Monday, June 27, 2016

Canadians with Disabilities Act: consultative process

The comments and opinions in this blog post are my own and don't reflect on my work or personal life.

I was quite pleased to see that the federal government is moving forward with the consultative process for the new Canadians with Disabilities Act that has been assigned to Cabinet Minister Carla Qualtrough. I have made numerous comments to Prime Minister Trudeau and Minister Qualtrough on Twitter and some by email in my advocacy for the accessibility of housing. I feel that an Accessible Canada must unequivocally include accessibility of all types of housing due to the aging of our population and the millions of Canadians who have been identified by Statistics Canada as having mobility disabilities (Participation and Activity Limitation Survey 2006 as an example).

Canadians have been asked to offer their feedback on this legislation and we must accept it as a call to action.
We have ample access to Canadian experts, educators, consultants, and individuals who live their lives surrounded by endless barriers.
We also have access to many best practices that already exist domestically, and internationally, to guide us toward a more inclusive nation. I can't imagine a more appropriate way to ensure a strong and effective CDA than to learn from the successes and failures of others, rather than to repeat mistakes and delay an improvement to the quality of life of millions of Canadians.

My advocacy for equality has primarily focused on accessibility of housing because our homes/dwellings are where we spend the greatest portion of any day and current building code is actively condoning disability discrimination by allowing the exemption of the majority of new housing from barrier-free design (see section of the National Building Code, and the Ontario Building Code as examples). Our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which trumps all other legislation, forbids disability discrimination in section 15,  yet decades later, we continue with this building code exemption.

So here is my advice for a strong and effective Canadians with Disabilities Act:

1- Our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms must not be ignored in the creation of this Act. Minister Qualtrough's experience with the Canadian Human Rights Commission has exposed her to endless precedence in the thousands of disability-related human rights complaints that have been heard nationally. We must ensure that the experience gained by the Commissions and Tribunals is reflected in the CDA, to put an end to regular violations of section 15 of the Charter.

2- Our educational system must teach our students about Charter rights in a more significant way, ensure that their curriculum, policies and built environment are inclusive, and that our colleges and universities are adequately preparing our next generation of professionals and leaders to act according to these Charter rights. So for our architects and designers, ensuring that Universal Design bears equal consideration in the design phase of any project, to ensure a cost-effective approach to new housing (one that is far more economical than renovating for it later on).

3- To ensure that accessibility and Universal Design become ingrained in all areas of our governments to avoid the creation of new barriers with any tax dollars. We can no longer condone any form of discrimination, and this must include an enforcement approach that is clear on monetary penalties and legal liability if future contraventions occur, and with a clear timeline to avoid an unnecessary delay in rectifying the barriers that have been identified.

4- For the built environment, we must learn from existing best practices in accessibility of housing. As an example, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation has had the FlexHousing program for more than two decades, which includes a FlexHouse in Ottawa, as well as a number of demonstration projects nationwide (which also included some of their Equilibrium demonstration projects).
CMHC also has many examples of affordable housing projects that have various levels of accessibility in their Project Profiles.
One wonderful example of such a project would be Place La Charrette in Winnipeg, a best practice worthy of replicating nationwide.
And talking about Winnipeg, we should replicate the Bridgwater project with its mandate of 50% VisitAbility.

5- Let's support Bill C-265.

6- We must learn from the United States and their 26 years of experience with their Americans with Disabilities Act. There are still regular articles about litigation for ADA violations so a cultural shift towards equality and inclusion must also be achieved, and this goes back to our educational system again (and our marketing professionals).

7- We must listen to our special interest groups, and individuals who have faced countless barriers, to ensure that we learn from their decades of experience. Let's also learn from their creativity in finding cost-effective solutions; we already have a clear understanding of the fiscal pressures and realities in all levels of government and our desire to bring down costs. Prevention and early intervention are always far more economical than reacting after a crisis; safer homes mean a decrease in injuries and associated healthcare costs on our already over-burdened public system.

8- Finally, and most importantly, Canada must ratify the Optional Protocol of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (ratified the CRPD in 2010 but omitted the Optional Protocol, the bones of it). The Optional Protocol of the CRPD must form part of the Canadians with Disabilities Act in order to bring international oversight and accountability to our often-neglected human rights, as evidenced by our thousands of human rights complaints per year nationwide. As we have seen in Ontario with our Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, long delays in accessibility standards and weak enforcement have eroded the effectiveness of the AODA and will never bring full accessibility in Ontario by 2025.

So please, get involved in the consultative process and let's create a strong and effective CDA.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Canada must ratify the United Nations CRPD Optional Protocol

New York will be hosting many international delegates at the United Nations Headquarters for the CRPD meetings from June 14th to 16th.
I have been quite vocal on Twitter with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Cabinet Minister Carla Qualtrough in suggesting that Canada should ratify the Optional Protocol, please allow me to explain why.

The late Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau brought us the Constitution Act 1982, which included the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Unfortunately, it appears that section 15 of the Charter, which forbids disability discrimination since 1982, isn't taken very seriously judging by the thousands of human rights complaints that have been received by our human rights commissions and tribunals nationwide.
It's important to understand that no other Canadian legislation trumps the CCRF yet the photo above identifies 3,234 disability-related complaints to the Canadian Human Rights Commission for the 2009-2014 time frame. It seems quite evident to me that section 15 of the CCRF needs to be strengthened and I believe that one way to accomplish this would be for Canada to ratify the Optional Protocol of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Canada ratified the CRPD in 2010 but unfortunately didn't ratify the Optional Protocol, which would ensure a complaints process for any individual or group who would wish to have the CRPD Committee hear their CRPD concerns from Canada.

It's my personal opinion that combining section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the CRPD Optional Protocol would bring a level of international accountability to Canada's human rights that would help to ensure the fundamental rights of millions of Canadians with disabilities, far more than the proposed Canadians with Disabilities Act (which will take years and millions of dollars to bring into law whereas everything is already in effect at the UN).

So what will happen in New York from June 14th to 16th during the CRPD meetings? I'm not sure yet but I sure hope that Canada will announce the ratification of the Optional Protocol in order for our nation to move forward with full inclusion of all its citizens. "The measure of any nation is how it cares for its most vulnerable" and its various other paraphrasing brings awareness that Canada can and should do far better for its citizens with disabilities. I honestly feel that ratifying the Optional Protocol would be a clear example of how to move forward in a concrete manner, with the guidance and assistance from the United Nations.