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Finding Canada’s Way Again on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Finding Canada’s Way Again on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Ade Adepitan (centre) is a British television presenter and wheelchair basketball player who contracted polio as a child, which led to the loss of use of his left leg. In 2013, he travelled to Uganda and played basketball with the Ugandan national wheelchair team (foreground). The team has ambitions to qualify for the Paralympics, underscoring Uganda’s efforts to be at the forefront of the disability movement in Africa. Beyond the basketball court, Uganda’s government has passed an Act of Parliament to ensure legal protection and equal opportunities for persons with disabilities with an annual grant of 30 million Uganda Shillings (about $12,000 CDN) given to each district for local support. In addition, the Ugandan constitution also recognizes sign language as a national language.DFID - UK Department for International Development

Introduction: Disability and Global Development

There are over one billion persons with disabilities in the world today. Although many are at the “bottom billion” of the global hierarchy, over the past decade they have capably organized to get their rights recognized through the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). The Sustainable Development Goals, adopted in 2015, affirm the importance of those international commitments.

By ratifying the UNCRPD in 2010, Canada agreed to promote the rights of persons with disabilities in its domestic and international policies. What has Canada done to implement its commitments under the UNCRDP, notably through its official development assistance? What could the new federal government do to revive Canada’s global leadership on this file? How could renewed Canadian engagement play out in Africa and elsewhere, including in important partner countries like Haiti?

This series of five blogs offers timely insight into these issues, given the International Assistance Review underway in Ottawa and the UN review of Canada’s record on the UNCRPD, in 2016-2017. Each blog is written by experts in the field, brought together by the Disability and Global Development project housed at Mount Saint Vincent University. They also build on CIPS’ exploration of those issues through a conference on fragile states in 2013.

— Stephen Baranyi

Finding Canada’s Way Again on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

By Deborah Stienstra and Steve Estey

It has been ten years since Canada signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), recognizing the equal rights of the one billion people with disabilities around the world and their families. Even before, in 1998, then Prime Minister Chretien accepted the Franklin Delano Roosevelt International Disability Award recognizing Canada’s exceptional international leadership in the area of disability rights. And twenty years ago, in 1996, Canada welcomed the world to sign the Landmine Convention, the first international arms treaty to explicitly recognize the rights of people with disabilities with its groundbreaking Article 6 on victim assistance.

Ottawa recently submitted its first report to the CRPD Committee on our progress in furthering those rights in Canada’s domestic and international policies. The report reveals a mixed record to date, but also many opportunities for the new federal government to makes its mark in this important domain. What can the government of Canada do to rebuild its role as a promoter of global disability rights, particularly through its diplomacy and international development cooperation?

1. Engage with disabled peoples’ organizations (DPOs) in Canada and around the world. Since 2006, Canada has largely abandoned discussions with DPOs, discontinued their funding at home and abroad, and shifted responsibilities for support for people with disabilities to their families or charities. This approach damages human diversity by eroding the capacities of people with disabilities and their organizations. In reality, as Member of Parliament Mauril Belanger’s sudden change of circumstances because of acquiring ALS recently showed, impairments or life-altering conditions may happen to anyone at any time. Canada has the opportunity to bring DPOs back to the table, with appropriate resources to support their effective participation. This will ensure that decisions about how to foster inclusion and well-being are made with those most affected by changes and with the fewest resources. As the disability movement says, “Nothing about us, without us!”

2. Use the UNCRPD as a way-finder for implementing the Sustainable Development Goals. Disability is already included in the SDGs. This, together with Article 32 of the UNCRPD, provides indicators for disability-inclusive sustainable development and the full realization of the human rights of people with disabilities. We can ask, for example: How can we have education for all if girls and boys with disabilities cannot get to or get into schools? How do we combat poverty if lack of employment for women and men with disabilities propels them and their families into chronic poverty? How do we create cities that are safe, inclusive, and accessible for all, including persons with disabilities?

3. Explore new options in what and how Canada funds priority countries like Haiti and Uganda. A recent analysis[1] of ex-CIDA funded disability-related projects demonstrates that most projects take a prevention or recovery approach to disability rather than one that supports human rights or the capacity building of people with disabilities. Prevention and recovery projects often benefit health care providers, drug companies, or rehabilitation services. They do not necessarily address the poverty, violence, and stigma experienced by women, men, girls, and boys with disabilities nor do they enhance the human rights of people with disabilities. They do not necessarily enable people with disabilities to contribute to, and be seen to be contributing to their country’s economy or society. Shifting the balance of funds to increase employment and education, enhance public security, require inclusively designed hospitals and schools, and raise the image and value of people with disabilities would do a lot more to build inclusive societies.

4. Look at what Canada’s more inspiring peers, like Australia and the UK, are doing to implement their responsibilities under Article 32 of UNCRPD on inclusive international development assistance programs. The UK has been successfully funding disability rights projects in the global South for over 20 years and recently introduced a Disability Framework. Australia recently refocused its aid to be in line with UNCRPD.

Canada does not have to reinvent the wheelchair, but it does need to address existing gaps in development assistance in order to meet its commitments to disability rights.

Deborah Stienstra is a Professor of Disability Studies at University of Manitoba and leads the Disability and Global Development initiative.

Steve Estey is Chair of the International Committee at the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, and former Chair of the Mines Action Canada Board of Directors.

[1] Deborah Stienstra, “Lost without way-finders? Disability, gender and Canadian foreign and development policy” in eds. Stephen Baranyi and Rebecca Tiessen, Actions, Omissions and Obligations: Canada’s Commitments to Gender and Development in the Global South (Montreal/Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, forthcoming).

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