Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague, the member for Sudbury.
We join today with all Canadians in acknowledging and celebrating our Paralympics athletic achievement and abilities. These games spotlight our athletes' will to overcome enormous obstacles to contribute their talents and abilities at an internationally competitive level.
With the games opening ceremonies attracting a packed house of 60,000 last Friday at B.C. Place, clearly the message went out to the world, “We have arrived”. These Paralympics will see 1,350 athletes from 44 countries compete in 64 events.
Look how far we have come from the first winter games in 1976 when we had 12 countries competing. At those games, Canada was represented by six athletes. Today, the number is 55. As has been noted in the House already, we have had three silver medallists, Colette Bourgonje, Josh Dueck and Viviane Forest and now today Canada's first gold medallist, Brian McKeever, for his 20K in cross country.
The 2010 Paralympic Games and the way they are being promoted do not come close to the 1976 games, but we still have time to make up for it.
Many Canadians expected to watch the opening ceremonies live, but only a few of us, those living in British Columbia, had that privilege. However, had they been broadcast, that would have sent a clear message about our values of equality. Unfortunately, we were not up to the challenge and we missed out on an excellent opportunity that will not come around again any time soon.
The problems with captioning of the online broadcast of the games and the lack of accessibility at some of the facilities have also been criticized.
I can only hope that these basic issues will be corrected by the next games.
Today, we are also celebrating an achievement on another front in the struggle for an inclusive and accessible Canada. In December the House of Commons unanimously passed my motion urging the government to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities before the Paralympics began.
Last Thursday, on the eve of the games, Canada did just that and became the 78th country to ratify the convention. We can now celebrate the Paralympic games without questions about our commitment to equal rights hanging over us. Although it took seven years to get us here, we can now say equivocally that there is a strong consensus in Canada, both here in Parliament and outside, behind the convention and its principles and clear responsibilities at all levels of government to follow through with action.
This marks a major and meaningful achievement for the disability community in Canada. I want to acknowledge the instrumental role played by the Council of Canadians with Disabilities and the Canadian Association for Community Living in moving Canada's commitment to the convention forward. They have spearheaded an effort over the years that of course received the active support of other advocacy groups such as Independent Living Canada, People First of Canada, Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians and Canadian Association of the Deaf, to name just a few.
We now have a framework through which Canadians living with disabilities can work to achieve equality, equality that is now a matter of right not benevolence or charity. Moreover, there are very clear measures for gauging our progress.
There is much work left to be done. When the Paralympic flame is extinguished, the 12% of Canadians living with disabilities still face unacceptable barriers to daily living and participating as equals in Canada's social, economic and cultural life.
Today, we stand to show our commitment that through these games and the signing of this convention, we will work to ensure full equality. This is a true cause for celebration.