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April 13, 2014

Equal Opportunity for Nova Scotians – Interim Report

Here is the Introduction.  Read the complete report here


The new Liberal government of Nova Scotia has promised to enact legislation to address the circumstances of people with living with disabilities. ProBono student volunteers at Dalhousie law school have been working with the James McGregor Stewart Society to outline legislation to be enacted in Nova Scotia. The purpose of the draft is to ensure the government is provided with context, information and background when addressing the situation of people who are prevented from the full enjoyment of society. In our research, we have come to realize that this is not just a human rights issue but a civil rights issue as well. In the best sense, this is about fulfilling the promise of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms for all Nova Scotians.

Our overarching goal was to determine a way to offset individual differences with accommodations, and to make that a requirement of the legislation. Abilities do vary, but they should not be defined by intentional or accidental barriers.

We examined the Access for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, in particular the 5 year review mandated in 2005, and the Americans with Disabilities Act.  They are summarized below.  We tried to account for the complexities of The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and to reconcile our efforts with some of its obligations.

We kept a log of important concepts in the form of Principles.  Three fundamental requirements quickly emerged:
  •  Written standards for infrastructure and process
  •  Enforcement by government
  • Application to private and public entities

Our draft legislation, in narrative form, which we have called the Equal Opportunity for Nova Scotians Act, follows the summary of our research.  The Act is intended to create standards, and to hold the provincial government accountable for the commitment they made. The Act covers employment, transportation, accommodation, communications and the provision of goods and services.

Following the draft act is a summary of an on-line survey we administered.  We circulated it to about 150 people, generally activists and got about a 50% response.  The summary is based on the first 65 responses.  Generally, the priorities expressed in the survey are consistent with our vision of the legislation.  It is important to note that there is an undercurrent (not always well hidden) of frustration with government, especially among those who identify themselves as disabled. 

For ease of understanding, we use  the word “disabled” in a conventional sense.  We do so reluctantly, because it implies that a person has some condition that prevents participation.  Almost always, exclusion results from a barrier, intentional or accidental.  Perhaps the new legislation can help us understand that we are all different and stand to benefit equally from removing barriers.

Important as a piece of legislation may be, any law cannot succeed without the commitment of the government, organizations, businesses, and community members.  Attitudes towards any marginalized person in our province are transmitted through various bodies and individuals. When the leaders in our community project an attitude that highlights the importance of equality and encourages accommodations, that attitude will become pervasive in all aspects of our community.

If you wish to provide feedback on this draft, please email the James McGregor Stewart Society at wcreedh@gmail.com.

- Gus Reed, Kelsey Evaniew, Ben Corkum & Lisa Wagner

Kelsey Evaniew is in her third year of law school. When she is not in the library, she can usually be found in one of Halifax's many cafes, reading.  

Lisa Wagner graduated from the Schulich School of Law in 2012 and completed her articles in Vancouver. She transferred to Nova Scotia in 2014 and she currently practices personal injury law.

Gus Reed is the co-founder of the James McGregor Stewart Society

Ben Corkum is in his second year of law school with a passion for studying criminal law, mental health problems and the fine arts

Pro Bono Dalhousie is the organization through which most law students first connect to the broader Halifax community. Pro Bono Dal is the local chapter of Pro Bono Students Canada (PBSC), a nation-wide program that serves as an access to justice initiative providing legal services without charge to organizations that cannot afford independent legal advice. PBSC has chapters at all 22 law schools in Canada. Each year, PBSC provides 1400-1500 law students with volunteer opportunities to connect with their local community, and develop their legal skills, by working with lawyer supervisors and up to 400 organizations coast to coast.

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