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January 13, 2015


I'm reluctant to compare the situation of people with disabilities with the struggle for civil rights by black folks, mostly because the colour barrier is drawn with such hatred and malice, whereas the ability barrier is drawn with ignorance.

There isn't a white guy with a club preventing me from going in the front door of city hall; just many years of neglect, misaligned priorities, laziness and invisibility.

Nevertheless, the effect is the same.  By almost any measure - employment, income, participation, education, health - people with disabilities are second-class Canadians.

If you go to see Selma, which I urge you to do, pay attention to the dynamic between Martin Luther King, Jr. and President Johnson.  I saw an interview with director Ava DuVernay, who said she used considerable artistic license in her portrayal of Johnson.

She contrasts King's campaign for equal rights with Johnson's notion of the Great Society.  In King's vision, people are lifted up by an idea.  In the Great Society, segregation will disappear as income, employment and education improve.  I guess we'll never know for certain about the Great Society, but from the ruins of Jim Crow arose a black president.

Personally, I think there's room for both views, as long as equality comes first.  The US Constitution and Canadian Charter both promise it; that is literally the social contract.  Having acknowledged equality of opportunity, I think we have an obligation to see it made tangible through education, employment and participation.  People of good will can differ on the subject of how government influences outcomes, but we need to operate by the same rules.

I encourage those in the Nova Scotia government who are wrestling with the promised Accessibility Legislation to focus laser-like on equal rights and opportunities.  Equal outcomes may emerge in time, but government can best fulfill its role by keeping its constitutional promise.

Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.

By confusing equal opportunity and equal outcome, Ontario and Manitoba have gotten it wrong and BC has completely deluded itself.  Nova Scotia can do better.

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