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Ccd's Advocacy on Immigration Issues

When CCD was in its formative stages, the Viet Nam War was one of the issues that formed a key part of the public consciousness. As a result of that War, there were many refugee camps in South East Asia, filled with people waiting for resettlement. Following the founding of Disabled Peoples' International (DPI) in 1981 in Singapore, the late Henry Enns, DPI's 1st vice chairperson, toured some refugee camps where he met disabled refugees who were stranded in these camps because no country would accept them because they had disabilities. When Henry returned to Canada, he educated Canadian consumers about the public policy changes that were needed to enable people with disabilities to immigrate to Canada. As a result, immigration became a focus for CCD. Over the years, CCD has undertaken a number of different types of interventions geared toward ending disability-based discrimination in the immigration system.

Challenge Ballot Campaign-CCD included the issues of refugees with disabilities in its education campaign geared at politicians and the general public. CCD wrote to all candidates running in the 1985 Federal Election and challenged them to make a commitment to ending disability discrimination in the refugee re-settlement program.

Development Education-In 1984, through a grant from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), CCD began a public education program to increase awareness about disability and development issues. One of the topics that CCD addressed was disabled refugees. This program encouraged consumers to become involved in Canadian development agencies and it challenged development agencies to begin to address disability issues from a disability rights perspective.

Law Reform-CCD was a participant in the disability community's 1991-92 Omnibus legal reform initiative. Immigration was one of the targets of the Omnibus project; however the action undertaken by the Federal Government of the day fell far short of the community's expectations; that is, the elimination of subsection 19(1)(a) of the Immigration Act which states, "No person shall be granted admission who is a member of any of the following classes: (a) persons, who are suffering from any disease, disorder, disability or other health impairment as a result of the nature, severity or probable duration of which, in the opinion of the medical officer concurred in by at least one other medical officer, (i) they are or are likely to be a danger to public health or to public safety, or (ii) the admission would cause or might reasonably be expected to cause excessive demands on health or social services"

Legislators have tinkered with the Immigration Act. Rather than undertaking a substantive overhaul of the Act and removing the offensive subsection 19(1)(a), the Government of Canada has expanded the category of people who are exempt from the Act's discriminatory provisions. The effect is more family members of Canadian citizens are welcome to become landed immigrants but disability discrimination remains enshrined in our nation's Immigration Act, a situation unacceptable to CCD.

Court Challenge to Immigration Act-CCD intervened in Angela Chester's Federal Court of Appeal challenge to the immigration system and now is seeking to become involved in another similar case called Deol, which is seeking a Supreme Court of Canada appeal. In June 2002 Justice Elizabeth Heneghan upheld Section 19(1)(a), stating, "[Admission to Canada] is a privilege and its grant lies within the purview of the Canadian government, which is entitled to establish entry standards, including an assessment of excessive demands on health services." Dissatisfied with this result, CCD is seeking to intervene in the Deol case.

It has taken many years to find an individual or family who wanted to advance a court challenge to the decimation in the act. The Government has used its power to grant Minister's Permits to prevent challenges in court. CCD expressed the following viewpoint on Minister's Permits to the court: "In every Charter case of which CCD is aware, the Department would offer a Minister's Permit in what was inevitably a successful attempt to avoid having the courts adjudicate on the constitutionality of subsection 19(1)(a). Therefore, individuals who either had the resources and/or were able to receive support from organizations would be given individual remedies (i.e. a Minister's Permit). However, there is no change in the law and the discriminatory practice continues to affect other individual persons with disabilities and individuals with family members with disabilities. ...[I]t is CCD's position that the issuance of a Minister's Permit is an abuse of power by the government, contrary to the intent of section 3 of the Act. CCD wishes to have a decision about the lawfulness of subsection 19(1) and the administrative practices being followed by the Department."

In summary, CCD finds faults with the Immigration Act in the following areas:

  1. direct and systemic discrimination faced by persons with disabilities as a result of subsection 19(1)(a); 2. the negative stereotypes and attitudes present in subsection 19(1)(a) of the Act; 3. the broader impact of the discrimination on individuals with disabilities or individuals with a family member with a disability.

CCD has shared the following points, among others, with the court:

"Subsection 19 (1)(a) presupposes that people with disabilities... cannot play any important social role; are unable to earn a living; cannot live independently and cannot integrate into societty... Many of the demands on the health and social services made by persons with disabilities are a result of ...socially constructed discrimination.."

"Section 19(1)(a) is clearly based on stereotype of people with disabilities having little to contribute to society... Negative attitudes create a major obstacle to social integration for persons with disabilities. Our society, including medical officials who make decisions under subsection 19(1)(a) of the Act, still hold discriminatory attitudes and beliefs about persons with disabilities.."

"Furthermore the attitude that a person with a disability is a burden on the health care system goes to the issue of "human dignity." By this attitude, people with disabilities are devalued and dehumanized because there is an assumption that persons with disabilities cannot work or function in society without being a substantial burden on society. There is no weight given to the individual needs, capacities, or merits of people with disabilities or the positive contributions made by people with disabilities in our society... It is important to emphasize that not only potential immigrants are devalued and dehumanized but also Canadians citizens with disabilities are given the "message" that a disability in itself is enough to prevent a person from becoming a landed immigrant in Canada. Furthermore they are given the "message" that there is nothing a disabled person can contribute to our society nor can they overcome the attitude that they are a 'burden' or have 'excessive demands' on our health care system. Therefore the effect of the Act also has the effect of continuing to devalue persons with disabilities who presently live in Canada and are Canadian citizens."

CCD will provide updates on its progress with the Deol case, as developments occur.

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