Today is the 40th Anniversary of Parliament Agreeing to Guarantee A Constitutional Right to Equality to People with Disabilities – A Victory Disability Advocates Now Invoke to Prevent Disability Discrimination in Access to Life-Saving Critical Care if Hospitals Start to Triage Critical Care

ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE

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Today is the 40th Anniversary of Parliament Agreeing to Guarantee A Constitutional Right to Equality to People with Disabilities – A Victory Disability Advocates Now Invoke to Prevent Disability Discrimination in Access to Life-Saving Critical Care if Hospitals Start to Triage Critical Care

January 28, 2021 Toronto: Forty years ago today was the most important single event to protect the constitutional equality rights of millions of people with disabilities, in Canada’s first 114 years. Four decades ago today, the Joint Committee of the Senate and House of Commons on the Constitution of Canada (“the Joint Committee”) voted to add equality rights for people with disabilities to the proposed Charter of Rights, then being debated. (“The disability amendment”)

Weeks earlier, in October 1980, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau introduced a bill into Parliament to add a new Charter of Rights to Canada’s Constitution. The proposed Charter of Rights included an equality rights provision, section 15. However, section 15 did not include equality rights for people with disabilities. Unless amended, courts could not interprete section 15 to protect disability equality.

Without the benefit of fax machines, email, the internet or social media (which were years away), people with disabilities campaigned for the disability amendment. Their blitz got little media coverage.

In fall 1980, three major disability organizations appeared before the Joint Committee to call for the disability amendment. In response, on January 12, 1981, Justice Minister Jean Chretien said no to the disability amendment.

Despite that, people with disabilities tenaciously kept up the pressure. Victory came on January 28, 1981, when the Trudeau Government withdrew its opposition to the disability amendment. That day, the Joint Committee voted to pass the disability amendment. Canada became the first western democracy to explicitly protect equality for people with disabilities in its constitution. (Hansard transcript below)

Over the forty years that followed, the disability amendment led to some important court victories for disability rights. It also helped drive the passage of several accessibility laws: Ontario’s Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2005, Manitoba’s Accessibility for Manitobans Act 2013, Nova Scotia’s Accessibility Act 2017, and the federal Accessible Canada Act2019.

“Canada should be proud of what was achieved forty years ago today in the name of equality and full participation for people with disabilities,” said David Lepofsky who was one of the disability advocates who appeared before Parliament to advocate for the disability amendment and who now chairs the non-partisan AODA Alliance that campaigns for disability accessibility. “However, despite the disability amendment, over six million people with disabilities in Canada still face far too many unfair barriers in areas like employment, transportation, education, health care and access to buildings. Top of mind today is the serious danger that patients with disabilities will suffer unjustified disability discrimination in access to life-saving critical medical care if the COVID-19 pandemic overloads Ontario hospitals, requiring the rationing or “triage” of critical care, dressed up as objective medical science. Those of us who fought for the disability amendment could not have imagined that forty years later, we’d need to use that victory to try to prevent disability discrimination in access to life-saving critical medical care.”

In months of public debate over the Charter of Rights four decades ago, the only new constitutional right that was added to the Charter, and which was not in the original draft, was equality for people with disabilities – something the media has also rarely covered. Even lesser known was a second disability rights victory for people who are deaf, deafened or hard of hearing at the Joint Committee four decades ago today. The Joint Committee also amended section 14 of the Charter, to guarantee the constitutional right to an interpreter for deaf persons when participating in legal proceedings. Previously, section 14’s wording did not guarantee the right to an interpreter to persons needing one due to hearing loss.

Contact: AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky, aodafeedback@gmail.com

For more background, check out:

  1. Transcript of the three disability organizations’ presentations in the 1980 fall to the Joint Committee calling for the Charter disability amendment.
  1. Captioned video of the December 12, 1980 presentation by David Lepofsky to the Joint Committee, on behalf of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. He is now chair of the AODA Alliance.
  1. Transcript of the initial refusal on January 12, 1981 by federal Justice Minister Jean Chretien to agree to the disability amendment, which he announced during his appearance before the Joint committee – a decision the Federal Government reversed forty years ago today.
  1. Online captioned lecture at the Osgoode Hall Law School by AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky on the history of the campaign for the Charter disability amendment.

Joint Committee of the Senate and the House of Commons of Canada on the Constitution of Canada Hansard Excerpts January 28, 1981

The following took place on Charter ss. 14 and 15 as it pertains to people with disabilities:

Mr. Robinson: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I would then move this amendment as follows, that Clause 14 of the proposed constitution act, 1980 be amended by striking out lines 40 to 44 on page 5 and substituting the following:

  1. Every person has the right to the assistance of an interpreter in any proceedings before a court, tribunal, commission, board or other authority in which the person is involved or is a party or a witness if the person does not understand or speak the language in which the proceedings are conducted, or is subject to a hearing impairment.

Et en français, it est proposé

Que l’article 14 du projet de Loi constitutionnelle de 1980 soit modifié par substitution, aux lignes 40 à 43, de ce qui suit:

«14. Les personnes qui ne comprennent pas ou ne parlent pas la langue dans laquelle se déroulent des procédures devant une instance judiciaire, quasi-judiciaire, administrative ou autre, ont droit à l’assistance d’un interprète; les personnes atteintes de déficiences auditives ont également ce droit dans les mêmes circonstances.»

The Joint Chairman (Mr. Joyal): Before I invite you to give an explanation, Mr. Robinson, the honourable James McGrath on a point of order.

Mr. McGrath: I am just wondering, Mr. Chairman, at first glance it would seem that our amendment, which is CP-7, Clause 14, page 5 should come first.

The Joint Chairman (Mr. Joyal): The only reason I have called the amendment proposed by the New Democratic Party, I refer to you the previous indication that the Chair would call in order the amendments, and so far as the New Democratic Party amendment deals with line 40 and your amendment deals with line 43, that is why I have to call according to the previous procedure, I have to call the New Democratic Party amendment first even though the Chair realizes that if the

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New Democratic Party amendment is accepted by this Committee, the amendment identified CP-7 is already included in the previous amendment, but if the amendment by the New Democratic Party is not accepted that does not prevent you from moving the amendment identified as CP-7.

Mr. Chrétien: Mr. Chairman, for a matter of clarification, you gave the background of the discussion on Clause 14. We cannot accept the amendment of Mr. Robinson and I will explain why, but we can accept the amendment of the Conservative Parvty and so perhpas we should deal with the two and I can give the explanation to Mr. Robinson so that it will not—the intention is all the same but the way of drafting one is better than the drafting of the other, and the Robinson amendment, if I can use that term, the 150th amendment, it is too vague and could create all sorts of problems.

I am informed, for example …

Mr. Robinson: Mr. Chairman, on a point of order. Mr. Chairman, with great respect to the Minister, if I might have an opportunity to at least explain the amendment before it is shot down by the Minister. That is, I believe the normal procedure.

The Joint Chairman (Mr. Joyal): I will invite Mr. Robinson to present his amendment in the usual way.

Mr. Robinson: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I know that the Minister still has an open mind on the subject and will be listening with great interest and will not be subject to any impairment involving hearing. it is one thing not to listen, Mr. Chairman, it is another thing to be subjected to a hearing impairment.

Mr. Chairman, the purpose of this amendment is to expand the protection presently accorded in Clause 14 to an interpreter, and it is not something which is unusual or vague or difficult to apply, as the Minister suggested, because with respect, Mr. Minister, through you, Mr. Chairman, the wording is taken precisely from the terms of Bill C-60.

Now, once again, Mr. Minister, I would have assumed that the same people who advised you on Bill C-60 would be advising you today and I am sure that they would not have wished to advise you at that time to accept something which was vague or impossible to interpret.

Mr. Chairman, it is not a question of vagueness, it is a question of scope. In Clause 14, as the amendment would read, we would be going beyond proceedings in which a person was a party or witness, but we would be going to proceedings in which a person was involved, to use the words of the proposed amendment, and we would also be expanding the words to deal with other authorities.

As I say, this is the proposal in Bill C-60, it was accepted by the MacGuigan-Lamontagne Committee, it was not considered by the government two years ago to be vague or difficult to interpret. I suggest that the amendment was reasonable and that it should be accepted. I would hope that it would be accepted by the government.

I would also say that I am pleased to hear that the government is prepared to accept the amendment with respect to

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deafness which is being proposed both by the Conservative Party and the New Democratic Party but I would hope that the government would recognize the desirability of expanding this in terms which it was presented in Bill C-60.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

The Joint Chairman (Mr. Joyal): Thank you very much, Mr. Robinson.

Mr. Chrétien: I will ask my advisor to give the explanation but the fact that it was accepted in Bill C·60, the deputy minister is not the same, perhaps he is a judge now, so we have a different troop and to explain why we feel after reflection what is better.

Mr. Ewaschuk: Obviously in relation to the proceedings the administration of justice is conducted by a provincial authorities. The expression in which the person is involved means more than the party or the witness so you can have all kinds of interested parties come to court and this would in fact give them a constitutional right to have interpreters so they could understand the proceedings.

Now, oftentimes that is so. If it is a language problem, the interpreter is there, and there is translation that goes on and there is certain accommodation, but if you were to do that for everybody who came in, who is somehow involved, they may be in fact a relative or so who does not understand the language but they are not a witness, they are not the accused and such, it could have certain important ramifications for the adminis· tration of justice and I think that the position we take is that, yes, we are not opposed to that but we would let the provincial try to work that out rather than saying that they have to in fact do it.

We say the minimal, yes, it should be for the witness, it should be for the party, extended to the deaf, but that is as far as we are willing to go at this particular time.

The Joint Chairman (Mr. Joyal): Thank you very much.

Mr. Robinson to conclude.

Mr. Robinson: Just a question, Mr. Chairman, if I may, to the officials or to the Minister.

Is it my understanding that Clause 14 as the government is proposing now would not cover the right to an interpreter of a person who is, let us say, arrested or detained; if they are being questioned, that they would not be protected by this right to an interpreter, that is my reading at least of Clause 14. Whereas, under the proposed amendment, because of the insertion of the words “or other authority” in which the person is involved, they would be protected in those circumstances?

Mr. Ewaschuk: Well, I kind of doubt that. When you are talking about procedings before another authority, I doubt that you would get a court characterizing that as being police interrogating somebody.

You must keep in mind again, and we have gone over this before, that the Crown has to prove a statement as voluntary, so if you have two English policemen who were in fact interrogating somebody who did not understand English, it is very unlikely that the judge is going to find that that statement is voluntary.

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So rather than say that the police have to have to bring in, anytime there is a question on whether or not somebody was being interrogated can understand English, they will do that as a matter of course if they want to get that statement in, but it would not be an absolute right in relation to proceedings because I just do not see that as being characterized as proceedings.

The Joint Chairman (Mr. Joyal): Mr. Robinson to conclude.

Mr. Robinson: Yes, Mr. Chairman.

Just to conclude, I would remind the Minister through you, Mr. Chairman, of the recent case in Toronto in which this very point was canvassed and raised in connection with an East Indian who was questioned under circumstances in which it was alleged that he did not understand the language in which he was being questioned.

I would also suggest that the words “other authority” have been interpreted by our courts to include circumstances in which a person is being questioned by the police, that the person is an authority figure, when we are dealing, for example, with confessions, and that is the way Canadian jurisprudence has interpreted those words.

I think, Mr. Chairman, with great respect to the present deputy minister, that the advice which was given in 1978 was very sound advice and I would suggest that this Committee should accept that advice.

The Joint Chairman (Mr. Joyal): Thank you, Mr. Robinson.

Amendment negatived.

The Joint Chairman (Mr. Joyal): I would like then to invite the motion identified as CP-7, Clause 14, page 5, the motion proposed by the Conservative Party to be moved and invite the Honourable James McGrath to so do.

Mr. McGrath: Mr. Chairman, before I read the amendment there is a slight change. The amendment should read “ed or who is deaf” to make it conform technically with the page.

Mr. Chairman, the amendment is as follows, I move that Clause 14 of the proposed constitution act, 1980, be amended by striking out line 43 on page 5 and substituting the following:

ed or who is deaf has the right to the assistance of an”

I will ask my colleague, Senator Tremblay, if he will read it en français, s’il vous plait.

[Translation]

Senator Tremblay: Just to please my colleague who could very well read it himself.

[Text]

Il est proposé

Que le projet de Loi constitutionnelle de 1981 …

j’imagine

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soit modifié par substitution …

Il faut continuer à dire 1980, n’est-ce pas? Merci, monsieur le président, de cette indication.

… soit modifié par substitution, à l’article 14, de ce qui suit:

«14. La partie ou le témoin qui ne peuvent suivre les procédures, soit parce qu’ils ne comprennent pas ou ne parlent pas la langue employée, soit parce qu’ils sont atteints de surdité, ont droit à l’assistance d’un interprète.»

[Translation]

The Joint Chairman (Mr. Joyal): Thank you, Senator Tremblay.

[Text]

Mr. McGrath, to propose the motion in the usual way?

Mr. McGrath: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

I must be getting overtired or perhaps I must be developing a hearing impediment because I thought I hear the Minister say he was going to accept our amendment.

Mr. Chrétien: Yes. Yes.

Mr. McGrath: Well, Mr. Chairman, now that that fact has been so dramatically verified I expect any minute to ask the Minister to give consent to have the amendment withdrawn to be moved on a subsequent amendment. It would be more in keeping with the experience we have had here.

However, Mr. Chairman, this is a serious amendment and I am very, very encouraged by the fact that the government has seen fit to accept it because there are a number of people in this country who have a serious hearing handicap. Indeed, I stand to be corrected on this, but there are over 200,000 Canadians who are deaf or have a hearing disability to the point where they are clinically or legally deaf, and it is a serious problem because their handicap is not apparent and it becomes compounded when they are party to legal proceedings. That is why this amendment is so important.

It is not without interest to note that we are moving in the direction of recognizing the rights of these people, for example in broadcasting they have mechanical devices now in the public broadcasting system in the United States for the hard of hearing or the deaf. I understand that we are moving in that direction in Canada as well.

Mr. Chairman, I am gratified that the government has accepted our amendment and, as a matter of fact, I am speechless.

Mr. Crombie: Two good events on one motion. Two!

The Joint Chairman (Mr. Joyal): I will not speak on behalf of the government, of course, honourable James McGrath, but you might wonder why the government has changed its mind about that and I told you last week that some see the light because they found their hearts and some change their mind because they hear the voices, and that is probably what happened in the present case.

An hon. Member: I am sure they heard footsteps.

The Joint Chairman (Mr. Joyal): I see that the honourable members are ready for the vote.

Amendment agreed to.

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Clause 14 as amended agreed to.

On Clause 15—Equality before the law and equal protection of the law.

The Joint Chairman (Mr. Joyal): I will invite, then, honourable members to take the amendments in relation to Clause 15. There are a certain number of amendments dealing with Clause 15, especially taking into account that very clause of the proposed motion has two subclauses, Clause 15(1) and Clause 15(2), and in order to deal with the two subclauses in order I would like to invite honourable members to take the amendment identified G-20, Clause 15(1) page 6.

There are two subamendments, to that amendment. The first subamendment that the Chair will invite honourable members to take is the one identified N-21, Clause 15(1), page 6, revised, that is the one with the word “revised” on it, and the next subamendment in relation to the same main amendment is the one identified as CP—8(1), Clause 15, page 6.

So it means that the first subamendment we will be dealing with is the last one that I have mentioned, CP-8(1), Clause 15, page 6, but before we deal with that second subamendment I would like to invite Mr. Irwin to move, or Monsieur Corbin, to move the one identified G-20, subclause 15(1), Page 6.

Monsieur Corbin.

  1. Corbin: Merci, monsieur le president.

Or, je propose

Que le paragraphe 15(1) du projet de Loi constitutionnelle de 1980 soit modifié par substitution, à la rubrique qui précède la ligne 1, et aux lignes 1 à 5, page 6, de ce qui suit:

«Droits à l’égalité

  1. (1) La Loi ne fait acception de person ne et s’applique également à tous et tous ont droit à la même protection et au même bénéfice de la loi, indépendamment de toute discrimination, notamment des discriminations fondées sur la race, l’origine nationale ou ethnique, la couleur, la religion, le sexe ou l’âge.»

Mr. Chairman, I would like to move that the heading preceding Clause 15 and Clause 15(1) of the proposed constitution act, 1980, be amended by striking out the heading immediately preceding line 1 and lines 1 to 5 on page 6 and substituting the following:

“Equality Rights

  1. (1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex or age.”

[Translation]

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Le coprésident (M. Joyal): Thank you, Mr. Corbin.

[Text]

I would like to invite Mr. Robinson on behalf of the New Democratic Party to introduce the subamendment revised N-21, Clause 15(1), page 6.

Mr. Robinson: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

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I am very pleased to move the subamendment as follows …

Mr. Epp: Just a point of order, Mr. Chairman.

I must have misunderstood you. I take it now that you are going to ask for the New Democratic subamendment first and then call for our subamendment to the subamendment?

The Joint Chairman (Mr. Joyal): Yes. That is what I have already stated, Mr. Epp.

Mr. Epp: I did not understand it that way. I thought you asked for our subamendment to the amendment.

The Joint Chairman (Mr. Joyal): No, that is not the way.

Go on, Mr. Robinson.

Mr. Robinson: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

The amendment is as follows, first of all in English, this is to the proposal of the government, I move that the proposed amendment to Clause 15(1) of the proposed constitution act 1980, be amended by (a) striking out everything immediately following the words “Every individual is equal» and substituting the following:

in, before and under the law and has the right to equal protection and equal benefit of the law, and to access to employment, accommodation and public services, without unreasonable distinction on grounds including sex, race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion or age.

And then, Mr. Chairman, there are six additional subsections. The first is: (b) adding to Clause 15(1) the following: “physical or mental disability,”; (c) adding to Clause 15(1) the following: “marital status,”; (d) adding to Clause 15(1) the following: “sexual orientation,”; (e) adding to Clause 15(1) the following: “political belief,”; (f) adding to Clause 15(1) the following: “lack of means”; and (g) moving the word “or” so that it appears immediately after the penultimate proscribed ground of discrimination.

Mr. Chairman, those are our proposed amendments to Clause 15(1) to recognize some very fundamental and important grounds of discrimination which are not recognized in the government’s proposal.

In French, Mr. Chairman, if you would like me to read this in French.

Il est proposé

Que le projet de modification du paragraphe 15 (1) du projet de Loi constitutionnelle de 1980 soit modifié par:

  1. a) substitution, à ce qui suit le membre de phrase «La loi ne fait exception de personne», de ce qui suit:

«Tous ont droit à la même protection et au même bénéfice de la loi, ainsi qu’à l’accès aux emplois, au logement et aux services publics, indépendamment de

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toute distinction abusive fondee notamment sur le sexe, la race, l’origine nationale ou ethnique, la couleur, la religion ou l’âge.»

  1. b) adjonction, au paragraphe 15 (1), de ce qui suit: «les déficiences physiques ou mentales,»
  2. c) adjonction, au paragraphe 15 (1), de ce qui suit: «la situation familiale,»
  3. d) adjonction, au paragraphe 15 (1), de ce qui suit: «l’inclination sexuelle,»
  4. e) adjonction, au paragraphe 15 (1), de ce qui suit: «les croyances politiques,»
  5. f) adjonction, au paragraphe 15 (1), de ce qui suit: «l’insuffisance de moyens.»
  6. g) insertion de la conjonction «or» avant la dernière distinction discriminatoire énoncée au paragraphe 15 (1) tel que modifié.

Monsieur le president, je crois que cela doit etre «ou» et non’ pas «or».

Mr. Chairman, again these are proposed additions and changes to Clause 15(1) and I am very pleased to note that the Conservative Party will also be proposing the addition of physical and mental disability, supporting our amendment on that particular subclause.

The Joint Chairman (Mr. Joyal): Thank you, Mr. Robinson.

I would like to invite the honourable James McCrath to move the amendment on behalf of the Conservative Party.

Mr. McGrath: Mr. Chairman, my colleague, Mr. Crombie will do so.

The Joint Chairman (Mr. Joyal): The honourable David Crombie.

Mr. Crombie: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Mr. Chairman, dealing with Clause 15 and our amendment to it, which is numbered CP-8(1) on the sheet, I wish to move that the proposed amendment to Clause 15 of the proposed constitution act, 1980, be amended by striking out the words “or age” in Clause 15(1) thereof and substituting therefor the following words:

age or mental or physical disability.

En français, il est proposé

Que le projet de modification de I’article 15 du porjet de loi constitution ne! de 1980 soit modi fie par la substitution, a «ou l’âge», au paragraphe (1), de «l’âge ou les déficiences mentales ou physiques.»

Mr. Chairman, speaking to the motion, my understanding is that the government is willing to accept our amendment.

Now, I am not sure we can continue to take this prosperity any longer!

However, on behalf of those groups, organizations and individuals who find themselves physically and mentally dis-

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abled in this country, I would like, on their behalf, since I am the spokesman on their behalf at this point, to offer my thanks to the government for their acceptance of the amendment.

Thank you very much.

The Joint Chairman (Mr. Joyal): Thank you, the honourable David Crombie.

Mr. Chrétien: But who told you that I have accepted the amendment. I have not yet spoken. I think it was a good put on.

Mr. Crombie: I have already spoken to Bob Kaplan and he has said it is okay!

Mr. Chrétien: If I can have five minutes I will call the Prime Minister.

It is with great pleasure that I accept the amendment on behalf of the Government.

I do not think we should debate it. There was a great deal of debate. I was very anxious that we should proceed tonight. They were preparing to have a big group tomorrow.

You can have lots of beer on my health.

Thank you for your good representation.

The Joint Chairman (Mr. Joyal): So the amendment is carried, I should say wholeheartedly with unanimous consent.

Amendment agreed to.

The Joint Chairman (Mr. Joyal): I would like, then, to invite honourable members to come back to the first subamendment and to invite Mr. Robinson to introduce the amendment in the usual way.

Mr. Robinson: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I certainly would like to express my sincere gratitude to the Minister for listening to the concerns of both the physically and mentally disabled.

I know the Minister will recognize that this is in many ways unprecedented and a historic occasion, because it is a right which has not yet been recognized in many international covenants and charters; I think the Minister and the government deserves full credit for accepting the recommendations of the subcommittee and of many other Canadians.

Certainly, I want to join with my colleague and friend, Mr. Crombie, in thanking you, Mr. Minister, for accepting this very important amendment.

Mr. Chrétien: I forgot to mention, with your permission, Mr. Chairman, that I think we should thank all the members of the special committee, presided over by Mr. David Smith, who has worked very hard indeed.

I would like to thank Mr. Smith and all members of the Committee who have worked all summer very hard on the problem.

We are entering a new field, and quite properly breaking good ground. I think we should be careful that we should not take it to the extent of opening the door to a list that would be meaningless. It is on the list as an amendment which will be accepted.

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Mr. Robinson: Once again, Mr. Chairman, I know that the Minister will listen carefully to the representations made on the amendment which we will be proposing, just as he has listened with care to the representations of the groups representing the physically and mentally disabled.

Mr. Chairman, I also cannot resist pointing out that this fundamental right to protection from discrimination on grounds of physical and mental disability is surely one which should be accorded to all Canadians right across Canada, in every province in Canada, and that no provincial government should be permitted to opt out of providing basic and fundamental rights and freedoms to the handicapped.

Mr. Chairman, perhaps my Conservative colleagues would pay particular attention to that point, that the effect of their proposed amending formula, would grant rights to the handicapped in some provinces and not to the handicapped in other provinces which chose to opt out.

The Joint Chairman (Mr. Joyal): Mr. Robinson, I regret to interrupt, but as I have already expressed on other occasions, I think you should address yourself to the content of the proposed amendment.

The amending formula will come later on in our discussions; but at this point we are dealing on a clause which does not have any reference to the amending formula as such.

I would invite you to restrict your remarks to the contents of the proposed amendment.