Parliament is now debating Bill C-23, the government’s highly contentious election reform bill.
The study has so far been highlighted by experts vocally criticizing parts of the bill, but on Monday evening the focus was on what isn’t in the legislation.
Disability advocates say disabled Canadians face barriers to the electoral system such as a lack of braille, large print, plain language information and audio for the hearing impaired.
“The printed ballot is inaccessible to some voters,” said Bob Brown of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities. “For example, voters with vision impairments cannot independently verify if a printed ballot is correctly marked.”
Brown said he hoped the government would move toward electronic voting systems, but Bill C-23 actually makes it harder to approve expanding to such systems.
David Shannon, the former chairman of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission now representing the Canadian Disability Policy Alliance, said greater physical accessibility needs to be brought to elections.
“It goes to meeting venues, campaign offices and constituency offices,” Shannon said. “They are all central to the effective functioning of Canadian democracy.”
One of the most contentious parts of the bill is that it bans the practice of vouching. Now, if a prospective voter does not have identification, another person such as a spouse or caregiver can vouch for their identity.
Bill C-23 would require each voter to have identification cards to prove their name and address.
This could prevent some disabled Canadians from being able to vote, said Shannon.
“If it’s a $30 taxi ride, and then there’s a fee to get that identification, and it has to be two pieces of identification, it becomes just too much,” he said.
“Especially if one is trying to also just negotiate support services and care to get around their disability, they’re not going to get those identification cards.”
Shannon asked for new accessibility standards for elections and the funding to back them up.
There are nearly four million Canadians of voting age with disabilities. The disability policy alliance says its research shows disabled Canadians are 20 per cent less likely to vote than the rest of the population