Canada: University Professors Research on Barriers to Justice Faced by Persons with Disabilities During the COVID-19 Pandemic

February 12 2021

CANADA: In collaboration with ARCH Disability Centre, TRU with the help of the University of Windsor will pursue a new research project on the effects of COVID-19.

TRU’s Dr. Ruby Dhand, a professor in the Faculty of Law, has partnered with Dr. Dipesh Prema, a TRU chemistry professor, and Dr. Tess Sheldon, a law professor from the University of Windsor are not focusing on traditional COVID-19 topics but is seeking to understand what barriers to justice those with severe disabilities in long-term care homes are facing due to the pandemic.

The research is being done in partnership with ARCH Disability Law Centre and is funded by the government of Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

Taking place over the next year, 12 TRU students will act as research assistants to the project.

According to Dhand, the ongoing pandemic has highlighted an urgent need for multidisciplinary research that contributes to law reform and scientific policy reform.

“I am so proud that we get to collaborate with ARCH, and to form this partnership at such a critical moment where we can create disability-informed legal responses to the pandemic,” Dhand said, whose research program broadly explores issues relating to access to justice. “We know these community organizations are going to use this research to increase access to justice and that is going to impact the people who need it the most.”

Some of the barriers to justice include visitor bans, lockdowns, and reductions in services that those who live in long-term care facilities depend on. The team also wants to highlight discrimination through the rationing of ventilators and intensive care treatment, which has deprioritized people with disabilities.

“People with disabilities have been silenced and deprioritized. We have identified a need to increase access to justice among this vulnerable population,” Dhand said.

“It is very exciting to be able to support ARCH in this way, as they have been leading litigation regarding visitor bans, access to community support and health care, all of which challenges the idea of ableism and disability injustice,” Dhand said.

This is not the first time Dhand and Prema have partnered for pandemic related research. The two are also collaborating on a project that investigates access to justice for those with both mental health and substance abuse issues in the province’s mental health and substance abuse facilities, as well as prisons.

Making the projects unique is the scientific lens brought by Prema. The collaboration addresses a knowledge gap that exists between science and the law.

“Lawyers are often concerned about the science behind some of these policies,” Prema said, who refers to the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and its impact on virus transmission as just one example of science informing policy.

“Ultimately, we would like to create a TRU Science and Law research centre, a hub where all of these questions can be answered, and where students who are studying in science or law could participate in multidisciplinary research,” Prema said.

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