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October 25, 2008

In support of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

In August 2007, I wrote a critique of Canada’s signing of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It is short and found at http://jmcgs.blogspot.com/2007/09/opinion.html .

In September 2007, I wrote to Steve Estey and Dave Shannon, Nova Scotians who were involved in negotiating the document, asking for comments, but did not hear back. On September 24, 2008 - a year later - I made reference to the lack of a response from Estey and Shannon in response to an email urging me to write to my MP in support of ratification of the treaty:

Last September, I asked for comments from Steve Estey and Dave Shannon, neither of whom has seen fit to respond in any way.

......I am disappointed that neither Steve nor Dave will discuss the implications of this treaty. They take credit for it and they should explain it.
and received this reply on October 1. I believe it is in the best interest of people with disabilities to be familiar with this Convention and to engage in thoughtful debate.

Gus Reed



I did not receive your earlier email, so I did not reply. You know you can call me respecting these issues any time, so don`t get pissy about me with third parties. If anyone should be disappointed it is Steve and I for not being given a second chance by you with the courtesy of a message confirmation.

Respecting the CRPD, I would agree with Steve that it is not a panacea. The Canadian Charter is not either. The few words of section 15 highlight its great limitation for persons with a disability because it does not guarantee economic, social or cultural rights. The CRPD says on a global stage to Canada that it is limited in its application of disability rights because the new paradigm fuses both individual and group rights. Also, Chief Justice Dickson (as he then was) stated that Canada must interpret domestic law in a manner consistent with its international legal obligations to the full extent possible. These are powerful points of leverage for future promotion of disability rights using the CRPD.

I believe that a Canadians With Disabilities Act would be a further valuable tool in individual and systemic advocacy. It remains policy for the three major frderal parties, but notwithstanding the fact that several NGOs continue to push for a CDA, it has not yet come to fruition.

As you know, in Nova Scotia persons with a disability are discriminated against on a daily basis, and often face barriers that were removed in other jurisdictions a generation ago. Clearly governmental processes and programmes in place to promote equal participation of Nova Scotians with a disability are failing.

One in eight Canadians has a disability (3.6 million people). For Canada’s Aboriginal population, the rate of disability is more than one and a half times the rate for the non-Aboriginal population. Women are more likely than men to have a disability, regardless of age. Within Canada the potential market of persons with a disability is valued at over 25 billion dollars.

Statistics do not reveal the emotional and financial effect that barriers facing persons with a disability has on this community, and their family members, loved ones, neighbors and co-workers.

Among the daily obstructions experienced by disabled Nova Scotians are: &#

  • Manageable transportation
  • Available housing
  • Accessible educational opportunities
  • Attention to personal needs
  • Admission to leisure and entertainment facilities
  • An unemployment rate greater than 55%

Sadly, while for many years Canada was accounted an international leader in the promotion of rights and opportunities for the disabled. More recently, this position has slipped as disability advocacy groups have been forced to jockey against each other for government funding and support. In Nova Scotia the situation may be the poorest for persons with a disability throughout all other provincial jurisdictions. It is almost impossible to get a wheelchair accessible taxi, city buses often do not have accessible routes, many Nova Scotians with a disability do not have secondary education, and poverty among this group is at a level equal to third world proportions.

Of greater concern for persons with a disability are the condescending attitudes of `pity’ and ‘sympathy’ and the belief that the disabled must be ‘looked after for their own good’. This not only engenders forms of marginalization for the disabled but, moreover, in a cruel reversal, serves to internalize the message of exclusion to the disabled themselves. By minimizing their own expectations for equality and dignity, contemporary society effectively underlines the inequity and discrimination people with disabilities are trying to overcome.

In Ontario and throughout the world, governments have increasingly turned to the development of Disability Acts to address the needs of persons with a disability. On the whole this approach draws on existing bodies within a particular jurisdiction such as human rights acts or disability secretariats. The legislation then provides a holistic and comprehensive human rights approach to creating a fully inclusive community. Essentially, this legislation creates disability rights and policy by doing the following:

  • Involving all stakeholders in discussions to make policy and programme changes
  • Acknowledging that equality begins with understanding that discrimination exists
  • Making dignity for persons with a disability part of organizational values and a standard to measure people against
  • Encouraging a respectful and inclusive province. No one wants to be excluded.

In The Accessibility for Ontarians with a Disability Act (AODA) the government of Ontario was the first Canadian jurisdiction to adopt a Disability Act. They chose to enforce the Act with a series of voluntary measures, bureaucracy, Advisory Council and Tribunals. The Ontario Government has stated that it is committed to a fully accessible Ontario by 2025. The recent appointment of a well known disabled person who actively supports the AODA as Lieutenant Governor may suggest that the Ontario Government is sincere in its efforts.

In March 2007 Canada became a signatory to The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons With A Disability. Each Province supported the Federal Government in its decision to sign the Convention. The stated purpose of the Convention is “to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity”. The Convention is both a development and a human rights instrument. It is also a legally binding policy instrument which is cross-disability and cross-sectoral.

The Convention marks a ‘paradigm shift’ in attitudes and approaches to persons with disabilities. Persons with disabilities are not viewed as "objects" of charity, medical treatment and social protection; rather as "subjects" with rights, who are capable of claiming those rights and making decisions for their lives based on their free and informed consent as well as being active members of society. The Convention gives universal recognition to the dignity of persons with disabilities.

As you have noted, in Nova Scotia the time has come to remove the barriers faced by persons with a disability. A paradigm shift is needed, and a Nova Scotians With Disabilities Act will be central to change for an equal and inclusive province. I believe the CRPD will add significantly to the discourse on disability rights here at home. The dilemma always remains effective enforcement of the rights.

The most significant advantages of the CRPD include:

(i) providing an immediate statement of legal accountability regarding disability rights;

(ii) clarifying the content of human rights principles and their application to people with disabilities;

(iii) providing an authoritative and global reference point for domestic law and policy initiatives;

(iv) providing mechanisms for more effective monitoring, including reporting on enforcement, supervision by a body of experts mandated by the CRPD, and the consideration of individual or group complaints under the Optional Protocol;

(v) establishing a useful framework for multi-sectoral cooperation;

(vi) providing a fair and common standard of assessment and achievement across regions; and

(vii) creating a broad forward looking rights based consensus providing transformative educative benefits.

Inequality for persons with a disability has everything to do with the denial of dignity, and that dignity cannot be reclaimed without several supports in place to promote inclusion. z The general principles of the CRPD also create a powerful framework for the development of future Canadian disability policy. They include the following:

• Respect for inherent dignity, individual autonomy including the freedom to make one’s own choices, and independence of persons

• Non-discrimination

• Full and effective participation and inclusion in society

• Respect for difference and acceptance of persons with disabilities as part of human diversity and humanity

• Equality of opportunity

• Equality between men and women

• Respect for the evolving capacities of children with disabilities and respect for the right of children with disabilities to preserve their identities

• Reasonable accommodation for persons with disability

• Awareness-raising of the great potential of persons with a disability

• Provision of habilitation and rehabilitation

• Collection of statistics and data

• Federal and inter-provincial cooperation

• Provincial implementation and monitoring

• Right to life, liberty and security of the person

• Equal recognition before the law and legal capacity

• Freedom from exploitation, violence and abuse

• Right to respect physical and mental integrity

• Freedom of movement

• Right to live independently in the community

• Freedom of expression and opinion

• Respect for privacy

• Respect for home and the family

• Right to education

• Right to health

• Right to work

• Right to adequate standard of living

• Right to participate in political and public life

• Right to participation in cultural life

• Access must be ensured to:

· Justice

· Living independently and being included in the community

· Information and communication services

· Education

· Health

· Habilitation and rehabilitation

· Work and employment- human resource policies and practices

· Adequate standard of living and social protection

· Participation in political and social life

· Participation in cultural life, recreation, leisure and sport

The CRPD makes it clear that limitations on resources is not an excuse to deny equality unless it causes undue financial hardship. Limited resources have to be prioritized according to reasonable and objective criteria and funding must be proportional. The UN suggests that these strategies for effective use of limited resources be used:

  • Target low-cost programmes
  • Target people in the most marginalized situations
  • Be non-discriminatory
  • Draw on national cooperation
  • Include persons with disabilities in all stage

Success of the CRPD will also require mainstreaming disability in existing processes, programmes and policies. No Ministry, department or entity can achieve the goal of equality for persons with disabilities on its own. An interconnected network of actors is required to reach this goal. Therefore, different entities need to ensure that their respective spheres of responsibility provide the necessary opportunities and access to persons with disabilities on an equal basis with others. If any one element of the network fails in this obligation, persons are not able to reap the benefit from the other elements. Both the AODA and CRPD use this strategy.

The CRPD also has established a Committee of Experts to meet in order to consider any matter with regard to the implementation of the Act. Furthermore, there is a Secretariat tasked with reviewing implementation of the Act. This provides new resources for the promotion of disability rights globally. The UN notes that together the Committee of Experts and Secretariat undertake the following:

  • Advocate the equalization of opportunities for, the full enjoyment of all human rights by, and the well-being of persons with disabilities in all respects;
  • Create awareness of the CRPD
  • Act as a catalyst to promote international, and technical cooperation on disability issues, including by identifying strategic areas for the exchange and sharing of expertise, best practices, knowledge, information and relevant technologies in order to enhance the capacity-building of all relevant bodies
  • Collaborate in the fulfillment of the above tasks with all relevant stakeholders, including organizations of persons with disabilities

In light of the above, even with the CRPD the challenges remain enormous for persons with a disability in Nova and throughout the world. While work should continue in earnest to implement the CRPD, there should be no diminution of the energy exerted for parallel initiatives. This includes test case litigation, data retrieval, policy research, disabled persons organizational capacity building, and awareness raising to name a few. These efforts should not be seen as mutually exclusive, but be part of a synchronized spectrum of activities aimed at guaranteeing dignity for persons with a disability. Finally, at all stages in their creation and implementation persons with disabilities must be included.

I look forward to your further thoughts,


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