CCD Chairperson's Update: February 2012

During the month of February, CCD’s attention was focused on human rights issues.  CCD spoke out in support of access to justice by persons with disabilities, access to employment and accommodation of students with disabilities by the public school system; shared a disability rights perspective on an end of life issue; and promoted knowledge dissemination on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

CCD and DAWN Canada Celebrate Victory at Supreme Court

On 10 February 2012, the Supreme Court of Canada, in the D.A.I. case, decided people with intellectual disabilities should be allowed to testify in court.  Specifically, the question before the Court was whether people with intellectual disabilities are required to demonstrate an understanding of the concept of a “promise to tell the truth” in order to be permitted to testify.  A number of groups including CCD and DAWN Canada, a CCD member, along with others, intervened in this case. CCD argued that courts should not impose a test to allow people with disabilities to testify that is not imposed on others. Courts should focus scrutiny on the testimony given by individuals, not the individuals themselves.  The Supreme Court’s decision in the D.A.I. case upheld that all persons, regardless of disability, will have their day in court when their rights have been violated.  CCD and DAWN Canada did a joint press release about this important decision.

CCD at Supreme Court to Support Accommodation in Education

On 22 March 2012, the Supreme Court of Canada will hear an important appeal about equality rights in education for students with disabilities.  The Supreme Court granted CCD intervener status in this case and CCD submitted its factum to the Supreme Court in February.

The appeal involves Jeffrey Moore, a student with a learning disability who has fought for years to ensure that students with disabilities have equal access to education.  When Jeffrey was in elementary school, he was forced to go to private school after being denied the educational services he needed. He and his parents filed a human rights complaint against his school board and the province of British Columbia alleging discrimination on the basis of disability.  In particular, his complaint alleged that failing to provide students with learning disabilities with the support they require amounts to discrimination.  They asked that the school board and the provinces be ordered to provide equal educational services to students with disabilities.  Though Jeffrey and his family were successful before the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal, the decision was overturned by the British Columbia Court of Appeal.  Jeffrey and his family appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada.

In its factum, CCD argued education is a service that governments in Canada are required by law to make available to all students.  Students with learning disabilities require supports and accommodations to benefit equally from education just as the Deaf need sign language interpretation to communicate and access a variety of services.

Yvonne Peters, Gwen Brodsky and Melina Buckley were counsel for CCD.

Who Makes the Decisions When the End of Life is Near?

The Supreme Court of Canada will hear a case brought by the doctors of Hassan Rasouli, a man who has been in a coma at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre since October, 2010.  Mr. Rasouli’s doctors believe him to be in a “permanently vegetative state” and that he should be taken off life support, but his wife and substitute decision-maker, Parichehr Salasel, disagrees. CCD believes that the possibility for harm to people with disabilities would increase if doctors were given more decision-power at end of life; negative stereotypes which hold that life with a disability is not worth living are very powerful and continue to influence medical professionals and others.

Representatives of CCD’s Ending of Life Ethics and Human Rights Committees--Rhonda Wiebe, Dean Richert, Anne Levesque, Yvonne Peters, Jim Derksen, and Laurie Beachell--and representatives from the ARCH Disability Law Centre met by conference call to discuss the Rasouli case, as ARCH is contemplating intervening.  While CCD believes the case to be of national importance, it will not be intervening because the timelines are too short.  CCD’s representatives were supportive of ARCH undertaking an intervention aimed at protecting a patient’s or substitute decision-maker’s right to make decisions about the continuation of medical care.  CCD representatives agreed to be available to ARCH for further consultations on the case.

Human Rights: Are We There Yet?

The Canadian Association of Statutory Human Rights Agencies will hold its annual conference in Winnipeg in June.  The conference will focus on celebrating human rights successes and identifying areas where further development, advocacy or change are still needed to achieve equality for all individuals in Canada.  A number of sessions at the conference will focus on disability issues. This month CCD has been planning its part of the conference session titled “Implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities” where Laurie Beachell, CCD National Coordinator, will share CCD’s views on how Canada should proceed with upholding the UN Convention and discuss what remains to be achieved by persons with disabilities in Canada.

Also presenting at this conference will be Yvonne Peters, Gwen Brodsky and Shelagh Day, who will be sharing the results of their research project “Accommodation in the 21st Century”.

CCD Shares Views at Employment Consultation

On 8 February 2012, CCD Chairperson Tony Dolan participated in a community consultation on employment held by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. Vangelis Nikias, CCD’s CRPD Project Manager, also participated in this meeting. CCD developed the following key messages for the consultation:

  • Government of Canada must develop a 5 year Strategic Plan to address employment needs of persons with disabilities.  Minister Finley should create a small Technical Advisory Committee to provide community input into development of a Strategic Plan.
  • First priority for new investments should be given to youth (18-30) in transition – moving from school to work.
  •  A range of initiatives and supports must be provided which include longer term supports for those with more complex needs (multiple disabilities, greater experience of discrimination, Aboriginal People, women etc.).  Current accountability regimes penalize those with complex needs.
  • Research must be undertaken on the changed nature of work and whether new barriers are being created for persons with disabilities.
  • The Labour Market Agreement for Persons with Disabilities and the Opportunities Fund must be maintained and expanded until designated resources and targets for the employment of persons with disabilities are established within Labour Market Agreements with the provinces and territories.  Performance indicators must be established within LMA reporting mechanisms to highlight the employment initiatives regarding persons with disabilities.
  • Current barriers to employment have been well documented over the years and HRSDC should create a user friendly report highlighting current barriers and where possible best practices to overcome these barriers.
  • From 2005 – 2010 there has been a 38% increase in the participation rate of persons with disabilities in social assistance programs.  Research should be supported to determine why this is occurring.
  • Indicators for measuring success must be developed that take into account those with more complex needs and experiencing multiple barriers.
  • Research must identify labour market participation by disability group, age and gender.
  • A Strategic Plan requires a unified action plan to support people with disabilities.
  • Appropriate accommodation is critical to success, but beyond accommodation we require affirmative action programs that create incentives to work.  Current Employment Equity initiatives have not improved labour force participation for persons with disabilities.
  • Government must lead by example and be a model employer.
  • Accommodation and support funding must be more flexible.
  • Initiatives to address employment of persons with disabilities must be more “career-oriented.”