Canada’s ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities last Thursday has garnered support among disability rights activists, though concerns remain as to when the convention’s terms will be fully implemented.
Minister of foreign affairs Lawrence Cannon has said that “Canada is committed to promoting and protecting the rights of persons with disabilities and enabling their full participation in society,” and that the ratification of the convention underscores the federal government’s “strong commitment to this goal.”
The convention protects the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities, and parties to the convention are required to promote, protect, and ensure the human rights of such persons.
Article 19 and 20 of the convention state, “Rights specific to this convention include the rights to live independently and be included in the community and to personal mobility.”
However, president of McGill Students Supporting Disabilities (SSD) Molara Awosedo asserted that the government would have to demonstrate its support for persons with disabilities by putting the convention into practice.
“Charters are only as good as they are implemented. In Canada true change will come about only if we use the Canadian Charter and therefore can hold the government legally responsible, which we have seen in the past,” said Awosedo.
Awosedo pointed to the lack of accessibility for people with disabilities using the Montreal metro system as an example of changes that needed to be implemented.
“We feel that the metro system should be accessible to everyone and we feel that this change can come about. If more people start paying attention to disability rights hopefully people will get involved and speak up,” said Awosedo.
Only five Montreal metro stations are wheelchair accessible and equipped with elevators.
“Although we do understand that there is specific transportation for those who are disabled, every person should have the choice to use the metro system,” said Awosedo.
Marianne Rouette, an official for the Société de transport de Montréal (STM), addressed these transportation concerns, saying, “We are doing a lot of things for disabled people in Montreal because we care.”
She added that the STM provides other forms of transportation more accessible to disabled persons, such as improved buses with access ramps and reserved areas for wheelchairs, and that three additional metro stations would soon be adapted to accommodate wheelchairs.
Catherine Frazee, director of Ryerson’s Institute of Disability Studies, drew attention to the challenges faced by disabled persons seeking to travel across the country.
The Vancouver Sun reported earlier this month that Frazee was unable to travel directly from Toronto to Vancouver during the Winter Paralympics because of her disability.
Frazee must remain in her wheelchair at all times and can only travel by train. Despite her efforts to coordinate her travel with VIA Rail, the company was unable to accommodate her wheelchair. Frazee was forced to travel to the U.S. to take an Amtrak train adapted for persons with disabilities.
There are approximately 4.4 million people with disabilities in Canada, accounting for 14.3 per cent of the population.