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Canada needs to ensure systemic change for people with disabilities, says UN human rights expert


GENEVA / OTTAWA (12 April 2019) – Canada must make urgent systemic change to ensure people with disabilities can enjoy all their human rights, says a UN rights expert at the end of a fact-finding visit to the country.

“I recognise the determination of the Government to improve the situation of people with disabilities. However, I have noticed significant shortcomings in the way the federal, provincial and territorial governments implement the rights of persons with disabilities,” said Catalina Devandas, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, presenting a statement at the end of a 10-day visit.

“In many cases they have to initiate lengthy and onerous legal procedures to get their rights recognised.”

The Special Rapporteur welcomed the new Canadian Accessibility Bill and encouraged all provinces and territories to follow suit. “There is a need for more leadership from the federal, provincial and territorial authorities and coherent cooperation in advancing the rights of persons with disabilities in all areas,” Devandas said.

The UN expert stressed the importance of following a human rights-based approach when federal, policy and territorial governments adopted legislation and policies.

“I am deeply concerned that many people with disabilities are presented with no other choice except placement in residential institutions, like nursing homes and group homes,” she said.

“Canada must break with these segregated approaches and move to inclusive policies that provide the support necessary for living independently in the community as a human right, not merely as a social assistance programme.”

The expert emphasised that change and better results were possible, adding: “I was extremely pleased to learn about the fully inclusive education model of New Brunswick, a role model for the world, where all children with disabilities attend regular schools and receive individual and multidisciplinary support to achieve their highest potential.

She noted that Canada has long-standing practices of supporting people with disabilities to make their own decisions instead of restricting their legal capacity. “I believe Canada needs to take a step forward and amend its legal systems to fully implement the right to legal capacity for people with disabilities,” she said.

Devandas also expressed concern about the specific challenges faced by indigenous people with disabilities because of higher rates of poverty, exclusion and discrimination. “Overcoming this structural discrimination is essential to building an inclusive and equal society,” she said.

During her visit, the UN expert travelled to Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal, Fredericton and Halifax, meeting senior Government officials, representatives of independent institutions, people with disabilities, and service providers. She also visited a psychiatric hospital, a segregated institution for people with disabilities and a school with inclusive practices. The UN expert acknowledged the transparency, openness and collaboration of the different governments during her visit.

The UN Special Rapporteur will present a report to the Human Rights Council in March 2020 on the main findings of her visit.


Ms Catalina Devandas-Aguilar (Costa Rica) was designated as the first Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities in June 2014 by the UN Human Rights Council. Ms Devandas Aguilar has worked extensively on disability issues at the national, regional and international level with the Disability Rights Advocacy Fund, the UN unit responsible for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the World Bank. Her work has focused on the rights of women with disabilities and the rights of indigenous peoples with disabilities.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, Country Page: Canada

For press enquiries and additional information, please contact:

In Canada (during the visit):
Ms Alina Grigoras, (+41 79 444 4113, agrigoras@ohchr.org)

In Geneva (before and after the visit):
Ms Alina Grigoras, (+41 22 917 9853, agrigoras@ohchr.org), or write to sr.disability@ohchr.org

In Geneva (during the visit):
Ms Cristina Michels (+41 22 928 9866 / cmichels@ohchr.org) or write to sr.disability@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN experts: Mr. Jeremy Laurence, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / jlaurence@ohchr.org)

Follow news related to the UN’s independent human rights experts on Twitter @UN_SPExperts.

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