1, 2021. Failure to comply could result in fines of up to $100,000 for each day of violation.

The Accessibility for Manitobans Act (AMA)

The Accessibility for Manitobans Act (AMA) became law in 2013. The Government of Manitoba is striving to create a more inclusive Manitoba by 2023 with legislation that aims to remove barriers for not just those with disabilities, but all citizens.

The AMA is made up of five accessibility standards that focus on key areas of daily life. Among these is the Information and Communications accessibility standard, which addresses barriers to accessing information, including information provided on websites. Small print size, low color contrast between text and background, and the use of language that is not clear or plain are all listed as barriers to accessibility. This standard is currently under development; however, it is expected that requirements will follow internationally accepted WCAG, like the AODA.

Nova Scotia Accessibility Act

Nova Scotia’s Accessibility Act became law in April 2017 making Nova Scotia the third province to enact accessibility legislation. The act contains six accessibility standards, including Information and Communications (websites), which are currently in development.

The Government of Nova Scotia’s multi-year accessibility plan includes the development of a more inclusive website that meets WCAG 2.0 AA requirements. Since the Government is working to ‘lead by example’, organizations should also prepare to meet similar web accessibility requirements.

Compliance timelines and requirements differ for each accessibility standard. Failure to comply could result in a fine of up to $250,000.

Quebec's Act to Secure Handicapped Persons in the Exercise of their Rights with a View to Achieving Social, School and Workplace Integration

Quebec was actually one of the first provinces to enact a law promoting the inclusion of persons with disabilities back in 1978. In 2004, the Quebec government amended this law to become the Act to Secure Handicapped Persons in the Exercise of their Rights with a View to Achieving Social, School and Workplace Integration. Among its requirements, ministries and government agencies must adhere to the government web accessibility standards (WCAG 2.0).

Unlike other provinces, Quebec's law only applies to the public sector (ministries, government agencies, and municipalities). The law also lacks clear timelines, goals, or penalties for non-compliance. As a result, many in Quebec are advocating for a stronger accessibility law to help remove barriers across the province.

Proposed Provincial Accessibility Laws and Legislation

Accessible British Columbia Act (Bill 6)

In 2021, British Columbia proposed the Accessible British Columbia Act, otherwise known as Bill 6. The act facilitates the implementation of accessibility standards which Nicholas Simons, minister of social development and poverty reduction, hopes to have in place by the end of 2022.

If passed, the legislation will allow the government to establish accessibility standards and regulations in a range of areas, helping ensure people with disabilities can fully participate in their communities. Public engagement will remain a priority as the government develops regulations and standards to address the barriers people with disabilities face.

Future Accessibility Laws and Legislation

There’s no doubt that Canada and its provinces and territories are working to become more inclusive, by law, to all citizens. According to Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Public Services and Procurement and Accessibility, many provinces are planning to enact their own mirror-image accessibility legislation now that the Accessible Canada Act is in place.

Curious about the accessibility of your website? Use our Accessibility Quick Checker or get started right away by speaking with a Siteimprove expert.