When Will Disabled Lives Also Matter?

By John Rae
Editor’s Note: John Rae is a long-time disability rights advocate, who lives in Toronto.

The 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission spotlighted centuries of genocide and assimilation that is the legacy of indigenous peoples in Canada and elsewhere. It included 94 calls to action for change in Canada, but change has been very slow in coming. The Report was followed up by the report Of the two and a half year National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls whose final Report found “state actions and inactions rooted in colonialism and colonial ideologies” were a key driving force in the disappearance of thousands of Indigenous women. It offered more recommendations for improving the situation of indigenous women and girls in Canada. Recent shooting deaths of Rodney Levi, and Chantel Moore have put a clear focus on recent police encounters with Indigenous communities, and many indigenous peoples are asking do indigenous lives yet matter?

Two recent police killings of black Americans: Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Ky., and George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn. have ignited the black community, and have led directly to demonstrations across the United States and around the world. These demonstrations stem from built-up anger over similar high-profile cases in recent years, each with circumstances that had many people demanding police accountability that, in most cases, never happened. These demonstrations have called for the defunding of police, the elimination of carding, and meaningful changes to the prison system that disproportionately incarcerates black Americans in record numbers. Many whites have joined these events to show solidarity and concern for the actions of police forces. Can Black Lives Matter keep the current momentum going and remove some of the systemic racism that is so pervasive, and ensure that black lives will truly matter?

But what about us ” the over 22% of Canadians who live with a disability?

Canadians with disabilities have been watching for weeks as the federal government announced numerous financial support programs to help business and various citizen groups deal with the extra costs of the COVID-19 pandemic. Persons with disabilities are all too well aware of “extra costs” as we incur extra costs associated with our disability on a daily basis, and most of these go unrecognized and uncompensated.

For several months, Canadians who have lost their jobs and livelihoods due to Covid-19 have been able to qualify for up to $2,000 a month through the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, and the CERB has recently been extended for an additional two months until Canada’s economy recovers.

On June 5, at the very end of National Access Awareness Week, the federal government finally proposed some assistance to Canadians with disabilities, a one-time emergency benefit of up to $600. While the Council of Canadians With Disabilities and some other groups acknowledged this as a step in the right direction, even then, this meagre one-time benefit would only be available to Canadians with disabilities who hold a Disability Tax Credit Certificate – about 40% of Canadians with disabilities.

However, support for persons with disabilities was grouped in an unrelated section of Bill C-17 that is intended to address CERB offenders, and the bill remains in limbo after it failed to secure unanimous consent in the House of Commons on June 10. The House adjourned without any resolution, with the parties at an impasse over how to proceed. As a result of these partisan political wranglings, disabled Canadians are forced to wait again for the government to respond to our needs during this pandemic. It is imperative that the Government of Canada urgently address the situation and support Canadians that are at extreme risk and require additional support to ensure their basic health and safety needs are met.

While the Prime Minister’s mandate letter to the Honourable Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion was designed “to ensure a consistent approach to disability inclusion and supports across government that addresses the unfairness and inequities in government programs and services, and challenges the biases built into government”. Canadians with disabilities are waiting for government to demonstrate that they recognize and value all citizens by delivering on their commitment to Canadians with disabilities. .

Canadians with disabilities have been and are again being treated as an afterthought. Once again, Canadians with disabilities have fallen through the cracks. This is unacceptable.

As issues of concern to the indigenous and black communities receive long overdue attention, will issues and concerns from the disabled community be further shunted to the sidelines and go ignored and unresolved?

When will governments involve persons with disabilities in a meaningful way in developing and implementing policies and programs that affect our lives?

When will disabled lives also matter?