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THE RIGHTS OF THE DISABLED

by Nancy Knapp

A Supreme Court of Canada ruling earlier this year continues to raise critical questions about how we recognize the rights of the disabled in this country.

     Specifically the ruling (which was delivered on March 23) says VIA Rail must make their passenger cars more accessible to travellers in wheelchairs. Does the financial cost outweigh the statistical need for such a concession? Many argue those in wheelchairs should be guaranteed to a life equal to everyone else, and if they wish to board a train using their own personal wheelchairs over the ones supplied by VIA, that should be their prerogative. But only .5 percent of the rail users are disabled. Should VIA have to spend between $48 million to $92 million (after initially spending $29 millon on the cars) and then invest another $100 million to bring the cars into service? The Supreme Court said yes by a 5-4 ruling.

     It’s helpful to see the recent Supreme Court of Canada within the context of what’s happening internationally. In a resolution drafted in 2000, The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights stated that: "All persons with disabilities have the right to protection against discrimination and to full and equal enjoyment of their human rights." On March 30 of this year, 80 countries (as well as the European Commission) signed a UN convention protecting the rights of the world’s disabled. The convention states that discrimination of the disabled will not be tolerated in all areas of life. Specifically that includes: Employment, access to justice, education, health, and transportation. As part of the UN agreement, accessibility to communal spaces and structures must also be enforced.

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