Let's Get Federal!

For those who may not know, I am fortunate enough to have been born with a physical disability. I also have been fortunate enough to have obtained an academic education in human rights, including a Masters of Law in the subject. So, not surprisingly, I have an interest in disability rights. And after years of nurturing that interest, both in the classroom and in my every day life, I have come to one unavoidable conclusion. Canada has got the approach wrong.

Let’s take a brief, blog post-sized look at Canada’s disability rights landscape. On an international level, we have signed and ratified the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. On a national level, disability is protected as a ground in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom. But both of those pillars are vague and lack the concrete elements that disability rights often need. And that is where the provinces come in…supposedly. The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, which came into force in 2008 is designed to offer concrete, actionable legislation on disability rights. Manitoba’s Accessibility for Manitobans Act, enacted in 2012, follows a similar model. Here’s the problem; downloading disability rights to the provincial legislatures does not work.

Ontario’s AODA, in my opinion, is a toothless and ineffective band-aid for people with disabilities. Since its arrival, the government has failed to turn what was a promising start into real action to advance basic rights. There has been a lot of talk among those at the top but very little action, not to mention no strategies for implementation. Was it a good starting point? Absolutely. Will it get disability rights where they need to be for future generations? Not a chance.

The biggest problem is that there is no national, coordinated effort  to realize disability rights. In my view, we will continue to struggle with hard-to-implement provincial legislation until we wake up to the fact that a federal act is what is needed. With our highest level of government behind the effort, we could devote more resources and a more unified message to the cause. With a Federal Disabilities Act, we could ensure that we, as a country, put the necessary weight into accessibility at all levels. With a Federal Disabilities Act, we could give disability rights the political, social and financial attention that they so sorely need.

I know that a federally-mandated act would not solve every issue. All we have to do is look to our southern neighbours, and the Americans with Disabilities Act, to know that even top level of government power leaves a long road ahead. But the approach is the key thing. Viewing disability rights as a national rather than a provincial concern would send a message that the whole country cares about ensuring that no citizen, regardless of physical, cognitive or social difference, is left behind.

I believe that disability rights belong to all Canadians. Let’s put legislation in place to reflect that, shall we? Come on Canada, be disability positive!