Thursday, December 29, 2016

Ontario Building Code (5) to (8) as of January 1, 2015

I've had a problem with our Ontario Building Code for quite some time.

My first concern is with section which exempts houses from barrier-free design requirements. Continuing to build new housing with architectural barriers violates our Ontario Human Rights Code (Part 1, sub 2), our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (section 15), and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Article 9). Canada adopted the UN New Urban Agenda 2030 on October 20th so it looks like we're well on our way to breaching that too (Sustainable Development Goals, which include Universal Design). I guess we might as well be consistent in our discriminatory policies, as it relates to the millions of Canadians with disabilities. Our Charter has forbidden disability discrimination since 1985 (delayed by three years, as part of our Constitution Act 1982) but I guess this doesn't apply to housing, where we all spend the greatest portion of any 24 hour period, and where billions in health care costs are spent yearly on injuries in the home (according to the Public Health Agency of Canada). But yes, let's keep up with status quo... discrimination and preventable injuries (and tragically, thousands of preventable deaths as well).

My second concern is with the loopholes that have allowed major developers to avoid the changes to section (5) to (8) that occured on January 1, 2015. For the sake of a relevant example, let's use Ottawa's tallest Mixed Use building, the Claridge Icon (10 levels of underground parking + 47 storeys). Here's a photo of their Sales Office and site, earlier today, on Preston Street in Ottawa.

Changes to the OBC on January 1, 2015 required 15% of units to have basic accessibility features, as an excerpt from our Ontario Building Code shows here:

So here's the problem, it's called Phased Building Permits. On January 28, 2015, Permit #1500335 was issued for excavation only (for 10 levels of underground parking and 46 storeys). Then on August 31, 2016, Permit #1606066 was issued to "Construct a 47 storey mixed use (retail, office, residential) building with 10 levels of underground parking". By submitting a very limited permit application in 2014, for excavation only, this entire project was grandfathered under the older rules of OBC (5). So here we are approaching two years since the code change and they haven't built one storey above ground yet (as my photo shows). 15% of units in this project would have added a number of VisitAble units to Ottawa's limited inventory of private dwellings with these basic accessibility features. But instead, we've continued the pattern of architectural barriers in Group C buildings, where these features are the most cost effective (and most cost effective in new construction as well, up to 20 times more economical than renovating for accessibility). And it's the only dwelling type not exempt in Is it any wonder that our inventory is so low? Is it any wonder that I've brought my concerns to the Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes, via Code Change Request 964? Am I justifiably annoyed as an advocate/activist interested in Universal Design for new housing?

You be the judge.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Transformative change in housing looks imminent

Recent events seem to be pointing to some transformative change in housing. The first significant event was Canada's adoption of the New Urban Agenda 2030 on October 20th in Quito, Ecuador. It was the most successful United Nations conference in their history, with 35,000 participants, which included a large Canadian delegation.
Of particular interest in the New Urban Agenda is their focus on inclusion and sustainable development goals. They go as far as to state on page 5 "To fully harness the potential of sustainable urban development, we make the following transformative commitments through an urban paradigm shift grounded in the integrated and indivisible dimensions of sustainable development: social, economic, and environmental." Sustainable development goals not only have a positive impact on our environment (eg. Paris Agreement), they also positively impact our financial and social sustainability. In the built environment, Universal Design of new projects means that accessibility is done right from the planning stage of a new building/dwelling, which is far more economical than renovating for accessibility later on (up to 20 times more economical). Universal Design in all new buildings and dwellings also means avoiding renovations or avoiding being forced to move (if your abilities change); renovations and moving both have carbon-intensive impacts. Social sustainability is achieved when ALL can be included in live, work and play daily activities, which have a very positive impact on each individual (when they don't need to struggle with barriers, such as architectural barriers in our buildings, dwellings and public spaces). Equal opportunities to participate have an extremely positive impact on an individual's quality of life, in order to reach their full potential.

A second event of significance has been Canada's announcement that we're moving forward with the accession of the Optional Protocol of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
As I've previously commented, Article 9 of the CRPD speaks of Accessibility, which includes Housing. I have been advocating for accessibility of housing for a number of years, which includes a Code Change Request with the Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes (CCR 964 for VisitAbility of new dwellings, which is still ongoing). Moving forward with the Optional Protocol of the CRPD means that a formal complaint can eventually be submitted to the CRPD Committee if Canada's discriminatory building codes are allowed to continue (section exempts homes from barrier-free design requirements, which actively discriminates against millions of Canadians with mobility disabilities, thereby excluding them from the majority of housing stock due to these preventable architectural barriers). VisitAbility is a simple and cost-effective approach of removing architectural barriers in our built environment and allows for inclusion of all. 

A third recent event has been the publication of the Ontario Human Rights Commission Strategic Plan for 2017-2022. Chief Commissioner Renu Mandhane has made it very clear in this document that systemic discrimination will be confronted, including in the judicial system (on page 15).
Given that our Ontario Building Code, section, also exempts homes from barrier-free design requirements. I suspect that this will become an issue for its violation of the Ontario Human Rights Code, which has primacy over the Ontario Building Code.

As you can see from the above examples, I believe that transformative change in how we design and build our new dwellings will hopefully become a more inclusive and sustainable system, one that responds to the changing demographics and abilities of Canadians. I look forward to future announcements from our federal and provincial governments.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Canadians with Disabilities Act: consultative process

The comments and opinions in this blog post are my own and don't reflect on my work or personal life.

I was quite pleased to see that the federal government is moving forward with the consultative process for the new Canadians with Disabilities Act that has been assigned to Cabinet Minister Carla Qualtrough. I have made numerous comments to Prime Minister Trudeau and Minister Qualtrough on Twitter and some by email in my advocacy for the accessibility of housing. I feel that an Accessible Canada must unequivocally include accessibility of all types of housing due to the aging of our population and the millions of Canadians who have been identified by Statistics Canada as having mobility disabilities (Participation and Activity Limitation Survey 2006 as an example).

Canadians have been asked to offer their feedback on this legislation and we must accept it as a call to action.
We have ample access to Canadian experts, educators, consultants, and individuals who live their lives surrounded by endless barriers.
We also have access to many best practices that already exist domestically, and internationally, to guide us toward a more inclusive nation. I can't imagine a more appropriate way to ensure a strong and effective CDA than to learn from the successes and failures of others, rather than to repeat mistakes and delay an improvement to the quality of life of millions of Canadians.

My advocacy for equality has primarily focused on accessibility of housing because our homes/dwellings are where we spend the greatest portion of any day and current building code is actively condoning disability discrimination by allowing the exemption of the majority of new housing from barrier-free design (see section of the National Building Code, and the Ontario Building Code as examples). Our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which trumps all other legislation, forbids disability discrimination in section 15,  yet decades later, we continue with this building code exemption.

So here is my advice for a strong and effective Canadians with Disabilities Act:

1- Our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms must not be ignored in the creation of this Act. Minister Qualtrough's experience with the Canadian Human Rights Commission has exposed her to endless precedence in the thousands of disability-related human rights complaints that have been heard nationally. We must ensure that the experience gained by the Commissions and Tribunals is reflected in the CDA, to put an end to regular violations of section 15 of the Charter.

2- Our educational system must teach our students about Charter rights in a more significant way, ensure that their curriculum, policies and built environment are inclusive, and that our colleges and universities are adequately preparing our next generation of professionals and leaders to act according to these Charter rights. So for our architects and designers, ensuring that Universal Design bears equal consideration in the design phase of any project, to ensure a cost-effective approach to new housing (one that is far more economical than renovating for it later on).

3- To ensure that accessibility and Universal Design become ingrained in all areas of our governments to avoid the creation of new barriers with any tax dollars. We can no longer condone any form of discrimination, and this must include an enforcement approach that is clear on monetary penalties and legal liability if future contraventions occur, and with a clear timeline to avoid an unnecessary delay in rectifying the barriers that have been identified.

4- For the built environment, we must learn from existing best practices in accessibility of housing. As an example, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation has had the FlexHousing program for more than two decades, which includes a FlexHouse in Ottawa, as well as a number of demonstration projects nationwide (which also included some of their Equilibrium demonstration projects).
CMHC also has many examples of affordable housing projects that have various levels of accessibility in their Project Profiles.
One wonderful example of such a project would be Place La Charrette in Winnipeg, a best practice worthy of replicating nationwide.
And talking about Winnipeg, we should replicate the Bridgwater project with its mandate of 50% VisitAbility.

5- Let's support Bill C-265.

6- We must learn from the United States and their 26 years of experience with their Americans with Disabilities Act. There are still regular articles about litigation for ADA violations so a cultural shift towards equality and inclusion must also be achieved, and this goes back to our educational system again (and our marketing professionals).

7- We must listen to our special interest groups, and individuals who have faced countless barriers, to ensure that we learn from their decades of experience. Let's also learn from their creativity in finding cost-effective solutions; we already have a clear understanding of the fiscal pressures and realities in all levels of government and our desire to bring down costs. Prevention and early intervention are always far more economical than reacting after a crisis; safer homes mean a decrease in injuries and associated healthcare costs on our already over-burdened public system.

8- Finally, and most importantly, Canada must ratify the Optional Protocol of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (ratified the CRPD in 2010 but omitted the Optional Protocol, the bones of it). The Optional Protocol of the CRPD must form part of the Canadians with Disabilities Act in order to bring international oversight and accountability to our often-neglected human rights, as evidenced by our thousands of human rights complaints per year nationwide. As we have seen in Ontario with our Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, long delays in accessibility standards and weak enforcement have eroded the effectiveness of the AODA and will never bring full accessibility in Ontario by 2025.

So please, get involved in the consultative process and let's create a strong and effective CDA.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Canada must ratify the United Nations CRPD Optional Protocol

New York will be hosting many international delegates at the United Nations Headquarters for the CRPD meetings from June 14th to 16th.
I have been quite vocal on Twitter with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Cabinet Minister Carla Qualtrough in suggesting that Canada should ratify the Optional Protocol, please allow me to explain why.

The late Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau brought us the Constitution Act 1982, which included the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Unfortunately, it appears that section 15 of the Charter, which forbids disability discrimination since 1982, isn't taken very seriously judging by the thousands of human rights complaints that have been received by our human rights commissions and tribunals nationwide.
It's important to understand that no other Canadian legislation trumps the CCRF yet the photo above identifies 3,234 disability-related complaints to the Canadian Human Rights Commission for the 2009-2014 time frame. It seems quite evident to me that section 15 of the CCRF needs to be strengthened and I believe that one way to accomplish this would be for Canada to ratify the Optional Protocol of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Canada ratified the CRPD in 2010 but unfortunately didn't ratify the Optional Protocol, which would ensure a complaints process for any individual or group who would wish to have the CRPD Committee hear their CRPD concerns from Canada.

It's my personal opinion that combining section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the CRPD Optional Protocol would bring a level of international accountability to Canada's human rights that would help to ensure the fundamental rights of millions of Canadians with disabilities, far more than the proposed Canadians with Disabilities Act (which will take years and millions of dollars to bring into law whereas everything is already in effect at the UN).

So what will happen in New York from June 14th to 16th during the CRPD meetings? I'm not sure yet but I sure hope that Canada will announce the ratification of the Optional Protocol in order for our nation to move forward with full inclusion of all its citizens. "The measure of any nation is how it cares for its most vulnerable" and its various other paraphrasing brings awareness that Canada can and should do far better for its citizens with disabilities. I honestly feel that ratifying the Optional Protocol would be a clear example of how to move forward in a concrete manner, with the guidance and assistance from the United Nations.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Movement forward with accessibility of housing (from VisitAbility to Universal Design)

I recently sent an email to some contacts to highlight the positive movement in the accessibility of housing. Here are the things that I'm aware of, no doubt there's much more. Attachments can be emailed to you if you would like them.


United Nations: The UN is very clear about their mandate to encourage Universal Design in their New Urban Agenda 2030 as well as all their work surrounding Habitat III and Sustainable Development Goals.

UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: Canada ratified the CRPD in 2010 (not the Optional Protocol but 87 countries have).  Article 9 speaks of Accessibility, which includes housing. (attachment A)

European Student Design Competition for Accessible Housing

 A number of countries have already moved forward with VisitAbility, or additional requirements, in their national building codes (so the scope of VisitAbility is international, not a concept for the future). (attachment B).

LEED v4 for Neighbourhood Development (from the US Green Building Council) has a section on VisitAbility and Universal Design (pages 48-49 at

International Code Council  A117.1 (2009) also has a VisitAbility section on page 105.


Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms: section 15 of the Charter forbids disability discrimination. Seeing as human rights trumps all other legislation, including building codes, the exposure and risk of litigation is significant if status quo is maintained by building homes with architectural barriers.  (attachment C)

Prime Minister Trudeau's Mandate Letter to Minister Carla Qualtrough speaks of inclusion, greater accessibility and the passage of a Canadians with Disabilities Act.

The 2020 National Building Code is implementing the Canadian Standards Association B651 (Accessibility guidelines that are far more thorough than the current section 3.8).   (attachment D)

VisitAbility is also part of Canadian  Standards Association B651 (Treasury Dept already requires CSA B651).

Code Change Request #964 with the Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes recommends VisitAbility for all new dwellings on grade and for those accessible by an elevator. It's already been heard by three Committees (Executive, Housing and Small Buildings, and Use and Egress). A report is due in the Fall from the Housing and Small Building Committee and the Use and Egress Committee. (attachment E, see highlighting)

First Nations Resolution #13 for VisitAble Housing (started in BC, now national).

Private Member's Bill C-265 had its first reading on May 3, 2016 and proposes "to ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians". 


VisitAbility is required in 15% of units for Group C Major Occupancy buildings since January 1, 2015. Although the percentage is relatively low, there's still the fact that Ontario has already legislated it into the Ontario Building Code. It's a reasonable assumption that the percentage of units required will climb with future OBC updates as our demographics require it.  (attachment F)

Ontario’s Investment in Affordable Housing has accessibility as one of its key objectives. (attachment G)

The Age-Friendly Community Planning Guide (2015) discusses Universal Design. (attachment H)

The Ontario Human Rights Code is also very clear about the right to occupancy of accommodation (attachment) as well as the Duty to Accommodate (attachment). This is an on-going right by all Ontarians, again trumping all other legislation, which includes the Ontario Building Code. (attachment I)

The Accessibility of Ontarians with Disabilities Act Review is also very clear on page 66 that the Ontario Human Rights code trumps the AODA (and any limitations that the AODA may have).  (attachment J)

Model homes must also offer consideration for individuals with disabilities. (attachment K)

Some provinces are doing quite well with VisitAbility (or other intiatives) already (attachment L):
            Manitoba: Winnipeg’s Bridgwater development
            BC: Saanich, Vancouver, Measuring up the North


Affordable housing in Ottawa already has VisitAbility in newer projects, ahead of the change to OBC (attachment M). They had 10-12% of units being accessible even before the requirement in the Investment in Affordable Housing.

VisitAbility for residential housing is also mentioned in the 2015 update of the Ottawa Accessibility Design Standards, page 194. (attachment N)

The Older Adult Plan has a 2016 mandate for the Planning and Growth Management department to promote adaptable, age-friendly homes. (attachment O).

I think it's safe to say that the evidence that I have presented is quite clear as to which direction housing is going in...the removal of architectural barriers, whether it be with the most economical choice of VisitAbility or all the way to Universal Design. My final attachment is from an Australian document which has a very strong supporting comment for VisitAbility. (attachment P)

Saturday, May 07, 2016

Let's rebuild Fort McMurray according to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals of Habitat III

Although my timing may seem insensitive or inappropriate given the current emergency in Fort McMurray, I think we need to start thinking about the responsible redevelopment of Fort McMurray. The unimaginable billions and endless planning that it will take to rebuild this community must also give serious consideration to the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals that are relating to their Habitat III efforts and their New Urban Agenda 2030. The number of international experts that have and will contribute to these UN efforts must not be ignored when the conversations to rebuild Fort McMurray begin.

We must also consult with our experts in Canada that are well versed in sustainable architecture, engineering and urban planning in order to ensure that this tragedy that consumed 85,000 hectares can be turned into an opportunity to display what the new and improved Fort McMurray can become. I may sound like a broken record but the Bridgwater development in Winnipeg is exactly what should be happening in this rebuilding. A community where 50% of homes are VisitAble, with kilometres of walking trails throughout and with ample green space. Experts like Glen Manning and Lanny Silver could certainly be consulted, as could architect Ron Wickman in Edmonton, and countless others  in our universities, private industry and public departments nationwide.

My prayers go out to all who have been affected by this tragedy, and my sincere gratitude to all who have have shown their compassion and generosity toward the thousands who are now struggling as you read this blog. Let's continue to show our support in their time of need but let's then extend our help in transforming Fort McMurray into a truly impressive new and sustainable community.