Law Commission of Ontario Consultation on the Law as it Affects Persons with Disabilities Ed Montigny

In the fall of 2007, the Board of Governors of the Law Commission of Ontario (LCO)approved a project on the law as it affects persons with disabilities. The project is not intended to focus on reform of any one specific issue. Instead, its purpose is to develop a principled analytical framework to shape legislative initiatives or reform current laws that impact the lives of people with disabilities. Given the scope and complexity of the initiative, it will be a multi-year, multi-stage project.

The project recognizes that despite significant developments in promoting the equality rights of persons with disabilities over the last few decades, this group continues to experience significant and wide-ranging disadvantage. In particular they are significantly more likely to live with a low-income. The project aims to help improve this situation.

One key challenge involves answering the basic question: what does ‘person with a disability’ mean? Currently, the law adopts a multitude of approaches to, and definitions of, disability. The particular approach used to define ‘disability’ can have a significant impact. Is disability viewed as an individual problem, caused by a person’s limitations, or is it caused by the barriers, attitudes and stereotypical assumptions people with disabilities encounter?

Depending on the approach, a person’s eligibility for support and services will be affected. In particular, the principles employed to determine how disability is understood by the state can determine how people with disabilities are viewed and what priority disability issues are given when determining how to allocate limited public funds. When disability is seen as a private or personal issue, the disabled are expected to fit into the social and physical environment as best they can, while receiving whatever level of support or assistance the state decides to offer. When equality and human rights principles are applied to the understanding of disability, society as a whole has an obligation to modify the social and physical environment to the extent necessary for those affected to fully participate in all aspects of life.

The LCO’s first step was to ask for input from a wide range of groups and agencies to determine which approach would prove most useful in enhancing the rights and equality of persons with disabilities. The Ontario Bar Association responded to this request and organized a working group to produce submissions on behalf of the association. Various OBA sections such as Administrative Law, FLAC, Health Civil Liberties, Education, Employment, and the Equal Opportunity Committee were represented. Over a period of several weeks the working group responded to the LCO’s questions. Despite wide-ranging opinions, the group reached a consensus on a set of principles to guide legislation and law reform. Members also suggested numerous areas where further study is required to highlight possible law reform initiatives.

This was merely the first step in the LCO’s process. The expectation is that after analysing the general submissions, the LCO will seek further input on a variety of areas, such as education, employment accommodation, transportation, income security and the administration of justice. These further consultations will offer OBA members ample opportunity to join the working group and contribute their expertise to this valuable project, and ensure the OBA supports all efforts to promote equality and human dignity of all persons.
Ed Montigny is the Vice Chair Admin Law Section, Member of the Equal Opportunity Committee, Past-Chair of SOGIC National From: Page 25