Tuesday, November 7, 2000
legislation long overdue
by Peter Cory
others I would like to see enacted a strong Ontarians with
years ago, Former Supreme Court chief justice Brian Dickson
called for legislation to tear down the barriers that impede
Ontario's 1.5 million people with disabilities. Based on almost 25
years of judicial experience, I, too, believe that this
legislation is long overdue.
society has far too many barriers that prevent Ontarians with
disabilities from participating fully in community life. Two stairs
to get into a restaurant, the lack of sign language
interpreters for deaf persons who go to vote at a polling
station, or posting job ads on a website that is not designed to be
accessible to the wonderful new technology enabling blind and
dyslexic people to surf the Internet are examples of how we
unthinkingly continue to exclude people with disabilities.
effective Disabilities Act would benefit us all. It would
ensure that those with a disability would finally be
included in the rich and rewarding life of other residents of
Ontario. Those who now have no disability may well incur a
disability as they get older, and they too would be spared these
will profit from both the spending power of consumers with
disabilities and talented employees with disabilities who have so
much to offer. The taxpayer will benefit from the
increased economic activity and from the removal of barriers that
prevent more persons with disabilities from moving from social
assistance to gainful employment.
that Ontarians care about ensuring that people with
disabilities are able to live in a barrier-free province and would
support strong legislation removing those barriers. Many already
know about the great barriers we have permitted to remain and are
aware of the human, social and financial toll that these barriers
would benefit from learning from people with disabilities
what is in store for all of us if we do not act as a society now.
The impressive number of municipal councils - more than 20 - that
have passed resolutions calling for this legislation, shows that
Ontarians would welcome and support an effective Disabilities Act.
my experience, I can say that this is a matter requiring
mandatory legislation. We applaud those who have taken it upon
themselves to voluntarily try to remove barriers. However
experience in Canada and abroad shows that without clear,
mandatory legislation, things will not change in a timely manner.
is the Legislature's role to set standards for all of us. We
know how important this is in areas like the environment,
criminal law, and public health. It is no less important for making
our society barrier-free for all who have a disability.
cannot be "voluntary." It must be mandatory.
troubled by any thought that our existing laws, like the
Charter of Rights and the Human Rights Code, are enough to solve
this problem. Those very important laws should never be cut back.
However, it is ineffective, inefficient and inhumane to leave it to
vulnerable members of our society, who often cannot pay
lawyers for protracted litigation, to bring legal proceedings
against each barrier they face, one at a time.
example suffices. I was a member of the Supreme Court when the
unanimous decision was rendered in Eldridge v. B.C. It held that
the Charter of Rights requires governments to ensure that sign
language interpreters are provided for deaf patients in hospitals,
where needed to effectively communicate with their doctor.
Ontario, it took over two years for provincial funds to be
appropriated to comply with our ruling. People with disabilities
should not have to suffer years of gruelling litigation, only to
find that the requisite government funding was long delayed. A
strong Ontarians with Disabilities Act would provide a more
sensible, less costly way of addressing the existing problems and
preventing new ones.
can learn from other societies that have made more progress than
we have in this area. Most importantly, we should learn how to
resolve this problem from those who know most about it --people
with disabilities. We can learn from their ingenuity in adapting to
our society, which has so often failed to recognize and respect
their desire to be fully participating and
accept their offer of help in designing and enacting the
strong Ontarians with Disabilities Act which they so urgently need
Cory served as a judge on the Supreme Court of Canada from
1989 to 1999, on the Ontario Court of Appeal from 1981 to 1988 and
on the Supreme Court of Ontario from 1974 to 1981