First of all, I'd like to thank members of the committee for inviting me to speak about the excessive demand clause of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. I am particularly grateful that members of Parliament are examining this clause, and I congratulate all political parties for their concern about the plight of people with disabilities and their families who wish to immigrate to Canada.
One of the things I'll be focusing on primarily is disability as a minority group status, as opposed to illness or anything along those lines. I begin with this concept of disability as a human variation, as depicted by Higgins in 1992, when he talked about disability intersecting all racial, gender, religious, class, cultural, and ethnic divides. According to recent United Nations reports, there are over one billion people with disabilities worldwide, making the disability community one of the largest minority populations in the world.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities incorporates what we refer to as a social model of disability, and defines disability as follows:
...disability is an evolving concept...that...results from the interaction between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinders their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others....
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities asserts quite unequivocally that yes, people with impairments are very much part of humankind, always have been, and always will be. It is the social interaction process and the creation and maintenance of structural and attitudinal barriers that stigmatize, exclude, oppress, and minimize opportunities for education, employment, relationships, and indeed immigration and mobility. Members of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities assert that in short, it is societies that disable people with impairments.
While it is true that the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act does not categorically state that people with disabilities need not apply, contemporary immigration policies and practices depicted in the excessive demand clause and the inadmissible category make it very difficult for foreign nationals with disabilities and their families to be citizens of Canada. It is my opinion, and it is shared again by the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, that the excessive demand clause stigmatizes, excludes, and creates barriers. In the end, it prevents and disables people from attempting to become citizens.
Terms such as “disabled persons” and “persons with disabilities” are not merely adjectives and nouns. Indeed, they were actually created as socio-legal terms to separate the deserving from the non-deserving, and are rooted in legislation dating as far back as the English Poor Laws of 1601. I find it interesting that we are meeting here today, some 416 years later, to discuss legislation created as a legal category of disability and intended, by the way, to prevent movement of populations in the United Kingdom at that time.
I would like to add that it's also 170 years since legislation pertaining to the early roots of the excessive demand clause and concerns about disabled people becoming an expense on the public purse was introduced by the colonial governments of Upper and Lower Canada in 1848. Terms such as lunatic, idiotic, deaf and dumb, blind or infirm persons were the targets at that time.
Not to get into a long history, but Canada's first immigration act in 1869 itself talks about disability dependence, and legislation on who should and who shouldn't become citizens. I'm not going to get into all of the legislation, but suffice it to say that the immigration acts of 1869, 1906, 1910, and onward until the present time, all have concern about disabled people becoming burdens on the state.
It is interesting, too, that there's another element that is part of the excessive demand clause and also the inadmissible act. It has to do with violent psychosis and contagious diseases. In fact, these are rooted in legislation going back over a hundred years as well. I find it quite interesting that we still talk about contagious diseases such as syphilis, and other contagions such as tuberculosis and cholera, and in some capacities about psychosis and mental health, yet, considering the advances in medical science and pharmaceuticals, these issues can be addressed quite safely in the modern era.
As I indicated earlier, I find that disabled people are one of the largest minority populations in the world. Can you imagine the outcry here if legislation had changed as slowly for other minority populations, such as people of Chinese origin, LGBTQ persons, Jews, or Muslims, and they were still being denied permission to immigrate to Canada? For people with disabilities, there doesn't seem to be the same potential for outrage.
I did an exercise in my class not long ago and asked students to raise their hands if they represented any one of the minority populations. At the end of the class, almost 70% of the class wouldn't have been there, because their families or they themselves wouldn't have been allowed to come to Canada.
One of the things that is linked to the excessive demand clause and which I hope the committee will address is that people are being turned away for infractions, and they're deemed to be part of the inadmissible category. Who else is part of the inadmissible category? How is it that people with disabilities are associated with this group?
Besides people with disabilities, other constituents of the inadmissible class include persons involved in subversion, terrorism, violence, and espionage, and persons who have been involved in crimes and crimes against humanity, persons who have been convicted of a crime, and persons involved in organized crime. Last but not least are people who are likely to cause an excessive demand on public health and public services and likely endanger the public good. By association and extension, family members of people with disabilities become part of the inadmissible population. I am not sure if this applies to any other group.
In short, over the years, reforms have put an end to immigration policies and practices rooted in racism, sexism, xenophobia, and homophobia, but no similar reforms have put an end to practices rooted in ableism.
Some recent presenters have indicated that the IRP Act provides opportunities for people with disabilities and their families to immigrate to Canada if the family is willing to—or can provide evidence that they're willing to—cover the costs of long-term possible medical, social, and educational services.