Signature of the UN Convention is a good start but Canada has less protection for those living with disabilities than gays or people of different races

Stephen Harper champion of disabilities

There is considerable enthusiasm for the Harper government’s ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.Canada ratifies UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

A post this morning Harper Government best Federal Champion Persons with Disabilities have ever had boasts of Harper’s affinity for the human rights of those living with disabilities. If that claim is true, it only demonstrates how pitiful Canada’s efforts at equality and inclusion have been.

Canadian’s with disabilities are routinely barred from employment, education, public buildings, and restaurants. Other than native Canadians, we have the lowest income of any enumerated minority in the Canadian Charter. Despite more than 15 years since the Kirby report outlined our miserable status in Canadian society, little other than platitudes has been achieved.

Canada lacks comprehensive rights legislation similar to the US Americans with Disabilities Act or the UK Disabilities Discrimination Act. When the daily acts of discrimination occur, the disabled in Canada must resort to court action at their own expense. They can also file a claim with provincial human rights commissions which again costs money for lawyers and takes from 5 to 10 years to adjudicate.

Each year the Minister responsible for People with Disabilities issues a report that is long on rhetoric and short on improvements. Most of the programs are old and merely pick at the edges of the problem.

Rick Hansen, paralympics, RDSPs are window dressing on the day-to-day problems faced by 4 million of Canada’s citizens many of whom live in poverty and daily suffering.

If this is a sign the Harper government is actually going to do something to improve our status, more power to them. However, Prime Minister Harper is the media manipulator posing for photo ops around the world to disguise his weak social policies. When we see real programs that improve the status of people today, we’ll applaud.

There are those who believe otherwise.

Harper Government best Federal Champion Persons with Disabilities have ever had

By Al Etmanski

I believe the Harper Government is hands down the most effective Federal champion people with disabilities and their families have ever had.

The March11th ratification by Canada of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is a significant addition to the unprecedented commitment of Prime Minister Harper and his Cabinet . First, hearty congratulations to the Hon. Lawrence Cannon, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and to the pivotal role played by so many advocates particularly the Canadian Council on Disabilities and the Canadian Association for Community Living ( CACL) . This ratification represents a marvelous collaboration of advocates, politicians and public servants. A classic case study on effective change making.

Credit where credit is due. The Harper Government’s commitments are impressive: establishment of the world’s first Registered Disability Savings Plan ; creation and ongoing financial support for the Mental Health Commission of Canada ; major commitment to Spinal Cord Research through Rick Hansen’s Foundation; extension of the Child Fitness tax credit to age 18 for youth with disabilities; establishment of the Enabling Accessibility Fund for community centres across Canada; enhanced tax credits for workers with disabilities; support for the 2010 Paralympics and continuing financial commitment to the Canadian Paralympic Committee; and now the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Some of these are small but long overdue changes. Others are transformational like the RDSP which directly addresses the poverty experienced by hundreds of thousands of persons with disabilities in Canada. The RDSP along with the UN Convention also illustrates Canada’s global leadership on removing barriers and securing the full inclusion of people with disabilities.

Can anyone think of another Federal Government which has advanced the disability agenda so far? I can’t. And with so many Cabinet champions. I can recall years of door knocking in Ottawa simply to get the attention of a Policy Adviser to one Cabinet Minister. Today, I count 5 disability champions around the Cabinet table, six if you include the Prime Minister. The lead seems to be Finance Minister Jim Flaherty whose budgets continue to reflect his commitment to the economic inclusion of citizens with disabilities; then, the Hon. Peter MacKay who first signed the Convention as Foreign Minister and continued to demonstrate leadership on this file after he became Minister of National Defense. Next, the Hon. Lawrence Cannon who kept up the momentum on the Convention, bringing Provinces and Territories on board and ensuring it was signed the day before Canada welcomed Paralympians from 45 countries to Vancouver. Then the Hon. Diane Finley who has expertly steered the implementation of most of these initiatives through her department, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. Finally, the Hon Stephen Fletcher who demonstrates that enabling the contributions of all people with disabilities benefits all Canadians.

Lest anyone think the Prime Minister is simply an observer, think again. At a PLAN event last fall in Vancouver to celebrate the RDSP, the PM impressed everyone with his understanding, authenticity, warmth and commitment toward people with disabilities and their families. These initiatives clearly have his full blessing.

This is a golden era for the disability movement in Canada. I think it is time to organize the biggest celebration Ottawa and the disability community has ever enjoyed.

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