Hot! Historic moment for nation’s disabled – Opinion
Published On Wed Mar 17 2010.   By Carol Goar,  Editorial Board

It took seven years of patient, painstaking work. The initiative survived a change of government, three elections and half a dozen ministerial changes. Party politics never got in the way.

Last week, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in New York.

“This is a historic moment,” said Laurie Beachell, national coordinator of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities. “We believe it turns a new page in the history of equality of Canadians with disabilities.”

He realizes a UN treaty won’t wipe out the barriers that constrain people with disabilities. He acknowledges it has no timetable or enforcement mechanism. And he knows Canada has failed to live up to the standards of other UN conventions it has ratified: on climate change, the rights of the child, the elimination of discrimination against women and the protection of the rights of migrant workers.

Nevertheless, he and other disability advocates consider this a turning point. “If people read it, they’ll see a new vision of a more inclusive and accessible Canada,” Beachell said. “It sets out the rights and responsibilities of people with disabilities and requires the government to file progress reports to the UN every four years.”

The treaty calls on signatories to:

  • Change or abolish laws, policies and practices that permit discrimination against individuals with disabilities.
  • Eliminate barriers to accessibility so that schools, medical facilities, parks and playgrounds, workplaces and new housing are open to all.
  • Ensure that people with disabilities can participate, on an equal footing with others, in the justice system.
  • Facilitate the mobility of people with disabilities in a manner of their choice at an affordable cost.
  • Protect the privacy of people with disabilities, regardless of their living arrangements.
  • Require health professionals to provide the same quality of care to people with disabilities as they do to others.
  • Recognize the right of people with disabilities to earn a living through freely chosen work in an environment that is open and accessible.
  • Accommodate students with disabilities in elementary and secondary schools in their community.
  • And foster respect for the rights and dignity of people with disabilities.

Canada has a long way to go to meet these benchmarks. Many people with disabilities still live in rundown rooming houses, homeless shelters or the streets. Many youngsters with disabilities are unwelcome in neighbourhood schools. Many courts, government offices, even medical facilities are off-limits to people who use wheelchairs or motorized devices.

In Ontario, an individual with a serious disability receives a monthly support payment of $1,042 – 8 per cent below Statistics Canada’s low-income cut-off.

But the fact that all 10 provinces endorsed Ottawa’s decision to ratify the treaty indicates a willingness to be judged by its terms.

The cabinet minister who got the ball rolling back in 2003 was then-social development minister Ken Dryden. But he doesn’t want any credit. “It was the natural, normal, appropriate thing to do,” he said.

The minister who championed the initiative in the Conservative government was Peter MacKay. He made it a priority as foreign affairs minister and continued to push for it as defence minister.

But it was Cannon, along with Human Resources Minister Diane Finley, who finished the job. “The ratification of this agreement is just further acknowledgement that Canada is a world leader in providing persons with disabilities the same opportunities in life as all Canadians,” Finley said.

That’s a bit of a stretch. Canada was the 82nd country to ratify the convention.

But thanks to a rare display of non-partisan resolve, Canada is now formally committed to making life fairer for its 4.4 million citizens with disabilities.

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  1. Hello,
    I came upon this web site while looking for a job. I read the above article and can’t draw any conclusions until we see if ANY actual, concrete improvements are made to the lives of people with disabilities such as myself. I look completely able bodied because my disabilities are invisible. I have a university degree, am a woman, and am Aboriginal yet I cannot find a job mostly because of my lack of experience. What irks me the most is that years ago, when I worked for the federal government as a secretary before quitting to go to university, I had to “baby-sit” a woman with a disability. I resented it, but went along with it because that’s what “nice women” do. Did it ever pay off? Nope. Because now when I need a “helping hand” in order to do a job of my choice – Policy Analyst – no one will hire or help me.

  2. Karen McCauley

    Unfortunately, many of the people who may have valuable insight regarding how significant is the ratification of this Convention are unable to contribute to the discussion:
    Most people with disabilities in Canada are poor. Many cannot afford computers and internet, much less specialized equipment that may be needed to navigate online;
    People who have intellectual and/or communication impairments struggle to have their views represented in policy consultation and service planning that directly affects them.
    Indeed, Canada already has an admirable rights system designed to support the full participation of all citizens. However, enforcement is expensive, and the journey of a human rights complaint is a long and complicated process even for people who have many more resources at their disposal than most people with disabilities can access.
    Without a way to enforce the obligations that Canada is signing up for, the gesture is essentially a symbolic one.
    Symbolism is nice, even important, but it doesn’t get you housing that is wheel chair accessible, a living wage, personal care workers, and the freedom to make simple, every day decisions… such as choosing to contribute to an online forum.

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