Promoting Rights of Disabled New Foreign Policy Focus: Cannon 

By Steven Edwards   
Canwest News ServiceMarch 11, 2010 3:41 PM

UNITED NATIONS — Promoting the rights of disabled people around the world will become a key foreign policy focus for Canada, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said at the United Nations Thursday.

Cannon made the declaration after delivering Canada’s ratification of the world body’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

“This is another addition to Canada’s foreign policy, which is based on the promotion of democracy, the rule of law and certainly based on human rights,”
Cannon said at a news conference with several Canadian disabled-community leaders. “This is a fundamental human right,” he added of the goals of the convention.

Countries that join the convention commit to advancing its core provisions, which include promoting respect for the principles of non-discrimination, accessibility and inclusion for the world’s half a billion disabled people.

But in many countries, disabled residents are reduced to begging to get enough funds to survive as their governments either can’t or won’t uphold equal
opportunity principles.

Not least among those consigned to struggle are the thousands of new amputees among survivors of Haiti’s Jan. 12 earthquake.

“One of the articles in the convention talks about international co-operation and obliges countries that are doing things like responding to the disaster
in Haiti to consider disability issues,” said Steven Estey, chairman of the International Development Committee of Canadians with Disabilities.

Canada’s adoption of the convention will also have an impact for the 4.4 million Canadians with disabilities, Estey and others accompanying Cannon said.

“As of today there will be a new perspective on disability in Canada,” said Traci Walters, national director of Independent Living Canada. “We are officially turning on its head the notion that people with disabilities are helpless, in need of care, in need of pity. We are skilled, we are talented, we are productive and we want to participate in every aspect of life.”

Bendina Miller, president of the Canadian Association for Community Living, illustrated the convention’s significance by recounting the experience of a
couple that tried to place their five-year-old “learning needs” daughter in Grade 1 of their neighbourhood school.

“The secretary looked at their daughter and said, ‘We don’t do Down’s here,'” Miller said, citing the secretary’s reference to the developmental disorder
Down’s syndrome.

“The UN convention makes it an obligation on governments to establish inclusive education for all students.”

Canada was the 82nd country to ratify the convention after being one of the early signatories of the document, which the UN General Assembly adopted in December 2006.

The time consuming process of having Canada’s 13 provinces and territories ratify the convention accounted for the delay, officials said.

All convention members must periodically report to a Geneva-based UN committee on measures they have taken to comply with the agreement’s provisions.

Many of Ottawa’s initiatives aimed at helping Canada’s disabled are led by the Human Resources and Skills Development department.

“Canada is proud to have been one of the first countries to originally sign the convention in 2007, and (our) ratification is just further acknowledgment
that Canada is a world leader in providing persons with disabilities the same opportunities in life as all Canadians,” Human Resources and Skills Development
Minister Diane Finley said from Ottawa.
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