Physical disability groups: the chilling effect on human rights

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was originally meant to protect the rights of individuals in Canada from unreasonable restrictions to their freedom of expression and association.

In 1992, however, during the British Columbia Human Rights Commission lawsuit, known as the Cranston case, the Commission announced that it would no longer enforce Section 15 of the Charter (the section protecting individuals from discrimination on the basis of “disability”). This change to the Charter has been criticized by the main human rights commissioner who was personally involved in the original Cranston case.

For those living with a disability, their human rights are continuously endangered in Canada.

The new Canadian Human Rights Tribunal confirmed these concerns on April 20, 2016 when it ruled in favour of a cross-examination that would mean witnesses testifying in a case against a group therapy centre in Pemberton, British Columbia are no longer able to talk about what they were like as individuals with disabilities before they became part of the services provided by the service.

After being involved in the former administration of the Pemberton Centre for Living with Special Needs (PCLSW), a couple of employees eventually sued for their dismissal. Instead of granting the request of the former employees to cross-examine fellow witnesses, the tribunal refused the request, citing that there are already ways for witnesses to describe their demeanor and personality without having to put themselves up for interrogation.

However, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has been since censured for infringing the rights of a group of disabled individuals by adopting unjustified criteria to assess people’s appearance and personality.

On its official website, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT) states: “In 1993, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled that the human rights of a group of residents in Pemberton, British Columbia may not be affected by photographs of a sociological group therapy centre, known as the Pemberton Centre for Living with Special Needs, which caused it ‘abusive and humiliating’ impressions of its members.”

Some of the complaints against the PCTSW included that it employed “out of control students,” who “kicked and punched members of staff,” and “which were allowed to misbehave like animals.”

CHRT chair, Jeffrey Steiner, who worked as the Vice President of Programs, Funding and Development at the PCTSW from 1992-1999, however, said that the former administrator was fired because he refused to participate in the case or appear before the tribunal.

Of the complainant in the latest case, a non-verbal individual with a service disability, Steiner said “they don’t have a formal complaint, but I think there was enough evidence to put the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal to task on these issues.”

In addition to being a part of a union with many volunteers who “don’t have the time or inclination” to make videos, it is also believed that a second party was also involved in videotaping the PCTSW, which would also be violation of the Canadian Human Rights Act.

To test this theory, CHRT began the final round of the trial this week, questioning the alleged “third party” who was using his computer software to transfer these video files on to his personal computer. Steiner said he could “nearly guarantee” that the person would be successful in proving that a third party was involved, due to the limited evidence of what had actually happened.

Leave a Comment