Hot! MILESTONES IN A QUARTER-CENTURY OF ACTIVISM [on disabilities] – – Levelling the barriers
March 15, 2010.   Helen Henderson, LIVING REPORTER

Twenty-five years in the disability movement – here are just a few of the many markers along the way:

  • 1983: Justin Clark, 20, who has cerebral palsy, moves from the institution in which he has lived for 18 years to a house in Ottawa. The groundwork for the was laid the year before, after disability rights were included in the Constitution, when Clark won an important court battle allowing him to make his own decisions.
  • 1985: Rick Hansen embarks on his epic Man In Motion 40,000-kilometre journey around the world, changing the way Canadians look at people in wheelchairs.
  • 1987: Ontario promises to develop community living supports, saying it plans to close all large institutions for people with developmental disabilities in 25 years. (Twenty years later, with community resources still lacking, relatively young adults find themselves moved not to the community but to other institutions, such as nursing homes.)
  • 1990: Gary Malkowsk becomes the first deaf person to address the Ontario Legislature as an elected MPP.
  • 1993: At age 12, Tracy Latimer, who has cerebral palsy, is killed by her father. After a number of trials and appeals, Robert Latimer is convicted of murder. He begins his sentence in 2001 and is granted day parole in 2008.
  • February 1994: Toronto’s Metro Hall becomes home to the Terry Fox Hall of Fame, honouring people with physical disabilities who have made a difference.
  • September 1994: Ontario premier Bob Rae’s government passes employment equity legislation, fulfilling a prominent plank in the platform that catapulted his New Democratic Party to a surprise victory in the 1990 election.
  • 1995: The Conservative government of premier Mike Harris repeals the Employment Equity Act.
  • 1997: The Supreme Court Of Canada rules that all hospitals must provide free sign language interpretation services to deaf patients.
  • 2001: The Ontario Human Rights Commission orders Famous Players to make three landmark theatres in Toronto wheelchair accessible. The ruling finds the lack of full access violates the rights of the complainants, including Toronto Star reporter Barbara Turnbull.
  • 2003: 29 Ontario families launch a $100 million lawsuit against the province because their autistic children are being denied costly intensive behaviour therapy after age 6.
  • June 2004: Winnipeg Conservative Steven Fletcher becomes the first quadriplegic to win a seat in the House of Commons.
  • April 2005: The Ontario Superior Court rules the province violated the rights of children with autism by denying them intensive behaviour therapy on the basis of age. The province appeals the decision and wins in 2006.
  • May 2005: The Ontario Court of Appeal strikes down part of a law that allows employers to deny severance packages to disabled workers who can no longer continue in their jobs. The court says the legislation violates the Charter rights of people with disabilities.
  • June 2005: After a decade-long battle by blind lawyer David Lepofsky, the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal rules the TTC must order drivers to call out all stops on streetcars and buses. (It will be another two years before Lepofsky wins the same for subway stops.)
  • June 2005: Queen’s Park passes legislation ordering equal access for people with disabilities and promising tougher standards to make Ontario barrier-free in 20 years.
  • November 2005: Sam Sullivan, a quadriplegic after a skiing accident, is elected mayor of Vancouver. (The next year he will capture world attention in Turin when he takes the flag for Vancouver’s 2010 Olympics for a spin in his wheelchair.)
  • November 2006: A proposed $700 million class-action lawsuit on behalf of thousands of families with severely disabled children collapses when a court rules Ontario has no legal duty to provide special funding for their treatment. The families allege they are forced to hand their children over to Children’s Aid Societies to get the care and treatment they need.
  • November 2006: More than 300 people from disability groups across the country gather on Parliament Hill to discuss a national action plan for building an inclusive and accessible Canada. The EndExclusion movement is born.
  • December 2006: The provincial government uses closure to pass a bill that overhauls the Ontario Human Rights Commission. Starting in July 2008, those with human rights complaints must go directly to an adjudication tribunal rather than first taking their complaint to the commission to investigate.
  • December 2006: Canada is among countries signing a landmark United Nations agreement protecting the rights of people with disabilities. It is expected to take effect this year.
  • March 2007: The federal budget introduces a registered disability savings plan to help families plan for the future of children with disabilities.
  • March 2007: After an epic seven-year battle, the Supreme Court orders VIA Rail to make passenger cars wheelchair accessible, underscoring the Charter rights of people with disabilities to barrier-free transportation.
  • August 2007: Ontario pledges $12 million to provide special treatment and support for autistic children and their families.
  • September 2007: David Onley, a former Citytv journalist, who had polio as a child and uses an electric scooter, becomes Lieutenant- Governor of Ontario.
  • January 2008: The Canadian Transportation Agency rules that Canadians with severe disabilities who need to travel with a caregiver or require more than one seat on a plane will no longer face the charge of an extra fare from domestic airlines.

- With files from the Star library


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