CCD Chairperson's Update: April 2010

Expanding Our Rights Toolkit

The month of April is an important anniversary month for the disability community, and indeed all equality-seeking Canadians, because on 17 April 1985 Section 15, the Equality Section of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, came into force. Governments had been given a grace period, where they had the opportunity to bring legislation and policies into conformity with the standard set by Section 15. As we all know, the Governments of the day had a very limited vision of what was required of them and few changes were made. When Section 15 came into force, Canada's equality-seeking community began to make use of Section 15 as a new tool for eliminating barriers. CCD, and other groups in the disability community, began to undertake test case litigation, based on Section 15 and other articles of the Charter, to create equitable outcomes for Canadians with disabilities.

Test litigation was much easier prior to this Government's cancellation of the Court Challenges Program, which funded test case litigation based on Section 15 of the Charter. CCD continues to work for the re-instatement of this Program. (Canada's federal opposition parties are on record as supporting the reinstatement of the Court Challenges Program.) Despite the absence of the Program, CCD continues to use the legal means which are available to it to eliminate barriers. For example, the Canadian Human Rights Commission affords a way to pursue justice that can be less costly than undertaking court cases. In this Update, I will share information on the results of one of our recent human rights cases, the Hughes case, and update you on the disability community's current thinking on the newest international human rights law, the United Nations' Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which is the most recent addition to our social justice tool kit.

Eliminating Barriers on Election Day

In recent years, CCD, through the efforts of our Human Rights Committee, has been endeavoring to strengthen its working relationship with the Canadian Human Rights Commission. As part of this work, the Committee determined to seek Interested Party status in the Hughes Case, which sought to rectify inaccessible federal polling stations. As an Interested Party, CCD had the opportunity to share with the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal its views on how to best resolve the type of discrimination that Rev. Hughes encountered when he went to his inaccessible polling station in downtown Toronto. ARCH served as CCD's legal counsel in this case. The Tribunal found that Rev.. Hughes had been discriminated against and ordered Elections Canada to make improvements in how it operates polls so that in the future other people with disabilities do not encounter similar situations of discrimination.

On 16 April 2010, Jim Derksen, Yvonne Peters and Laurie Beachell, along with others involved in the case including Rev. Hughes and his legal team, participated, by conference call, in a meeting with Elections Canada to discuss and consult on the work that Elections Canada will be undertaking as a result of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal's orders in the Hughes case.

Elections Canada began the meeting by apologizing to Rev. Hughes for the discrimination he experienced when he sought to exercise his franchise. In attendance at the meeting were Marc Mayrand, Chief Electoral Officer Elections Canada and Rennie Molinar, Deputy Chief Electoral Officer Elections Canada, as well as many other high level Elections Canada officials, demonstrating its commitment to resolving the issues that brought Mr. Hughes to the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC). The CHRC has remained seized of the case, meaning that it continues to be involved in the case.

The Impact of the Case— The Tribunal ordered Elections Canada to cease from situating polling stations in locations that do not provide barrier-free access. A poll could only be placed in an inaccessible premises, if it could be proven that it would create an undue hardship on Elections Canada to obtain an accessible location. As a result of the case, over the next 12 months, Elections Canada will be undertaking a number of tasks to ensure that barrier-free access is a characteristic of federal policing stations.

Standard Lease—Elections Canada will be revising its lease for polling stations. The revised lease will include the requirement that the leased premises provide level access and are barrier-free.

Complaint Process—Elections Canada will be developing and implementing a process for receiving, recording and processing complaints about the lack of accessibility at polling stations. The number of complaints received will be made public in Election
Canada's post-election report to Parliament.

Consultation—Elections Canada will be consulting with voters with disabilities and organizations of people with disabilities.

Verification of Accessibility of Polling Stations on Voting Day—Elections Canada will be developing a lens for checking on access provisions on the day of an election and this will include a process for remedying any problems that are indentified.

Training—Elections Canada will be developing training materials for Elections Canada staff.

Policy and Guidelines—Elections Canada will be reviewing and updating its policies on accessible facilities.

CCD will be participating in meetings with the Elections Canada until all the orders have been fulfilled. It is CCD's long--term objective to eliminated all the barriers that affect the exercise of the franchise by Canadians with disabilities.

Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD): The Current Thinking

Canada Commits to Fulfilling Its CRPD Obligations

Canada ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in March of this year and on 28-29 April 2010, CCD sponsored a community consultation on the CRPD and a reception to celebrate ratification. On 28 April 2010, the Hon. Diane Finley and the Hon. Peter MacKay were on hand to celebrate ratification and committed Canada to fulfilling the requirements of the CRPD. Other Members of Parliament were also in attendance to celebrate this historic event in Canada's, and, indeed, the world's, human rights history. CCD, represented by John Rae, Vice Chairperson and Jim Derksen, a member of CCD's Human Rights Committee and Laurie Beachell, National Coordinator, met with the Hon. Diane Finley on 29 April 2010 to build on the commitments made the previous day by the Government's representatives.

Monitoring the CRPD at Home

During the consultation, the disability community had the opportunity to hear from representatives of the women's community, the poverty community and the children's community. All these groups have had human rights conventions for many years and have been using them to advance the rights of their respective constituencies. In summary, there were several messages that came out loud and clear: (1) work at the international level can push the domestic agenda, (2) focus on monitoring as a first priority, (3) don't let the tail wag the dog.

(1) Work at the International Level Can Push the Domestic Agenda—Opportunities will exist for community groups to submit reports to the UN that provide a nongovernmental perspective on how well Canada is meeting its obligations under the CRPD. It was suggested that these reports should be developed by disability groups in a manner that will make the reports useful both to UN officials and grassroot Canadians with disabilities. "Human rights should belong to the people," was a strong sentiment expressed during the consultation.

(2) Focus on Monitoring as a First Priority—During the consultation, many speakers expressed the point of view that a robust monitoring mechanism is essential and should be a top priority for the community. While some have thought that monitoring would fall to the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC), there were those present at the meeting who were critical of the CHRC's current capacity to monitor the CRPD. The participants were most anxious to have a truly national monitoring mechanism which would involve national, provincial and territorial governments. Additionally, the disability community wants to be centrally involved in monitoring. Nothing About Us Without Us was the principle that governed the drafting of the CRPD. Participants at the consultation were firmly of a mind that this principle must also govern monitoring of the CRPD.

(3) Don't Let the Tail Wag the Dog—Representatives from other communities explained that while there may be complicated requirements for participating in various UN fora, community groups need to keep their focus on their own priorities, and determine how to advance these priorities through work on a convention. For example, while there are over 30 articles in the CRPD, CCD, for the time being, may only want to focus on those articles which relate to the National Action Plan's priorities. Through many years of work, the disability community developed a program for short and long term action on disability issues and framed it in the National Action Plan. Ratification of the CRPD does not mean that we have to come up with a new plan. Instead, we have another tool that we can use to advance our National Action Plan.

The consultation was, of course, our first community conversation about the CRPD post-ratification. There will have to be many subsequent discussions as we make the CRPD meaningful in the Canadian context. We at CCD are committed to making the CRPD a useful tool in our human rights tool box.

Condolences to the Alberta Disability Community

On behalf of CCD, I would like to express condolences to the Alberta disability community, as it has lost a strong advocate with the untimely passing of Gary McPherson. Gary was a true visionary in the Canadian disability community. He worked tirelessly to advance the full participation of people with disabilities in Canada.