Sunday, July 15, 2018

This morning's email to Minister Jean-Yves Duclos

Minister Duclos;

I'm writing in response to yesterday's News Release regarding your presentation of Canada's Voluntary National Review at the United Nations High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development on Tuesday, July 17th. I'm quite concerned that SDG 11 doesn't mention Universal Design of new dwellings even though our National Housing Strategy specifically makes reference to Universal Design. When mentioning Social Inclusion, Fairness, Equality, Livable, Sustainable and Safe on page 84 of the VNR, my mind automatically thinks of Universal Design:

a) Universal Design and Social Inclusion: building new dwellings with Universal Design ensures social inclusion by welcoming everyone into dwellings, irrespective of disability. The negative impact of architectural barriers is significant; Canadians with mobility disabilities are excluded from the majority of new dwellings because building codes continue to exempt homes from barrier-free design requirements in section 3.8.1.1, a violation of 33 years of Equality Rights in section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms [delayed to 1985 in section 32 (2)]. I submitted Code Change Request 964 for VisitAbility of new dwellings to the Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes on June 30, 2015 because I felt that it was the most economical and simple way to achieve inclusion for Canadians with disabilities in new dwellings. Three years later, this CCR is still in its infancy due to long delays by the Executive Committee, the Use and Egress Committee and the Housing and Small Buildings Committee in reviewing my CCR.

b) Universal Design and Fairness & Equality: how does the National Building Code of Canada, the National Housing Strategy and Canada's efforts with SDG 11 hope to achieve fairness and equality if we continue to condone systemic discrimination in new dwellings with the exemption found in building code section 3.8.1.1? By excluding a growing percentage of Canadians with mobility disabilities from our new dwellings (because there's a correlation between aging and an increase in disability rates), we eliminate any fairness or equality (let alone the many Canadians with mobility disabilities who aren't seniors because all ages are faced with mobility disabilities). 

c) Universal Design and Livability: new dwellings with Universal Design make these homes far more livable across the life span of each home, which often impacts multiple families across more than one generation (if you think of how many occupants each home has in its life span of many decades).

d) Universal Design and Sustainability: Sustainability is a significant area of interest of mine as it relates to Universal Design. If we make reference to the New Urban Agenda 2030 and its Social, Environmental and Financial Sustainability, Universal Design has a positive impact on all three:
i) Social Sustainability: Universal Design of new dwellings would ensure social inclusion of all Canadians by welcoming everyone into any new home. The benefits of social interaction and inclusion for Canadians with mobility disabilities in universally designed new dwellings in significant, let's think of family gatherings where a member of a family with a mobility disability cannot participate because of architectural barriers resulting from our current building codes.
ii) Environmental Sustainability: having to modify a home to suit a person's changing abilities is very carbon intensive. There were the Green House Gases for the original construction, the GHG relating to the demolition and disposal of the original construction, and the GHG for the renovations for the required modifications to suit the person's changing abilities. Not considering Universal Design in the planning stage of any new dwelling has a negative impact on our already fragile environment.
iii) Financial Sustainability: the United Nations has shown that Universal Design in new development only adds one percent of additional cost so it's very economical when planned into a new dwelling. Research from Australia indicates that modifying a home for accessibility can cost up to twenty times more than doing so during the planning stage of a new dwelling. The financial implications of incorporating Universal Design during the planning stage of a new dwelling is significant enough to not be overlooked.

e) Universal Design and Safety: the Public Health Agency of Canada has indicated that seniors' falls in their homes costs our public health system approximately one billion dollars per year (and it also has a devastating impact on their quality of life post-injury). Universal Design of new dwellings creates a much safer environment, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation research involved in FlexHousing in the 1990s proved this long ago. The adaptability of FlexHousing is based on a number of Universal Design features being incorporated into a home; doing so in a new home decreases the GHG effect of adapting it later on when abilities change.

Page 84 of the Voluntary National Review has the "Rising to the challenge" heading which then speaks of sustainable homes. I hope that my points made above have clarified the positive impacts of Universal Design on Social Inclusion, Fairness, Equality, Livability, Sustainability and Safety. I would be pleased to offer supporting documents if any part of my email needs clarification. I would also be honored to discuss this further if any of your team members at ESDC are interested in the many benefits of Universal Design in new dwellings as part of our National Housing Strategy. In order to champion the advancement of the 2030 Agenda, it is my humble belief that Minister Kirsty Duncan must be included with the eight other ministers that have been given this task by the Right Honourable Prime Minister Justin Trudeau if we intend to leave no one behind, including Canadians with mobility disabilities. 


Here's the link to yesterday's News Release:

Here's the link to the Voluntary National Review that Minister Duclos will be presenting on Tuesday at the United Nations HLPF meeting (refer to pages 83 to 89 for SDG 11). 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Canada's Building Code development process...it's broken

As a proponent of an active Code Change Request with Canada's National Building Code, I'm confident in saying that our building code development process is broken (federal and provincial/territorial). My Code Change Request 964 for VisitAbility of new dwellings was submitted on June 30, 2015 yet nearly two years later there's much left to be done by the Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes to even come close to considering it for their 2020 update. I shouldn't be surprised though because another CCR on dimensions of stairs took decades to complete.

Here's a prime example in Ontario. On January 1/15, Ontario Building Code section 3.8.2.1 (5) started requiring 15% of apartments to be VisitAble (basic/cheapest/easiest form of barrier-free design features known globally). My research on issued building permits in the City of Ottawa has revealed a disturbing trend in loopholes to OBC 3.8.2.1 (5) based on the fact that "apartment" isn't defined in the building code (nor is semi-detached, duplex, triplex, townhouse, or rowhouse), it's left up to the municipalities to define and enforce compliance for these different types of housing. What's happened in Ottawa is that a building (see photo) can be called a "stacked dwelling" to be exempted from the 15% requirement. I have also challenged the issue of 600 square meters of building area (6,458 sq ft) requiring compliance to section 3.8 for Barrier-Free Design but the Ontario Building Code definition of building area is broad enough to permit exemptions for that reason too. So either the OBC doesn't define housing types, or creates broad definitions that create exemptions, it's a mess that continues our shameful history of ignoring human rights in housing, even though our Ontario Human Rights Code is supposed to have primacy over our building code. I guess it's all rhetoric when home builders start their lobbying, always crying poor or complaining that it will kill off their industry (but it's ok to keep ignoring equality rights of persons with disabilities/activity limitations).

Check out the definition of stacked dwelling according to City of Ottawa zoning. "Independent entrance to the interior" doesn't seem to be the case for the building on the right because there are roughly 13 exterior doors for 19 units, some have a shared exterior door as the covered entranceways reveal in the photo above.
I emailed an Ontario Code Development Coordinator and was told the following:
My response today was the following:

"Ms Smith;

I'm confused by your email. You're telling me that I would need to submit a CCR, wasting countless public tax dollars, and wait until 2022 to possibly have "apartment" defined, something that should have already happened decades ago? To then further deflect it to the NBC, which would delay it even longer, leaves me questioning the millions of dollars that go into the code development process. I am speechless."

I shouldn't be surprised though, Ontario has continued with Tarion (our failed home warranty program) even though there's been a formal review of its many problems. Consumers have a lousy home warranty program, building code is being manipulated by municipalities to create loopholes to compliance, and Ontario seems perfectly content in ignoring the most basic element, defining what exactly an apartment is (and other types of housing). Without a clear definition of "apartment" in our building code, it's allowing a number of projects in Ontario to avoid compliance to OBC 3.8.2.1 (5). 

There's even a video on YouTube about building code violations of accessibility requirements in a new building funded by public dollars, it's a disgusting mess that no one seems willing to acknowledge. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uRmVBmOy6xg&t=6s

I'm willing to provide specifics if anyone is interested, just reach out to me on social media and we can arrange it by email. I'm completely disgusted with the poor leadership shown in Ontario, a province that states that it will be fully accessible by January 1, 2025 (see https://www.ontario.ca/laws/statute/05a11). Housing, where all of us spend the greatest portion of any day, is apparently off-limits for an accessible Ontario. I guess our Human Rights Code is a hoax then, there's no right to Occupancy of Accommodation when our only dwelling type in Ontario that requires VisitAbility has seen quite a few "stacked dwelling" exemptions in Ottawa, it's simply ridiculous and unacceptable.
I suspect that I've provided sufficient proof that our code development process is broken, and that there's no desire to improve it apparently.








Tuesday, June 06, 2017

UN Conference of State Parties, June 13-15, New York

As we approach the tenth Conference of State Parties pertaining to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, I view June 13th to 15th as a defining moment for the government of Prime Minister Trudeau. The mandate letter presented to Cabinet Minister Carla Qualtrough in November, 2015 spoke of greater accessibility and inclusion for Canadians with disabilities. Next week's COSP10 is an opportune moment to reinvigorate Canada's commitment made to the CRPD in our 2010 ratification; we must now announce the accession of the Optional Protocol and implement the many recommendations made on April 12th by the CRPD Committee. Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau guaranteed rights for Canadians with disabilities on April 17, 1982 with our Constitution Act and Charter of Rights and Freedoms, although those Section 15 rights were delayed for three years in Section 32 (2).
 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f4tg_BbLqbw&t=219s&index=4&list=FLMgvym8hKEjWuxmnGNvR3Tg

2017 is not only Canada's 150th anniversary but the 32nd anniversary of Section 15 rights for Canadians with disabilities yet we continue to see thousands of human rights complaints per year, as reported to the United Nations by the Canadian Human Rights Commission in their December 2015 report. Canada's public consultations for the accession of the CRPD Optional Protocol concluded on March 16th, which then opened consultations with the Provinces and Territories. Today marks 83 days of consultations, surely we can come to a conclusion by June 13th and announce our accession after 90 days of consultations with the Provinces & Territories, and seven years after the ratification of the CRPD.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made a number of comments regarding diversity, equality and inclusion since taking office in November 2015, COSP10 will be a defining moment in his term to bring this to fruition. Continuing with status quo, with the thousands of human rights complaints per year, will erode his credibility with millions of Canadians with disabilities and with Member States that admire Canada for having been the first country to guarantee disability rights in a nation's Constitution. Prime Minister Trudeau must ensure that Canada's reputation on the world stage isn't tarnished any further, we must announce our accession of the Optional Protocol no later than June 15th. Anything less will surely put the prospects of a second term in question.


Friday, May 19, 2017

Our current housing crisis: don't blame the consumer

The current housing crisis seems to have many theories but very little accountability. Let's ask ourselves who's been in positions of authority throughout the decades of our decline in affordability and insufficient efforts in sustainability. Our democratically elected governments are the ones who have been creating questionable policy (monetary, land use, building codes, etc). Our urban planners have brought these policies into action. And our housing industry hasn't really done a great job of planning for demographics or sustainability. The consumer in large cities is left with a dwindling supply of inventory, which unfortunately has caused bidding wars and a crisis in affordability.

Who's to blame? The consumer, the one left struggling to make ends meet because of rising costs which far outpace their salaries? Or is it our leaders who are ineffectively reacting to crises rather than seeking out global best practices?

I've tweeted many times on the subject of Canada's adoption of the United Nations New Urban Agenda 2030 (which happened on October 20/16) by using the hashtags #NewUrbanAgenda2030, #NUA2030 and #NUA. Habitat III was the UN's largest conference in history (35,000 attended) and many countries adopted the NUA2030. Here's it is as a download: https://www2.habitat3.org/bitcache/97ced11dcecef85d41f74043195e5472836f6291?vid=588897&disposition=inline&op=view

What I like about the New Urban Agenda, and its associated Sustainable Development Goals, is the fact that thousands of experts have collaborated in its creation, and thousands more are involved in ensuring its successful implementation (see @urbancampaign). I also like that sustainability in the New Urban Agenda is environmental, financial and social, and encompasses 17 goals to transform our urban landscape (see http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/sustainable-development-goals.html). I'd much rather put my faith in thousands of experts, drawing on global best practices, than on our current system of reactive policy that's failed consumers miserably.  My hope is that Canada's National Housing Strategy, due some time in November, will have a heavy emphasis on the wisdom within the New Urban Agenda. Let's keep in mind that the World Bank is monitoring sustainable development (http://datatopics.worldbank.org/sdgs/) so this will have a bearing on monetary policy at some point in the near future.

I look forward to the next few months to see how our policy makers, urban planners and the housing industry respond and adapt to transformative change in new housing that is so desperately needed because consumers are at a breaking point. 

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Architectural barriers in new dwellings versus human rights in housing

Here's a brief explanation of the basis for my advocacy/activism in removing architectural barriers in new dwellings.

Municipal:

-The City of Ottawa Older Adult Plan had a 2016 mandate to promote adaptable, age-friendly homes, which has yet to be fulfilled. There's a clear correlation between aging and an increase in disabilities (or decreased physical abilities) which should actually encourage a clear action plan in housing.
-The World Health Organization certified Ottawa as an Age-Friendly City so architectural barriers in new dwellings seem to put this certification in question.
-The City of Ottawa Accessibility Design Standards (2015 update) encourage VisitAbility for the residential sector on page 194 but how is this actually happening in private dwellings? The one section of the Ontario Building Code that actually requires VisitAbility [OBC 3.8.2.1 (5)] in one type of dwelling is facing exemptions in some Ottawa projects. I've alerted Mayor Watson to this fact by making reference to building permits issued since January 1, 2015, when this became law. I have yet to receive a satisfactory response on the evidence that I've provided (see #OBC38215 on Twitter for some of the information if you're curious).

Provincial:

-The Ontario Human Rights Code forbids disability discrimination and also speaks of the Occupancy of Accommodation. Seeing as the Ontario Human Rights Code has primacy over the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act and the Ontario Building Code (and their limitations and failures), why are architectural barriers in new dwellings allowed to continue? The Ontario Human Rights Commission has also published information regarding disability discrimination in housing yet fails to enforce its mandate against discriminatory policy like Ontario Building Code section 3.8.1.1, which exempts houses from barrier-free design requirements.

Federal:

-The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms forbids disability discrimination in section 15 since 1985. 2017 being Canada's 150th anniversary, it would be an opportune time to end 32 years of discriminatory federal policy, like our National Building Code section 3.8.1.1.
-My Code Change Request #964 with the Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes has hundreds of documents attached that substantiate my request to abolish NBC 3.8.1.1 in houses and offer VisitAbility in new dwellings (submission on June 30, 2015 and ongoing).

United Nations:

-Canada ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2010 (yet continues to omit the Optional Protocol, the real power behind this convention). Architectural barriers in new dwellings violate Articles 9 (which speaks of accessibility of housing) and 19 as two examples from this convention, among others. A recent review of Canada by the UN wasn't very flattering, here's their report if you'd like proof:
http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CRPD%2FC%2FCAN%2FCO%2F1&Lang=en

-Canada adopted the New Urban Agenda 2030 on October 20, 2016. Within the NUA 2030 is the Sustainable Development Goal #11 (Inclusive Cities and Communities) and their emphasis on disability-inclusive development and Universal Design of the built environment (which includes housing). Canada's commitments at the UN should compel us to act promptly but delay tactics reinforce status quo.

Conclusion:

All countries are struggling with aging populations, and the impact that this will have across many sectors, which includes housing. To continue building new dwellings with architectural barriers brings forward the following concerns:

-There are the obvious human rights violations against persons with disabilities (also persons with activity limitations). Excluding Canadians with disabilities or activity limitations from the majority of our new housing stock is inexcusable The need is growing for dwellings that adapt to our changing abilities and needs so current policy that ignores this fact seems contrary to logic.
-The strain that is added to our public health system by injuries sustained in our unsafe dwellings: falls in Canada cost 2 billion dollars per year, roughly 50% of those exorbitant costs are for seniors falling in their homes. Our Canadian Standards Association B651-12 has wonderful standards for accessibility, which includes residential in section 7, so why wouldn't we improve section 3.8 in our provincial and territorial building codes and ensure that the residential sector uses CSA B651-12?
-Domestic and international research has clearly stated that Universal Design features in new construction are low to negligible in cost (VisitAbility being the cheapest and easiest to accomplish). I have personally seen beautiful design that dispels the ongoing myths and biases.
-Continuing with architectural barriers in new dwellings exposes our housing industry to the risk of litigation on the basis of discrimination and injuries and deaths. Why would they risk this when there are best practices within our own borders that they could easily implement? And why does our insurance industry not realize that removing architectural barriers in new dwellings would actually decrease their liability to claims and their clients' risk of litigation.

We need strong leadership to correct all of the above, I have yet to see any level of government act promptly on abolishing human rights violations in new dwellings. It's shameful, we must to better.


Thursday, April 13, 2017

After ten years of advocacy for human rights in housing, I'm tired and admitting that it's time for a break.

-I'm tired of spending thousands of hours and thousands of dollars on advocacy when only a small minority of Canadians care about human rights in housing. It's been a hard pill to swallow.

-I'm tired of rhetoric by all levels of government in Canada. I judge leaders on their actions...what I've seen in ten years is that our weak leaders are perfectly content with status quo and token efforts/programs. There continues to be thousands of human rights complaints per year, even though we've forbidden disability discrimination since 1985 in section 15 of our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The simple fact that government policy is often contrary to section 15 of our Charter speaks volumes. Case in point, our building codes that continue to exempt homes from barrier-free design requirements, flat out shameful.

-I'm tired of our housing industry who in large part is perfectly content in continuing to deliver dwellings that are full of architectural barriers which exclude a growing percentage of our population, and are missing the business case for accessibility (that it can actually increase your profitability if done properly). There are innovators and entrepreneurs who get it, so it's not all bad.

-I'm tired of collecting domestic and international research documents, which provide clear evidence of best practices, that largely get ignored. The same goes for photos of Universal Design that prove that it can be done beautifully when you have skilled individuals.

-I'm tired of Canadians who seem perfectly content in being reactionary rather than proactive. There's wisdom in planning for changing needs and abilities; it seems to be the norm to wait for a crisis before acting, which unfortunately compounds the stress and expense.

-I'm tired of Canada's credibility evaporating at the United Nations. We've made commitments to a number of Conventions that see little to no concrete action, yet again rhetoric by weak leaders.

After ten years, I've finally gotten discouraged by the facts listed above. It's time for a break, I'm tired of banging my head against the wall.



Thursday, April 06, 2017

Commentary on Canada and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

You may wish to be sitting down for this commentary because it will be a factual rant, one based on years of advocacy.

Here are some facts:
-Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms has forbidden disability discrimination since 1985. Our provincial and territorial human rights commissions and tribunals face regular human rights complaints based on this one section of our Charter.
-Canada ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2010 but omitted the Optional Protocol, the accountability portion of the CRPD. Canada announced on December 1, 2016 that it was reviewing the accession of the Optional Protocol, with a public consultation concluding on March 16, 2017. Consultations with provincial and territorial governments are still ongoing.
-Canada's first review by the United Nations CRPD Committee was this week, April 3rd and 4th in Geneva. If you wish to view 6 hours of video for the open portions of this review, here are the links (some of the questions by the CRPD Committee members are unflattering to say the least, in some cases an embarrassment to our human rights credibility):
Day 1, April 3rdhttp://webtv.un.org/watch/consideration-of-canada-318th-meeting-17th-session-of-committee-on-rights-of-persons-with-disabilities/5384573989001

Day 2, April 4thhttp://webtv.un.org/watch/consideration-of-canada-contd-319th-meeting-17th-session-of-committee-on-rights-of-persons-with-disabilities/5384573987001

If you're not already aware of what the Convention and Optional Protocol are, please see the following: http://www.un.org/disabilities/documents/convention/convoptprot-e.pdf

If you wish to read the many reports leading up to this week's review, please scroll down to the section on Canada, which also includes two reports from the Canadian Human Rights Commission (see "Info from Civil Society Organizations (for LOI's)", which is the List of Issues and "Info from NHRIs (for the session)":
http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/SessionDetails1.aspx?SessionID=1141&Lang=en

I hope you're sitting because my tact filter is now officially off.

Let's start with section 15 of our Charter. Our very own Canadian Human Rights Commission submitted a report to the United Nations on human rights complaints which highlights some significant concerns with the chronic abuse of section 15 in every province and territory. Here's that report, which highlights thousands of human rights complaints per year, precisely 41, 728 complaints between 2009 and 2013 (which doesn't account for the fact that many Canadians didn't bother going through this painfully long process, so the numbers are higher than reported):
https://www.chrc-ccdp.ca/eng/content/rights-persons-disabilities-equality-and-non-discrimination

Let's move on to systemic discrimination, such as ignoring legal precedent from the Supreme Court of Canada. like their decision on Eldrige v BC (1997):
http://ojen.ca/en/resource/landmark-case-eldridge-v-british-columbia-attorney-general

Further systemic discrimination, which is the main basis of my years of advocacy, is the National Building Code of Canada, section 3.8.1.1 which continues to exempt houses from barrier-free design requirements (where we spend the greatest portion of any day, where the vast majority of Canadians wish to remain as they age (85%), where injuries from falls have cost billions to our health care system, and where hundreds of deaths per year occur due to poor design which makes our homes unsafe). Here's an excerpt from the 2010 edition of the NBC:


Rather than simply continue complaining about our NBC 3.8.1.1, I brought forward a Code Change Request (CCR964) on June 30, 2015, which is still ongoing as you'll see for this upcoming May 1-3/17 meeting in Ottawa:


If you wish to know more about the content of this Code Change Request, please see the following summary document from my Dropbox:
https://www.dropbox.com/s/btuyd00f19zlic6/CCR%20964%20Visitability%20Package.pdf?dl=0

My Code Change Request is based on domestic and international research documents and best practices of Universal Design (VisitAbility is the most basic and economical form of Universal Design, the primary goal is to remove architectural barriers that discriminate by excluding a growing percentage of Canadians). It's also important to highlight that our National Building Code section 3.8.1.1 not only violates section 15 of our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (which forms part of our Constitution Act 1982) but also Article 9 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (which includes accessibility of housing). I take all of this very seriously as you can see.

Back to the CRPD review of Canada earlier this week. I mentioned that the CRPD Committee asked some tough questions, including matters pertaining to our hundreds of murdered and missing aboriginal women, administrative segregation of prisoners with mental health disabilities, the federal government's efforts to implement the CRPD with our provinces and territories, and the list goes on. There were some very important questions asked, which brought embarrassment to our international reputation as a human rights leader. We must remember that two political parties have been in power since we ratified this Convention in 2010, the PCs and Liberals, yet status quo is ongoing. In my opinion, it's shameful and a true testament of our lack of political will on disability rights in Canada. Our history is not flattering when you consider institutionalizations, abuse/neglect, and current issues with poverty and low employment rates, inadequate housing options, etc.

In order for Canada to regain some of its clout on the international stage, we must act immediately to accede/ratify the Optional Protocol, we must ensure that the CRPD forms an important function in the creation of our Canadians with Disabilities Act (tentatively 2018), our 2017 National Housing Strategy must be based on our recent commitment to the United Nations New Urban Agenda 2030 (and the associated Sustainable Development Goal #11 for sustainable cities and communities), and we must put an end to systemic discrimination at all levels of government that perpetuate discriminatory policy, such as our National Building Code section 3.8.1.1. Prime Minister Trudeau's omissions in 2017 will weigh heavily on his government if this is allowed to persist any longer. We must end chronic violations of section 15 of our Charter and of the CRPD, enough is enough. We need decisive action...immediately.