Thoughts on Last Day in Geneva

The last day in Geneva our delegation presented to the UN-CRPD Committee on issues in Canada. We also were able to answer many of the questions put forward by the committee regarding areas of concern in Canada. 

It is apparent that internationally, many countries are surprised that Canada, a leader in the development of the CRPD, has not signed the Optional Protocol which allows for monitoring of the country by international bodies. We are hopeful that under the new government, this will be ratified. As well, the committee expressed its concerns on the reservations Canada has over some of the articles, especially Article 12. This is one of the priority concerns of Canadians with Disabilities as well. We are hopeful that both concerns will be addressed by Canadian government and rectified. 

Having a governing mechanism in place and the optional protocol to rely on gives Canadians security in the event that we are once again in a position of having a government that does not support human rights as a right for all. As well, it offers individuals and organizations an additional place to address our concerns, much like the current Missing and Murdered Women’s Inquiry and the visit from the Special Rapporteur that brought national attention to this issue via protocol under CEDAW. Canadians with disabilities deserve these same protections and international options.

The Committee also expressed concern for many other issues. One that was particularly important is the discrepancies of definitions across the country. How disability is defined directly affects access to resources and services. Definitions by the UN include that disability is an evolving and changing concept. In Canada, the differences in definitions between provinces, territories and federal jurisdictions mean that so many Canadians fall through the cracks and cannot access many resources. 

Another question the committee had was regarding services and resources for children with autism. As many of you know, this is an issue that has affected my own immediate family. Because the transition between provincial and federal resources vary depending on age, and because many families cannot benefit from the disability tax credit (those with low incomes), or from the disability child tax credit (those with high incomes, or for children 18 and older), families are struggling to provide the best services possible for their children and youth. 

The committee had concerns about our Deaf community as well, especially considering that Canada does not recognize Deaf languages as official languages. This creates an immediate barrier to many Canadians for many essential services. During crisis, such as a fire, flood, or other, Deaf Canadians rely on sign interpretation for directions. Without official recognition, for example, during the Alberta fires last year, the official television and other notifications did not include sign or captioning to inform Deaf and hard of hearing Canadians what they needed to do, where they needed to go, and other important information. Committee members asked about specific issues for disabled women (some of this is related to General Comments #3 that was just released). There were many questions, and some we were unable to address in the time we had and will be following up in the coming weeks.

There is so much more that I want to write on this, but for now, I will end it off. It was an incredible experience and I learned how very important it is to build these relationships in order to have international support for human rights. In the coming weeks, I will try to write a bit more about the behind the scenes and what comes next for Canadian Civil Society DPOs.

Thanks for following the adventure!

--Jewelles