Winnipeg MPs Lead Push for Treaty on Disabled

Bipartisan effort would require steps to promote rights
By: Mia Rabson
14/12/2009 1:00 AM |

OTTAWA — The mood in the House of Commons last week was so frigid I half expected Olympic gold medallist Barbara Ann Scott would need to don her old figure skates to bring the Olympic torch into the chamber.

So it was with some surprise and satisfaction that I found out about NDP MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis and Conservative MP and cabinet minister Steven Fletcher, joining forces to push Canada to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Wasylycia-Leis introduced a motion, and Fletcher seconded it, asking for Canada to ratify the convention as soon as all provinces and territories have agreed. They hope it occurs before the Paralympic Games begin in Vancouver on March 12.

The convention, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2006 and signed by Canada in 2007, is an international agreement to ensure the rights of people with disabilities are promoted and protected. It includes specific actions countries can take.

An estimated 4.4 million Canadians live with disabilities.

Ratifying the convention would require Canada to take the practical steps needed to ensure all Canadians with disabilities are reasonably accommodated to live full and dignified lives.

Fletcher, the first quadriplegic to be elected to the House of Commons, is perhaps the perfect example of the accomplishments that can be made by someone with a severe disability, when the right accommodations are made to ensure he can do his job.

In April I wrote here in this column about the kids of Attawapiskat First Nation in northern Ontario and their quest to get a new school and deal with the potentially toxic fallout from the old one.

The kids were being taught in portables because a 30-year-old diesel spill had contaminated their school building. It was finally torn down last winter, releasing toxic fumes into the air and making dozens of kids sick with nosebleeds, open sores, nausea, and headaches.

The quest for the community to get a new school has been a decade in the making, and included trips from community leaders, parents, and students to Ottawa to literally beg Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl in person.

I remember talking to one pretty precocious student from the community on the National Day of Action in 2008. When Strahl welcomed a group of Attawapiskat students into his office and asked if they were impressed to be there, Shannen Koostachin told him his office was bigger than her classroom. The kids went away disappointed last year when Strahl said Attawapiskat wasn’t high enough on the priority list to get a new school. The sad fact was there were other First Nations with schools in worse shape.

But Thursday the community found out its lobbying days were over. Strahl phoned the band chief personally to give her the good news.

At this time of year, when so much focus is on getting kids the hottest toy or the trendiest pair of running shoes, the kids of Attawapiskat are getting their new school.

It will indeed be a merry Christmas for them.

Roseau River First Nation Chief Terry Nelson was in Ottawa last week for a special chiefs’ assembly, and was one of several native leaders who warned Strahl the year ahead could see blockades and other forms of economic disruption. The way for Strahl to avoid such blockades is to provide more money for native education and support a move towards native-controlled systems based on aboriginal languages and culture.

Nelson, who has long been considered a rebel among Manitoba native leaders, reiterated a phrase he has delivered often before — that aboriginal people will get “between a white man and his money” because that’s the only way to get attention.

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs says that Nelson also implied during the chiefs’ assembly that First Nations may have been behind a train derailment earlier this month near the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border.

But Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Ron Evans was livid about Nelson’s remarks, and wanted Strahl and the rest of the country to know the AMC is not behind Nelson’s plan.

“The AMC does not endorse economic terrorism,” said Evans. “We prefer meaningful discussion and negotiations.”

Birdtail Sioux Chief Kenneth Chalmers is particularly upset his band may be the one implicated by Nelson in the train derailment. It’s about 15 kilometres from the site.

Chalmers said he pledged in 2006 that if Canada negotiated in good faith, Birdtail Sioux would not take any actions.

He fears Nelson’s words will send a decade of negotiations off the rails.

“I’m in negotiations now with CN and Canada,” said Chalmers. “They kept their promise to me, I’m keeping our promise to them. I am on the cusp of realizing 10 years of hard work, and this could blow it out of the water.”

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 14, 2009 A

Reproduced from