Madam Speaker, I am glad to participate in this special debate on the UN declaration of human rights which will be commemorating its 50th anniversary in 1998. As vice-chair of the Standing Committee on Human Rights and the Status of Persons with Disabilities I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important issue.
This document has been key in advancing the protection of human rights not only in this country but around the world. The drafting of a framework for human rights legislation is an accomplishment of which we as Canadians can truly be proud.
Mr. John Humphrey, a native New Brunswicker, authored the original draft of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with the assistance of others in 1948. The preamble captures the spirit of the declaration by stating:
Recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.
The inherent dignity of the human family is not dependent on religion, race, colour, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
The act states in section 25(1):
Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the even of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
As chair of the recent task force on disability issues I have heard many individuals from across the country express their desire for the federal government to outline its role regarding disability issues. This exercise has resulted in the final report entitled "Equal Citizenship for Canadians with Disabilities: The Will to Act".
Canadians with disabilities need to know that no matter where they live in Canada they can be assured a decent quality of life and a level playing field. The federal government's role is significant. The challenge is to provide leadership. Leadership involves accepting responsibility to remove inequities, barriers and obstacles.
The report suggests changes that include amendments to the Canadian Human Rights Act and amendments to the Criminal Code and the Canada Evidence Act to improve access to the criminal justice system. Many more changes have been recommended and they are all a function of the fact that people with disabilities are first and foremost Canadian citizens. They have the right to expect that their government is doing its part to remove inequity.
If you have a disadvantage, the Government of Canada has an obligation to do whatever it can to remove that disadvantage. I want to encourage the government, particularly on this anniversary, to accept the report's recommendations and applaud the former minister of human resources development for having the foresight to set up the task force to look at this very important human rights issue.
In order to keep the community of nations united in shared goals, of dignity for all citizens, prosperity and freedom, each government needs to continue to look to each other and avoid the pitfall of looking only inward, of putting on blinders to the outside world. We need to keep watch, to question human rights abuses, to look out for each other.
I believe this government is continuing to prove its commitment to human rights issues. We have drafted legislation that will enable criminal prosecution in Canada of Canadians who go overseas to engage in prostitution related activities with children. We are addressing the problem of the propagation of hatred on the information highway. We have contributed to the human rights field operation in Rwanda and to the program of operations in the former Yugoslavia. We are currently looking into the issue of privacy in technology in the human rights committee of Parliament.
We have participated in the United States world conference on human rights in Vienna and the fourth UN conference on women in Beijing.
These are but a few examples of how the government is proving its commitment to human rights issues. We need look no further
than our recent leadership role with respect to the refugee crisis in Zaire. That intolerable situation is being resolved largely thanks to the Prime Minister and the ministers who convinced many key leaders to commit troops and resources to helping the refugees before it was too late.
Canadians across the country can be proud of the influence that a middle power can have in such important international events.
Much has been done but there is much yet to do. I hope that this anniversary will bring attention to the need for vigilance on every nation's part, vigilance against human rights abuses, infringements on personal freedoms and inequalities rising from gender, age and disability.
I applaud the government for allowing this debate to take place. I commend all members who have participated. I offer my support and encouragement to the human rights committee of the United Nations association for Canada on its planned commemoration next year.