"So many dreams at first seem impossible. And then they seem improbable. And then when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable."
~ Christopher Reeve

Thursday, April 17, 2008

UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities To Come Into Force

The following excerpts are from the April 16, 2008, NSACL newsletter:
On Thursday April 3, 2008, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities received its 20th ratification! The Convention will come in to force 30 days following the 20th ratification (May 3, 2008).

Canada has still not ratified the Convention but we are hopeful that this momentum will encourage them to take action. The Canadian Association for Community Living continues to be in touch with the Government of Canada on this issue and will provide updated information as it is received.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has welcomed the entry into force of the first international treaty on the human rights of persons with disabilities, after the required twentieth country ratified “It is a historic moment in our quest for realization of the universal human rights for ALL persons, creating a fully inclusive society for all,” Mr. Ban’s spokesperson Marie Okabe said in a statement celebrating the rapid progress of the Convention on the rights of Persons with Disabilities which was adopted in December 2006.

“The Convention will be a powerful tool to eradicate the obstacle faced by persons with disabilities,” she said, pointing to discrimination, segregation from society, economic marginalization, and lack of opportunities for participation in social, political and economic decision-making processes. Today’s ratification by Ecuador means that the Convention, along with an optional protocol that will allow individuals and groups to petition for relief, will be legally binding as of 3 May. Tunisia and Jordan also ratified the treaty earlier this week.
From my point of view, the real question is "Why Not"?

Why hasn't Canada ratified the Convention?

Do we have a particularly good reason? Or any reason at all?

Is it just not considered politically expedient at this time?


Is it even on the federal government's radar screen?

As I've noted before, the Convention is not binding on any country that has not ratified it. Ratifying the Convention means that the Minister of Foreign Affairs signs an "instrument of ratifiication" which certifies that the government of Canada ratifies the Convention. This "instrument" will then be deposited with the UN.

Although, once the Convention is ratified, the federal government will be obligated to bring its legislation in line with the Convention, this will not bind the provincial governments. Each provincial government is free to make its own decision in that regard. And, unfortunately many of the laws that affect the daily lives of people with disabilities are provincial laws.

However, first things first. It's time to contact Minister Bernier and request demand that Canada ratify the Convention.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

'Sorry, You're A Liability' ... Important Human Rights Issue

Apparently some businesses in this great Province of ours are advising individuals with special needs and their families that their services as employees are not welcome. Wait, let me rephrase that, of course they would be welcome as employees ... provided they provide their own insurance coverage.

Sound strange?

A family in Pictou County has brought a complaint to the Human Rights Commission concerning the actions of two business, Sobeys and Blockbusters. According to the family they were advised by both of these fine corporate citizens that their son would have to provide his own insurance coverage if he wished to work in one of their stores. Without such additional insurance, he was considered a 'liability'. And as a side note, according to the family who, in good faith, made their best efforts to secure such coverage, such insurance doesn't even exist.

The Nova Scotia Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination in respect of employment on the basis of, among other things, physical or mental disability. The Commission will first work to see if some sort of mediated agreement or settlement can be reached between the parties. Failing that, a decision will be made as to whether to forward the complaint to a Board of Inquiry for a hearing.

I must admit that part of me fervently hopes that somehow this family was mistaken, that, as unlikely as it is, they misunderstood the comments of store employees to their enquiries. Not that I really believe that; it's just something I would like to wish to be true. As a lawyer, its very disquieting to think that such practices may be going on in Nova Scotia and, as a parent, it is sickening to consider the possibility.

At any rate, it's certainly an issue to keep an eye on.

I will update you on the complaint as more information becomes available. And if, by chance, your family or someone you know has experienced a similar situation, whether with these employers or others, I would strongly urge you to bring that information forward to the Human Rights Commission. If, indeed, this type of discrimination is being practiced in the Province, it's time to bring it to the light of day and put an immediate end to it.

Such discrimination, if it is occurring, might help to explain statistics like these. (Found on p. 8 of the link)