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Deja Vu: Powerful Words Shared by Minister as Federal Accessibility Act Moves to 2nd Reading

Sep 27, 2018


The Honourable Carla Qualtrough. Minister of Public Services and Procurement and Accessibility, moved that Bill C-81 be tabled for the Second Reading in Parliament on September 19, 2018.

Her speech reminded us of the troubled and often tragic history of how persons with disabilities have been treated in Canada and Manitoba. It also reminded us of the historic importance of strong accessibility-rights legislation. Indeed, the same points were made by spokespersons for all three parties in the Manitoba Legislature in debate on the landmark Accessibility for Manitobans Act (AMA). All members then voted unanimously to pass the AMA in December 2013.

Powerful words, while welcome, need to be followed by committed action. We’re hoping that the Manitoba government has now turned the corner on this and will now ensure the full and timely implementation of the landmark provincial Act.

Here's an excerpt from the Minister's speech:

"Mr. Speaker, today is a historic day for disability rights in Canada. It is truly an honour to stand up in the House of Commons and open debate on the second reading of Bill C-81, the accessible Canada act, an act to ensure a barrier-free Canada.

This bill enhances the legal framework for addressing the barriers to inclusion faced by millions of Canadians on a daily basis. From a substantive point of view, it requires the Government of Canada and entities within federal jurisdiction to address not only the barriers themselves but also the systems that perpetuate these barriers. In and of itself, this will promote a quality of opportunity. However, it does more than just this. This bill sends a clear message to Canadians with disabilities that no more will they be treated as an afterthought, no more will they be systematically denied opportunity for inclusion. Today we are sending a message that Canadians with disabilities are valued civic, social and economic contributors to Canadian society, with full rights of citizenship.

The history of how we have treated Canadians with disabilities is not a proud one. It is a history of institutionalization, of sterilization, of social isolation. We addressed our fears of what we did not understand and of difference by creating systems that, by design, took children away from their families, that took power away from our citizens, that perpetuated a medical model of disability that saw persons with disabilities as objects of charity and passive recipients of welfare. We treated our citizens as if they were broken, when in fact it was our systems and policies that were broken.

In my own experience, my parents were told that I should be sent to a school for the blind, that public school was not for me, and that I should be shipped provinces away, far away from my family and friends. I cannot imagine how different my life would have been if my parents had not insisted that I had a right to be publicly educated in my own community and if I had been separated from my loved ones and sent away at age five. It is important to acknowledge this history. It is important not to forget.

Thankfully, Canada's history is also replete with individuals, families and organizations who fought these systems. As we all know, Canada has a robust human rights system, with strong anti-discrimination laws. Disability is a protected ground under these laws and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Of course, Canada is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. However, anti-discrimination laws, while important, are by design reactive. We have to wait until individuals are denied a service, a job, a program, and then the system kicks in to determine if that denial was discriminatory. We literally have to wait until people are discriminated against before we can help them. These laws place the burden of advancing human rights on individuals. The opportunity for system change can be limited and costly. It is incredible to think that currently close to 60% of the complaints to the Canadian Human Rights Commission are on the basis of disability. Again, thankfully we have these laws, for it is my belief that the most important advances in disability rights in our country have been achieved through individuals using these laws to demand equality. There has been change. However, it has been slow.

As our understanding of disability has evolved, the medical model is giving way to a human rights-based social model. We no longer see the individual's disability or impairment as a barrier to inclusion; rather, it is the barriers created by society that prevent people with disabilities from enjoying their human rights on an equal basis with others. That is where Bill C-81 comes in. Today, I stand before members to support a bill that will significantly transform how Canada addresses discrimination and ensures a quality for all. As the first-ever minister responsible for accessibility, I take my responsibilities seriously. I want to set a standard worthy of Canadians and of Canada's place in the world."

Click here to read the full Hansard for September 19, 2018.

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