Backgrounder : COVID-19 Disability Advisory Group


During this time of public health and economic crisis, in the spirit of “Nothing Without Us” and the Accessible Canada Act, and in recognition of Canada’s domestic and international human rights obligations, the Government of Canada is committed to ensuring that it considers, respects and incorporates the interests and needs of persons with disabilities into its decision-making and pandemic response.

Persons with disabilities face unique and heightened challenges and vulnerabilities in a time of pandemic, including equality of access to health care and supports, access to information and communications, mental health and social isolation and employment and income supports. Additional vigilance is also required to protect the human rights of persons with disabilities during these times.  This necessitates a disability inclusive approach to Government decision-making and action.

The Government of Canada is taking immediate, significant and decisive action by announcing the establishment of the COVID-19 Disability Advisory Group (CDAG). The CDAG will advise the Minister on the real-time lived experiences of persons with disabilities during this crisis on disability-specific issues, challenges and systemic gaps and on strategies, measures and steps to be taken.

Co-chaired by Minister Qualtrough, the Advisory Group will be comprised of individual experts from the disability community:

  • Co-Chair: Al Etmanski, is a writer, community organizer and social entrepreneur. He was welcomed into the world of disability in 1978 when his daughter was born. He led the closure of institutions, segregated schools, and sheltered workshops in BC, founded Canada’s first Family Support Institute, and initiated the precedent setting right-to-treatment court case for Stephen Dawson. In 1989, he co-founded Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network (PLAN) with his wife Vickie Cammack. PLAN lobbied into existence the Registered Disability Savings Plan. Mr. Etmanski sparked a national conversation about ‘belonging,’ and was instrumental in establishing a grass roots alternative to legal guardianship and expanding the legal definition of capacity. His last book, Impact: 6 Patterns to Spread Your Social Innovation is a national bestseller. His forthcoming book is The Power of Disability: 10 Lessons for Surviving, Thriving and Changing the World. He blogs at
  • Bill Adair, Executive Director, Spinal Cord Injury Canada. Mr. Adair offers a depth of provincial and national experience in the spinal cord rehabilitation field. As a former Ontario government employee, national task force leader and Director of the National Patient Services Program with the Canadian Cancer Society, he has nearly three decades of expertise in non-profit management and strategic leadership. Prior to joining Spinal Cord Injury Ontario, he was Director of the National Patient Services Program with the Canadian Cancer Society for 13 years. His involvement in providing services to people with disabilities includes serving as the Director of the International Year for Disabled Persons, the Executive Director of a national task force that designed a system to coordinate cancer control efforts throughout Canada, and the Founding Executive Director of Wellspring.
  •  Neil Belanger, Executive Director of the British Columbia Aboriginal Network on Disability Society (BCANDS). Mr. Belanger has over 30 years of experience working within in Canada’s Indigenous and non-Indigenous disability and health sectors. Since 2013, BCANDS has been the recipient of eight provincial, national and international awards, the most recent being the Zero Project International Award presented to the Society in Vienna, in February 2019. He also serves in a variety of disability related advisory roles, some of which include: Canada Post’s Accessibility Advisory Committee; Minister’s Advisory Forum on Poverty Reduction; Minister’s Council on Employment and Accessibility; Minister’s Registered Disability Savings Plan Action Group and Board Member with Inclusion BC.  He is a member of the Lax Se el (Frog Clan) of the Gitxsan First Nation and resides in Victoria with his wife and two children.
  •  Diane Bergeron, President, CNIB Guide Dogs and Vice President, International Affairs.As President of CNIB Guide Dogs, Ms. Bergeron brings lived experience to the position. As a guide dog handler for more than 35 years, she raises her voice to challenge stigma and support equal rights. In addition, as vice president of International Affairs for the CNIB Foundation, she is actively engaged in regional, national and international initiatives that enable people impacted by blindness to live the lives they choose. Before joining CNIB, Ms. Bergeron held senior roles with the Government of Alberta and the City of Edmonton.
  • Bonnie Brayton, A recognized leader in both the feminist and disability movements, Ms. Brayton has been the National Executive Director of the DisAbled Women’s Network (DAWN) of Canada since May 2007. In this role, she has proven herself as a formidable advocate for women with disabilities here in Canada and internationally. During her tenure with DAWN Canada, Ms. Brayton has worked diligently to highlight key issues that impact the lives of women and girls with disabilities. Since 2016, Ms. Brayton has served as a member of the Federal Department of Women and Gender Equality (WAGE, formerly known as Status of Women Canada), Minister’s Advisory Council on Gender-Based Violence. She also presents regularly to Parliamentary and Senate Committees, at public consultations and has represented women and girls with disabilities in both Canadian and International spheres.
  • Krista Carr, Executive Vice-President, Canadian Association for Community Living (CACL). Ms. Carr was previously the Executive Director of the New Brunswick Association for Community Living (NBACL). She had been working with the NBACL for 21 years, the last 16 as Executive Director. She also holds a Bachelor of Business Administration in Marketing from the University of New Brunswick.
  • Maureen Haan: Ms. Haan has been the President & CEO of the Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work (CCRW) since 2012. CCRW is the only national organization with the sole vision of equitable and meaningful employment for people with disabilities, in operation for over 40 years. Under her leadership, CCRW has seen an increase in direct program service throughout Canada, as well as a more transparent, stream-lining of understanding the business case of hiring a person with a disability. She has been very active in the cross-disability sector, currently focusing on employment issues. Ms. Haan has been involved with numerous committees and groups that increase awareness of and access for the disability sector and the Deaf community, including involvement with civil society on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; and co-development and leadership of the pan-Canadian Strategy on Disability and Work.
  • Hélène Hébert, President, Réseau québécois pour l'inclusion sociale des personnes sourdes et malentendantes (REQIS). Ms. Hébert is the president of Reqis, a provincial organization defending the collective rights and promoting the interests of deaf and hard of hearing individuals. Its mission is also to contribute to the development and influence of its members through networking and knowledge exchange. She is also a member of VoirDire, a bi-monthly publication serving the deaf population of Quebec since 1983.
  • Dr. Heidi Janz, University of Alberta, Assistant Adjunct Professor with the John Dossetor Health Ethics Centre. Dr. Janz specializes in the field of Disability Ethics and has been affiliated with the John Dossetor Health Ethics Centre since 2006. She was previously the Curriculum Coordinator for an emerging Certificate Program in Disability Ethics in the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Alberta. In her “other life,” Dr. Janz is a writer and playwright. Dr. Janz is also Chair of the End-of-life ethics committee for the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD).
  • Rabia Khedr, CEO, Disability Empowerment Equality Network Support Services and Executive Director, Muslim Council of Peel. Rabia is a community leader who helps others with issues of fairness and justice that affect persons with disabilities, women and diverse communities. She was recently the Commissioner for the Ontario Human Rights Commission. Ms. Khedr created the Canadian Alliance on Race and Disability, which represents persons with disabilities and organizations at local, provincial and national meetings. She is also a member of the Mississauga Accessibility Advisory Committee. She is a motivational speaker and documentary commentator and has been awarded many awards, including a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.
  • Dr. Michael Prince, Lansdowne Professor of Social Policy at the University of Victoria. He teaches courses on public sector governance and public policy analysis in the School of Public Administration and the School of Public Health and Social Policy. As a policy consultant, Dr. Prince has been an advisor to various federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal government agencies; four Royal commissions; and, to a number of parliamentary committees federally and provincially. An active volunteer, Dr. Prince has been a board member of a community health clinic, a legal aid society, a hospital society and hospital foundation, the BC Association for Community Living, and the social policy committee of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities.

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