You are here:

Editorial: The Elusive Search For Equality

Since the emergence of Canada's disability rights movement in the 70s, much progress has been achieved in the area of legal rights, and this equitable legal framework has been applied in numerous cases, including some that have been decided by the Supreme Court of Canada. At the same time, however, our movement has made far less progress in the areas of economic and social rights, and as a whole Canadians with disabilities remain one of the poorest and most unemployed groups in Canadian society.

This reality was reinforced when CNIB's National Needs Study was released last November. The 352 consumers who participated paint a grim picture of continuing unemployment, isolation and poverty, areas of life, which have shown little improvement since the last, study some 30 long years ago. Today, in an era of neo-conservatism, much of our work still involves trying to remove old barriers and to maintain the gains that have been hard won.

Achieving comprehensive human rights protection at the federal, provincial and territorial levels was a hard struggle, and Ontario is now considering implementing a BC-style system of "direct access", where complainants would take their cases directly to the human rights tribunal. While most would argue the Ontario Human Rights Commission could use improvements, after years of chronic under-funding it should come as no surprise that its critics are seeking an overhaul in the system.

However, despite assurances, Ontario's Bill 107 does not guarantee complainants promised legal representation before the Tribunal, and at this time the proposed new system is likely to make it tougher, and not easier, for complainants to seek needed redress from discrimination.

Human rights work throughout Canada needs increased funding and real government commitment!

At the federal level, on May 19, the Supreme Court of Canada heard the Via Rail case, and justices reserved their judgment. This case reminds us of how ineffective Canada's system of voluntary codes of practice is, and how important it is to implement a mandatory approach.

During the last federal election, the Conservatives, NDP and Green Parties made various mentions of enacting some kind of National Disabilities Act. This concept remains a controversial issue within Canada's disability rights movement. Some groups see it as a possible step forward given progress made under the Americans With Disabilities Act; some feel we must work with its proponents to help make it as effective as possible; and others fear it will fail to achieve what we really need--a focus on reducing poverty, increasing employment, and funding for needed disability supports. These are issues, which will require provincial and territorial support to finally achieve implementation.

On the international scene, Canada is playing a leading role in the development of the proposed UN International Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (ICRPD). While this will likely be of greatest assistance to the millions of persons with disabilities who live in the under-developed world, it is also important to disabled Canadians. It must be strong and enforceable, so we will maintain the gains we have made here in Canada, and if effective, a strong Convention can be used to bring added pressure for new gains at home. Canada now needs to show its commitment by developing a policy within the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) that applies a "disability lens" to all of its funding support worldwide.

Canada's electoral system remains inaccessible to many citizens who wish to participate. This includes some polls still being located in inaccessible locations, candidates meetings without amplification systems for persons who are deaf or hard of hearing, and continuing difficulties to secure party platforms and campaign literature in formats electors who are blind, deaf-blind or partially sighted can read. In addition, political parties have done far too little to reach out to the disabled community as workers at election time, staff, or potential candidates, and despite CCD's (Council of Canadians with Disabilities) "Election Challenges" during federal elections, our issues still receive only scant attention.

In an article in the Toronto Star, "Legislature Needs More Women, Party Leaders All Agree" (June 15, 2006), Robert Benzie described an unusual event in the Ontario Legislature. Debate was interrupted for 15 minutes while all three party leaders gave their commitments to nominate more women candidates in the next provincial election.

While it is easy to support greatly increased representation of women in all areas of politics, when will parties give similar attention to other chronically under-represented groups like racial minorities, First Nations Peoples and persons with disabilities?

The AEBC believes that greater equality for Canadians with disabilities would come if more persons with disabilities were directly involved in all sectors--working in the media, shopping in barrier-free stores, and encouraged to participate fully in all aspects of the political process.