Sunday, April 23, 2017

Architectural barriers in new dwellings versus human rights in housing

Here's a brief explanation of the basis for my advocacy/activism in removing architectural barriers in new dwellings.


-The City of Ottawa Older Adult Plan had a 2016 mandate to promote adaptable, age-friendly homes, which has yet to be fulfilled. There's a clear correlation between aging and an increase in disabilities (or decreased physical abilities) which should actually encourage a clear action plan in housing.
-The World Health Organization certified Ottawa as an Age-Friendly City so architectural barriers in new dwellings seem to put this certification in question.
-The City of Ottawa Accessibility Design Standards (2015 update) encourage VisitAbility for the residential sector on page 194 but how is this actually happening in private dwellings? The one section of the Ontario Building Code that actually requires VisitAbility [OBC (5)] in one type of dwelling is facing exemptions in some Ottawa projects. I've alerted Mayor Watson to this fact by making reference to building permits issued since January 1, 2015, when this became law. I have yet to receive a satisfactory response on the evidence that I've provided (see #OBC38215 on Twitter for some of the information if you're curious).


-The Ontario Human Rights Code forbids disability discrimination and also speaks of the Occupancy of Accommodation. Seeing as the Ontario Human Rights Code has primacy over the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act and the Ontario Building Code (and their limitations and failures), why are architectural barriers in new dwellings allowed to continue? The Ontario Human Rights Commission has also published information regarding disability discrimination in housing yet fails to enforce its mandate against discriminatory policy like Ontario Building Code section, which exempts houses from barrier-free design requirements.


-The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms forbids disability discrimination in section 15 since 1985. 2017 being Canada's 150th anniversary, it would be an opportune time to end 32 years of discriminatory federal policy, like our National Building Code section
-My Code Change Request #964 with the Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes has hundreds of documents attached that substantiate my request to abolish NBC in houses and offer VisitAbility in new dwellings (submission on June 30, 2015 and ongoing).

United Nations:

-Canada ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2010 (yet continues to omit the Optional Protocol, the real power behind this convention). Architectural barriers in new dwellings violate Articles 9 (which speaks of accessibility of housing) and 19 as two examples from this convention, among others. A recent review of Canada by the UN wasn't very flattering, here's their report if you'd like proof:

-Canada adopted the New Urban Agenda 2030 on October 20, 2016. Within the NUA 2030 is the Sustainable Development Goal #11 (Inclusive Cities and Communities) and their emphasis on disability-inclusive development and Universal Design of the built environment (which includes housing). Canada's commitments at the UN should compel us to act promptly but delay tactics reinforce status quo.


All countries are struggling with aging populations, and the impact that this will have across many sectors, which includes housing. To continue building new dwellings with architectural barriers brings forward the following concerns:

-There are the obvious human rights violations against persons with disabilities (also persons with activity limitations). Excluding Canadians with disabilities or activity limitations from the majority of our new housing stock is inexcusable The need is growing for dwellings that adapt to our changing abilities and needs so current policy that ignores this fact seems contrary to logic.
-The strain that is added to our public health system by injuries sustained in our unsafe dwellings: falls in Canada cost 2 billion dollars per year, roughly 50% of those exorbitant costs are for seniors falling in their homes. Our Canadian Standards Association B651-12 has wonderful standards for accessibility, which includes residential in section 7, so why wouldn't we improve section 3.8 in our provincial and territorial building codes and ensure that the residential sector uses CSA B651-12?
-Domestic and international research has clearly stated that Universal Design features in new construction are low to negligible in cost (VisitAbility being the cheapest and easiest to accomplish). I have personally seen beautiful design that dispels the ongoing myths and biases.
-Continuing with architectural barriers in new dwellings exposes our housing industry to the risk of litigation on the basis of discrimination and injuries and deaths. Why would they risk this when there are best practices within our own borders that they could easily implement? And why does our insurance industry not realize that removing architectural barriers in new dwellings would actually decrease their liability to claims and their clients' risk of litigation.

We need strong leadership to correct all of the above, I have yet to see any level of government act promptly on abolishing human rights violations in new dwellings. It's shameful, we must to better.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

After ten years of advocacy for human rights in housing, I'm tired and admitting that it's time for a break.

-I'm tired of spending thousands of hours and thousands of dollars on advocacy when only a small minority of Canadians care about human rights in housing. It's been a hard pill to swallow.

-I'm tired of rhetoric by all levels of government in Canada. I judge leaders on their actions...what I've seen in ten years is that our weak leaders are perfectly content with status quo and token efforts/programs. There continues to be thousands of human rights complaints per year, even though we've forbidden disability discrimination since 1985 in section 15 of our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The simple fact that government policy is often contrary to section 15 of our Charter speaks volumes. Case in point, our building codes that continue to exempt homes from barrier-free design requirements, flat out shameful.

-I'm tired of our housing industry who in large part is perfectly content in continuing to deliver dwellings that are full of architectural barriers which exclude a growing percentage of our population, and are missing the business case for accessibility (that it can actually increase your profitability if done properly). There are innovators and entrepreneurs who get it, so it's not all bad.

-I'm tired of collecting domestic and international research documents, which provide clear evidence of best practices, that largely get ignored. The same goes for photos of Universal Design that prove that it can be done beautifully when you have skilled individuals.

-I'm tired of Canadians who seem perfectly content in being reactionary rather than proactive. There's wisdom in planning for changing needs and abilities; it seems to be the norm to wait for a crisis before acting, which unfortunately compounds the stress and expense.

-I'm tired of Canada's credibility evaporating at the United Nations. We've made commitments to a number of Conventions that see little to no concrete action, yet again rhetoric by weak leaders.

After ten years, I've finally gotten discouraged by the facts listed above. It's time for a break, I'm tired of banging my head against the wall.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Commentary on Canada and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

You may wish to be sitting down for this commentary because it will be a factual rant, one based on years of advocacy.

Here are some facts:
-Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms has forbidden disability discrimination since 1985. Our provincial and territorial human rights commissions and tribunals face regular human rights complaints based on this one section of our Charter.
-Canada ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2010 but omitted the Optional Protocol, the accountability portion of the CRPD. Canada announced on December 1, 2016 that it was reviewing the accession of the Optional Protocol, with a public consultation concluding on March 16, 2017. Consultations with provincial and territorial governments are still ongoing.
-Canada's first review by the United Nations CRPD Committee was this week, April 3rd and 4th in Geneva. If you wish to view 6 hours of video for the open portions of this review, here are the links (some of the questions by the CRPD Committee members are unflattering to say the least, in some cases an embarrassment to our human rights credibility):
Day 1, April 3rd

Day 2, April 4th

If you're not already aware of what the Convention and Optional Protocol are, please see the following:

If you wish to read the many reports leading up to this week's review, please scroll down to the section on Canada, which also includes two reports from the Canadian Human Rights Commission (see "Info from Civil Society Organizations (for LOI's)", which is the List of Issues and "Info from NHRIs (for the session)":

I hope you're sitting because my tact filter is now officially off.

Let's start with section 15 of our Charter. Our very own Canadian Human Rights Commission submitted a report to the United Nations on human rights complaints which highlights some significant concerns with the chronic abuse of section 15 in every province and territory. Here's that report, which highlights thousands of human rights complaints per year, precisely 41, 728 complaints between 2009 and 2013 (which doesn't account for the fact that many Canadians didn't bother going through this painfully long process, so the numbers are higher than reported):

Let's move on to systemic discrimination, such as ignoring legal precedent from the Supreme Court of Canada. like their decision on Eldrige v BC (1997):

Further systemic discrimination, which is the main basis of my years of advocacy, is the National Building Code of Canada, section which continues to exempt houses from barrier-free design requirements (where we spend the greatest portion of any day, where the vast majority of Canadians wish to remain as they age (85%), where injuries from falls have cost billions to our health care system, and where hundreds of deaths per year occur due to poor design which makes our homes unsafe). Here's an excerpt from the 2010 edition of the NBC:

Rather than simply continue complaining about our NBC, I brought forward a Code Change Request (CCR964) on June 30, 2015, which is still ongoing as you'll see for this upcoming May 1-3/17 meeting in Ottawa:

If you wish to know more about the content of this Code Change Request, please see the following summary document from my Dropbox:

My Code Change Request is based on domestic and international research documents and best practices of Universal Design (VisitAbility is the most basic and economical form of Universal Design, the primary goal is to remove architectural barriers that discriminate by excluding a growing percentage of Canadians). It's also important to highlight that our National Building Code section not only violates section 15 of our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (which forms part of our Constitution Act 1982) but also Article 9 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (which includes accessibility of housing). I take all of this very seriously as you can see.

Back to the CRPD review of Canada earlier this week. I mentioned that the CRPD Committee asked some tough questions, including matters pertaining to our hundreds of murdered and missing aboriginal women, administrative segregation of prisoners with mental health disabilities, the federal government's efforts to implement the CRPD with our provinces and territories, and the list goes on. There were some very important questions asked, which brought embarrassment to our international reputation as a human rights leader. We must remember that two political parties have been in power since we ratified this Convention in 2010, the PCs and Liberals, yet status quo is ongoing. In my opinion, it's shameful and a true testament of our lack of political will on disability rights in Canada. Our history is not flattering when you consider institutionalizations, abuse/neglect, and current issues with poverty and low employment rates, inadequate housing options, etc.

In order for Canada to regain some of its clout on the international stage, we must act immediately to accede/ratify the Optional Protocol, we must ensure that the CRPD forms an important function in the creation of our Canadians with Disabilities Act (tentatively 2018), our 2017 National Housing Strategy must be based on our recent commitment to the United Nations New Urban Agenda 2030 (and the associated Sustainable Development Goal #11 for sustainable cities and communities), and we must put an end to systemic discrimination at all levels of government that perpetuate discriminatory policy, such as our National Building Code section Prime Minister Trudeau's omissions in 2017 will weigh heavily on his government if this is allowed to persist any longer. We must end chronic violations of section 15 of our Charter and of the CRPD, enough is enough. We need decisive action...immediately.