in the Ontario Legislature
re: ODA Legislation
April 10, 2000
On Monday, April 10, 2000, Liberal Disability Critic MPP Steve Peters took Premier Harris by surprise during Question Period. The day before, Sunday April 9, 2000, was a significant date because two and a half years before to the day, the Supreme Court of Canada had unanimously held in the Eldridge case that provincial governments had the constitutional obligation to ensure that deaf people using the health care system had sign language interpreters available to ensure effective communication with health care providers such as doctors.
In the two and a half years since, the Ontario Government has not brought itself into compliance with that decision under the supreme law of the land, the Charter of Rights. No new Government program has ever been announced to provide the ASL services which the Eldridge case has required.
Earlier this year, Citizenship Minister Helen Johns made it clear in her January 17, 2000 letter to Mr. Peters that this issue is still 'under study', rather than receiving real and meaningful action. That letter is set forth below.
To bring the Government's attention to this issue on Monday April 10, 2000, Mr. Peters asked the Premier about this sorry situation. To make the point, Mr. Peters first asked Premier his question in American Sign Language, rather than the spoken word. Below, is the exchange which occurred in the Legislature concerning this issue.
It is clear from this exchange that the Government still has no concrete action to comply with the Eldridge decision. This is especially significant since in the past, the Government has suggested that no new enforcement agency is needed under an ODA
because we already have access to the Charter of Rights and the Human Rights Code. Here is a clear case where even when persons with disabilities win a decisive victory under the Charter of Rights in the highest court in the land, the Government feels at
liberty to fail to comply with that decision.
Ontario Legislature Monday April 10, 2000 Question Period
SIGN LANGUAGE INTERPRETERS
Mr Steve Peters (Elgin-Middlesex-London): My question is for the Premier. (The member asked a question using American Sign Language.)
Mr Peters: Let me repeat that. Premier, why have you not followed through with the Supreme Court decision on the Eldridge case? Yesterday was the two-and-a-half-year anniversary of this ruling, which found that the failure to provide sign language in the delivery of health care services for the deaf violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Your government is obliged to ensure that this communication is available. Your government, though, has failed to abide by that ruling. Deaf persons in this province can no more communicate with their doctors and health care providers than could you or others understand what I had originally signed to you. Premier, when are you going to take action and stop putting the lives and the health of deaf persons in this province at risk?
Hon Michael D. Harris (Premier): I think the Minister of Health can respond to that.
Hon Elizabeth Witmer (Minister of Health and Long-Term Care): As the member knows, we are moving forward to put in place the recommendations of the case in order to ensure that those people in this province who need that type of support will receive it.
Mr Peters: There's an extreme shortage of ASL interpreters in this province. As I travelled Ontario with the Ontarians with Disabilities Act tour, even in the Premier's own riding we could not find an ASL interpreter. We had to bring one in from Kingston and another in from Sudbury. I found that the issue of access to health care services was raised repeatedly by persons within the deaf community. The frustration that persons with disabilities feel as a result of your government's lack of action is overwhelming. The minister responsible for disabled issues assures me that the minister is working on a plan. It seems that everyone in this government is working on a plan. Give us a break. It has been two and a half years, Minister. When are you going to take action? When are you going to show some leadership and stop the discrimination against deaf persons in the health care system?
Hon Mrs Witmer: We certainly recognize the concerns that have been raised and we are
moving forward. Yes, we are developing a plan, and we do want to ensure that each individual in this province, no matter where they live, will have equal access to the health services that they deserve.
Ministry of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation
400 University Avenue
Toronto ON M7A 2R9
Tel.: (416) 325-6200
Fax: (416) 325-6195
January 17, 2000
Steve Peters, MPP
Room 331, Main Legislative Building
Toronto ON M7A 1A4
Dear Mr. Peters:
Thank you for your letter, with attached letters from four constituents, regarding interpretive services for the deaf, deafened and hard of hearing.
I received the identical four letters from Leona Dombrowsky, MPP, Hastings-Frontenac-Lennox & Addington, and responded to Ms. Dombrowsky.
Ontario has funded a program of sign language interpretation for many years. Currently, the Ministry of Community and Social Services provides about $1.35 million per year to Ontario Interpreter Services (OIS), operated by the Canadian Hearing Society.
The Government of Ontario is now examining the potential for expanding funding for interpreter services.
I am aware of the challenges facing deaf people who require interpreter services, especially in emergency health encounters.
I understand that staff at the Ministry of Health has been considering options with regard to interpreting services, and I believe a decision on the options will be made in the near future.
Thank you for bringing your concerns, and those of your constituents, to my attention.
C. Ministry of Health
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