During Official Visit UN Special Rapporteur on Disability Rights Looking at Canada's Record on Disability

A Q & A with Steven Estey*, CCD’s Government and Community Relations Officer

Winnipeg, MB April 2, 2019 -As the UN Special Rapporteur on Disability Rights is visiting Canada, CCD asked Steven Estey, our Government and Community Relations Officer, some questions related to the Special Rapporteur’s visit, so that members of our community would be aware of the significance of the Special Rapporteur’s visit. Steven has been addressing international issues of concern to people with disabilities throughout his career. 

What is a Special Rapporteur and how does a Special Rapporteur relate to the concerns of people with disabilities?

The Special Rapporteur is a specific mechanism in the United Nations (UN) system to deal with a variety of human rights concerns. So, for example, there is a Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing, who is a Canadian, Leilani Farha.  There is a Special Rapporteur on the Right to Water, on the Right to Health. There is a Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Citizens in North Korea.  There is a wide range of Rapporteurs. I think there are 30 or 40 Special Rapporteurs in the UN system. They are appointed by the Human Rights Council for four-year terms. They are independent experts in a particular area.

The Special Rapporteur on Disability Rights is unusual in the UN system because it has its origins in the Standard Rules for the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities that came out in the 1990s.  Originally the Special Rapporteur was responsible for the enforcement of the Standard Rules, but with the development of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) the mandate of the Special Rapporteur has changed.  The Special Rapporteur has become responsible for the enforcement of the CRPD. The Special Rapporteur on Disability is now responsible for reporting directly to the Human Rights Council, whereas previously when the Special Rapporteur’s mandate was attached to the Standard Rules, they reported to ECOSOC. So, it is actually at a higher level now and more prestigious in the UN system than it was previously. 

Who is the current Special Rapporteur on Disability Rights and how did you become acquainted with the Special Rapporteur?

The current Special Rapporteur is a Costa Rican lawyer by the name of Catalina Devandas Aguilar. In the days of the Ad Hoc Committee from 2002 to 2006 Catalina was involved in the negotiation of the CRPD at the UN in New York.  She was there as an NGO person the same as I was.  So, I have known her since those days.  She has worked internationally for a number of other organizations since those days.

When will the Special Rapporteur be coming to Canada?

The Special Rapporteur is here with an official invitation from the Government of Canada.  Somewhere inside of government there was a decision made to invite the Special Rapporteur to come to Canada to look at how we are doing in terms of our implementation of the CRPD. On the first full day that she is here, April 2, 2019, she will meet with a wide range of federal government officials in Ottawa.  Then, as I understand, she will be meeting with members of the Senate to discuss Bill C-81.  Then she goes to Toronto, Montreal, Fredericton, and then back to Ottawa.

In each city, there is a special focus for her visit.  I happen to be involved specifically with the visit in Halifax where I live.  I have been assisting her to focus her work in Halifax on Article 19 of the Convention, which is the right to live in the community, because as you may be aware there is a recent human rights ruling around the right to live in the community for people with disabilities in Nova Scotia called the Emerald Hall case.  She is going to be actually visiting Emerald Hall, meeting with people who have been involved in that case, meeting with members of the community and also government officials in Nova Scotia, as well. That is the process that she will go through for every visit.  She will do a site visit, do some community visits and meet with people with disabilities and government officials.

How is a visit to Canada by the Special Rapporteur helpful to Canadians with disabilities?

I think it is very helpful to have an external expert come and look at things on the ground. I think it will be very instructive for us and she has the ability as an independent UN expert, who is not beholding to anyone here in Canada, to say exactly what she thinks.  So, I think she will shine a light on what she considers to be areas of concern.  I will be very honest about this and say the fact that the government has invited her to do this, I think, is a sign of good faith on the part of the government, as well.  It is a sign of commitment on the part of the government to try and move things forward on the disability agenda.

*About Steven Estey, CCD Government and Community Relations Officer

Steven Estey is a former Human Rights Officer at Disabled Peoples’ International (DPI) a Canadian based NGO that has worked Globally for over 30 years to advance the Human Rights of Persons with Disabilities.   He is also the past Chair of the International Committee of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD), and past-vice Chair of CCD’s National Council.  In August of 2018, Steven was asked by the CCD National Council to join the staff to assist the Council with transition as the previous National Coordinator left the position to pursue other endeavors.

For more than 25 years, Steven has worked with Disabled Peoples' Organizations, Human Rights Institutions, Governments, Intergovernmental Organizations, and United Nations Agencies to advance disability rights.  Over time he has gained wide experience in the areas of international cooperation, economic development, human rights, and disability.   He has testified before parliamentary committees in Canada and spoken on Human Rights and people with disabilities at the United Nations and in many countries around the world. 

From 2003, until the successful conclusion of the negotiations in 2006, Steven was an advisor to the Canadian Government delegation to the United Nations, which drafted the new Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD).  From 2007 until 2010 he led DPIs work to encourage the Government’s around the world to ratify the CRPD.   Since leaving DPI in 2010, he has devoted his time to teaching and projects strategically aimed at the effective implementation of the CRPD and related to the full realization of human rights for people with disabilities.

Steven has a Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy from St. Francis Xavier and a Master’s in International Development Studies from Saint Mary’s; both Universities are in Nova Scotia.