CCD Chairperson's Update - March/April 2016

In this edition of the Update, I am sharing the highlights of key meetings and presentations made over the past few weeks by the CCD team.


CCD's voice was heard in Geneva, by the Expert Committee for the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which has been reviewing Canada's progress on the achievement of these rights for all Canadians.  Prior to the development of CCD's input to the Expert Committee, Steve Estey, Chairperson of CCD's International Committee and James Hicks, CCD National Coordinator, participated in a domestic consultation on the review, organized by the Government of Canada.  Steve coordinated with the International Disability Alliance (IDA) in Geneva, Bruce Porter (Social Rights Advocacy Centre) and Leilani Farha (Canada Without Poverty) and Wendall Nicholas (Assembly of First Nations) to ensure that the expert committee was made aware of CCD's perspective on the discrimination faced by Canadians with disabilities.  Canadian Victoria Lee, an IDA staff person, read CCD's statement.

CCD's statement concentrated on poverty alleviation, employment, and other measures in support of inclusion.  The Committee was informed that despite having ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), Canada has not implemented a plan to address the inequality of people with disabilities and that for too long, we have been a population in waiting – waiting for Canadian governments to develop proactive strategies which will promote an accessible and inclusive Canada. 

The Committee also heard from CCD about the disproportionate level of poverty experienced by people with disabilities, who are twice as likely to live in poverty and whose employment rate is almost half that of the general population and with the situation being even more dire for women with disabilities, with one fifth living below the low-income cut-off.  Among working-age women with disabilities who live in low-income households, only one in four (24.2%) are working at a job or business.  44% of women with disabilities living in low-income households have one or more unmet needs for disability-related help with everyday activities.  Furthermore, women with disabilities are disproportionately subjected to violence and face more barriers in accessing justice and victim support services.  It was pointed out to the Committee that despite this alarming situation, there is still no coordinated policy response to the poverty and abuse of persons with disabilities in Canada. 

CCD's presentation also drew the Committee's attention to additional exclusionary practices which persist in Canada: housing strategies which are not inclusive of people with disabilities in terms of affordability, accessibility and the provision of supports and community-based services; the continued institutionalization of people with disabilities in segregated settings; and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act's provisions which allow the exclusion of immigrants with disabilities, when there is the perception they will pose "excessive demands" on Canadian health and social services.

CCD's presentation explained that current programming leaves open many gaps, and urged the Committee to call upon Canada to close these gaps so people with disabilities can experience full enjoyment of the rights elaborated in the ICESR.

On March 23, 2016, the Expert Committee issued its Concluding Observations on the 6th Periodic Report of Canada.  The Committee:

  • called upon Canada to increase access to social assistance and employment opportunities for women with disabilities;
  • expressed concern about the disproportionate level of unemployment and poverty faced by people with disabilities;
  • recommended that a disability perspective be integrated into all housing plans and policies at all levels and that Canada increase the availability of social housing units for people with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities.
  • recommended that Canada ratify the CRPD's Optional Protocol.

Canadians who agree with the Expert Committee's points may want to contact their elected representatives and reinforce the Expert Committee's recommendations to the Federal, Provincial and Territorial Governments.


Since the Federal Election, CCD has been meeting with Members of Parliament from various parties to explain how to remove barriers to the full and equal participation of people with disabilities.

Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities – In March, James Hicks and I met with the Hon. Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities, where we discussed our expectations related to the implementation of the CRPD, and how a Canadians with Disabilities Act and a robust disability lens are mechanisms to incorporate in an implementation strategy.  We stressed that as civil society organizations are partners in the CRPD implementation process, the Federal Government has a responsibility to build the capacity of disability organizations. 

A Canadians with Disabilities Act (CDA) was one of the priorities that Prime Minister Trudeau included in Minister Qualtrough's mandate letter.  As the Act will be on the legislative agenda of this Government, CCD established a committee to focus on the CDA and the Committee members are: John Rae, Chair of the Social Policy Committee, Bob Brown, Chair of the Transportation Committee, Anne Levesque, Chair of the Human Rights Committee, Michael Prince, Social Policy Committee, Barry McMahon, Transportation Committee, Pat Danforth. Human Rights Committee, Pat Seed, Chair CWDO, Audrey Trudel, COPHAN, Tom Patch and Bruce Drewett.  As it is anticipated that the Act will be far reaching, for this Committee CCD has selected members from its existing committees, provincial member groups and content experts.

Minister of Justice – Prior to the tabling of Bill C-14 An Act to amend the Criminal Code (medical assistance in dying), Rhonda Wiebe and Dean Richert, the Co-Chairs of the CCD Ending of Life Ethics Committee, and James Hicks met with the Minister of Justice, the Hon. Jody Wilson-Raybould, to discuss our views on how to protect people made vulnerable and who may be pressured to accept an assisted suicide during a period of weakened resiliency.  Dean emphasized that the Government of Canada could face Charter challenges to its medical assistance in dying legislation if it does not contain robust protections for people who are made vulnerable by health, social and economic conditions.  During the meeting, we emphasized the disability community's expectation that the Vulnerable Persons Standard be included in the new legislation.

Immediately following the introduction of Bill C-14 into the House of Commons, CCD acknowledged that the Government of Canada had pushed back from the recommendations in "Medical Assistance in Dying: A Patient-Centered Approach," the report of the Special Joint Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying, which went beyond the ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada in the Carter case, but pointed out that the Government did not push back far enough. The Bill's section addressing safeguards did not fulfill the requirements of the Vulnerable Persons Standard. For example, Bill C-14 lacks:

  • An assessment of vulnerabilities that may be inducing a person to seek an assisted suicide;
  • An expedited prior review and authorization by a judge or independent body with expertise in the fields of health care, ethics, and law. 

The Ending of Life Ethics Committee will be advising the Government of Canada on needed amendments.

Rhonda and Dean have encouraged everyone in the CCD network to make MPs aware of the Vulnerable Persons Standard and the need to include safeguards to protect vulnerable Canadians in the country's assisted suicide legislation.  Many in our network have taken up this challenge.  For example, I have written to all MPs.  John Rae, Second Vice Chair of CCD, participated in a panel discussion on assisted suicide organized by Nathaniel (Nate) Erskine-Smith, the Member of Parliament for Beaches-East York.  The other panelists were MP Rob Oliphant, a Co-Chair of the Special Joint Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying, Trudo Lemmens, a Professor and Scholl Chair of Health Law and Policy for the Faculty of Law at the University of Toronto, and Jack Pasht, the Vice-Chair of Dying With Dignity's Board of Directors.  Carlos Sosa, CCD Secretary Treasurer, met with Candice Bergen, MP for Portage Lisgar, to inform her about the Standard. Citizens with Disabilities Ontario and the Manitoba League of Persons with Disabilities have written to the MPs for their provinces.  People First of Canada has been getting the word out to MPs.  It is not too late to share your views with your MP.

(More information on CCD's work on assisted suicide is presented in an earlier Chairperson's Update, which focused on the activities of the Ending of Life Ethics Committee.)

Minister of Employment – In April, John Rae and James Hicks met with the Hon. MaryAnn Mihychuk, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, for a discussion about the unacceptably high level of unemployment experienced by people with disabilities and the need for new initiatives to improve employment outcomes for persons with disabilities.

Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development – Carlos Sosa, CCD Secretary Treasurer, and April D'Aubin, CCD Research Analyst, met with Terry Duguid, Parliamentary Secretary, to review the findings of CCD's research project, Disabling Poverty, Enabling Citizenship, as well as other issues on the CCD agenda.

Similar meetings were also held with Dan Vandal, MP Saint Boniface - Saint Vital and Robert-Falcon Oullette, MP Winnipeg Centre.

Standing Committee on Access to Justice and Human Rights – On April 19, 2016 John Rae and Anne Levesque appeared as witnesses before the Standing Committee on Access to Justice and Human Rights, to discuss a modernized Court Challenges Program (CCP).  Before its cancellation by the previous government, the CCP funded court cases concerning language and equality rights.  Since the CCP's cancellation, CCD has been calling for the re-instatement of this important Program, which gives voice to Canadians who are struggling to overcome barriers to equality.  In its submission to the Committee, CCD emphasized that a modernised CCP must be accountable to the community of official language minorities and equality seeking Canadians and that a modernized CCP should uses its funding in a manner that ensures that all of its members can fully participate, effectively and directly in the organisation and that all of its services are accessible to persons with disabilities.

All-Party Anti-Poverty Caucus – The Caucus hosted a breakfast meeting with the Hon. Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, which was attended by John Rae and James Hicks.  Minister Duclos presented the proposed Anti-Poverty agenda, addressing housing, employment and access to services.

CCD developed its message on poverty through the 5 years research project, Disabling Poverty, Enabling Citizenship.  The number one recommendation coming out of that project was reforming the Disability Tax Credit to make it refundable.

Government Meetings

CCD also participates in meetings on disability issues organized by Federal departments.

Data Consultation - James Hicks participated in the meeting of the Technical Advisory Group which is advising on the development of Canada's strategy for collecting demographic data which will shed light on the experience of disability in Canada.

Canada Pension Plan – ESDC held a consultation on the Canada Pension Plan in February, 2016.  This meeting brought together a combination of CPP-D recipients, advocates assisting people to apply for CPP-D, employment specialists, policy representatives at ESDC and disability rights representatives.  Minister Duclos attended the latter part of the meeting for a synthesis of the results from the consultation.

Accessible Elections – CCD is a member of the Advisory Group for Disability Issues for Elections Canada.  The group looks at issues related to the participation of persons with disabilities in federal elections.  CCD participated in an Election-2015 de-brief of the outcomes of our members' experience in the election.  The committee identified areas for further improvements in the coming years. 


Educating Canadians about Disability - On behalf of CCD, Anne Leveseque and Professor Ravi Malhotra, a member of CCD's Human Rights Committee, organized a Panel Discussion on Providing Accessible and Quality Legal Services to Clients with Disabilities.  The panelists were Andrew Astritis (Raven Law), Laïla Demirdach (Community Legal Services Ottawa), Caterina Galati (Law Society of Upper Canada).  This session was approved by the Law Society of Upper Canada for Continuing Professional Development Hours Law.  In addition to helping educate lawyers about how to meet the needs of their clients with disabilities, the panel was also a fundraising initiative for CCD's litigation fund.  This was the first event of its kind for CCD.  Anne and her team have been making an outstanding contribution to CCD!

Disability Rights Internship - Under the supervision of Professor Ravi Malhotra and Anne Levesque, the Human Rights Committee offered internships to two second year law students, Kaitlin Mackenzie and Valerie Calvano, at the Faculty of Law of the University of Ottawa. The students assisted the Committee by monitoring and providing their analysis of possible interventions, taking part in the Committee's deliberation regarding its legal strategy and organizing the panel discussion on providing accessible legal services for clients with disability which was held in Ottawa on April 8, 2016. The Committee is extremely grateful for the hard work and dedication of its two interns and extends to them the warmest thanks.

Disability Studies Practicum – Yesenia Garcia, a University of Winnipeg student in a Disability Studies course offered by Dr. Michelle Owen, undertook her research practicum in collaboration with CCD.  Working with John Rae and April D'Aubin, Yesenia prepared a paper focused on how to promote volunteer work among youth.  While at CCD, Yesenia presented her research to the CCD Social Policy Committee.  Yesenia graduates in May and CCD wishes her every success in her future projects.

Inclusive Design Advisory Council – John Rae and James Hicks participated in a meeting of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights' (CMHR) Inclusive Design Advisory Council, which assists the CHMR ensure that its content and premises are accessible to visitors with disabilities. 

Court Challenges Program Annual General Meeting (AGM) – Anne Levesque, Carmela Hutchison, Bonnie Brayton and James Hicks attended the AGM, where members shared their views on how a modernized program should function to best serve the equality seeking community.

Progress Summit 2016 - John Rae, Carlos Sosa, Anne Levesque, and Michael Prince, a co-principal investigator for the Disabling Poverty, Enabling Citizenship research project, were invited by the Broadbent Institute to organize a panel, which provided delegates an overview of key issues on CCD's agenda: poverty amelioration, improving employment opportunities for people with disabilities and access to justice.  "It was good for CCD to be at the Progress Summit to share our message and to network with other groups.  The Progress Summit presents an important opportunity to develop networks in the civil society movement," stated Carlos Sosa.

The Broadbent Institute published John Rae's blog, "Broadening the Electoral Reform Discussion", and it is now available on CCD's website.

Inclusive Communities Summit 2016 – John Rae joined the disability community in St. John's, Newfoundland to share his views on how to remove barriers to employment for persons with disabilities.  During the conference, John met with Mayor Mike Bradley of Sarnia, Ontario, who challenged Mayor Dennis O'Keefe of St. John's, Mayor Randy Simms of Mount Pearl, and Mayor Karen Oldford of Labrador City, to do the smart thing and hire people with disabilities.  Mayor Bradley has issued this challenge to all mayors in Ontario.  Now, the challenge is going national.  A toolkit has been developed to assist those who want to take up the challenge.

John also presented a session on disability rights legislation.  He provided a historical framework, discussed our expectations that legislation would make concrete differences in our lives and the need to be more specific when seeking improvements to existing legislation and the development of new statues. 

Immigration Discrimination - John Rae spoke at a seminar on discrimination in Canada's Immigration Act, presenting both possible legislative and legal remedies.  This session was organized in support of the Montoya family, whose son with Down's Syndrome may soon be refused the right to stay in Canada based on his disability.  The CCD Social Policy Committee will be discussing this issue at its next meeting.

Museum of Science and Technology – While in Ottawa, John Rae met with Gabrielle Trepanier, Audit and Evaluation, of the Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa to discuss increased accessibility to their website and renovated facility.


CCD Committees and Council members have been busy with meetings. These include:

  • CCD's Human Rights, Ending of Life Ethics, Social Policy, Transportation and International Committees. 
  • The Chairs of CCD's Human Rights, Social Policy and Transportation Committees have also been meeting to ensure a greater coordinated approach to our work on disability rights.
  • CCD National Council has had a meeting by conference call, and
  • CCD staff had the first tele-conference with Executive Directors of CCD Member Groups to discuss current issues. It is hoped that this sharing at the staff level will provide a forum for increased sharing amongst the member groups and identification of opportunities for collaborative projects.