Geneva, April 4th, 2017

If you were observing the session yesterday either via the live feed or through twitter updates, you will see that the UN CRPD Committee put numerous very concerning questions to Canada. It was fascinating to observe first hand and to participate in.

Yesterday, April 3rd, was an exhilarating and very long day. We started the day by heading to the UN building here and Geneva, to arrive by 9 AM. In order to attend, we had to fill out accreditation forms ahead of time, present our passports, and go through security. Today will be much easier as we all now have our UN passes. We gathered in a private meeting room near where the CRPD sessions were being held that day, and completed the preparations that we had begun the day before.

The first thing we did was to go over the order of our presentations, and our timing overall with the presentations. This was an important and useful exercise as a few people were overtime and needed to condense their message. One of the ways to do this is to not repeat information that a colleague is presenting and to reinforce that many of us have similar concerns. The plan was that we would have one hour of private time with the committee to present some of our concerns regarding Canada’s answers to the lists of issues, and then to answer any questions that the committee had for us. One of the things that we created at this time was a group skype meeting, this was so that we could communicate with one another during the sessions. This is especially important so that we could coordinate responses to the committee’s questions.

First off, we were suddenly called in early to present. Several of my colleagues had taken a moment to go for coffee. Those of us who were in the private room pulled our laptops and notes together and scrambled to the room. I was to be the first speaker, providing an overall statement of Canadian DPO concerns, and then I introduced and passed the microphone to the next speaker. About half of us had an opportunity to provide a statement, and the other half were prepared to answer questions that we knew the committee would most likely ask of us.

This is how it went: I was not yet seated when my microphone was turned on and I began—I am very grateful that we had practiced, and one good thing about feeling rushed and out of breath was that I paced myself (due to a need for oxygen!), and I did not (according the observers in the room) sound as hustled as the reality was. I actually feel like I was less nervous than I might have been because I did not have the luxury of nerves. The rest of our delegation arrived and settled during my presentation portion (3 minutes—which is a lot at the UN!). Behind the scenes, once the committee began their questions, our IDA representative, Juan, was quietly captioning the questions of the committee and coaching us with two of my new mantras: DO NOT PANIC & DO NOT LIE! The second point is in regard to answering questions we do not know the answers to—the thing that is amazing about the UN Committee members is their understanding that we do not all hold the information and in fact, with regard to many things in Canada, we do not have the data that is required by the committee—this is not our fault. It is much better to use an anecdotal story to reinforce our points than to panic or make up anything. The committee trusts the information we share, and we do not want to ever put them in a position where they hold false information (alternative facts). The time goes very quickly when you are the persons answering the questions.

Once we got through this meeting, we had an opportunity to get something to eat (I did not, cafeteria food is not very allergy friendly, I have a better plan for today), and then we had a meeting set up with our Rapporteur, Theresia Degener, to go over our priorities and to address any new concerns that have arisen since the reporting period. Many of us used the opportunity between meetings, throughout the day, to speak with different committee members, and they also found ways to approach us to ask questions and to compare situations between our countries. A thing to remember is that these are people who are as passionate as we are about equality for our community. For a list of the committee members go to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/CRPD/Pages/Membership.aspx

The session with Canada began in the afternoon and you can find more information online, and read the tweet updates by looking for the hashtags: #CRPD17, #CRPD2017 and #CanadaCRPD. The format is that the Rapporteur makes a presentation asking her questions and providing an overview, then the committee asks questions related to Articles in order, in groups of 10, Canada has a period of time to prepare, then responds, and then the committee asks the next set of questions. The rapporteur then closes for the day by thanking Canada and addressing gaps in responses. Then the session breaks overnight and Canada responds in the morning (10 AM in Geneva).

It has been an incredibly exciting event so far, and we will be heading back to the meetings shortly (you will be reading this a little later).

Today, you can watch live again at: http://bit.ly/2ml0DZ4