Chairperson's Update: November-December 2009

A Historic Day

On 3 December 2009, when the Government of Canada introduced the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) into the House of Commons, the Canadian disability community passed another milestone on its human rights journey. In this edition of the Update, I will share CCD’s perspective on this historic event, as well as information on other CCD agenda items. All of these issues come under the influence of the CRPD.

Government of Canada Tables CRPD: Canadians with Disabilities Celebrate Milestone Event

Minister Peter MacKay, on behalf of the Government of Canada, tabled in the House the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). This is one of the final steps in the process of ratification of the Convention, one that has been eagerly awaited by Canadians with disabilities.

“Not since the inclusion of disability in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms have Canadians with disabilities seen such substantive attention given to the rights of persons with disabilities,” said Steve Estey, Chairperson of CCD’s International Committee. “This is truly a historic day for persons with disabilities and we applaud the Government of Canada’s commitment to promoting and ensuring the rights of Canadians with disabilities,” said Estey.

“Creation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities at the United Nations was a 5 year process and at every step of the way people with disabilities were centrally engaged in the discussions,” stated Marie White, Chair of CCD. “The Government of Canada included people with disabilities in their official delegation to the United Nations during the development of the CRPD and they funded the disability community to provide advice on Articles of the Convention as they were developed. Our expectation is now that, once ratification is complete, they will centrally include us in the development of a national action plan to make real the promises of the Convention,” said White.

“Disability has not been and is not a partisan issue. All parties in the House of Commons have supported development of the CRPD and ratification of it. Today Canadians with disabilities say thank you to all Members of Parliament and to all Parties who have worked over the years to bring us to this milestone moment in time,” said Estey.

 What the Government of Canada Said

In summary, the document tabled in the House of Commons makes it clear that:

Optional Protocol

Canada is not currently considering becoming a party to the CRPD’s Optional Protocol. The Optional Protocol establishes a complaints mechanism for persons in countries that have ratified the Convention.

Canadians Support CRPD

There is strong support in Canada for the CRPD and this was expressed during the consultations which the Government of Canada undertook with the general public and organizations of people with disabilities, and First Nations, Métis, and Inuit organizations.

Reservations and Declarations

Canada has entered two reservation and declarations, regarding Articles 12 (Equal recognition before the law) and 33(2) (relating to the creation or designation of a domestic framework to promote, protect and monitor implementation of the rights as set out in the Convention).

Article 12

With respect to Article 12 Canada states, “Canada would enter an interpretive declaration to Article 12(2) and (3), to clarify its understanding that Article 12 reflects a presumption of legal capacity and permits supported and substitute decision-making arrangements, much as guardianship and powers of attorney. Canada would also enter a reservation to protect its ability (in the event of a contrary interpretation of international law) to continue the use of substitute decision-making arrangements in appropriate circumstances and subject to appropriate and effective safeguards. …Canada would enter a limited reservation to preserve its right to maintain the supported and substitute decision-making arrangements that are not subject to regular review by an independent authority, where such measures are already subject to review or appeal.”

Article 33 (2)

Canada will enter an interpretive declaration, stating it understands that the Article’s requirements regarding a domestic framework for promotion, monitoring and implementation accommodates Canada’s federal/provincial/territorial structure.

The Steps to Ratification

For Canada to ratify a convention, the following steps must be followed:

  • A formal indication from the provinces of support for ratification.
  • A Ministerial Memorandum to Cabinet to obtain Cabinet approval of ratification.
  • After Cabinet approval of ratification, a convention is tabled in the House of Commons and remains in the House for 21 sitting days.
  • Canada submits an instrument of ratification to the United Nations. The convention comes into force on the thirtieth day after its deposit with the UN Secretary-General.

CCD will keep the community informed with regard to the progress of the CRPD through these steps.

International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD), 3 December 2009

This year’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities was truly a day of celebration for Canadians with disabilities. Our Government, by moving forward with the final steps of ratification of the CRPD, has made it clear that the issues of Canadians with disabilities are of national importance and deserve substantive attention.

We at CCD hope that everyone had a memorable IDPD. Steve Estey, Chairperson of CCD’s International Committee, was on hand in Ottawa for IDPD celebrations, organized by Independent Living Canada.

Poverty and People with Disabilities

For too long, poverty has been a grim reality for a disproportionate number of Canadians with disabilities. Whereas for people with disabilities the poverty rate, in 2006, was 14.4%, comprising nearly 600,000 people, the overall poverty rate for Canadian adults was 10.5%, comprising 2.6 million people. Among people with disabilities living in poverty, 59% are women compared with 55.4% of people without disabilities living in poverty. Poverty means: making hard choices and doing without: using one’s food budget to pay utilities, couch surfing instead of having a place of one’s own and panhandling to supplement social assistance payments. Despite Canada’ s having signed international conventions which guarantee economic and social rights, Canadians with and without disabilities continue to be deprived of their full enjoyment of these rights. CCD, along with many other Canadian organizations, is working to end poverty through law and policy reform.

CCD’s Bottom Line

In summary, CCD’s recommended first steps for addressing poverty are as follows:

  • Make the Disability Tax Credit (DTC) refundable for Canadians with disabilities who do not have a taxable income.
  • Expand EI Sickness Benefits to 50 weeks.
  • Establish targets for the employment of people with disabilities in Federal/Provincial Labor Market agreements.
  • During times of economic downturn support vulnerable persons.

Our approach to poverty eradication is multipronged and in this Update I will provide an update on CCD’s recent activities and how they relate to the poverty agenda.

Disabling Poverty/Enabling Citizenship

On 5-6 November 2009, the entire research team for the Disabling Poverty/Enabling Citizenship project met in Winnipeg to report on the work which is in progress and to make plans for the project’s future. The project brings together academics and community members for the purpose of analyzing the various mechanisms that we have available for addressing poverty: litigation, legislation, and policy reform and assessing what has been effective in addressing the poverty of people with disabilities and locating the current opportunities for advancing a reform agenda. In the coming months, based upon the results of their investigations, the research team will be putting together proposed solutions for addressing poverty. In years four (2011) and five (2012) of the project, the research team will engage with the broader disability community and share these proposals. As they become available, materials from the project will be published on CCD’s web site.

Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD): Another Mechanism for Advancing Economic and Social Rights

While the CRPD does not establish new rights, it elaborates what governments need to undertake to ensure that people with disabilities experience the full enjoyment of all their rights. For example, Article 28 on Adequate standard of living and social protection requires that “States Parties recognize the right of persons with disabilities to an adequate standard of living for themselves and their families, including adequate food, clothing and housing and to the continuous improvement of living conditions, and shall take appropriate steps to safeguard and promote the realization of this right without discrimination on the basis of disability.” The remainder of this article calls for the provision of disability-related supports, access to poverty reduction programs by people with disabilities, particularly women, access to training, social housing and access to retirement programs and benefits for people with disabilities. Article 28 touches upon many of the issues covered in the Canadian community’s National Action Plan.

Dignity for All Campaign

CCD has endorsed the Dignity for All Campaign and is now participating on the Campaign’s Steering Committee. CCD Chairperson Marie White is undertaking this task.
The campaign has made a small step forward. The House of Commons passed the following resolution, which calls upon the Government of Canada to develop a plan to eliminate poverty:

"That, with November 24th, 2009 marking the 20th anniversary of the 1989 unanimous resolution of this House to eliminate poverty among Canadian children by the year 2000, and not having achieved that goal, be it resolved that the Government of Canada, taking into consideration the Committee’s work in this regard, and respecting provincial and territorial jurisdiction, develop an immediate plan to eliminate poverty in Canada for all."

As many of you are aware, throughout the tenure of this current Federal Government, I have been calling attention to the fact that social policy is homeless in this current administration. Thus, it is good to see that Canada’s Parliamentarians are beginning to add their voices to the call for a more robust social agenda at the Federal level. Community members can be assured that CCD will keep the National Action Plan, which makes poverty eradication a priority, before all Members of Parliament, particularly those with a Cabinet portfolio.

Incremental Action on Poverty

While we are working on a national action plan to address poverty, CCD continues to work at the program level for improvements that will assist people with disabilities have better incomes. To this end, Laurie Beachell, CCD National Coordinator, has been participating on the CPPD Roundtable, which focuses on improving the administration of the program and implementing reforms that do not require legislative changes. The Roundtable met on 16 and 17 November 2009.

On-going Work to Create An Accessible and Inclusive Canada

As everyone knows, barriers, whether they are systemic, attitudinal or physical, are a major cause of poverty, because they prevent people with disabilities from participating in the life of the community. CCD is working on a number of fronts to ensure that new barriers are not being created and old ones are being remedied.

Library Services for People Who Are Handicapped by Print—On behalf of CCD, Jim Derksen has been attending meetings that are looking at how to provide library services that are accessible to people who do not use conventional print. CNIB has put the community on notice that it intends to withdraw from the distribution of library materials. Community members and various levels of government are engaged in discussions about developing a mechanism that will provide equitable access to library services.

Access to Technology—On 25 November 2009, Laurie Beachell participated in a teleforum sponsored by the Office of Disability Issues, which focused on access to technology by person with disabilities. There were presentations by the Neil Squire Society, the Tetra Society of North America and the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association. As there were many people working within government participating in the forum, Laurie took the opportunity to press CCD’s case for regulation which will require the providers of information and communication services to provide access for persons with disabilities.

Gary Birch, who presented on behalf of the Neil Squire Society, reminded participants that small advancements are being made toward eliminating some of the barriers being created by inaccessible technology. Last year, the CRTC held hearings on accessibility and issued four directives related to telecommunications technology. Particularly noteworthy is the CRTC’s directive that wireless companies offer at least one type of cell phone to serve the needs of people who are blind and/or have moderate-to-severe mobility or cognitive disabilities. This was a recommendation made by the Neil Squire Society and the CRTC was paying attention. Congratulations go out the Gary Birch and his team at the Neil Squire Society.

Preventing Abuse—On 13-14 November 2009, Rhonda Wiebe and Dean Richert, the Co-Chairs of CCD’s Ending of Life Ethics Committee, Terry Green, Chairperson of CCD’s Member Group Citizens with Disabilities-Ontario, and April D’Aubin, CCD Research Analyst, attended a workshop focused on developing advocacy strategies to counter efforts to legalize euthanasia. Many participants at the session were concerned about Francine Lalonde’s Private Members Bill which would legalize assisted suicide and euthanasia in Canada. The next vote on this Bill has been pushed back until February 2010. It had been schedule for 2 December 2009.

The workshop benefited from the knowledge shared by participants from American states where euthanasia has been legalized. They made the case that while pro-euthanasia advocates promote assisted suicide as a choice, this is an illusion because the laws that have been passed essentially give choice over to doctors and proxies. One advocate suggested that the pro-assisted suicide choice argument be countered with our own 30 second sound bite: Assisted suicide is a recipe for abuse. As many of us know from experiences with friends and family moving toward end of life, death is sometimes chosen for vulnerable people by people who wrongly assume that life with a disability means a lessened quality of life.

A World Without Poverty

This year’s theme for the United Nation’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities was “Making the MDGs Inclusive: Empowerment of persons with disabilities and their communities around the world”. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) established a unifying set of developmental objectives for the global community. For many years, CCD has had a focus on international development, because not only do we want an inclusive and accessible society in Canada, we want people with disabilities around the world to also experience the benefits of access and inclusion. CCD is a member of the Canadian Council for International Cooperation (CCIC). Like CCD, CCIC has made poverty eradication a priority and the organization is advancing The Global Challenge to End Poverty and Injustice. CCIC is working on a 10 Point Agenda which aims to:

  1. Promote women’s rights and equality.
  2. Promote health and education for all.
  3. Promote the right to food and ensure sustainable livelihoods for food producers.
  4. Build global economic justice.
  5. Ensure corporate accountability.
  6. Promote peace.
  7. Promote global environmental justice.
  8. Support democratic governance and global citizenship.
  9. Build a democratic and effective multilateral system.
  10. Achieve more and better aid.

I encourage everyone to consider how we can support and work in solidarity with the international movement of people with disabilities. One way of doing this is to become involved with the provincial members of CCIC and work to ensure that their programming is inclusive of people with disabilities.