The Action Plan that we have outlined commits the Manitoba Government to important initiatives that will move us closer to a society in which persons with disabilities participate as full citizens. Members of the disabilities community have heard such fine words before. Now, they have a right to expect action. And they have a right to expect to be able to measure that action. Finally, they have a right to expect the Manitoba Government to develop tools that ensure that future government initiatives do not undermine their rights to Full Citizenship.
In Unison: A Canadian Approach to Disability Issues provides a vision of an accountability framework in the form of transparency and public participation to recognize the growing public demand for greater democratic engagement.
In response to In Unison, 13 national organizations representing the interests of people with disabilities throughout Canada issued a document entitled A National Strategy for Persons with Disabilities: The Community Definition. This document made more detailed proposals concerning accountability and called for effective mechanisms to monitor whether citizenship rights for persons with disabilities are being respected, and to provide redress where they are violated. Among the mechanisms recommended are:
It is largely the responsibility of individual governments at the federal, provincial and territorial levels, to act upon recommendations of this sort. This White Paper makes the following observations and proposals on issues related to accountability and inclusion.
A Minister Responsible for Persons with Disabilities has already been designated in Manitoba. The Minister's mission is to foster the full and equal participation of persons with disabilities in all segments of society within the framework of public policy, programs and legislation which fall under the jurisdiction of the provincial government.
A number of mechanisms are proposed to support the role of the Minister Responsible for Persons with Disabilities. These are a Disability Access and Inclusion Lens, a Disability Issues Office, Manitoba Human Rights Code compliance mechanisms, and an Annual Roundtable on Disability Issues (discussed earlier).
A disability lens is a tool for identifying and clarifying issues affecting persons with disabilities used by policy and program developers and analysts to access and address the impact of all initiatives (policies, programs or decisions) on persons with disabilities. It is also a resource in creating policies and programs reflective of the rights and needs of persons with disabilities. The Government of British Columbia has developed such a lens.
The lens is, in essence, a series of questions that are posed about government initiatives. The questions could be focussed (as they are in British Columbia) around some primary impact areas intended to ensure that legislation, policy, programs and services:
The seven primary impact areas in the British Columbia Disability Lens are:
The Disability Issues Office (discussed below) would coordinate the use of the Disability Access and Inclusion Lens throughout government to identify, prevent and remove barriers to Full Citizenship for persons with disabilities.
In keeping with the history, values and needs of Manitobans, our own Disability Lens would be developed through consultation with Manitoba's disabilities community. A variety of principles could guide the development of our Disability Lens. (See Appendix 1)
The Disability Issues Office would report to the Minister Responsible for Persons with Disabilities and would serve as a centre of responsibility for the coordination of disability policy, independent of provincial departments providing programs to persons with disabilities. It would not be directly involved in the delivery of programs or services.
The Disabilities Issues Office would support and monitor the use of the Disability Access and Inclusion Lens in all provincial programs and new initiatives, not just those which are disability specific. The Disability Issues Office would use the Disability Access and Inclusion Lens in such a way as to systematically identify, prevent and remove barriers that face persons with disabilities.
The Disability Issues Office would ensure regular, effective and meaningful consultation with representatives of the disabilities community. This consultation would cover all aspects of government programs. The Disability Issues Office would:
The Disability Issues Office would address issues of importance to children and youth with disabilities and to seniors with disabilities, as well as families and caregivers. It would recognize the double disadvantage faced by women with disabilities, Aboriginal persons with disabilities, and visible minority persons with disabilities.
Recent decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada have emphasized the need for a more pro-active approach to the issue of accommodation, to ensure that procedures are in place to assess accommodation issues that may arise in the delivery of government services. The requirements for service providers, including governments, are stronger as a result of two recent Supreme Court decisions. There is a clear expectation following the Supreme Court of Canada ruling in Grismer v. B.C. Superintendent of Motor Vehicles and the Attorney-General of B.C., that "This decision stands for the proposition that those who provide services subject to the Human Rights Code must adopt standards that accommodate people with disabilities where this can be done without sacrificing their legitimate objectives and without incurring undue hardship."
We propose the use of institutions and mechanisms such as the Human Rights Commission and the Human Rights Code to enhance the accommodation process in the context of government services. This may entail the creation of a regulatory process, or a system of enhanced guidelines, coupled with a monitoring function. It should be noted that this would not replace the existing complaint-driven structure under human rights legislation.