Thursday, October 17, 2013

Standing Up for Human Rights in the Disability Community

I have waxed poetic (or, hopefully, at least semi-poetically) on the subject of human rights several times over the years on this blog. And yet it will come as no surprise to those who really know me that my true passion in the area of human rights involves the disability community.

On my legal blawg, I have discussed at length a variety of issues, including education, transportation, recreation, employment, medical care or housing - all of which, bottom line, deal with the right to equality, the right to have the same access to the same services and (even more importantly, the same opportunities) as everyone else,

Yes, there will always be those that have it worse than you and I, than mine and yours. But just think of what it must be like to live with a disability in a third world country or a country where you are, irrespective of your disability, of the *wrong* gender or race. Then again, come to think of it, you could be an Aboriginal child with a disability living right here in Canada. Think of how much worse your life could would be.

But that really isn't the point, is it?

Of course not - the point is that no matter where we live, no matter who we are, we are all entitled to the same basic human rights. Not because the government of the day happens to agree or because we live in relative wealth, but because of one simple, inescapable fact - male or female, old or young, no matter our race or gender identity or sexual orientation or any other difference, no matter where we happen to live on this earth ...





And yet, simply *having* these rights is obviously not enough. Like any other "right", such rights would be meaningless without a mechanism of enforcement.

And as I turn my mind to the legal world, to "the law", I can only sincerely and humbly thank those who had the grit, determination and drive to realize the obvious and fight to have those rights enshrined as part of our law. And, in Canada's case, not just as part of the law. but as part of the highest law of the land, our Constitution.

But, sadly, two steps forward and one step back seems to be the way of life in so many ways. For even though sec. 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees that every individual is "equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability" and even though Canada is a signatory to both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, we are still forced to stand up and fight for these rights over and over, right here in Canada.

So it is that I can only offer my eternal gratitude to those, both inside and outside the disability community, who have stood up to demand that these rights be, not just recognized, but given real meaning; to those who have stood up for the rights of our parents, our siblings, our children, our friends, ourselves.

But as I write this I realize that what concerns me, personally, most of all in this matter are those in the disability community who, for whatever reason, will not stand up and be counted, not stand up and be heard, not stand up and support others in their fight for equality. For it is only if we all stand together that any one of us can be truly successful. And so I leave you to ponder the famous words of Martin Niemöller:
First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.

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