By STEVE ESTEY
Thu. Mar 18 – 4:54 AM
It takes a long time to clear security at UN headquarters these days. But after waiting nearly eight years for the moment, I was in no rush. Last Thursday, with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon as witness, the government of Canada took the final step towards ratifying the new UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD); and I had a ringside seat!
As I watched Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon hand over the formal articles of ratification to the secretary general, I was filled with joy, a sense of history, and optimism for the future of people with disabilities. This was a true moment of history for the disability movement. Ours has been described as the last civil rights movement. On March 11, at the UN, we finally came of age.
Between 2002 and 2006, representatives from over 100 governments and hundreds of civil society organizations came together over many weeks to draft and negotiate this new treaty, which people with disabilities have been seeking for more than 25 years. It guarantees us the same human rights as others have: for example, the right to life, education and freedom from torture or unlawful confinement.
In December of 2006, the UN General Assembly adopted the treaty and on March 30, 2007, it was opened for UN member states to sign and ratify. Canada was among the first countries in the world to sign the treaty that day and we have been working ever since to ensure that our laws, at the federal and provincial levels, are in compliance with the treaty. Ratification is the final signal that governments are in compliance and prepared to be bound by the treaty.
Why does this matter? Globally, the World Health Organization estimates there are 650 million people with disabilities; in Canada, there are over four million of us, or 14.3 per cent of our population.
The CRPD is built on the belief that disabled people have exactly the same rights as everyone else: no more and no less. The treaty is an attempt by UN members to breathe life into this idea.
It speaks, for example, about the right people with disabilities have to be treated equally and not to be discriminated against. Fine words, to be sure, but what do they mean in practice? The CRPD says that in order to be fully equal, disabled people have a right to expect a reasonable accommodation, to ensure, for example, that they can attend school or access medical services. This is a concept well-developed by Canadian law.
These concepts and the laws needed to bring them to life offer tremendous hope for disabled people the world over and Canada’s ratification of the treaty sends a strong signal that we support the approach both domestically and internationally.
Steve Estey, of Dartmouth, is co-chair of the International Committee of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD). He was the disability community’s representative on the Canadian delegation that worked on drafting the CRPD at the UN.