Canada’s opening statement - Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

1. Introduction

Mr. Chair and members of the Committee, Canada is honoured to appear before you for the very first time. We are here today to discuss Canada’s implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

My name is Kathryn McDade. I am a Senior Assistant Deputy Minister at the Government of Canada’s Department of Employment and Social Development. I am joined today by Ambassador Rosemary McCarney from our Permanent Mission to the UN as well as colleagues from various federal departments and agencies and provincial governments, including:

  • From Employment and Social Development, Martha Hall and Sara Jiwani
  • From Canadian Heritage, LaReine Passey-Belley
  • From Justice, Laurie Sargent
  • From Global Affairs, Catherine Godin, Stéphanie Bachand and Lorraine Anderson
  • From Indigenous and Northern Affairs, Jonathan Riou
  • From the Canadian Transportation Agency, Susan Clarke and Janet Glendenning
  • From Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, André Belzile
  • Representing the province of Ontario, Mary Bartolomucci
  • Representing the province of Quebec, Maxime Bélanger

Today, I would like to highlight recent developments in Canada, including key milestones we will be celebrating and new initiatives under way that will strengthen the implementation of the Convention in our country. I will discuss the make-up of our federated state and how governments coordinate and collaborate on matters related to the Convention. While we have many positive stories to share, we acknowledge challenges remain in areas such as the employment of persons with disabilities, including Indigenous persons with disabilities. I will elaborate on these challenges and others as well as note some of the measures we have put in place to address these. I will touch on how Canada is working to lead by example at the international level and is committed to strengthening its relationship with the United Nations.

Canada is making considerable advancements in ensuring the social and economic inclusion of persons with disabilities in Canada.

In November 2015, the Honourable Carla Qualtrough was named Canada’s first federal Minister dedicated to persons with disabilities. The addition of this Cabinet position provides a vocal and proactive advocate for Canadians with disabilities within the Government of Canada. Minister Qualtrough is working to shift the conversation from one of needs and inability to one of economic, civic and social participation, or full citizenship. The Convention is a very important tool for this shift in culture.

2. Context – federalism and Canada’s commitment to human rights

This year marks Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation. This important milestone provides an opportunity to reflect on Canada’s long-standing commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights. Among the themes for Canada’s celebration, diversity and inclusion are prominent. And a particular emphasis has been placed on celebrating the achievements of persons with disabilities, including through sport and recreation.

We also are celebrating the 35th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Charter has been a transformative influence on Canada, as it embedded human rights protection in the Constitution of Canada and thereby gave our courts the power to strike down any law or policy inconsistent with the Charter.

At the heart of the Charter is the guarantee of equality and non-discrimination that requires not the same treatment for everyone, but an approach to equality that values and acknowledges human diversity and promotes inclusion for all, regardless of mental or physical disability, race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation or citizenship. It will always be a source of pride to Canada that the Charter’s equality rights guarantee influenced the drafting of the Convention’s own Article 5, which itself represents an innovation in how equality rights are articulated in international human rights law.

As the Committee is aware, Canada is a federal state. There is a federal government, 10 provincial and 3 territorial governments. Each of these governments is sovereign in its own right and all take Canada’s obligations under the Convention seriously. Canada’s co-operative approach across jurisdictions toward implementation of human rights allows provincial and territorial governments to find local solutions to local concerns. Accordingly, we are grateful for the participation of representatives from the Ontario and Québec governments in our delegation.

Québec also recently celebrated the 40th anniversary of its Charte des droits et libertés de la personne, which includes protections for the rights of persons with disabilities.

Canada has a number of fora in place to foster collaboration and coordination across jurisdictions, which have enabled us to achieve important milestones on disability rights and accessibility issues.

3. Canada’s key priorities and developments

Governments are working together on Canada’s potential accession to the Optional Protocol to the Convention. This process also involves engagement with Indigenous organizations and civil society.

A key priority for the Government of Canada over the past year has been to increase the inclusion of persons with disabilities, with a focus on developing new legislation to transform how we address accessibility at the federal level. As part of this process, Minister Qualtrough led a national engagement process with Canadians with disabilities, provinces, territories, municipalities, and other stakeholders. I am proud to share with the Committee that these consultations were the most accessible and inclusive engagement ever led by the Government of Canada, and very much in keeping with Canada’s commitments under Articles 4 and 9 of the Convention. The breadth and depth of ideas, opportunities and challenges identified by the close to 6,000 participants will help inform the development of the legislation, which the Government expects to introduce by 2018.

In addition to the work being done by the Government of Canada, provincial governments are also working on increasing accessibility in their jurisdictions.

Since introducing the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act in 2005, the Province of Ontario has developed and implemented regulations and accessibility standards in key areas of daily living, including transportation, employment, information and communications and the design of public spaces.

British Columbia’s 10-year action plan, Accessibility 2024, aims to dramatically increase accessibility and reduce barriers for persons with disabilities by 2024 and is being led by a collaborative partnership between government, business, the Indigenous community and the disability community. This partnership approach to increasing accessibility is opening up enhanced opportunities to raise awareness, find innovative approaches to accessibility issues and encourage culture change in British Columbia.

While increasing accessibility has been a major focus, work has continued on a number of other fronts across Canada.

We are improving the way in which we collect disability-related data as we continue to enhance Canada’s Disability Data Strategy. Introduced in 2010, the Strategy was designed to collect detailed population statistics on issues covered by the Convention. The Government of Canada continues to work in close consultation with its provincial and territorial counterparts as well as the disability community on enhancing data collection. The strategy is beginning to produce a wide and rich variety of population statistics and will come to maturity by 2020.

At the provincial level, the Government of Nova Scotia also has put in place recent initiatives that include a transformation of its Disabilities Support Program, a moratorium on permanent placements in larger residential facilities, completing the transfer of participants from larger facilities to community based options, increased funding to improve the capacity of Adult Service Centres to promote the employment of persons with disabilities, and the Flex Individualized Funding Program which allows participants to decide how their support funding will be spent.

4. Addressing ongoing challenges

It is an exciting time to work on disability issues in Canada. We are beginning to make great progress, but I would be remiss to not acknowledge the challenges that still remain, such as in the areas of employment and access to justice. Particular groups, such as Indigenous persons with disabilities and women with disabilities, are more likely to face additional barriers.


The employment of persons with disabilities is a top priority for Canada and one where challenges remain. Fourteen percent of Canadians report having a disability. On the employment front, 47% of 15- to 64-year-olds with disabilities are employed versus 74% of those without disabilities. Persons with disabilities, overall, are earning less than their counterparts without disabilities. In 2010, the self-reported median total income of persons aged 15 to 64 years with disabilities was just over $20,000, compared with just over $30,000 for those without disabilities – with 37% relying on non-employment income, such as pensions, lump sum payments or investment income, as their only source of income.

Over recent years, Canada has implemented numerous measures to improve the situation, including appointing a Panel on Labour Market Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities, supporting the establishment of a forum to support employers’ efforts to hire and retain persons with disabilities, and a number of funding programs and agreements. The province of Ontario is working with stakeholders to develop an employment strategy that will help persons with disabilities find meaningful work and allow employers access to a new talent pool.

Access to justice

Canada also recognizes that access to justice remains a concern for persons with disabilities. Filing discrimination complaints can be exhausting, expensive, and burdensome. Recognizing that access to justice remains a challenge for many equality-seeking groups, such as the disability community, the Court Challenges Program is being reinstated and modernized. The Program will provide financial support to reduce the financial burden of accessing the courts for precedent-setting test cases that help clarify human rights in Canada. Additional funding has been announced to a disability organization, Disability Alliance BC, to support Canadians with disabilities who are victims of crime navigate the criminal justice system.

Canada is working to ensure that the needs and rights of persons with disabilities, including persons with mental health issues, are accommodated and upheld in the context of interactions with law enforcement authorities.

Over 70% of male offenders and more than half of women offenders have identified mental health issues. On March 22nd, our most recent Federal Budget announced an investment of over $57 million over five years and $13.6 million per year thereafter, to expand mental health care capacity for all inmates in federal correctional facilities.

The Government of Canada is also committed to supporting the mental health of Canadian public safety officers, as well as Canadian military personnel and veterans. The creation of a Centre of Excellence on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and related mental health conditions has been announced. The Centre will receive funding to ensure it has the tools it needs to make a difference in the lives of veterans.

Indigenous persons with disabilities

The reality for many Indigenous Peoples in Canada has not been easy, equitable or fair. Canada is committed to a renewed, nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous Peoples based on recognition of rights, respect, co-operation and partnership. Following the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s extensive consultations with the Indigenous community, the Government is committed to implementing the Commission’s Calls to Action, which focus on social, cultural, and rights-related issues. We currently have 41 Calls to Action under federal or shared purview underway. Areas of progress that are expected to impact Indigenous persons with disabilities include investments to better support the well-being of children and families on reserve, improve the quality of education for First Nations children, and urgently address housing needs on reserve.

The Government of Canada has deployed considerable efforts to engage meaningfully with Indigenous Peoples to hear their views on the planned accessibility legislation, on the Convention, and on issues that Indigenous persons with disabilities face on a daily basis. Furthermore, a working group of five Ministers has been mandated to review relevant federal laws, policies, and operational practices to help ensure the Government is meeting its constitutional obligations with respect to Aboriginal and treaty rights, adhering to international human rights standards, including the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and its articles 21 and 22 addressing the rights of Indigenous persons with disabilities, and supporting the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action.

Women with disabilities

Women in Canada report a higher prevalence of disability than men and they are more likely to live in low-income situations than women without disabilities. They also face multiple forms of discrimination and are disproportionately affected by violence and sexual assault. This is why Canada takes the issue of violence against women and children very seriously and is committed to ensuring the safety and security of all women and girls with disabilities.

The Government’s ultimate goal is to eliminate gender-based violence in Canada. On March 22nd, an investment of over $100 million over five years was announced for the development of a National Strategy to Address Gender-Based Violence, with an additional $20.7 million per year to be provided thereafter. The perspectives of women with disabilities will be considered in the development of this Strategy alongside those of experts, advocates and other survivors.

Quebec launched its 2016-2021 Government strategy to prevent and combat sexual violence in October 2016. This strategy states that women and children remain the primary victims of sexual violence. It identifies persons with disabilities as one of the groups in the population most vulnerable to such violence and identifies measures specifically targeted to this group.

Additionally, Canada is providing significant investments to support the safety and well-being of survivors of domestic violence by growing and maintaining Canada’s network of shelters and transition houses, which includes increasing the accessibility of these accommodations.

5. International collaboration and development

Canada is also working to lead by example at the international level and is committed to strengthening its relationship with the United Nations. Through our international assistance funding envelope, Canada funds a number of initiatives geared towards reducing poverty and promoting the rights of persons with disabilities in countries around the world. For example, Canada works to strengthen national health and education systems to make them more inclusive of persons with disabilities; supports the recovery and socio-economic integration of landmine survivors with disabilities into their communities; and empowers persons with disabilities living in poverty to gain skills for meaningful employment. Between 2010 and 2015, Canada invested over 74 million dollars in international projects for which disability was a principal focus.

In 2016, Canada undertook a comprehensive review of its international assistance. We held over 300 consultations in 65 countries, and engaged over 15,000 people and partners and received more than 10,600 contributions, including submissions by persons with disabilities and their representative organizations. Going forward, we will be looking for opportunities to better support persons with disabilities in our international assistance efforts and will continue to engage with disability stakeholders to ensure that international assistance policies and programs are inclusive.

To this end, Canada recently participated in the Global Action on Disability (GLAD) Network meeting, which brought together a number of donors and likeminded organizations to discuss issues related to disability-inclusive development, the Sustainable Development Goals, and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Canada will continue to be engaged with the GLAD Network in order to improve our disability-inclusive development efforts. In January 2017, Canada hosted a round table on Disability and Global Development, which brought together key stakeholders from disability organizations, academia and government to share knowledge and exchange expertise on how to ensure disability-inclusive development.

Canada is also actively encouraging cooperative research related to disability-inclusive development. Global Affairs Canada recently established a partnership with researchers seeking to establish the Canadian Network for Disability Inclusive Development (CANDID). CANDID will bring together Canadian and global partners to examine, explain and help change the politics of global development through interconnected research, training, and knowledge mobilization hubs. The goal of the Network is to understand the persistent gap between global and national recognition of human rights for persons with disabilities and standards for their inclusion, and enhance the realization of these ideals in practice.

6. Conclusion

Mr. Chair and members of the Committee,

In a highly dynamic and rapidly changing context, the federal, provincial and territorial governments and all Canadians recognize that we must be constantly improving. Our progress is strengthened by embracing opportunities for constructive dialogue on these important issues that are fundamental to a strong, pluralistic Canadian society.

Canada is grateful for the Committee’s guidance on examples it may have of other States Parties who have demonstrated leadership on disability matters. We look forward to responding to your questions and to hearing the Committee’s views.

Thank you.

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