Glendon Campus
York University
2275 Bayview Avenue
Toronto, Ontario
Canada M4N 3M6
Glendon’s Sixth Annual Jean-Gabriel Castel Conference on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Canadian Law


<p>Philippe Dufresne, director and senior counsel of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, was the keynote speaker at Glendon&rsquo;s annual Jean-Gabriel Castel Conference on International Law &amp; International Organizations on March 8. The title of his talk was &ldquo;From a Medical Model to the Model of Rights: The Impact of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Canadian Law&rdquo; (<a href="" target="_blank">please click here to view a video-recording of this conference</a>). <br /><br />Introduced by Professor Stanislav Kirschbaum, Chairman of Glendon&rsquo;s Department of International Studies and host of the lecture, Dufresne opened his bilingual presentation by paying tribute to that day&rsquo;s 100th anniversary of International Women&rsquo;s Day (March 8), commenting that women could also be counted as persons with disabilities, given that they are often at a disadvantage &ndash; as a group and as individuals &ndash; in legal, professional and social issues, and while great strides have been made to correct this, there is still very much to do.</p>
<p><img style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" src="" alt="" width="500" height="375" /></p>
<p class="image_caption" style="text-align: center;">L-r: Dr. Awalou Ouedraogo of Glendon's International Studies Department; <br />Prof. Jean-Gabriel Castel; Ma&icirc;tre Philippe Dufresne; Glendon Principal <br />Kenneth McRoberts; and Prof. Stanislav Kirschbaum</p>
<p>Dufresne explained that the <a href="">Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities</a>, an international human rights instrument of the United Nations, was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 13 December 2006 and opened for signature on 30 March 2007.&nbsp; It was created to protect the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities and ensure that they enjoy full equality under the law. The Convention is monitored by the <a href="">Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities</a>.<br /><br />&rdquo;There are 650 million persons with disabilities in the world today&rdquo;, said Dufresne, &ldquo;approximately 10 percent of the world&rsquo;s total population. In addition, there are all those millions who live with these individuals and are therefore impacted by their challenges.&rdquo; What is needed for positive change in this area is a paradigm shift in addressing their needs, removing the barriers confronting them and enabling them to live with equal opportunities and dignity. <br /><br />Dufresne outlined three stages of development in the historical approach to disability issues in Canada and the rest of the developed world. The first approach, the &ldquo;Medical model&rdquo;, was traditionally practiced until the 1970s by finding medical &lsquo;solutions&rsquo; to disability problems through treatments, rehabilitation, prevention, as well as employment insurance, workmen&rsquo;s compensation and welfare. While these were important steps, they represented the concept that persons with disabilities were incapable of fully participating in society. These individuals remained segregated and marginalized in the schools, in the workplace and in society at large. <br /><br />The second approach, the &ldquo;Social Model&rdquo;, implemented in the 1970s, recognized that most of the obstacles which confronted individuals with disabilities resulted from society&rsquo;s approach to them, rather than from their disabilities: social attitudes, physical obstacles, the man-made environment and the policies reflecting these attitudes. What followed was a realization that unfair and unnecessary obstacles could be changed or eliminated. With 1981 declared as the Year of the Disabled Person, followed by the Decade of the Disabled Person, formal measures for changes in policy and language were proposed.<br /><br />The third approach &ndash; now in operation &ndash; is the &ldquo;Legal Model&rdquo;, striving to formulate in laws and rules that persons with disabilities have specific legal rights to full participation in society, with dignity. These laws refer, among others, to construction requirements for accessibility built in at the start, rather than as afterthoughts; the provision of Braille for blind people and signing for the hearing impaired in public institutions. Perceived disabilities, whether physical or mental, are included in the laws protecting the rights of individuals. <br /><br />Dufresne outlined several current examples of accessibility gaps, where his Commission made representation on behalf of the plaintiffs. These included the recent purchase by VIA Rail of railway cars that are not wheelchair-accessible; Air Canada&rsquo;s requirement for blind passengers to have an attendant, incurring the cost of an extra ticket, possibly a hotel room and other expenses; and the case of female firefighters in British Columbia, who were required to pass the same fitness rules as the men, which was physically much harder for women. Each of these organizations offered some specific accommodation for these gaps, but the Commission&rsquo;s role is to change the unfair rules, so they can be universally applied, rather than accept individual accommodation.</p>
<p><img style="float: left;" src="" alt="" width="200" height="315" /><span class="image_caption">Left: Philippe Dufresne</span><br /><br />Dufresne is responsible for the Human Rights Commission's representation before courts and administrative tribunals in precedent-setting cases raising issues of human rights law. The Canadian Human Rights Commission operates at the federal level, dealing with human rights complaints. 44 percent of all the complaints they receive deal with discrimination against people with disabilities. 27 percent of these concern mental challenges, which still bear a stigma.<br /><br />&ldquo;In this country, a substantial number of the laws, rules and approaches ensuring the full participation of persons with disabilities with dignity is already formulated within our laws&rdquo;, explained Dufresne. &ldquo;What is needed is to ensure the full participation of all organizations. We must also plead cases at the international level in order to change the laws for everyone concerned.&rdquo;<br /><br />Dufresne stated that the road ahead for persons with disabilities, whether physical, racial, gender-related, mental or emotional, is still long and arduous, especially in developing countries. The motto "Nothing About Us Without Us!", formerly referring to racial discrimination, has been embraced as their slogan by organizations fighting for empowerment and full participation for persons with disabilities.<br /><br /><br /><span style="text-decoration: underline;"><strong>More about Philippe Dufresne</strong></span><br /><br /><a href="">Philippe Dufresne</a> is an eminent jurist, and director and senior counsel of the Canadian Human Rights Commission's Litigation Services Division. In this capacity, he is responsible for the Commission's representation before courts and administrative tribunals in precedent-setting cases raising issues of human rights law. He has represented the Commission before the Supreme Court of Canada on a number of occasions, including in cases dealing with the duty to accommodate, parliamentary privilege, and the independence and impartiality of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. <br /><br />Mr. Dufresne has also appeared before the senate subcommittee on human rights on the issue of employment equity. From 2003-2004, he was a legal officer responsible for international criminal tribunals with the United Nations, Human Rights &amp; Humanitarian law division of the Department of Foreign Affairs. <br /><br />Mr. Dufresne is also a part-time professor at the University of Ottawa, where he teaches human rights law and appellate advocacy. He is currently writing a book on human rights law in Canada. He is a graduate of McGill University and a Member of the Quebec Bar Association. He is also a member of the executive of the <a href="">International Commission of Jurists</a> (Canada) and the Canadian Bar Association. <br /><br /><span style="text-decoration: underline;"><strong>More about the annual Jean-Gabriel Castel Conference on International Law &amp; International Organizations</strong></span><br /><br /><a href="">The 2011 conference is the sixth annual Jean-Gabriel Castel Lecture in International Law and International Organizations</a>. The lecture was created in 2004 to honour Professor Jean-Gabriel Castel, an internationally acknowledged jurist and now emeritus Distinguished Research Professor in international law at Osgoode Hall Law School of York University, Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, and Officer of the Order of Canada. <br /><br />For a decade, Professor Castel had taught international law to Glendon&rsquo;s undergraduate students in the International Studies Program. This public lecture series was launched in order to honour his contribution to this department, and to give the students in the Department of International Studies, as well as other social sciences disciplines, the opportunity to hear an eminent jurist and/or a well-known personality in public life discuss issues in law that demand public debate. <br /><br /><em>Article by Glendon communications officer Marika Kemeny</em></p>

Published on March 14, 2011