Politicians See The Light When They Feel The Heat

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Politicians See The Light When They Feel The Heat

CRN’s Executive Director Paul Caune gave the keynote speech at WJS Canada’s Fearless Hearts celebration on October 21, 2015. This a slightly edited version of the speech.

Thank you WJS Canada for giving me the honour of speaking at a celebration of Fearless Hearts. Thank you to all the organizers of this very special event.

I think it’s appropriate at a celebration of strength in people, that we listen to what some of Canada’s most resilient citizens are telling us about how to enable the freedom of Canadians with disabilities.

As is well known, Rick Hansen, a British Columbian who had a spinal cord injury when he was 17, wheeled around the world in his wheel chair in the mid-1980s. Rick Hansen is not only one of the most resilient people in Canada, he’s one of the most resilient people in history.

Let’s listen to the Man in Motion.

This summer Rick Hansen issued a press release that urged “all [federal] parties to support the enactment of legislation to make accessibility and inclusion a reality throughout Canada.”

He urged “government leaders, influencers and the public to support a non-partisan campaign to introduce federal legislation to ensure accessibility, inclusion and equal opportunity for Canadians with disabilities.”  This campaign is called Barrier-Free Canada.

In the press release, David Lepofsky, a member of Barrier-Free Canada, a blind, very successful lawyer, one of Canada’s most resilient citizens, stated:

We live in a world that is not designed for [people with disabilities]: we live in a society that’s full of barriers, physical, technological, etc.  We need to get rid of those barriers so that we can all fully participate.  Twenty five years ago… the U.S. enacted the Americans with Disabilities Act.  It’s time for Canada to catch up.

Why does Canada need to catch up to the 25 year old Americans with Disabilities Act? According to Rick Hansen:

Without strong legislation, [Canadians] with disabilities will continue to experience barriers that make it impossible to carry out common activities that others take for granted such as:

  • Physical barriers that limit access to…buildings and…transportation
  • Economic and social barriers that prevent equal and active participation in society
  • Attitudinal barriers that limit access to employment opportunities

To repeat: Only “strong legislation” can remove the barriers.

The Barrier-Free Canada campaign thinks a:

“Canadians with Disabilities Act should require the Government of Canada to encourage all provincial governments to pass disability accessibility legislation to help ensure that barriers impeding persons with disabilities are removed and prevented throughout Canada…”

Therefore the organizations that support the Barrier-Free campaign think BC needs “disability accessibility legislation.” Who are these organizations?

Rick Hansen Foundation, CNIB, March of Dimes Canada, Canadian Hearing Society, Spinal Cord Injury Canada, Muscular Dystrophy Canada, Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada, Canadian Association for Community Living, and the Council of Canadians with Disabilities.

Therefore many of the most prestigious disability organizations think Canada, including BC, needs strong legislation to enable the freedom of people with disabilities.

In 2006, the Conservative Party of Canada promised that if elected they would pass a National Disabilities Act. They were elected. The promise was not kept.

During the federal election campaign that just ended, the Greens, the NDP and the Liberals all committed to pass a National Disabilities Act if they were elected government.

It is now the consensus of the mainstream federal political parties that Canada should have a National Disabilities Act to enable the freedom of people with disabilities. Therefore it is reasonable to expect that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should pass a National Disabilities Act within the next year and a half. It’s up to us to make the new Prime Minister keep his promise.

Let’s narrow the focus to BC.

Last year, after extensive consultations with the disability community, Premier Clark announced her government’s ten year plan to make BC the most progressive jurisdiction in Canada for people with disabilities. This plan includes a commitment to pass an Accessibility Law.

Spinal Cord Injury British Columbia and the Western Institute for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing have both told the Government that BC needs a law similar to the Americans with Disabilities Act.  And I’ve already mentioned the many other disability experts, such as Rick Hansen, who think that BC needs strong legislation to enable the freedom of people with disabilities.

Premier Clark should pass the promised Accessibility Law before the May 2017 BC election.

Why?

Because conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats passed the Americans With Disabilities Act in 1990.

Because Ontario’s Conservatives passed the Ontarians With Disabilities Act in 2001.

Because Ontario’s Liberals passed the Accessibility for Ontarians With Disabilities Act in 2005.

Because Manitoba’s NDP passed the Accessibility for Manitobans Act in 2013.

The BC government doesn’t need to re-invent the wheel-chair.

It’s up to us to make Premier Clark keep her promise.

Since 2009, Civil Rights Now has advocated that BC needs a law similar to the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act. To build a foundation for a BC Disabilities Act we have made our Think Twice proposal.

The BC government should pass these laws:

The Community Care (Direct Payments) Act to provide access to portable, individualized funding for all disabled people, at their discretion, to use for their own personal care. Once eligibility is confirmed, payments should be made directly to the disabled person from the Ministry of Finance. This would be the Golden Rule in action: she who has the gold, makes the rules.

The other law we think the BC government should pass is the Civil Rights of Persons in Community Care Act. This act would be administered by the Ministry of Justice, to enable investigations and possible civil action resulting from a breach of Charter rights of disabled persons by government or service providers. When your civil rights are violated, you don’t need a good hug; you need a good lawyer.

Civil Rights Now has chosen to focus on disabled voters’ home-environment first.

Why?

Ken Kramer, a lawyer with muscular dystrophy, who was a candidate for the Liberals in the last BC election, has said it best. In a comment in the media last year about the BC government’s disability action plan, Mr. Kramer said:

“We’re moving in the right direction, but I think that clearly there are areas this [plan] is lacking on completely, the one really big omission is around home supports…If I can’t get up in the morning, and I can’t get dressed, and I can’t get to work … a job isn’t going to do me much…It’s great there are jobs out there for folks with disabilities, but for someone to be able to work that has a disability, there has to be a foundation around them for them to be able to work.”

Civil Rights Now’s Think Twice proposal is based on a British law passed in 1996 and an American law passed in 1980.

Again, the BC government doesn’t need to re-invent the wheel-chair.

There are many voices in this country calling for strong legislation to enable the freedom of Canadians with disabilities.

Disabled voters want civil rights now.

Politicians see the light, when they feel the heat.

Please support Civil Rights Now’s Think Twice proposal.

And together we’ll turn up the heat.

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