Does Canada Need a National Disabilities Act?
Thursday, July 26, 2012
Today our neighbours to the south are celebrating the 22nd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a landmark piece of legislation which enshrined the civil rights of people with disabilities in American law. The Act prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of disability and also requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities. Additionally, the Act requires accommodations to be made in public facilities like restaurants, hotels, stores, and public transportation systems so that these facilities are accessible to all.
In Canada, we do not have a nation-wide disabilities act. Instead, we rely on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and provincial legislation to protect the rights of people with disabilities. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities while another act, the Canadian Human Rights Act, includes a "duty to accommodate" for federally regulated employers.
Beyond these national acts, the provinces also have various laws, human rights codes, and charters which prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability. However, there are no consistent regulations across provinces with regards to employment, accessibility and accommodations. Most provinces rely on their own human rights commissions to ensure the civil rights of people with disabilities are being protected but only Ontario has taken the step of passing a complete disabilities act.
The lack of a consistent national framework may have led to some serious discrepancies with how disabilities are treated across the provinces. Employment rates vary significantly from province to province. Some provinces have very low employment rates for people with disabilities, such as Newfoundland (24.3%), Quebec (32.8%) and New Brunswick (35.5%). Other provinces have higher rates: Saskatchewan (53.3%), Alberta (52%), and Manitoba (51.6%).
As far as employment numbers go, Canada's population of people with disabilities generally participate in the labour force at a higher rate than our American neighbours. So do we need a national disability act or is the current system enough?