Disagreement over Possible Canadians with Disabilities Act
When NDP MP Peter Julian knocks on doors in his Burnaby–New Westminster riding, he can communicate to constituents fluently in English and French.
If the residents also happen to be deaf or hearing-impaired, Julian uses what limited American Sign Language he knows. Few running for office on January 23 could overcome a similar communication barrier, but Julian said he is simply opening up dialogue and access to government for all Canadians.
Now Julian is trying to entrench this with a private member’s bill to institute a Canadians With Disabilities Act. The bill is patterned on the Americans With Disabilities Act, which passed in 1990 and aimed to reduce barriers to employment, transportation, public services, and telecommunications.
If he is reelected on January 23, the MP will consult with stakeholder groups on his proposed bill, which he said will promote and enable accessibility to services for Canadians with disabilities. This area, he added, “has been neglected for decades”.
Julian—former executive director of the Vancouver-based Western Institute for the Deaf & Hard of Hearing—began drafting the bill a year ago. The NDP election platform commits to the introduction of this legislation “at the earliest opportunity”.
But not all disability advocacy groups are in favour of Julian’s plan. Margaret Birrell, chief executive director of the BC Coalition of People With Disabilities, told the Georgia Straight that she lauds Julian’s relentless desire for positive change but added that he has failed to convince the BCCPD board of his drafted bill’s merits.
“The BCCPD does not support the proposed Canadians With Disabilities Act, as we believe it would harm existing Charter rights,” Birrell said. Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms already guarantees equality under the law for Canadians with disabilities.
Julian said stakeholder groups “haven’t seen the final draft” of the bill. “That’s what we’ve addressed in the final draft—make sure it doesn’t derogate in any way from existing rights,” he said. “But we’re not seeing accessibility, and that’s really the issue. That’s a federal jurisdiction. The BC Coalition of People With Disabilities raised those concerns; I met with the board of directors and I intend to meet with them again on the final draft. The other groups that we’ve consulted with across the country have been strongly in favour.”
Jack Styan, executive director and external-relations director of the Vancouver-based Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network, who knows of Julian’s draft private member’s bill, said PLAN has been busy working over the past couple of years to implement an extensive Registered Disability Savings Plan.
“We would support Julian’s idea in principle,” Styan explained. “We would want to make sure there are some enforcement teeth in terms of accessibility.”