Special Edition: Phyllis Fehr to Represent People with Dementia at the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Wednesday, March 22, 2017 by Emilia Klassen

From March 20th through April 12th, the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities will be running. The committee will be examining the implementation of the provisions of the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in eight countries, including Canada. “The purpose of the Convention (CRPD) is to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.” We are so excited that Phyllis Fehr, person with dementia, will be advocating for people with dementia to be included in the CRPD.

To open, the Chair of the committee will summarize the progress made over the past year and speak to the relationships between the United Nations and outside organizations of people with disabilities. The committee will review the initial reports from each country and take into account the suggestions that have been made since. Notably, the progress made toward independent living and inclusive communities are being evaluated, and revisions to these reports will be made accordingly. You can read Canada’s initial report here.

The CRPD “reaffirms that all persons with all types of disabilities must enjoy all human rights and fundamental freedoms, and promotes respect for their inherent dignity,” and defines a ‘person with a disability’ as someone who has long-term “physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.”

By the end of the Convention, each country participating will have a report that will outline the actions that will be taken to move toward being more inclusive and respectful of people with disabilities over the next two years. On April 3rd and 4th, Canada’s report will be examined and revised. More information about the CRPD can be found here.

We are very proud to announce that Phyllis Fehr, Vice Chair of the Ontario Dementia Advisory Group (ODAG) and Board Member of the Dementia Alliance International (DAI) is at the World Health Organization in Geneva attending the Convention. She spoke on March 20th, calling for “full access to the CRPD” for people living with dementia, stating that the DAI’s goal is “to ensure that people with cognitive impairments are treated like people with other disabilities.” For more information about Phyllis’ story and to read her full speech notes, click here.

Q&A with Kerri Joffe of ARCH Disability Law Centre

ARCH Disability Law Centre is a specialty legal clinic dedicated to defending and advancing the equality rights of persons with disabilities in Ontario. For over 35 years, ARCH has provided legal services to help Ontarians with disabilities live with dignity and participate fully in our communities.  ARCH provides summary legal advice and referrals to Ontarians with disabilities; represents persons with disabilities and disability organizations in test case litigation; conducts law reform and policy work; provides public legal education to disability communities and continuing legal education to the legal community; and supports community development initiatives. More information is available at www.archdisabilitylaw.ca.

Kerri is a Staff Lawyer at ARCH Disability Law Centre. She has been involved in disability rights litigation at various tribunals and courts, including the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario and the Ontario Superior Court. Kerri has made law reform and policy submissions to various levels of government, legislative committees and administrative bodies. She has authored law reform reports for the Law Commission of Ontario and the Canadian Human Rights Commission. Before joining ARCH, Kerri worked with several human rights organizations, including Equitas and the Ontario Human Rights Commission. In 2006, Kerri completed McGill University’s joint program in law and social work and received her LL.B., B.C.L. and Master of Social Work degrees with great distinction.  Before attending law school, Kerri worked with adults with mental health disabilities and children labelled with intellectual disabilities.

Kerri will meet with the CRPD Committee to increase their awareness of the issues that she elaborates on in this Q&A.

1. Describe your work with the CRPD Shadow Report Committee.

ARCH is one of the 16 disability advocacy organizations and supporters that worked together to write the Canadian Civil Society Parallel Report. ARCH lawyers wrote parts of the Report, participated in meetings with representatives from the other 16 organizations, and shared our ideas with colleagues from organizations working on issues that affect people with disabilities in Canada.

2. How do you hope your work in Geneva might positively affect the implementation of the CRPD in Canada?

The UN`s review of Canada is happening at an important time. The Government of Canada recently finished its public consultation on the proposed federal accessibility legislation and will now work on creating this new law. The development of this new law is an excellent opportunity to implement relevant CRPD principles and rights for persons with disabilities in Canada. ARCH made submissions to the Government of Canada explaining which Articles of the CRPD can be made part of the federal accessibility legislation (see: https://goo.gl/44xQSW ). We hope that our work in Geneva will assist the UN Committee to make strong recommendations urging Canada to fully implement the CRPD, including by way of the new federal accessibility legislation.

3. What would be the most important concluding observation(s) that the committee could offer your particular organisation?

ARCH works on a variety of disability law issues from a cross-disability perspective. We are particularly interested in concluding observations that address the issues we focus on, such as inclusive education, legal capacity, living independently and participating in the community, and access to justice. We hope the Concluding Observations will include recommendations for removing legal barriers that prevent full implementation of the CRPD in Canada.

4. What do you look forward to most as your work with the Committee continues?

It is always inspiring and exciting to be working closely with so many disability organizations and supporters from across Canada. ARCH looks forward to continuing this work and strengthening these collaborations.

5. How will you use the concluding observations in your work in the future?

ARCH will use the Committee`s Concluding Observations to support our law reform and public legal education work.  In our law reform work we make written and oral submissions to governments and policy makers about improving law and policy for persons with disabilities. The Concluding Observations are written by a committee of experts on disability issues, and will help to make our law reform submissions more persuasive. In our public legal education work we provide workshops to disability communities about their legal rights under Canadian laws and under the CRPD. ARCH regularly uses the CRPD in our test case litigation work, and will use the Concluding Observations in this work where appropriate.