Canadian General Standards Board
A Failed Process
Chapter 5: The Missing Ingredients for Success – Transparency and Accountability
We have moved from “context” and “principles” in Chapter 3, to processes in Chapter 4. Now we complete our drill-down look at the work done by the Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB) in its preparation of the draft service dog team standard. The last level of detail is a look at the CGSB’s Committee on Service Dogs.
Then, we will raise our sights to a higher level again. We will see how the lack of appropriate “policy positioning” underpins so much of what is wrong with the draft policy, and had there been more transparency and clear accountability throughout the development of the draft standard, it would have remained focused on the problems it was intended to resolve.
Committee on Service Dogs – Lots of Questions
As mentioned in Chapter 4, there are several significant matters related to the Committee on Service Dogs (henceforth referenced as “The Committee”).
Under its policies, CGSB is responsible for establishing a “Technical Committee” from among materially and directly affected organizations and individuals to develop consensus-based documents. CGSB created The Committee to meet this requirement. According to policy, CGSB and The Committee must then jointly establish The Committee’s name and scope.
Throughout this report, we have emphasized the critical nature of The Committee’s decision to broaden its own scope, despite all the previous work that was focused on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) dogs. This ability of The Committee to set its own scope is problematic in principle. It could lead to unintended consequences in public policy development as committees are likely to change directions based on the make-up of membership. Further, it opens the door to intentional manipulation of public policy if committee members have specific objectives of their own that are not aligned with the original intention of the group’s mandate.
Specifically, The Committee increased their scope well beyond PTSD dogs to include all guide dogs, hearing dogs, service dogs, and their handlers across the country. What was the motivation to do this? Why was it not stopped by CGSB? Surely someone in a position of authority would have understood that this scope change fundamentally altered the landscape on which The Committee was formed and negated all the work that had been undertaken up to that point.
An Access to Information request is outstanding that might result in the release of the original material that was given to The Committee. Once this material is available, we will be able to determine the full significance of the change. Currently, we are left with questions about how and why private citizens who were gathered to consider PTSD dogs could embark on an adventure in public policy manipulation.
CGSB policy requires equal access and effective Canadian participation to the standards development process by concerned interests. CGSB must ensure that participation in standards development is accessible to affected stakeholders, and that there is documented evidence that efforts were made to address the challenges of finding resources for participation. Setting aside the scope change, information has not yet been released publicly to substantiate how members of The Committee were chosen, so no comments can be offered on that point; however, with the scope change, the make-up of The Committee became unrepresentative of the affected stakeholders.
When dealing with human services policy, it is critical to have legal support, especially with human rights issues being central to the policy process. The Committee has no human rights legal presence, which may explain the violations of existing human rights requirements that reside within the draft standards. CGSB indicated that, because of the significant backlash to the draft standard during the public enquiry phase, a human rights lawyer has agreed to speak at the September meeting of The Committee.
There is a lack of human services policy expertise at the table. One province (Alberta) was asked to participate; however, they were not present at any of The Committee’s meetings for which minutes have been made public. Even if the one province had participated, this would not be representative of various provincial perspectives that come into play when dealing with policies that lie within provincial jurisdiction. CGSB has an obligation to fill this expertise gap on The Committee.
In CGSB policy, they must seek a balance of members on The Committee among various interests, including “users”, “producers”, “regulators”, and “general interest” members. Currently, The Committee’s membership make-up is 12 producers (40%), 7 general interest (23%), 5 regulators (17%), and only 6 users (20%). This is obviously not balanced.
Having this imbalance on The Committee that is 20% users and 80% non-users reflects Canada’s continuing history of marginalizing disadvantaged and vulnerable populations. For too long, disability policy has been made by “others”. For too long, “others” have spoken about people and for people, rather than with people. The Committee and the standard development process is just another in a long line of processes that undermines the acceptance of persons with disabilities into society in every aspect of life. There is an adage in disability policy work that should guide all CGSB’s work in the future, regardless of the topic: “nothing about us, without us”. 20% representation on The Committee is despicable.
Further exacerbating the problem of balance, of the 30 voting members, 3 (10%) represent transportation interests, which is surely an over-representation of interests for one industry on a committee for a standard that affects the entirety of a citizen’s life, not just transportation.
Potential Conflict of Interest
Members of The Committee must disclose to CGSB management any actual or potential conflicts of interest in the carrying out of their roles and responsibilities, and a member must withdraw from any discussion and voting on any work item when such a conflict of interest occurs.
Whether actual or potential conflicts of interest have been declared to CGSB has not been disclosed; however, there are several potential conflicts that are evident from the list of members, and that should have been addressed. In the documents that have been released publicly, there has been only one abstention noted in the minutes of The Committee meetings, and it is not clear what the reason for the abstention might have been.
- When the scope of the committee’s work was dramatically increased, it seems likely that organizations focused on “companion” animals might see great benefit from having their organization incorporated in the new scope, with the greater visibility and public access rights that might ensue. Was this potential conflict declared?
- Producers on The Committee might benefit by having a scope and standard that closes the door to those who want to obtain service dogs, hearing dogs, and guide dogs in the US. Was this potential conflict declared?
- Those whose organizations might be producing a limited or shrinking number of dogs might benefit by creating a large assessment industry under the new requirements. Was this potential conflict declared?
- A member may represent only one organization on The Committee; however, an instance has become evident where the work of one member in support of the draft standard is appearing on another member organization’s website. While this might not be a conflict, has anyone from CGSB assessed this activity for potential conflict? How many instances are there where members are supporting each others’ organizations, and does this support amount to collusion? Have any declarations occurred for instances where members have an association (either directly or through close inter-personal relationships) with other organizations or individuals on The Committee or with someone who may materially benefit from The Committee’s work?
It is easy to construct scenarios where conflicts of interest would be at play on The Committee. Stakeholders deserve public assurance that conflicts have been declared and addressed, and that CGSB is actively monitoring this aspect of policy development.
A Financial Burden for Public Consultation
We have emphasized the importance of consulting with affected stakeholders throughout the policy development process. It is difficult to reach out to people and obtain their views at the best of times; it is even more difficult to convince people to commit their time for a committee that is expected to have many meetings in a distant place over an extended time. Further, when the stakeholder group in question is characterized by having difficulty travelling, and often living in poverty, the challenges of obtaining involvement are large. CGSB’s approach increases these difficulties by not covering travel costs for The Committee’s members. This is highly unusual for Government of Canada policy development exercises, and dramatically reduces the pool of stakeholders from which CGSB might draw participants.
This model probably works for CGSB’s normal business when they are dealing with corporate clients, but now that they have embarked on public policy development in the human services area, they need to recognize that committee members can not be expected to pay their own way to attend meetings, nor find an organization to support them.
Oath of Secrecy
In the development of standards and public policy that will affect the daily lives of a broad sector of the public, there ought to be an expectation that The Committee consults with their organization and their stakeholders, and CGSB ought to ensure a public consultation process is facilitated. In this way, members understand they represent their organization’s or their constituents’ views above their own. The lack of a public consultation before draft standards were developed is reflective of CGSB’s unpreparedness to undertake human services policy.
However, even with the supposition that consultation would occur within organizations, each member of The Committee was required to sign a nondisclosure agreement at every meeting that effectively muzzled them from seeking input from others. This agreement requires as follows:
- I acknowledge that as a contributor at the Technical Committee Meetings, I have access to information that is confidential or proprietary to third parties, to information that is conceived, developed or produced during the meetings and to information that is otherwise unavailable to the general public, including all discussions held during the meetings.
- I agree that I will not reproduce, copy, use, divulge, release or disclose, in whole or in part, in whatever way or form any information described above to any person other than a person employed by CGSB and other current members of the Technical Committee. I undertake to safeguard the same and take all necessary and appropriate measures to prevent the disclosure of or access to such information in contravention of this agreement.
- I also agree to waive all rights, copyright, title and interests to any work product, materials or any other contribution provided by me during the CGSB Committee on Service Dogs Technical Committee Meetings and that all such contributions shall be the property of the CGSB exclusively. I understand that I am required to identify any patented or otherwise legally protected items in the information I provide.
- I acknowledge that as a member of this committee, I have a duty to remain neutral, fair-minded and non-partisan in the consideration of all issues pertaining to the work of the Technical Committee.
- I acknowledge that I will not influence, or otherwise take part in a decision of the Technical Committee knowing that the decision might further my private or political interest.
- I understand that if in the opinion of the Committee Leadership (Chair, Vice Chair, Secretary, CGSB representative) a conflict of interests exists as a result of the information I disclosed or any other information brought to the Committee’s attention, the Committee Leadership may require me to take steps to resolve or otherwise deal with the conflict or, at its discretion terminate the relationship it has with me.
So, despite its own policy (5.9.1 “All members shall… communicate with their organization’s management with respect to standardization activities.”), CGSB purposefully restricted the level of consultation by using a nondisclosure agreement. At best, even if members were inclined to break their agreement and engage with their work colleagues, this agreement certainly discourages members from consulting with the community about The Committee’s activities and creates misunderstandings, mistrust and difficulty in obtaining accurate information.
It is important to note that, even if The Committee had been unmuzzled, 70% to 80% of guide dog users in Canada acquire their dogs from American schools and do not belong to any member organization that sits on The Committee – an example where The Committee should have been re-cast after the scope was changed.
Tone Deaf – Missing the Necessary Policy Positioning
We are coming near the end of our analysis of the processes used to develop CGSB’s draft service dog team standard, and to finish off we need to elevate our perspective to higher-level concerns. We need to turn from details about processes and how committees work, to consider three larger issues. The first we might call “policy positioning”.
Because of its lack of policy development experience in the human services arena, CGSB and The Committee are “tone deaf” to the implications of their policy choices, so it has fallen to advocates to point out shortcomings and raise alarms.
Assess the School, or Assess the Person?
The current law in some provinces and the approach used in many other jurisdictions is to place expectations on dog training schools to produce the best product in the best way possible. Then, because of this positive output, disabled Canadians will experience the best outcomes. This places reliance on accreditation processes run by the International Guide Dog Federation (IGDF) and Assistance Dogs International (ADI). The schools accredited by both IGDF and ADI not only do excellent work producing quality dogs for prospective handlers, but they also do ongoing follow-up and support for their graduates to ensure quality outcomes continue to be achieved for the life of the dog / handler team. It is only in the case of those who choose to train their own dog (i.e., no accredited school is involved) that jurisdictions provide for an individual assessment to be administered so they may be become legitimate dog / handler teams for legal purposes.
The CGSB draft service dog team standard introduces an entirely different policy positioning. It ignores the dog training schools and places full reliance on individual assessment and monitoring of each dog / handler team. How this assessment mechanism will work, to whom it will report, how it will be paid for, and how the assessment process will be monitored are all left to the imagination. Surely, it will represent a large bureaucracy paid for either by tax payers, or by placing the financial burden on disabled individuals, many of whom are already impoverished.
Aside from the implementation and cost implications, this shift in policy positioning away from monitoring the industry and towards monitoring disabled Canadians creates a structure that will intrude on people’s lives, violate their rights, and return disabled Canadians back to an institutional, paternalistic, care-based model of services, rather than the inclusive, values-oriented, rights-based approach that currently exists.
Focus on Dogs, or Focus on People?
The policy proposal that is contained in the draft service dog team standard focuses on the dog / handler team, and looks for standardization across all types of dogs. This focus on the dog misses the importance of putting the person at the centre of human services policy development and considering all aspects from the person’s perspective.
A person-centred policy development process would have quickly identified that people who are blind, deaf, physically, emotionally, or intellectually challenged all have different needs within a dog / handler team. Why would we expect that one standard would suffice for all, just because a dog is the common denominator?
By positioning the policy in a dog-centric context rather than a person-centred context, CGSB lost the opportunity to truly identify the needs of people that might (or might not) need to be embedded in policy.
Lack of Transparency
The next “larger issue” to consider is transparency.
The process to develop public policy requires openness and transparency. On paper, CGSB policies and procedures provide an open and transparent process; however, in practice, the experience with this standard has been opaque, if not secret.
The initiation of this work by private interests, the involvement of Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC), and all the policy development work and research that might (or might not) have taken place before it was decided that a standard was required, happened behind closed doors from sometime before September 2013 until a project agreement was signed with VAC in May 2015. At that point, CGSB was required to make public their intention to undertake standards work; however, that process is seriously flawed.
Two CGSB policies apply:
“6.5.1 Notice of intent of new work item – CGSB shall publish a notification of the new work item.
188.8.131.52 Notification requirements – a. Notice of intent (notification of new work item); CGSB shall inform the Canadian public by providing their notices of intent to the CNS platform when it has taken the decision to develop or adopt a new standard or other regional / international deliverable, new edition, amendment, reaffirmation or withdrawal of an already published standard… Notices of intent shall be submitted in both of Canada’s official languages.”
CGSB may have posted an appropriate notice of intent for their work on this standard; however, it should have been clear to them that few, if any, disabled Canadians are in the habit of monitoring standards development on obscure websites. Those that do monitor such things likely would have seen that the work related to PTSD dogs, and not become too concerned.
In an area where human services policies are being impacted and the daily lives of a broad cross-section of Canadians will be affected, there needs to be a higher standard for informing the public than simply putting it on the web. There should have been press releases and public notices; Members of Parliament and provincial elected officials responsible for disability policy should have been notified. In addition to using both of Canada’s official languages, especially when dealing with an area directly impacting the lives of blind Canadians, notices from CGSB must be available in alternative formats – this is Government of Canada policy that was not complied with.
The secrecy continued during development of the draft standard due to the nondisclosure agreement that The Committee members needed to sign.
Following the development of a draft, CGSB is required to hold a “public enquiry” stage. Again, two policies apply:
“6.7.1 Notice of public review
184.108.40.206 Notification requirements – b. Notice of public review; CGSB shall notify the Canadian public in a suitable medium of standards available for public review. The public review shall be a minimum of sixty (60) calendar days when a mature draft is available and shall be completed before the final approval by the TC. The notice shall include the start and end dates of the review period. The notice shall indicate how to obtain a copy of the draft standard. This minimum period of sixty (60) calendar days may be shortened with appropriate rationale and action to proactively inform affected stakeholders. Appropriate rationale may involve health and safety reasons for the public or the environment.”
Because Canadians who would be affected by this standard were not aware that the work was underway, they were surely not aware to look on an obscure website to discover that a public enquiry process had begun and that they should review the draft standard. We discussed in Chapter 2 the efforts that needed to be taken to achieve access to review and comment on the draft standard and the sense of disenfranchisement that resulted.
So, the process up to the public enquiry stage has been largely held behind closed doors, and the “public” enquiry stage was seriously flawed, putting those affected at a disadvantage. Had the process been more transparent, the stakeholders who were originally affected (those with PTSD) could have become engaged much earlier in the process and helped to guide the policy process in a more effective way. Once the scope was changed, an appropriate level of transparency would have ensured that affected stakeholders were informed and engaged to provide feedback that the new standard was not required in broader scope of things.
Accountability – Confusion
The final “larger issue” to consider is accountability.
There is no clear accountability for this draft standard.
- The work seems to have been initiated by private citizens
- VAC is involved and providing funding
- Other federal agencies that have appeared at various committee tables include the Department of National Defense, Armed Forces Canada, Transport Canada, and the Canadian Transport Agency
- CGSB under Public Service and Procurement Canada is running the development process
- The Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities is conducting extensive related public consultations
- Canadian provinces hold constitutional jurisdiction over the subject area; Alberta has a seat at The Committee, but has not participated
- The draft standard creates an assessment / compliance function but it is not stated who will run that process nor who they will report to
No one can point to who among elected officials will be accountable to the public for the implementation of this standard and for this change in public policy. As a result, advocates have been forced to use a “shotgun” approach, blanketing many ministries with their concerns, engaging with their MPs, and copying in the Prime Minister’s Office.
With the lack of accountability, disabled Canadians are fearful that unaccredited producer organizations, uninformed businesses, and/or the public-at-large will simply begin to apply the standard without regulatory sanction, thus undermining human rights codes, and reducing or eliminating existing legal rights. At the very least, this would create mass confusion about which rules apply in which jurisdictions.
Given the participation on The Committee of Transport Canada, the Canadian Transport Agency, and the National Airline Council of Canada (fully 10% of committee votes), there is fear that the airline industry will hold some accountability for implementing the standard. The relationship between this industry and disabled Canadians has not always been positive, so there is fear they have a motive to curtail travel by disabled Canadians.
If accountability had been clear to Canadians, affected stakeholders would have known who was responsible for each process; they would have been able to become involved more effectively to communicate their needs and to redirect the process back to its original intent.
Advocacy Will Continue
Because of how things played out, guide dog, hearing dog, and service dog users have no trust left for this process or its players.
Despite the fear and suspicion that has been created, guide dog, hearing dog, and service dog users are more than sympathetic to the cause of disabled veterans who suffer from PTSD and would benefit from having a Trauma Assistance Dog (or whatever term is developed through ADI’s consultation process). Many stand ready to assist and provide advice and guidance within an appropriate policy development context. However, due to the loss of trust in the CGSB process and the Committee on Service Dogs, users are resolute in their commitment to advocate against this standard until it is withdrawn.
Considering all the factors we have examined in previous chapters of this report, and now seeing concerns and questions about CGSB’s Committee on Service Dogs, lack of transparency throughout the standard development process, and lack of accountability for the process and its results, as the title of this report suggests, this is a failed process.
This report is nearly complete. All that is left is to present a summary of critical concerns, draw some conclusions, and most importantly, to share ideas for a constructive path forward.
So, return in two days time for the sixth and final installment of A Failed Process. Chapter 6 is called, “Moving Forward – Finding Some Wins with a Different Approach”.
–James L Menzies