Chairperson's Update: October 2009

Pushing and Pulling A Disability Strategy

In this edition of the Update, I will share information with you about how we are pushing an agenda on disability while few people outside the disability community are pulling the same agenda forward along with us. The lack of support outside our own community means progress on disability issues tends to be incremental rather than strategic and comprehensive. However, in instances when some are pulling in our direction, it is clear our messages do have an impact.

End Exclusion

On 1 October 2009, in Ottawa, representatives of the national disability and poverty communities came together to share knowledge and develop strategies for addressing the disproportionate level of poverty facing people with disabilities in Canada. Participants had the opportunity to hear from Marie White (CCD), Michael Bach (Canadian Association for Community Living), Michael Mendelson (Caledon Institute) and Michael Prince (University of Victoria) and Rob Rainer (Canada Without Poverty). All the aforementioned are members of CCD’s research project on Disabling Poverty/Enabling Citizenship, so this End Exclusion event provided an important opportunity for the disability community to share viewpoints on various poverty amelioration strategies with these researchers.

Michael Bach certainly gave the participants something to think about when he suggested that while the disability community has been pushing its National Action Plan for a comprehensive strategy on disability issues, progress has been at best incremental because there are very few in government or the public pulling along with us as we try to push the Plan forward. That is to say we lack advocates inside government who are promoting the same policies/initiatives that we are and the general public is not sufficiently amplifying our message to decision makers. CCD will be producing a special edition of A Voice of Our Own which will present the highlights of the messages delivered at the End Exclusion forum.

Basic Income Earth Network Canada (BIEN Canada) Conference

Following End Exclusion, BIEN Canada held a conference focusing on Guaranteed Annual Income (GAI). On behalf of CCD, Marie White presented the National Action Plan. Senator Hugh Segal was one of the keynote speakers and he shared his views on how Canada could and should adopt a GAI. What was noteworthy about Senator Segal’s presentation was that he said he now believes that Canada’s first move in this regard should be to introduce GAI for people with disabilities.

Senator Segal also noted that he had formulated this viewpoint after listening to Michael Bach’s presentation on the National Action Plan at the Canadian Council on Social Development’s conference on poverty, held in Calgary in May. As a result of the National Action Plan, there is now a high profile Canadian who supports a GAI and he is saying that people with disabilities should be the priority starting place. Our National Action Plan is drawing new allies to the disability community—people who will pull while we push.

Collections, Connections and Communities Conference

On behalf of CCD and AEBC, CCD Vice Chairperson John Rae spoke at the National Art Gallery, where the Collections, Connections and Communities Conference was held. John explained what museum and art gallery access means from a cross disability point of view. As a world traveler, John was able to share with the audience best practices from such varied places as the Larco Museum in Lima, Peru, the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin and the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek Museum in Copenhagen.

While he has been pushing the museum access agenda, John has also been convincing others to pull along with the disability community on this issue. For example, as he reported in his talk, John has been working with the Art Gallery of Ontario, which is developing its first Accessibility Plan under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).

Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR)

CCD has been working along with the developers of the CMHR to ensure that the Museum’s building and program follow universal design principles and that its programming is inclusive of the human rights struggle of Canadians with disabilities. The Museum is in the process of holding public roundtables across Canada where individuals are being invited to tell their human right stories. CCD National Coordinator Laurie Beachell attended consultations held in Yellowknife and Whitehorse.

CCD is optimistic that the CMHR will provide a transformative experience to the many middle school students who are expected to visit the museum. By encouraging young people to be human rights supporters and advocates, the Museum will be playing an important role in creating future generations of Canadians who will be pulling the human rights message in tandem with us as we are pushing it.

Human Rights Set Backs

Lately, the courts have not really been helping the disability community by pushing our issues forward. In some instances, it may even seem like they are pulling against us.

Brown Case Sent Back to Canadian Human Rights Tribunal--Bob Brown's case against the National Capital Commission has had another set back. Rather than taking a stand in support of the duty to accommodate people with disabilities, the Federal Court of Appeal has sent the case back to a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. Who says there aren't "do-overs" in real life?

As you may recall, Bob Brown, an Ottawa wheelchair user, went to the Canadian Human Rights Commission, because the National Capital Commission built the York Street Steps (YSS) without appropriate accommodation for persons who do no use stairs. (The YSS link Mackenzie Avenue and Sussex Drive in Ottawa.) Rather than accommodating people who do not use stairs at the YSS, the National Capital Commission built an elevator at the Daly Street building 130 meters from the YSS. The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled in Mr. Brown's favor, stating that the accommodation should be within 50 meters of either side of the steps.

However, rather than following the Tribunal's direction regarding how to ensure that people with disabilities experience full enjoyment of a public service, in this instance a thoroughfare connecting popular facilities in Ottawa, the National Capital Commission sought to avoid its human rights responsibilities by appealing the question to the courts.

For the disability community, the responses of the National Capital Commission and the Federal Court and the Federal Court of Appeal have been disappointing.

None of these bodies seem to have understood what was apparent to the Supreme Court of Canada when it decided the VIA Rail case. Number one: people with disabilities are members of the public and like other members of the public have a right to use services that are publicly available. Number two: when providers are developing new services they have an obligation to develop them in a manner that does not create new barriers for people with disabilities.

CCD intervened in this case when it was at the Federal Court but was refused intervener status by the Federal Court of Appeal. CCD will continue to monitor this case.

Of note: When the Court Challenges Program (CCP) existed, this funding could have been used by the disability community to prepare submissions to the various levels of the courts to make the disability rights arguments. Today, without the CCP, the community is under¬-resourced to make its case against those who would like to reduce their obligations to accommodate persons with disabilities.

Morton Case--Regular CCD Update readers will recall that CCD sought to intervene in the Morton case, which is a transportation case that was ruled upon by the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) in favor of a deaf-blind traveler who wanted to travel without an attendant because he deemed himself to be self-reliant. The CHRC’s authority to rule on a transportation case is being challenged.

From CCD’s perspective, there are important access to justice issues at stake here because it is important for people with disabilities to have access to the specialized human rights expertise of the CHRC in this type of case, which is about the dignity of a traveler with a disability who was seeking to travel by airplane. In light of these concerns, CCD sought to intervene in the case but its application to the court to be an intervener was denied.

CCD Human Rights Committee

The Committee is dedicated to continuing the push forward on barrier removal via test case litigation, which can advance a human rights or disability rights principle. Yvonne Peters is monitoring cases that are in process in the courts and Committee has been evaluating options with regard to future interventions. These will be reported upon in future updates.

CCD Web Site

CCD is now using its web site as a way to push on the various issues that it is working on. The CCD Social Policy Committee commissioned some research on immigration and people with disabilities, some of which was recently completed. It is now at translation and will shortly be available via the web site.