NEWS: NDP supports rights of Deaf Canadians to access federal services

OTTAWA – NDP Leader Jack Layton and NDP Critic for Persons with Disabilities, Peter Julian, announced full support for a landmark federal court ruling announced earlier this month that obliges the government to provide services to Deaf, Deafened, Deaf-Blind and Hard of Hearing Canadians. The Court judgment ruled that the federal government was responsible for providing access to Deaf, Deafened, Deaf-Blind and Hard of Hearing Canadians to federal government services. Both are urging the Harper government not to appeal this important judicial decision.

“All federal government services, available free of charge to other Canadians, must be available to Deaf, Deafened, Deaf-Blind and Hard of Hearing Canadians free of charge," said Layton. “This is a fundamental issue about accessibility rights and ensures deaf Canadians will no longer be treated as third or fourth class citizens. This is an important judgment that the Harper government should respect and support.

Previously federal government services could only be accessed through deaf sign-language interpreters that Deaf, Deafened, Deaf-Blind and Hard of Hearing Canadians had to pay for out of their own pockets. Typically, the cost would run $40-$60 an hour on a short-term basis. The court ruling is subject to appeal.

“Persons with Disabilities in Canada are often living in appalling conditions”, stated Julian. “They are facing situations of high unemployment and poverty. We know that about 50% of homeless Canadians and 40% of Canadians who rely on food banks to make ends meet are Canadians with disabilities. This has to change and this court ruling is an important step towards gaining full access and equality for people with disabilities.”

The judgment is similar to the ground breaking judgment, released on October 9, 1997, where in a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court of Canada ordered the Government of British Columbia to pay for sign language interpreters when Deaf, Deafened, Deaf-Blind and Hard of Hearing people access health care services. The recent Supreme Court decision went beyond ensuring interpreters for deaf people in medical situations. It stated that governments cannot escape their constitutional obligations to provide equal access to public services.