An international law is only as effective as the strength of its signatories’ resolve. Almost all international law operates successfully on this principle: good faith.
When it comes to international law that guarantees human rights, however, citizens must continue to advocate for one another to ensure that states meet the obligations to which they commit. There are legal mechanisms to facilitate this advocacy, and states can demonstrate their resolve to promote and protect human rights by making these mechanisms available to their citizens.
The recent report of the Senate Human Rights committee, Level the Playing Field, calls on the Government of Canada to demonstrate international leadership by signing and ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities without further delay (Recommendation #3). The Optional Protocol will allow citizens to address their concerns regarding the Convention directly to the United Nations’ Committee on Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Currently, the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities monitors the Convention’s implementation. Canada already reports to this Committee on its progress in promoting, protecting, and ensuring the rights of persons with disabilities.
So why is the Optional Protocol so important?
By signing the Optional Protocol, Canada concretely demonstrates its ability and will to implement the Convention—to “ensure that the rights recognized with disabilities are given their full protection and support.” While ratifying the Convention signals Canada’s readiness to take on “principal obligations,” signing the Optional Protocol shows our commitment to guaranteeing the rights of every single Canadian with a disability.
How could we commit to anything less? Our actions speak louder than our words.
Our Senate Human Rights committee learned from James Turpin, Human Rights Officer at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, about the intrinsic benefits of the Optional Protocol’s individual complaint process. It would provide opportunity for the international committee of independent monitors
to look at individual cases and give their expert opinion on whether a particular situation that has developed in an individual case is in compliance with the convention or not. Otherwise, the state reporting process is much more general in nature and cannot delve into the particulars of a specific case.
Canada ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in good faith. It promised the world, but especially Canadians, that it would work to protect the rights of persons with disabilities.
As Level the Playing Field shows, this is a work in progress. Only three percent of Canadians with disabilities are able to participate in regular organized physical activity. These Canadians face particular barriers, like the insufficiency of accessible facilities and available programs, increased costs for specialized equipment and transportation, and the lack of coaches to train athletes with disabilities.
Our Paralympians have overcome odds amplified by the disproportionate lack of resources available to them. What’s more, we don’t do enough to celebrate their incredible successes—celebrations of achievements that would inspire a new generation of Canadian children living with disabilities.
Good faith is a good start, but it is not enough. Our government must sign the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and show both Canada and the world that it will not stop working until all Canadians have the opportunity to live the healthy, active, happy lives that they deserve.