Hello, everyone. My name is James Hicks, and I'm with the Council of Canadians with Disabilities.
We also want to thank you for allowing us to come and talk about what we feel are some of the issues around elections and people's understanding of leaders' debates.
Just so that you know something about CCD, we're a national human rights organization “of” people with various disabilities, not “for”. It's an important distinction. We're working for an accessible and inclusive Canada.
CCD is delighted that the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs is conducting a study about appointing an independent commissioner to organize televised leaders' debates during federal election campaigns. We have, for a number of years, submitted questions to the leaders that we hoped would be included, and they never have been, not once.
Before I start talking about what should happen, what I'd like to talk to you about is the obligations Canada has to make sure that these things happen. Canada has signed on to the Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities. It's been in place for a number of years now. Article 29 is on participation in political and public life, and states:
States Parties shall guarantee to persons with disabilities political rights and the opportunity to enjoy them on an equal basis with others, and shall undertake:
To ensure that persons with disabilities can effectively and fully participate in political and public life on an equal basis with others, directly or through freely chosen representatives, including the right and opportunity for persons with disabilities to vote and be elected, inter alia, by:
Ensuring that voting procedures, facilities and materials are appropriate, accessible and easy to understand...
Protecting the right of persons with disabilities to vote by secret ballot...
—and get assistance from they people they choose, not somebody else—
Guaranteeing the free expression of the will of persons with disabilities as electors and to this end, where necessary, at their request, allowing assistance in voting...
To promote actively an environment in which persons with disabilities can effectively and fully participate in the conduct of public affairs, without discrimination and on an equal basis with others, and encourage their participation in public affairs, including:
Participation in non-governmental organizations and associations...
Forming and joining organizations of persons with disabilities to represent persons with disabilities at international, national, regional and local levels.
In addition, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees equality before and under the law to people with disabilities. The Canadian Human Rights Act guarantees to people with disabilities that they will not experience discrimination in the federal jurisdiction with respect to the provision of goods and services. This includes the right to vote and the right to be a part of the whole voting process, which includes the debates. If those things are not there, it will not come true.
I could talk a lot about some of the things that people have already talked about. I was going to bring up ASL and LSQ interpretation, and I was also going to bring up audio narration during the debates' key visual elements to make sure that people are aware of the non-verbal communication that takes place during a debate. I was going to mention the use of plain language for people who aren't necessarily grasping the language well, and closed captioning so that people who are hard of hearing have access to the debates' information. I'll note that accessibility accommodations should be available in all locations and platforms to ensure participation of citizens with disabilities in the audience and participation of potential candidates who may have disabilities.
In addition, I'd like to talk about how you may become compliant.
If it is determined that an independent commissioner is to be tasked with organizing televised leaders' debates, then he or she will need to ensure full participation is spelled out in whatever legislation authorizes the establishment of the commissioner. There's an obligation to organize debates that are fully accessible to Canadians with disabilities and inclusive of the concerns of people with disabilities so that this component of Canadian elections meets the expectations set out in article 29 of the CRPD.
To ensure that the format of the debates is truly inclusive and accessible, the legislation should require the commissioner, in advance of planning a debate, to consult with the representative organizations of people with disabilities concerning the accessibility and inclusion measures that are needed to ensure compliance with article 29.
Legislation should require that the commissioner establish an advisory committee consisting of individuals appointed by the self-representative organizations of people with disabilities, who will advise on debate questions that are inclusive of the concerns of Canadians with disabilities.
The commissioner should undertake a post-debate evaluation of the accessibility and inclusiveness of the debate, and the commissioner should report to Parliament about the measures that were taken to ensure the accessibility and inclusiveness of the debate and the outcome of the post-debate evaluation.
Thank you for your consideration of the issues of Canadians with disabilities. Only when Canada truly ensures full political participation by Canadians, regardless of ability, will Canada be able to call itself an inclusive country.