Happy International Human Rights Day!

December 10th is designated as International Human Rights Day, and I thought it would be a good time to update on where civil society is at with regard to the upcoming United Nations Universal Periodic Review. These past couple of years have been busy times for those of us who work towards full implementation of international human rights treaties! Between 2015 and 2017, Canada submitted reports to a number of the UN Committees and their related Conventions. These include: the Human Rights Committee (2015), the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (2016), the Committee on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (2016), the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities or CRPD (2017), and the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (2017). If you are interested in more information about these reviews, go to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/LACRegion/Pages/CAIndex.aspx. In 2018, Canada will face what is called the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). According to ohchr.org, the Universal Periodic Review "provides an opportunity for all States to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to overcome challenges to the enjoyment of human rights. The UPR also includes a sharing of best human rights practices around the globe. Currently, no other mechanism of this kind exists." http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/BasicFacts.aspx

Canada has begun the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process, and in the spring, government representatives and civil society will go before the UPR working group to discuss Canada’s record on human rights. Civil society groups had to submit our parallel or shadow reports in October. The Canadian government will be submitting its report soon. Shadow reports or parallel reports are submitted by civil society groups so that the United Nations will receive the perspectives of both government (official reports that counties are obligated to submit within a specific timetable). Civil society submissions ensure that the voices and experiences of citizens are heard at the UN level. In many cases, official government reports gloss over difficult areas therefore shadow reports are an opportunity to have all areas of concern voiced. The working group or committee will then ask Canada directly and on the record about these concerns. We do not yet have the date for the review but will share this as soon as it is available, likely in early May 2018. Canadians who cannot be in Geneva for the review will be able to watch the proceedings live via UN video feed. The proceedings will be translated into several languages.

The Council of Canadians with Disabilities was part of a coalition group representing civil society that submitted a report to the UPR on October 5th, 2017. There are numerous concerns voiced by our coalition in this report, but I would like to focus on two for this update: the first is on accessibility and the second is on implementation of domestic monitoring mechanisms for the CRPD. Currently, Canada has placed reservations on the CRPD in a couple of areas and one of these is on Article 33 – National implementation and monitoring.

Canada is currently developing a national accessibility Act and disabled Canadians have been working hard to ensure that our concerns and needs will be met by this Act. We recognize that as a federal piece of legislation, it does not automatically impact provincial and territorial legislation, however, we strongly believe that the federal government can and should take the lead in developing a strong, forward-thinking legislation that will serve as a model for provinces and territories! The Council of Canadians with Disabilities formed a group with partners called the Alliance. This group has conducted round tables, surveys and interviews to document what Canadians would like to see in this Act. It is clear that Canadians want to ensure that the definition of disability in the Act reflects the definition of the CRPD and that Canadians want this Act to have “teeth” and to be enforceable. And more than that, I believe that Canada should take the lead in educating the Canadian public on accessibility and inclusion. Some of the recommendations on accessibility made by the DPO UPR Coalition in their submission to the UN are:

• Canada should work with provincial and territorial governments to review existing and planned accessibility laws and policies to ensure that they comply fully with Article 9.
• Canada should incorporate or adopt Article 9 of the CRPD when developing National Accessibility Legislation, and should give due consideration to the CRPD Committee’s General Comment No. 2 on Accessibility.
• Canada must ensure that all levels of Government commit to robust enforcement of accessibility requirements enshrined in Law.
• Canada must ensure that communications and information services on the transportation systems are designed and constructed so that they can be used, or reached by people who are Deaf, deaf-blind or blind.
• Canada must address to improve accessibility on telecommunication services for Text with 911 services that requires a faster response time between 9-1-1 responders and Deaf person in order to meet the functional equivalency.
• Canada must ensure that broadcasters are required 1) to provide French-language audiences with access to captioned programming that is fully equal to English-language access in both quantity and quality; 2) online captioning and descriptive video content for the website and social media; and 3) improve quality standards and to provide captioning and descriptive video for 100 percent of their programming.
• Canada must strengthen the mandate of regulatory bodies to allow for license denial in the event of non-compliance with accessibility standards and guidelines.

The Canadian government has the opportunity to be true leaders in the realm of disability rights in our country! Although some provinces and territories may hesitate to embrace full human rights for all citizens, our federal government can and should stand firm on these. By taking the lead, they set an example for others to follow, including the provincial/territorial governments, businesses, and institutions. Canadians with disabilities recognize that it is a complicated process to implement accessibility legislation, but we strongly believe it should be strong legislation that sets a tone for the way forward.

The second issue that I think it is important to highlight is the development of a Domestic Monitoring mechanism of the CRPD. This is one of the reservations that Canada put on the CRPD when they ratified it and Canadians with disabilities would like to see this reservation lifted and the mechanism put in place. Article 33 reads:

1. States Parties, in accordance with their system of organization, shall designate one or more focal points within government for matters relating to the implementation of the present Convention, and shall give due consideration to the establishment or designation of a coordination mechanism within government to facilitate related action in different sectors and at different levels.
2. States Parties shall, in accordance with their legal and administrative systems, maintain, strengthen, designate or establish within the State Party, a framework, including one or more independent mechanisms, as appropriate, to promote, protect and monitor implementation of the present Convention. When designating or establishing such a mechanism, States Parties shall take into account the principles relating to the status and functioning of national institutions for protection and promotion of human rights.
3. Civil society, in particular persons with disabilities and their representative organizations, shall be involved and participate fully in the monitoring process.

We believe that the government should mandate and allocate resources to the Canadian Human Rights Commission to conduct this monitoring. We also believe that Canada should allocate resources to civil society as mandated in the CRPD (Article 33.3). Without this monitoring, as we have seen, the CRPD fails to take root in our country in a way that will substantively change the lives of people with disabilities. We were pleased to hear that the Minister of Sport and Disability tabled legislation to ratify or sign the Optional Protocol in November. This is one step toward ensuring that our rights are addressed. The Optional Protocol gives Canadians the opportunity to take our concerns to an international level after exhausting all of our domestic legal mechanisms. However, in order to avoid having to do that, Canada should take the lead and enshrine domestic monitoring so that Canadians with disabilities are able to address discrimination at home. The recommendations on this concern, made by the UPR DPO Coalition are:

• Canada must designate the Canadian Human Rights Commission as the independent mechanism to promote, protect and monitor the implementation of the Convention. Additional resources must accompany this designation in order to enable the Commission to adequately fulfill the role.
• Canada must designate funding to support disability organizations to fulfill their role in planning, implementing and monitoring the Convention. Particular attention must be paid to ensure that children and youth with disabilities, Indigenous persons with disabilities, Deaf persons and women with disabilities must also have sufficient resources and opportunities to participate in monitoring and implementation efforts.
• Canada, through the existing federal-provincial-territorial mechanism and in consultation with the disability community, must develop and execute a shared plan to implement the Convention.

These are some big asks of the Canadian government, but we believe they are achievable with strong leadership. Our current government has said it wants to once more be a leader in human rights, addressing the concerns of the disabled community is one giant step in this direction. There is an opportunity at hand with the upcoming accessibility legislation and we challenge our government to step up and take the lead!

Happy International Human Rights Day!

Jewelles Smith, Chair of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities