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August 13, 2007

Opinion

Let’s take a second look at the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

March 30, 2007

The Honourable Peter MacKay, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, today signaled Canada’s intention to be a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The UN Convention is an 11,000 word document which should be closely scrutinized by Canadians with disabilities, who will be most affected by its enactment. It is not yet ratified by Parliament and it shouldn’t be. It is a document that is written with every good intention, but it is complicated, occasionally condescending, often long-winded and sometimes hard to understand. Here is an example of a section that is virtually impossible to parse:

Article 4 Section 2. With regard to economic, social and cultural rights, each State Party undertakes to take measures to the maximum of its available resources and, where needed, within the framework of international cooperation, with a view to achieving progressively the full realization of these rights, without prejudice to those obligations contained in the present Convention that are immediately applicable according to international law.

It troubles me that Parliament has adopted a document that contains such a meaningless paragraph, and it makes me wonder if anyone actually read it.

The danger of this exhaustive document is that its adoption, in Canada at least, adds nothing new to the body of law concerning persons who face barriers. Governments may take adoption to be an end in itself, when it is actually just the beginning.

In Canada, all of the verbiage could be replaced by the 9 words of section 15 of the charter of Rights and Freedoms: Every individual is equal before and under the law. Since this short instruction has proven so difficult for government to implement, how is it going to help to sign on to a much more vague and elusive program?

No part of the UN Convention has the force of law. These are suggestions and proposals, promises and avowals. Signatories merely have to file a report to a newly-constituted UN Committee.. I fear the Convention is a shield for government, not a sword for equality and justice.

The Committee and its associated bureaucracy add a whole new level to the large, unwieldy and oft-criticized UN bureaucracy. The focus of accountability will be the UN Committee, not the citizenry of Canada.

In sum, I am concerned that the government of Canada has signed on to a politically correct but unenforceable document, and has neglected to understand the real needs of Canadians who are prevented from realizing their potential.


Warren Reed
August 31, 2007

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