Canadian Association of the Deaf at the 17th CRPD Committee Session
CRPD Country Review for Canada
The implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in Canada was monitored by the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD Committee) during its 17th session in March/April 2017 in Geneva, Switzerland. WFD Ordinary Member from Canada, the Canadian Association of the Deaf (CAD), has been involved in the national disability movement and President Frank Folino was part of the delegation of Canadian organisations of Persons with Disabilities (DPO) attending both the 6th pre-sessional working group and 17th session of the CRPD Committee. Mr Folino shares in this article about the pre-work, processes and take away lessons of this event.
Prior to Geneva, extensive background work is needed. For instance, CAD researched on national legislations, areas of concerns, case studies, general comments of the CRPD Committee and other documentations. An advocacy strategy was also adopted by the CAD aiming to include deaf education issues in the concluding observations on Canada. CAD President Folino said that it is important to identify the relevant CRPD committee members’ areas of interests beforehand and engage in specific discussion upon meeting them in Geneva during break times. According to CAD’s advocacy strategy, he took the opportunity to interact with members of the CRPD Committee who were very interested on Article 24.
The Geneva experience – finding solutions to full participation
Private briefing on each country takes only an hour without possibility for DPO representatives to have time to prepare responses. As a deaf person, it can be challenging to agree with other DPO representatives during the dialogue while simultaneously trying to observe sign language interpretation. Moreover, it was equally important to observe the official dialogue between the CRPD Committee and the Government of Canada. CAD President Folino foresaw this issue in advance and it was agreed that all representatives would have a laptop and discuss via group Skype discussion wherein communication is done writing. Such a real-time discussion enabled Frank’s full participation in the DPO’s preparation to provide written recommendations for the CRPD Committee based on what transpired during the official dialogue.
Additionally, CAD President Folino shared that the time in Geneva was hectic and fully packed with meetings and lobbying work. This required lots of advance pre-work such as preparing suggested questions to the CRPD Committee as well as being able to promptly adapt and collaborate quickly with Canadian colleagues to provide further information to questions posed real-time.
Canada’s advocacy strategy – focusing on pressing issues
Geographically, Canada is a large country and many deaf children live in different parts. Being the only deaf child in mainstream schools and having access to sign language only through interpretation leads to isolation that causes mental health and social issues. From this perspective, the CAD decided to focus on the lack of sign language environment of deaf children in educational settings. CAD President Folino stressed that it is inappropriate for deaf students to be isolated due to lack of signing peers, and can only communicate in sign language through an interpreter. Moreover, it would not benefit the Canadian Deaf Community if all interpreters were employed in schools in different parts of the country for the purpose of only one deaf student due to interpreter shortage that would consequently cause barriers in communication in health care, justice system and other public services.
Concluding observation in Canada by the CRPD Committee
The CRPD Committee’s concluding observations on Canada mentions the following issues: “The Committee is concerned about the: … Isolation of hard of hearing and deaf children in education due to the lack of peer groups.” and “The Committee recommends that the State party: … Ensure that teachers are trained in inclusive education at all levels, in sign language and other accessible formats of information and communication … Ensure Sign language learning environments in bilingual schools to enable signing hard of hearing and deaf children to be fully included in education.”
Take away lessons
CAD President Folino is satisfied with the result and feels that it was worthwhile to prepare a strategy, collaborate with DPO and attend the CRPD sessions in Geneva. The next step for the CAD is to advocate for the implementation of aforementioned recommendations.
Strong collaboration with other DPO
Although national associations of the deaf might not feel being part of the disability movement, CAD President Folino strongly encourages collaboration with other DPOs because together we have stronger visibility and position instead of working alone to lobby towards the CRPD implementation. Despite different views i.e. on Article 24 – Education, it is important to build good relationship with other DPOs and be prepared to make reasonable compromises. Moreover, through the collaboration national associations of the deaf would be aware on current process and concerns in the political arena with the possibility to contribute on deaf issues in this regard. In the Canadian DPO group, indigenous people and LGBT community were also represented reflecting the diversity of persons with disabilities.
Reverse psychology advocacy
CAD President Folino advises other national associations of the deaf to take reverse approach on advocacy. He says that it is easier to make the other party understand your perspective if they were put in your shoes. For example, asking a hearing person “How would you feel being the only hearing person at your school without having anyone to talk to in your language?” could be effective compared to sharing our experience that they have not experienced themselves.
Adopt broad focus
Another advice that CAD President Folino wants to give to national associations of the deaf is that it is important to keep a broad focus. When talking about Article 24 of the CRPD, it is important to highlight also Article 3 – General Principles and Article 6 – Women with disabilities because these articles are interrelated to the whole convention.
Constant monitoring of the CRPD and other human rights treaties
The CAD is currently working with other Canadian DPOs to monitor the implementation of the concluding observations from the CRPD Committee. Since the Government of Canada will change in 2019/2020, the DPOs aim to advocate to achieve most of the recommendations before that. There are other human rights treaty bodies to which Canada is providing reports in the near future. CAD President Folino said that the CRPD parallel reporting process was a good start for the DPO collaboration and they plan to become involved in other treaty body processes. The CRPD has relevance with all other human rights treaties and DPOs need to take the opportunity to influence through them towards the full implementation.
Support by International Disability Alliance and WFD Human Rights Officer seen as important
CAD President Folino appreciated the support from both the International Disability Alliance staff member in coordinating the group’s program as well as consultations from the WFD Human Rights that was done in International Sign.