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Advisory Group for Disability Issues – Meeting Summary – May 18–19, 2016

Table of Contents

About the Advisory Group for Disability Issues

The Advisory Group for Disability Issues ("Advisory Group") is mandated to:

Many Advisory Group members are leaders of organizations, invited as experts, and are participating in a personal capacity. The Advisory Group's composition reflects cross-disability perspectives; varied policy focus; and gender, linguistic and geographic diversity.

The following Advisory Group members attended the sixth meeting on May 18 and 19, 2016:

Susan Torosian, Senior Director, Policy and Public Affairs, chaired the meeting and its various sessions. She also followed up on items from the fifth meeting of February 16 and 17, 2016. The round table discussions were moderated by a third party facilitator.

The Advisory Group plans to meet next in fall 2016 in the National Capital Region.

Day 1

Welcome

The Chair thanked members for their ongoing commitment to the Advisory Group. She advised members that two returning officers would be attending the meeting as observers: Kimberley Kubeck from the riding of Stormont–Dundas–South Glengarry and André Levasseur from the riding of Trois-Rivières.

As part of its strategy to improve services to electors and field staff, Elections Canada has committed to having returning officers participate in all of its projects in some way. Returning officers were observing this meeting to increase their awareness of disability issues. They will write a summary of their experience, which will be shared with the other 336 returning officers as well as Advisory Group members.

Approval of the Meeting Summary from the Fifth Meeting

The Chair sought the Advisory Group's comments on the meeting summary from the fifth meeting. Suggested revisions were discussed and, pending their inclusion, the fifth meeting's summary was considered approved.

Opening Remarks by the Deputy Chief Electoral Officer, Electoral Events

Michel Roussel, Deputy Chief Electoral Officer, Electoral Events (DCEO-EE), opened the meeting. He explained that Elections Canada is preparing for many possible scenarios around electoral reform, and that the agency intends to contribute by recommending administrative and operational changes to voting services. Whatever voting system is chosen by Parliament, the voting process must be as simple, efficient and flexible for voters as possible, and more manageable for election workers.

Before describing some of the initiatives that Elections Canada is undertaking and what they could mean for persons with disabilities, the DCEO-EE shared some socio-demographic trends seen at play in recent elections. He explained how these trends may shape the services offered to persons with disabilities.

  1. The increasing importance of technology. Canadians are increasingly comfortable with technology and use various online services daily, including for banking. Use of the online voter registration service is a good example. Offered for the first time in the last general election, over 1.7 million electors used it to check or update their information and over 300,000 used it to register. People aged 18 to 44 chose the online service as their preferred way to register. More revealing still, surveys indicated that young voters with disabilities were proportionally even more likely to choose this option.
  2. The increasing mobility of Canadians. An increasing number of Canadians travel for work or study, and are sometimes away from home for long periods. Compared to all elections since 2004, a higher percentage of Canadians said they did not vote in 2015 because they were out of town or away from home. Elections Canada estimates that nearly one million Canadians were on the move in October 2015, and of those, about 160,000 voted by special ballot (by mail or at an Elections Canada office). This shows that Elections Canada needs to provide more options that electors can access when they are away from their riding.
  3. Voters are more likely to vote before election day. Overall, the number of voters using advance polls increased from 6% in 1997 to 24% in 2015.
  4. The Canadian population is aging, and an increasing number are limited in their daily activities due to a disability. An estimated 3.8 million adult Canadians reported being limited in their daily activities due to a disability in 2012 (Canadian Survey on Disability, Statistics Canada, 2012). Elections Canada is also getting more requests from homebound electors to bring the ballot box to them. This shows that a barrier-free polling station is just not enough, and that the notion of accessibility is more than "brick and mortar." A more holistic view of the concept needs to be taken.

The DCEO-EE then shared some observations from the general election. According to a comprehensive verification done by returning officers in fall 2014, approximately 96% of Elections Canada's voting locations were deemed barrier-free and were advertised that way. Voters were more engaged than ever about accessibility issues. As a result, Elections Canada received some 3,200 complaints about various aspects of voting locations. On the positive side, in post-election surveys, 84% of voters with disabilities said they felt that Elections Canada staff was sensitive to their needs when voting, and 98% said they had the required identification documents with them when they went to vote.

The DCEO-EE explained that one of Elections Canada's strategic priorities is to modernize electoral services. He listed a number of changes that the agency is considering: expanding accessible online services, making the voting-at-home service more available, promoting secret and independent voting through the use of personal technological or mechanical devices, modernizing operations at polling stations, redesigning voting operations at advance and election day polls to make services more accessible, reducing wait times, and improving the quality and consistency of services.

He assured members that Elections Canada will work toward enabling the right of persons with disabilities to vote independently and secretly through the use of assistive and new technologies where appropriate, as prescribed by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Members asked questions about online voting and the scope of the modernization plan. Elections Canada answered that, while it is not dismissing online voting, the service might be unrealistic for 2019 because current technology would not meet all of the agency's requirements. However, Elections Canada plans on studying ways of casting a ballot electronically within its modernization plan. Redesigned voting services include technology and streamlined processes.

Recommendations Report

Anne Lawson, General Counsel and Senior Director, Legal Services, gave members an overview of the upcoming recommendations report to Parliament, which will propose amendments to the Canada Elections Act. The report covers three main themes: the voting process (registration, access to polling stations, candidates); advertising and political financing; and governance.

The Advisory Group was sent the following 13 recommendations prior to the meeting. Members were asked to consider how the proposals align with their individual needs or the needs of the group they represent, as well as what Elections Canada should keep in mind when planning their possible implementation.

Recommendations

  1. Expand the Chief Electoral Officer's mandate to conduct civic education.

    Members agreed that the Chief Electoral Officer's mandate for civic education should be broadened to include promotion of voting.
  2. Replace "level access" with an "accessible" requirement for polling places.

    Elections Canada explained that level access is interpreted as access for wheelchairs, and that the agency offers more than that in terms of accessibility. The Chief Electoral Officer would like the Act to reflect a broader notion of accessibility by replacing the terminology. Elections Canada asked how the word "accessible" should be defined, if it is used in the Act, given that it is a broad and evolving standard.

    Members agreed that level access and accessibility are terms that can be interpreted in many ways. For instance, for Francophones, level access (plain-pied) means that the access is at ground level. For some communities, accessible primarily means that everything is in plain language or that American Sign Language interpretation is provided. Elections Canada should therefore specify if the word "accessible" refers to physical accessibility only.

    Members suggested that a reference to a definition outside the Act could be included in the Act, which would allow the meaning to evolve over time. Alternately, the Act could contain a definition of accessibility so the meaning would be unambiguous. Members also noted that provinces have their own accessibility criteria, and that the federal government has no authority over accessibility. Elections Canada was advised to approach the notion of physical accessibility with caution, as accessibility criteria that are too prescriptive or strict could mean that very few places would be deemed accessible.
  3. Remove the prohibition on use of the voter information card as ID.

    Members felt that this recommendation was very important. Being able to use the voter information card as ID could help some populations prove their address, such as people in group homes, in homeless shelters, who use food banks, etc.
  4. For vouching, reduce the required identification to a single piece of ID and design provisions to allow for multiple vouching.

    Some concerns were expressed about possibly fostering a climate of vulnerability for electors living in group homes and about the potential influence or pressure caretakers could exert if they could vouch for a whole group. Elections Canada specified that vouching does not allow someone else to vote in place of electors, but only to confirm their address. The intent of the recommendation is only to allow someone to vouch for more than one person and to make it possible for the person vouching to live in a different polling division than the person being vouched for.

    Elections Canada also wanted to know how many people someone should be allowed to vouch for, in order to set a limit that maintains the integrity of the system. The Advisory Group agreed that multiple vouching up to a limited number of electors was a good idea; however, they could not suggest a particular number.
  5. Oaths should be replaced by a uniform oath, and supplemented or replaced by additional instructions to electors where necessary.

    At present, the Act contains six oaths. The agency wishes to simplify the tasks of poll workers by amalgamating the six oaths into one. Elections Canada specified that an oath does not allow someone else to vote in place of electors.
  6. Expand the Chief Electoral Officer's pilot project authority.

    The General Counsel and Senior Director, Legal Services, mentioned that at present, the Act requires the Chief Electoral Officer to get the consent of standing committees or all of Parliament before piloting a project. Members generally supported the use of pilot projects.
  7. Change polling day to a weekend day.

    Members were asked how they would be affected by this change. Most members agreed that it would make it easier for those in the disability community to find people who could provide them with transportation and general assistance. But it was noted that this change could also have a negative impact, since it is nearly impossible to get paratransit services on weekends, and Elections Canada was asked if it could help improve paratransit on election day. As well, some institutions have less staff on weekends. This could impact services to residents and users, especially in terms of getting help during the voting process. Overall, members agreed that Elections Canada will need to ensure paratransit is available if it moves forward with this recommendation.
  8. Allow election officers to assist electors at the polls who have mental or intellectual disabilities as well as physical ones.

    The General Counsel and Senior Director, Legal Services, said this recommendation aims to make the Act consistent by offering the same support in local Elections Canada offices and at the polls.

    Members asked Elections Canada to clarify what the current assistance process is, as well as how workers identify someone in need. It was suggested that shortcomings in the process might be a training issue. Elections Canada was also advised to be mindful of using the correct terminology for mental or intellectual disabilities, and to consider that the elderly could also need assistance.

  9. Transfer certificates for people with disabilities should be more widely available and logistically easier to obtain.

    Members asked for clarity on delays in issuing a certificate. The Senior Director, Field Readiness and Event Management, explained that the RO has to issue the certificate. While it is possible to get one on election day, it is logistically difficult because ROs are extremely busy on that day. Elections Canada feels it is important to not increase the burden on ROs or create a perception that electors are being prevented from voting because of administrative hurdles. The ROs agreed that issuing a certificate online would be the best option.

    Some concerns were expressed about unclear accessibility information on the voter information card and technical issues impacting accessibility. For example, elevators may break down, or voters may realize when they arrive that their polling place is not accessible to them, but be unable to find transportation to another polling place. Members wanted to know how Elections Canada could ensure that no electors would lose their vote for such reasons. It was suggested that, with an electronic voter information card, Elections Canada could update the accessibility information of a polling location in real time.
  10. Expand access to voting at home.

    Elections Canada explained that the prerequisites for voting at home are extremely specific in the Act. Expanding them would allow more people to use this service.

    Some members were concerned that the voting-at-home option might replace the accessibility requirements of polling locations. They said that an additional way to vote should not mean fewer accessibility requirements for polling locations.
  11. Clarify ballot photography offences, ensuring an exception for electors with a visual impairment.

    Elections Canada wants to continue prohibiting "ballot selfies," while reserving the right to make adaptations so electors with a visual impairment can validate their ballot. Questions were asked about the type of ballot photography being considered: using an adaptive device to check if the right candidate is marked, or simply taking a picture and asking someone at home to check it.

    Elections Canada had not considered this second option. It asked members if they were concerned of possible pressure or abuse with regard to photographing a ballot and being required to show it to someone. Members agreed that this would be a concern for vulnerable electors.
  12. In the political financing context, facilitate payment of a candidate's expenses related to a candidate's disability or care by the candidate of a person with a disability.

    Overall, members agreed with this recommendation.
  13. Increase the reimbursement to candidates and parties for costs related to accommodation for voters with disabilities.

    Members expressed their dissatisfaction with the fact that parties and candidates spend large amounts of money on their website's look and feel, but are often unwilling to expend resources to make it accessible. Some suggested that specific costs related to a specific disability should be identified and detailed. For example, Braille is a real cost to make information accessible to people with a visual impairment, and American Sign Language interpretation is a real cost to make information accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing. However, renting an accessible office or event location is not a real added cost, since a space would need to be rented whether it was accessible or not.

    There were questions about possibly making a regulation to compel political parties to hold their events in accessible locations, and about excluding costs related to accessibility from a candidate's expenses limit. Members were also mindful that election expenses are partially refundable. They indicated that it was important to prevent candidates from calling everything accessible in order to get a larger reimbursement. Elections Canada would need to define what constitutes a fair and real accessibility-related cost, and how it can be assessed.

    It was suggested that a separate fund could be created for accessibility-related expenses.

Candidate photos

Elections Canada was asked why there was no recommendation for candidate photos on ballots. The General Counsel and Senior Director, Legal Services, explained that the Chief Electoral Officer does not want to make this recommendation personally, but is not discouraging members from doing so themselves. He sees this proposal as a challenge, especially in terms of the risk of discrimination, and believes it is something that should be decided by Parliament. However, Elections Canada would be pleased to implement the measure if Parliament were to enact it. Members noted that it was implemented in Quebec, and that candidates and parties already use photos in advertising, on campaign signs and on websites.

Day 2

Terms of Reference and Membership

Lisa Drouillard, Director, Outreach and Stakeholder Engagement, opened the session. She explained that the Chief Electoral Officer asked for minimal changes to the Terms of Reference, as requested by members. The meeting dates were updated and specific mentions of the 2015 general election were removed to reflect the broader mandate. The Advisory Group is expected to be a standing committee, and Elections Canada will update the mandate in tandem with contracts. She noted that two meetings are expected to be held a year, and that the confidentiality clause of the Terms of Reference remains the same. There were no changes to the policy on alternates; members cannot be replaced by other members of their community, as Elections Canada is relying on their individual expertise.

She then spoke about the Advisory Group's current membership. Members were selected on the basis of their capacity to provide the Chief Electoral Officer with the highest quality advice on matters pertaining to accessibility and disability issues. They were required to have expertise, knowledge or a background in one or more of the following areas:

Based on feedback from the Advisory Group, as well as feedback received about similar advisory groups at other institutions, Elections Canada believes it is best to keep the Advisory Group to no more than 10 or 11 organizational members.

The Director, Outreach and Stakeholder Engagement, reminded members that one suggestion was to add a member from the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association. The aim is to address an identified gap in services that Elections Canada can offer to electors who are hard of hearing.

At the last meeting, members said there was a need to engage Aboriginal people with disabilities, women with disabilities, and people with mental health concerns. Elections Canada will carefully consider adding members from other organizations, based on operational needs related to accessibility.

Members reiterated the need for a mental health perspective, preferably from a consumer-based rather than a service-based organization. Members also noted that homeless electors may face some similar challenges to those with mental health concerns, since the two populations are often closely related.

Elections Canada was advised that, while it might not be possible or practical to add new members for all perspectives, a solution could be to put a specific issue on the agenda and invite subject matter experts to discuss the topic with regular members.

Presentation to the Advisory Committee of Political Parties

The Chair gave members an overview of the Advisory Committee of Political Parties (ACPP) Terms of Reference, explained how the group functions, and shared guidelines and information for the Advisory Group's upcoming presentation. Members agreed that the primary goal would be to show ACPP members the link between accessibility and their party's business.

The meeting facilitator then held a round table discussion for members to ask questions, share their comments, and identify who will present, what issues will be addressed and the format of the presentation. Elections Canada created a one-pager using the information from this preparatory session to help members develop their presentation (see Appendix A).

Next Steps and Closing Remarks

The Chair thanked members for their contribution and insightful comments. She informed them that, although there is no specific time frame for the next Advisory Group meeting, Elections Canada foresees many engagement opportunities in the near future, starting with the Voting Services Modernization program.

The Chair noted that Elections Canada will regularly update members on progress toward a new Braille and tactile ballot template. The aim is to adjust the design so the ballot cannot slip, and to possibly add a pencil guide in the space where voters mark their X to help them create a valid mark. The agency has an obligation to convene a focus group to evaluate the present template and make comprehensive recommendations toward its redesign. It would likely share any findings with the Advisory Group and solicit their advice, or ask a member to sit on the focus group.

Lastly, the Chair advised members that Elections Canada is planning to move forward with sign language interpretation at the polls in real-time digital video (e.g. FaceTime).

The Chair then led a discussion about agenda items for future meetings. It was suggested that members hold a teleconference before the next meeting to discuss some key issues. The Advisory Group proposed the following items for the forward agenda:

In closing, the Chair indicated that it had once again been a pleasure to benefit from members' insight, passion and dedication. She said that Elections Canada would be in touch in the coming months about the next meeting, tentatively planned for fall 2016.

Appendix A—One-pager: Presentation to the Advisory Committee of Political Parties

During the Advisory Group for Disability Issues meeting on May 18 and 19, members reflected on their priorities and the key accessibility issues that the disability community wants political parties to be aware of.

For the Advisory Committee of Political Parties (ACPP) meeting on June 20, we ask that you think about these priorities when you prepare your presentation to ACPP members. The information below, taken from the highlights of your discussion on May 19, should guide your reflection and help you prepare the content and format of your presentation.

Structure

Objectives

Key messages

Round table––member priorities

Presenters suggested by the Advisory Group

Notes

Appendix B–May 18–19, 2016, Meeting: List of Elections Canada Participants

Elections Canada Participant Position
Michel Roussel Deputy Chief Electoral Officer, Electoral Events
Susan Torosian Senior Director, Policy and Public Affairs
Anne Lawson General Counsel and Senior Director, Legal Services
Peter Ross Legal Counsel
Dani Srour Senior Director, Field Readiness and Event Management
Denis Bazinet Director, Field Readiness and Event Management
Mariann Canning Assistant Director, Field Readiness and Event Management
Lisa Drouillard Director, Outreach and Stakeholder Engagement
Louise Tremblay Acting Assistant Director, Outreach and Accessibility
Sophie-Natacha Robichaud Manager, Policy and Parliamentary Affairs
Jasmine Demers Senior Outreach Officer
Geneviève Chassé Outreach Officer
Mélanie Charron Outreach Officer
Rodney Leggett Outreach Officer
Brunella Vallelunga Assistant, Outreach and Stakeholder Engagement