Speech Article from  Employment and Social Development Canada

Minister Qualtrough's announcement on an engagement process that will inform planned accessibility legislation

June 22, 2016

MC Opening Remarks (Jan Ditchfield):

Welcome everyone. Thank you for being here today at the historic Plant Recreation Centre in Ottawa. My name is Jan Ditchfield. I am your master of ceremonies today.

It is an honour to share the stage today with the woman that I am about to introduce.

A lifelong commitment to advocating for the equality of persons with disabilities led me to become the founder and Executive Director of the Tandem Project, an organization dedicated to providing equal opportunities for the inclusion of people who are blind or partially sighted in recreation and sport. Through our work at the Tandem Project, I have seen directly how access to equal opportunity results in the empowerment on and off the race course.

And now I would like to introduce you to the Honourable Carla Qualtrough. Legally blind since birth, Ms. Qualtrough is a paralympian, human rights lawyer, dedicated volunteer, proud mother of four and Canada’s Minister for Sport and Persons with Disabilities.

As a decorated high performance athlete, Ms. Qualtrough won three Paralympic and four World Championship medals for Canada as a swimmer.  Since her athletic career ended, she has given back locally, nationally and internationally, including as President of the Canadian Paralympic Committee, Vice-President of the Americas Paralympic Committee, Board Member of the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport, and most importantly, as Vice-Chair of her daughter’s gymnastics club in Delta, B.C.

As a passionate advocate for equality and inclusion, Ms. Qualtrough has practised human rights law at both the provincial and federal level, including as Chair on the Minister’s Council of Employment and Accessibility.

Among her many awards for her work, she has been recognized as one of Canada’s Most Influential Women in Sport six times and received a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.

Please join me in welcoming the Honourable Carla Qualtrough, Canada’s Minister for Sport and Persons with Disabilities.

The Honourable Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities:

I think we have to shorten the bio, don’t you, guys? Wow, you’re looking good.

This is a really good day. It’s a big day and I’m really excited to be sharing this with all of you. Thank you for being here. And thanks to the Plant Recreation Centre for hosting us today.

Let me begin with a question.

What does an “accessible Canada” mean to you?

I know what it means to me.

It’s something I’ve been thinking about since long before I took on my current role as Canada’s first minister dedicated to Canadians with disabilities.

An accessible Canada is more than how we build our spaces; it is about what and how we think.

We must look at accessibility differently, as individuals, as communities and as a government.

We must make it an integral part of everything we do. Every time we consider a new policy or program, we must ask the question: how does this affect Canadians with disabilities? How does this help Canadians with disabilities to fully participate in their communities and workplaces?

Right now, within our current legal framework, the rights of those of us with disabilities don’t kick in, for lack of a better word, until our rights have been violated.

The current system unfairly burdens Canadians to ever defend our rights.

Needless to say, this vigilance is exhausting and expensive. Further, I think it’s fundamentally wrong.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recognizes that we can and must do better. The beginning of positive change started when he created the cabinet post of Minister for Persons with Disabilities. He chose an MP who understands the human rights landscape as well as the human dimension of disability firsthand. He saw a champion within me, a champion for an improved legal landscape for Canadians with disabilities.

It is a privilege to serve as Minister in large part because I frequently have the chance to ask those questions. I work to ensure that these concerns are heard in Parliament.  

If we keep asking the questions, before long we don’t have to try to remember to ask them. When this way of thinking becomes a habit we shift culture. This moves us to a deeper level of change.

We’re getting there.

The recent introduction of The Marrakesh Treaty and Canada’s ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in March 2010 reaffirmed our commitment to ensure greater accessibility and opportunities for people with disabilities.

We have already made progress in making our society more inclusive. But there is still important work to do. Canadians with disabilities continue to face a series of barriers in our daily lives.

As some of you may know, my mandate includes leading a consultation process that will inform the development of planned accessibility legislation. And Budget 2016 announced $2 million over two years to support the participation of Canadians with disabilities and other stakeholders in this process.

Canadians with disabilities, their families and the organizations that represent them have been integral to many of the advancements Canada has made in accessibility.

You are the most important voices we need to hear. We need your knowledge and your experience to create legislation that matters and will make a real impact in the years to come.

We will listen.

With your help, Canada can continue to strengthen its leadership in the world with legislation that helps us avoid discrimination and exclusion from the beginning. This represents a monumental shift.

This legislation will transform the way the Government of Canada addresses accessibility issues, provided we do it right.  

Accessibility legislation is an important step. Experience shows, however, that no matter how well designed legal measures are, legislation on its own is only part of the answer.

To achieve lasting change, accessibility has to become part of our everyday thinking.  This is the culture shift I mentioned earlier.

We’re getting ready to take the first steps on a long road ahead. We are hard at work putting the final pieces in place to launch the consultation process across Canada.

In the coming weeks and months, we will open an online consultation process. Starting this Fall, I’ll be hosting engagement events across the country to meet with Canadians and speak with them in person on what an accessible Canada means to them. I am so excited to hear from Canadians on this topic.

This is a big step in helping to ensure our communities become more inclusive for all Canadians.

From the beginning, it has been our goal to do things differently. To involve Canadians in the matters that affect them. The feedback we hear through this process will help shape the new legislation.

This important conversation begins today, finally.

What does an “accessible Canada” mean to you? Is it about ensuring accessible buildings? Ensuring that the services we offer are truly accessible to all Canadians? Or is it about ensuring we are doing everything we can to remove barriers to Canadians with disabilities entering the workforce?

Today, I am asking you to start thinking about your answers.

We invite you to share your thoughts on social media. We have created a Twitter account dedicated to the consultation. Please follow us @AccessibleGC. Please use the hashtag #AccessibleCanada to join in the larger conversation. You can find us on Facebook at Accessible Canada.

And now I’d ask you to turn your attention to a short video we’ve prepared.

Video - What does an accessible Canada mean to you? :

https://goo.gl/dLxA88

The Honourable Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities, holds sign with the title: What does an accessible Canada mean to you?

Graphics on screen: What does an accessible Canada mean to you?

Canadians answer question:
Accessibility in Canada to me means respecting that everyone has different abilities.

A barrier-free Canada will be a very inclusive society.
Graphics on screen: hashtag Accessible Canada

We all have access to the same services and programs without them necessarily being considered special.

Now I realize that in Canada there are people with disabilities who stay at home because that’s what they know.

Canadian communicates through American Sign Language:
Understanding accessibility needs for wheelchairs, everything. Canada-wide we need to advocate and support more.

The Honourable Patty Hajdu, Minister of Status of Women:
An accessible Canada means to me that anyone who wants to participate has the opportunity and access to do so in the fullest way.

Graphics on screen: hashtag Accessible Canada

Everybody is unique in their own way. They can do it. You just have to give them the opportunity.

Canadian communicates through American Sign Language:
Accessibility for us would mean the official recognition of sign language.

The Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development:
It’s a country where everybody feels fully inclusive and where all possibilities are within reach by all.

Canadian answers question:
Whether they be in a chair, whether they have a cane, whether they have no vision —whatever their special abilities are, they deserve a right to be part of Canada’s future.

Graphics on screen: hashtag Accessible Canada

Graphics on screen: What does an accessible Canada mean to you?

Graphics on screen: Canada wordmark

The Honourable Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities:

Thank you to the team for putting this video together. I also want to thank my cabinet colleagues, Ministers Duclos and Hajdu for participating. I can assure you that around the cabinet table we have a very dedicated, passionate group of ministers who truly want to make a difference on this file. And I’m very happy to poke them and prod them and steer them in that direction, so it’s a wonderful team to be a part of and I’m, you know, I take my responsibility to all of you very seriously at that table.

In the coming weeks we will be announcing updates to the consultation website at Canada.ca/Accessible-Canada where you can share your feedback. Make sure that you check back regularly. I’m looking forward to hearing from everyone across Canada on this.

This is a real opportunity to fundamentally change the landscape for us.

Together we will make history!

Thank you.

MC Closing Remarks (Jan Ditchfield):        

Thank you, Minister Qualtrough.

This is just an exciting day, and I think all of us in the room are very proud to be here to share in this announcement.

We’d like to thank you all for coming as well. It’s wonderful to see the room so full, and it’s really lovely to see so many familiar faces as well. Have a lovely day. 

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