Chairperson's Update: April 2009

April 17 was Equality Day—the 24th anniversary of the coming into effect of Section 15, the Equality Rights Section, of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The other sections came into effect on 17 April 1982. Governments were given a grace period to bring offending legislation into line with the equality requirements of Section 15. Unfortunately, the legislative reforms put forward by the Federal Government did not result in substantive equality for persons with disabilities. However, through our own strategic test case litigation and the interpretations of Section 15 made by the courts, the Equality Rights section has been removing barriers to equality, inclusion and full citizenship for persons with disabilities. As a result, CCD continues to apply an equality rights analysis in all its work. In this Update, I will report on the activities in support of equality undertaken this month by CCD’s volunteers and staff. Our activities focused on human rights, access to technology and building accessible and inclusive communities.

Human Rights

This month CCD focused a great deal of attention on the advancement of human rights. We worked on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Universal Periodic Review of Canada, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, and access to legal services for persons with disabilities.

Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)—On 8 April 2009, Laurie Beachell, CCD’s National Coordinator, participated in a conference call with representatives from the Federal Departments of Justice, DFAIT, Heritage and HRSDC to discuss a community consultation regarding Canada’s ratification of the CRPD. It is expected that the consultation for national organizations will take place before the end of June. The Government will also launch an on-line process for input.

On 16 April 2009, Yvonne Peters, a CCD Human Rights Committee member, made a presentation on the CRPD at LEAF Manitoba’s Equality Day Celebration. Yvonne’s presentation provided an opportunity for members of Manitoba’s women’s and legal communities to learn more about the CRPD.

Universal Periodic Review of Canada—On 20 April 2009, Steve Estey appeared before the Senate Committee on Human Rights and Poverty, which was studying the Universal Periodic Review of Canada’s human rights record by the United Nations.

On 21 April 2009, Steve Estey and representatives from other equality rights communities met with Federal Government officials regarding Canada’s response to questions that were posed during the Universal Periodic Review. Community organizations have been pushing for more community consultation as Canada prepares its submissions to the Human Rights Council on both its human rights record and how it plans to address areas of concern identified by its reviewers, other UN members states.

Canadian Museum for Human Rights—On 22 April 2009, Laurie Beachell participated in a day-long meeting of the Museum’s Content Advisory Committee, which is advising on the programming that will be delivered by the Museum. On 24 April 2009, CCD coordinated a meeting, focusing on universal design and access, with Smith Carter, the local architecture firm overseeing the building of the Museum. Participants provided Smith Carter advice on parking, ramps, classroom access, telephone access, flooring, etc.

Access to Legal Services for Persons with Disabilities—Both individuals with disabilities and disability rights organizations need access to legal counsel. Over the years, ARCH has been a very important legal resource for the disability community, providing CCD with legal counsel for many interventions. On 9 April 2009, John Rae and Laurie Beachell met by conference call with Ivana Petricone on ARCH’s strategic plan.

Access to Technology

On 23 April 2009, Kier Martin, Chairperson of CCD’s Access to Technology Committee, and Laurie Beachell participated in a conference call meeting with Bell Canada to respond to Bell’s initial proposals about how it will be using the deferral account funds to improve access to telecommunications service for persons with disabilities. (On February 16, 2006, in Decision Telecom 2006-9, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission ruled that over $650 million dollars of telephone subscriber fees that had been raised by approved higher rates for telephone service should be spent by Bell and other phone companies, to build high-speed Internet connections to rural and remote areas and to improve access for persons with disabilities.)

Building Accessible and Inclusive Communities

On 2 April 2009, CCD hosted a conference call meeting with the Coordinators of CCD’s provincial member groups. As you will recall, CCD has been working to ensure that all funding in the Federal Government’s stimulus package contributes to the development of accessible and inclusive communities. During this meeting, organizational representatives shared how they have been working with their provincial governments on this issue and other matters.

In conclusion, I would like to wish everyone a “Happy New Year”, as this is the beginning of another new fiscal year. Indeed, the fact that the funding for our organizations has been renewed for three years is something worth celebrating. This past couple of months staff in all the disability rights organizations have been busy writing project proposals and reporting on last year’s money. Now, with this new fiscal year well under way, the next task before us is to get increased momentum on our long term goal—the implementation of our National Action Plan.