Advocate for Change: Disability/Deaf Issues and the Federal Election

Saturday June 20th, 2015

Vangelis Nikias,
CRPD Project Manager,
Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD)


On behalf of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD), I would like to thank the Center for Independent Living in Toronto (CILT) for its invitation to today’s event, and congratulate CILT for this very timely initiative.  It attests to the excellent community service and leadership CILT has been providing over the years.

During the next few minutes, I want to share some thoughts about political participation, to mention some key provisions of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), as well as relevant recommendations developed  by the Community University Research Alliance (CURA), a project led by CCD. 


An appropriate starting-point, if somewhat high level, to discuss the fundamental importance of participating politically in the affairs of our country, Canada, is to talk about the supreme law, Canada’s Constitution. 

The Equality Section of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (CCRF)  has been a very significant reference point for the effort of Canadians with disabilities and other equality-seeking groups in pursuing politically and judicially the amelioration of our material living conditions.  Section 15 1.  states: “Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.”. 

The first draft of CCRF did not include protection for persons with disabilities, nor, indeed, for Canadian women.  It was left up to representative organizations (such as CCD) to fight and, ultimately, achieve inclusion.

While discussing CCRF, I think it is critical to also mention Section 14 which is especially pertinent to today’s topic.  It states: “14. A party or witness in any proceedings who does not understand or speak the language in which the proceedings are conducted or who is deaf has the right to the assistance of an interpreter.”

Political participation happens in at least three ways.  First, we participate as individual citizens in elections and we interact with our members of parliament.  Second, we participate through our representative organizations.  Third, we participate as members or friends of mainstream groups, such as students’ councils, parents’ associations, labour unions, and many other community groups.  These three ways are complementary and mutually reinforcing.


In order to participate effectively, especially in the upcoming federal election, we need to be equipped with certain tools.  Let me mention three which I consider very important.

First, we need to be well-informed about the issues we want to raise and to be able to support them with reasonable arguments.  (I will come back to this shortly.)

Second, we need to be prepared to attend meetings, media events, for example, call-in shows, write letters, make phone calls, etc.

Third, we must also do our homework in relation to how, where and when we can vote.  In relation to this task, let me bring to your attention the following useful information sources about voter registration, voter identification, accessibility and any other questions you may have.

Telephone: 1-800-463-6868 
TTY: 1-800-361-8935

Let me now return to the first point.

Political Legitimacy Grounds/Sources

Sometimes directly and other times indirectly, candidates may question the legitimacy of what you are suggesting or, better yet, demanding.

Canadians rely for their political decisions on various grounds and sources.  Obviously, Canada’s Constitution and, in particular, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (CCRF), human rights and accessibility legislation, political commitments made in speeches, faith-based ethics, humanistic values, constitute such grounds.  

The one I want to focus on today is international human rights law. 

3. CRPD 

One of the advantages of international human rights law is that it is the product of long, sometimes painstaking, collaboration between many political units (states) and representative groups of civil society.  CRPD is the most recent example of such an effort. Moreover, CRPD is of particular significance to persons with disabilities because we actively participated in its elaboration.  It is a document that Canada has ratified (agreed to) through a unanimous resolution of the House of Commons and with the agreement of all Canadian provinces and territories.  In other words, CRPD is a document enjoying, at least in principle, very wide political support in Canada.  It is now up to us to make sure that this political support is translated into practical action.

Let me share with you four CRPD general provisions which you can use to educate political candidates. 

In the Preamble, Canada has agreed that …” persons with disabilities continue to face barriers in their participation as equal members of society and violations of their human rights in all parts of the world,”… (para k).   Therefore, Canada has undertaken the general obligation to take action to correct the above-mentioned problems (Art. 4.1).  In particular, in relation to economic problems, Canada has recognized “the right of persons with disabilities to an adequate standard of living for themselves and their families, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions”… (Art. 28.1.).  Further, Canada has undertaken “to take measures to the maximum of its available resources”… (Art. 4.2).

Now, I would like to share with you some examples of specific CRPD provisions addressing matters of particular interest to persons experiencing deafness.  First, according to Art. 2: "“Language” includes spoken and signed languages and other forms of non-spoken languages;”.  Second, Canada, as well as provinces and territories have agreed to take appropriate measures to “Provide forms of live assistance and intermediaries, including guides, readers and professional sign language interpreters, to facilitate accessibility to buildings and other facilities open to the public; (Art. 9. 2. (e).)   Third, Canada has agreed to recognize, accept, facilitate and encourage the use of sign languages (Art. 21).

As CCD has been concerned about poverty, unemployment, lack of disability supports and accessibility barriers, it has been looking for opportunities to conduct research in support of its policy-reform efforts.   


A few years ago, CCD, working with four universities, was successful in obtaining funding for a research project under the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.  As a result, CCD has led a multi-year policy-reform research effort called "Disabling Poverty and Enabling Citizenship."

Background research papers for this CURA project can be found on the CCD website at:

(In fact, I think you all have received print and/or electronic copies of the paper.)

The research project is structured around four themes:

  • Poverty and Exclusion;
  • Income Security and Social Policy;
  • Poverty, Disability and Equality;
  • Policy Reform: Roles of State and Society.

One of the key findings of CURA is that “Even with some targeted investments in certain public programs, changes to some tax measures, and efforts by charities and community agencies, significant gaps in supports and services, and therefore unmet needs, remain across the country for both children and working-age persons with disabilities.”

The CURA project has formulated recommendations for the federal government, for provinces and territories and for all governments in Canada.

Today, by way of example, I want to mention three that are addressed to the federal government.
First, the federal government should convert the Disability Tax Credit (DTC) to a refundable disability tax credit. A refundable disability tax credit would extend compensation for the extra costs of disability to the lowest-income people with disabilities living in poverty.  This means that the federal government should make the DTC a refundable tax credit equal to the maximum current value of $2,000 per year.  As a result, everyone eligible for the DTC should get the full value of $2,000 credit regardless of their income or their employment status.

Second, every person with a disability of a year's duration who has Canada Pension Plan-Disability (CPP-D) should automatically be qualified for the Disability Tax Credit.

Third, the federal government should extend the duration of the Employment Insurance (EI) sickness benefit from the current maximum duration of 15 weeks to 50 weeks, for those eligible who have a prolonged or episodic and serious illness or health condition.


I call on you to overcome any reluctance, fears, inhibitions you may have in becoming politically active.  In the above brief presentation, I have tried to show you that our active participation has been the most important factor in the progress we have achieved thus far.  There is no doubt our participation in the political affairs of our country, at all levels, is the key to future success.  Working together, and in close collaboration with our governments, on a non-partisan basis, we can achieve an accessible and inclusive Canada, and this way, we can improve our living conditions and build a better society for all.

Let me close with a CURA recommendation that requires federal leadership, but also cooperation by provincial/territorial governments.  The ratification of the CRPD must now be followed up by an implementation plan that makes the promise of the CRPD a reality for Canadians with disabilities. In developing and implementing such a plan, governments must work closely with representative organizations of persons with disabilities (CRPD Art. 4.3).  This way, the motto: “nothing about us without us” will be respected.  It is, after all, a proven key to future success.

Thank you.