Debates of the Senate (Hansard)

1st Session, 41st Parliament,

Volume 148, Issue 100

Friday, June 29, 2012

The Honourable Noël A. Kinsella, Speaker

Study on Issues Related to International and National Human Rights Obligations

Seventh Report of Human Rights Committee Adopted

The Senate proceeded to consideration of the seventh report (interim) of the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights entitled: Level the playing field: A natural progression from playground to podium for Canadians with disabilities, tabled in the Senate on June 12, 2012.

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer moved the adoption of the report.

She said: Honourable senators, I am pleased to rise today to speak to the seventh report of the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights entitled Level the playing field: A natural progression from playground to podium for Canadians with disabilities.

I want to take this opportunity to commend our esteemed former colleague the Honourable Vim Kochhar. This study is a result of his recommendation and vision. Senator Kochhar has done remarkable work supporting and advancing the Paralympic movement in Canada. Since retiring from the Senate, he has continued to serve this cause, most notably as the chairperson of the Canadian Paralympic Foundation and of the Canadian Foundation for Physically Disabled Persons.

He also provided valuable testimony and perspective as a witness during our committee hearings.

Thank you, Senator Kochhar, for your continued efforts and dedication to promoting the human rights of persons with disabilities. You are missed by all your colleagues in this chamber.

Honourable senators, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which Canada signed in 2007 and ratified in 2010, recognizes the rights of persons with disabilities to participate in sport, recreational and leisure activities. Throughout our study, our committee realized that Canada has not fully recognized the rights inherent in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Our government must act to ensure that Canada meets its human rights obligations under this convention.

I wish to draw your attention to Article 30(5) of the convention, which expressly pertains to recreation and sport. It requires member states to encourage and facilitate opportunities for participation, to

. . . ensure that persons with disabilities have access to sporting, recreational and tourism venues;

d. To ensure that children with disabilities have equal access with other children to participation in play, recreation and leisure and sporting activities, including those activities in the school system;

e. To ensure that persons with disabilities have access to services from those involved in the organization of recreational, tourism, leisure and sporting activities.

There are 4.4 million Canadians with disabilities. Some studies report that as few as 3 per cent of these individuals participate in regular organized physical activities. We know that persons with disabilities face particular obstacles to participation in sport, recreation and leisure activity, including costs for specialized equipment and transportation, the lack of specialized coaches, and limited information regarding existing sport opportunities.

Paralympic swimmer Darda Sales testified before our committee regarding the particular financial obstacles to participation, and she said the following:

Many athletes have got lost along the way and never made it to the international level because they did not have the finances to get there. It really is sad to see how many individuals with a disability are not active simply due to finances.

What a lot of people do not understand is that, for some accessible sports, there is specialized equipment that you need. If you want to play wheelchair basketball, you need a wheelchair basketball chair. If you want to play sledge hockey, you need a sledge. It is not quite as simple as grabbing a ball and away you go.

Core Canadian values — compassion and equality — demand that we as a country are more sensitive to the obstacles that impede the participation of Canadians with disabilities.

During the study, our committee heard from more than 30 witnesses. Our report addresses the issues of active living for persons with disabilities and human rights, health and human rights, barriers to participation, and athletic development in Canada.

The Human Rights Committee’s report makes 13 recommendations. In the main, it calls for our federal government to ensure that all Canadians have equal opportunities to participate in sport by incorporating gender- and diversity-based analysis into the research and through the development and implementation of government programs and policies concerning participation in sport and recreational activities.

The report also recommends that the government ensure that there is open, transparent and substantive engagement with civil society, representatives from organizations advocating for persons with disabilities and the Canadian public regarding Canada’s human rights obligations under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

It further recommends that our government sign and ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The report urges the government to do the following: review its ministerial structure in relation to health, active living and sport to ensure effective policy and program development; engage with provincial and territorial governments to facilitate the creation of more sport opportunities; prioritize the development of universally accessible sports and recreation facilities across Canada; address economic barriers such as high transportation and equipment costs for persons with disabilities; and celebrate the successes of Canadian Paralympians in a manner equal to the way that Canadian Olympians are celebrated and promoted.

Kim McDonald, Executive Director of the Paralympic Sports Association, defined the true spirit of Article 30(5) as providing everyone with “the opportunity to take part in sport at whatever level they are able.”

This is the spirit and approach that the Human Rights Committee took as we deliberated and prepared this report, consulting with government representatives, organizations that promote the rights of persons with disabilities, Paralympians, UN representatives and other concerned citizens.

Our government must ensure that all Canadians have equal opportunities to participate in sport and recreational activities regardless of disability, gender, culture or ethnic origin.


Many witnesses highlighted the importance of championing access to community programs and initiatives for children and youth with disabilities. Honourable senators, when Canada ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, we committed to upholding the human rights of all children, including children with disabilities. We need to do more to live up to this commitment. We need to do more, honourable senators, because equal opportunity and access to sport and recreation can make all the difference in a young person’s life.

Our committee heard from a young athlete, Christina Judd- Campbell, during our hearings. Ms. Judd-Campbell shared her story with our committee. She said:

For many years I really struggled. Outside my brothers and sisters, I did not really have any friends, and I had not found anything I liked or was good at. However, my life changed when I joined Special Olympics rhythmic gymnastics. . . . My successes in rhythmic gymnastics showed me if I worked hard, I could become very good at something. I became more confident and proud of myself. I now lead a very busy and full life. I train for rhythmic gymnastics almost every day. I have a part-time job at Staples, which is a few blocks from here. Monday to Friday mornings, I am at Algonquin College in a special program. About once a month, I give a speech or demonstration about Special Olympics. I have many friends that I see regularly, and I also take riding lessons and take care of my three horses.

Honourable senators, Christina’s story shows the fundamental importance of physical activity in a child’s life. As she said, “My life changed.” Her physical, mental and social well-being dramatically improved.


I would like to emphasize that we strongly believe that the government needs to play a leadership role in renewing the Canadian Sport Policy and in developing a pan-Canadian strategy that promotes the rights of persons with disabilities and reflects provincial and territorial jurisdictions in that regard.

Federations epitomize the very notion of partnership and cooperation, and above all, they provide opportunities for leadership and coordinated action on complex public policy issues.

No single government in this country can solve the problems regarding the accessibility of sports to people with disabilities, but nor can we achieve better recognition of human rights in Canada without the federal government’s active engagement.

The government is a body that brings people together and leaves no one out. Our playing fields, recreation centres and sports training facilities should be no different.


Honourable senators, I look forward to further discussion on our committee’s report.

At this time, I would like to take the opportunity, on behalf of the committee, to thank Dan Charbonneau, the Clerk of the Committee, and Julian Walker, the Library Analyst. They both worked very hard to reflect the different views of the members of the committee, and I want to thank them on behalf of our committee.

The ways that we, as senators, can better advocate for the rights of Canadians with disabilities is the focus of this report.

Some Hon. Senators: Question.

Hon. Suzanne Fortin-Duplessis (The Hon. the Acting Speaker): Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

(Motion agreed to and report adopted.)


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