It is my second day in Geneva and despite an additionally eventful, and twice delayed journey thus far, I arrived safe and in one piece.
Our first night, nine of us met for dinner and despite jetlag, we caught up and began preparations for the meeting we held Sunday, April 2nd. I met at noon with Steve Estey and Juan Perez Bello (International Disability Alliance, IDA) to prepare for our first delegation planning meeting (or as I like say, the meeting to plan for the planning meeting). We met for nearly two hours to discuss the steps we needed to work through with our delegation. Steve and I were both in Geneva last September, and the work we did at that time assisted our understanding of what we need to do to prepare for an intervention with the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
At 2 pm, a total of 14 Canadian DPOs & NGOs met with four sign language interpreters, one IDA person, and twelve Japanese observers to discuss our plans for the next two days. We had the opportunity to meet with the CRPD Committee members both individually and as a whole in preparation of Canada’s report. Our intention is to bring attention to issues experienced by people with disabilities in Canada. We have a very passionate group and it took a very engaged four and a half hours to work out our strategy as to how we should proceed. All the work we have done over the past year and a bit leading up to this week has certainly helped our process, especially in identifying our priorities as a cross disability group that represents many interests in Canada.
Since we will have only one hour with the Committee tomorrow, Frank Folino voiced the obvious challenge for us: government representatives of Canada have a full six hours to engage in discussions with the CRPD Committee, while we have one hour and whatever bilateral meetings we can arrange with individual Committee members to address the very long list of concerns that DPOs and NGOs have.
I want to thank our guide and mentor through this process, Juan Perez Bello, as it is not easy to organize so many people. Although we have much that intersects and rises to the top as issues of concern for people with disabilities in Canada, we each have very particular points we have traveled far to bring to the attention of the CRPD Committee, and each one hopes to have an opportunity to express these issues—it is not an easy task to move us forward to consensus. I believe we can all agree that too often, people with disabilities do not have an opportunity to express their concerns in a way that will be heard, and this is an important opportunity to do this. I also would like to thank our delegation for their hard work today to address our approach.
Our meeting with the Committee tomorrow is a private meeting, and we cannot tweet from within, including direct quotes or content. This is an opportunity to have engaged conversation with committee members as they prepare to query Canada on their steps to address the CRPD until now, and their next steps.
You can read the many reports submitted by DPOs and NGOs http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/SessionDetails1.aspx?SessionID=1141&Lang=en , and you can read Canada’s reports at: http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/TreatyBodyExternal/Countries.aspx.
If you wish to watch the public sessions, you can follow this link—please note the time in Geneva of the sessions. You can also watch the videos posted later. For sign language options go to: http://bit.ly/2ml0DZ4.
What we definitely agreed on in the room today was one of Canadian DPO strengths: a commitment to intersectionality. We understand in Canada that specific groups experience multiple barriers, and when we intersect these, the substantive discrimination is multiplied. We recognize that the experiences of disabled people who fall within one or more of the following groups experience discrimination and barriers that are often left unaddressed, underfunded or completely ignored: women, Indigenous peoples, Deaf people, immigrants and refugees, children, LGBTQ2I+, and people living with psychosocial diagnosis, and those living with dementia and Alzheimer’s.
We also want to recognize the themes and key issues that repeatedly come up within any organization. These include but are not limited to: poverty, housing, employment (and unemployment), health, education, inclusion, stigma, cultural and social exclusion, and access to justice. We also understand that all groups are particularly vulnerable during transition years—these include infancy to preschool/daycare, daycare to elementary school, elementary school to high school, high school to adulthood (which sometimes corresponds to higher education, employment, and community integration, but more often than not, the barriers occur with the change in financial and government support related to health, education, and support to families and caregivers).
I also recognize that there are groups that were unable to attend the sessions this round, including Francophone Canadians; we are grateful for their contributions to the shadow reports and their representation with our delegation last September. Please take the time to read these reports. We look for continued support from all Canadians and our government to address discrimination. We look to our government to listen to the concerns of Canadians with disabilities and address these in a systemic, cohesive, and organized manner.