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Council of Canadians With Disabilities: Working For Human Rights

Editor's Note: Editor's Note: April D'Aubin lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where she is research analyst for the Council of Canadians with Disabilities.

In the Seventies, people with disabilities organized local and provincial advocacy organizations to counter discrimination and to speak for ourselves. In 1976, these groups formed a coalition, establishing the Coalition of Provincial Organizations of the Handicapped (COPOH), later renamed the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD). In the late 70s and 80s, CCD established itself on the national scene by: conducting voter education campaigns during Federal Elections, having volunteers visit their MPs in the House of Commons, convincing the Canadian Transport Agency to undertake hearings on the transportation issues of persons with disabilities, advocating for the inclusion of disability in the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Twenty-five years later, CCD's advocacy continues with volunteers working in partnership, nationally and internationally with a variety of organizations to advance the solutions to discrimination, developed by the disability rights movement: a proposed UN Convention to protect the rights of persons with disabilities, a disability related supports program, a fairer tax system for people with disabilities, an accessible rail system, and challenges to discrimination in the courts, to name only a few of the issues on CCD's agenda.

Proposed UN Convention to Protect the Rights of Persons with Disabilities-In August, Steve Estey, Chairperson of CCD's International Development Committee and Mary Ennis, CCD Vice Chairperson, participated in meetings at the United Nations regarding the development of a UN convention to protect the rights of persons with disabilities. When participants left New York, it was felt that a strong foundation had been established for undertaking the development of the convention. Steve and Mary participated in the October 2002 World Assembly of Disabled Peoples' International (DPI), where the convention was a major focus on the agenda.

Disability Related Supports-CCD, and other disability organizations, are advocating for a disability related supports program. Disability related supports are any good or service that assists a person with a disability in overcoming barriers to carrying out every day activities or to social, political, and cultural activities and economic participation. CCD is promoting A National Disability Related Supports Plan that builds on the work of In Unison and other past research. The Plan would see a federal transfer of funds to provinces and territories for investment in disability support initiatives.

Disability related supports must be provided for individuals across the life span-children, youth, adults, and seniors, respite for families of children with disabilities, educational supports for youth, work place accommodations for adults and home supports for seniors. Supports must address the particular needs of Aboriginal people with disabilities, women, visible minorities and the broad community of persons with disabilities.

A National Disability Related Supports Plan would help equalize supports and ensure the mobility rights of persons with disabilities. It should be governed by a framework agreement developed jointly by federal, provincial, territorial governments, First Nations and disability rights' organizations.

The components of a National Disability Related Supports Plan are: 1. A long-term commitment to improving disability related supports is required (minimum 5 years). The disability community recognizes that resource allocations cannot be achieved in one year and that progress will need to be staged. 2. Disability related supports fall primarily within provincial and territorial jurisdiction. Any plan must be based upon agreed upon priorities established at provincial and territorial levels through a process of consultation with the disability community. Municipal governments often play a critical role in service delivery and means of involving them must be found. The community seeks to ensure comparable services across Canada that will ensure mobility rights. 3. A commitment to a Plan requires a commitment to identifying targets and measurable outcomes and the establishment of reporting mechanisms for monitoring progress. Such tools must be developed jointly by representatives of both levels of government and the disability community. Service investments must address those who face significant barriers and not simply address the needs of those who are easily accommodated. 4. Investment must also address disability across the life cycle and assist children, youth, adults and seniors.

A Fairer Tax System-Through its Social Policy Working Group, CCD has been advocating a tax system that is fairer for persons with disabilities. CCD's long range goal is a refundable Disability Tax Credit (DTC); however, this will not be achieved in the short term, as the Federal Government seems determined to make it harder for people with disabilities to qualify for the existing credit. Minister Manley announced his intention to amend tax law to make eligibility even more stringent. This led to an immediate outcry from the disability community, one which was heard by both the media and politicians. Hopefully, the pressure that is being brought to bear on the Government by the community will encourage them to revise their position on the DTC and make it fairer for people with disabilities.

Accessible Travel-Fighting for mobility rights has been a major focus at CCD since its earliest day. CCD, through its Transportation Committee chaired by Pat Danforth, continues to work for a transportation system governed by the principles of universal design. In December 2000, CCD filed a complaint with the Canadian Transportation Agency because VIA rail purchased inaccessible European passenger rail cars; and almost two years and several appeals to the Federal Court later, CCD continues to wait for the CTA to render a decision. The CTA is mandated to provide decisions on complaints within 120 days. Macleans Magazine recently carried the following Letter to the Editor outlining CCD's concerns with VIA's new inaccessible Renaissance cars: "The new Renaissance trains are not accessible to 15 per cent of Canadians-those with disabilities. The cars are in fact less accessible than VIA's old rolling stock. VIA missed a golden opportunity to bring barrier-free cars into service. Canadian manufacturer Bombardier constructs accessible passenger rail cars that are sold in the United States for use by AMTRAK. Passenger rail is an important symbol of Canadian nationalism. With the incorporation of the Renaissance cars into the VIA system, Canadian rail is becoming a symbol of exclusion and discrimination to people with disabilities." Pat Danforth, Transportation Committee Chairperson, Council of Canadians with Disabilities, Winnipeg."

Challenges to Discrimination in the Courts-CCD's Human Rights Committee, which is chaired by Jim Derksen, has undertaken a number of court challenges which have sought to bring offending pieces of legislation into conformity with the equality demands of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Currently, CCD is working on two cases, Faulkner and Deol, where it is seeking intervener status. The Faulkner case arises out of the income security system and seeks to challenge practices whereby income security recipients who live with other people have their incomes reduced. Some people with disabilities, who receive income security, sometimes choose to live with others, who provide them some type of disability-related support. CCD seeks to have this discriminatory practice brought to an end so that people with disabilities are not penalized for availing themselves of a disability-related support. The Deol case seeks to challenge discriminatory practices in the immigration system which prevent people with disabilities from coming to Canada to live. The immigration system confuses disability with illness and refuses to grant immigrant status to people with disabilities because they wrongly believe that people with disabilities place an undue burden on the health and social service system. CCD has been working on the immigration issue since the early 80s, when it focused federal election candidates' attention on the aforementioned discrimination in the immigration system and challenged them to address this issue. While there has been some minimal law reform in this area, it has not gone far enough to satisfy CCD, so CCD has turned to the courts for redress.