Disability, Human Rights and the Law 2012-2013


Human rights and disability law have evolved with significant strides over the last decades. Individuals, advocates, communities, institutions, governments and nations have championed and advanced legal reforms beyond local or national borders. Today, global standards explicitly complement and compel national standards. In 2006, member states of the international community adopted the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRDP), as the first international human rights treaty on disability.

As Canada, the European Union, the US and other nations have signed the CRDP over the last six years, it has become a barometer of disability rights, duties and standards. It reinforces a human rights priority, helps empower advocates to create enabling environments, fosters inclusive policies and programs, and advances new and existing laws. Despite its passage, however, important issues, ignorance, and major legal and policy challenges remain. They stand as barriers to advancing full equality and the fundamental human rights of people with disabilities.

The seminar series

To explore some of these advances, challenges and questions, the Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism is pleased to present its 2012-2013 seminar series on selected issues of human rights and disability law. We do so in the wake of the CRDP. We offer this series to engage in one of the most compelling human rights issues of our day, consistent with the Faculty of Law’s tradition of analysis, scholarship and promotion of human rights and social justice.

This interdisciplinary series aims to identify and discuss key human rights issues, norms, strategies and challenges to implementation of CRDP standards, and to educate ourselves—legal scholars, community members, students, institutional players—with interdisciplinary and pluralistic insights. The seminar series unfolds with an initial overarching look at implementing the Convention, followed by three particular contexts on the frontiers of change. The events will follow the format of a teaching seminar and required resources will be circulated ahead of time.

RSVP to chrlp.law [at] mcgill.ca. Lunch will be provided. 

Fall semester

From Rhetoric to Practice: Implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Monday, September 24, 2012
12:30 – 2:00
Chancellor Day Hall, Stephen Scott Seminar Room (room 16)

This seminar will provide a forum for discussion  of conceptual challenges, legal standards and  international best practices for implementing the CRPD and constructively impacting the lives of people with disabilities. The topics of discussion include challenges of implementation, community living, accessibility to educational and workplace institutions, mental capacity, and monitoring. The event will also allow participants to reflect on the shift from traditional welfare-oriented supports for persons with disabilities to a rights-based model that affirms equality, independence and active citizenship.

Download a Summary of the September 24 seminar [.doc]

Equal Citizenship for Persons with Disabilities: Recognizing Legal Capacity

Wednesday, November 7, 2012
12:30 – 2:00
Chancellor Day Hall, Stephen Scott Seminar Room (room 16)

Historically, persons with disabilities have faced significant socio-legal barriers that have impeded the exercise of their rights as citizens.  Such barriers have typically been grounded on a fallacious assumption: that physical or mental disability disentitles one from legal capacity. The law has conspired in such presumptions and treatment.  Indeed, property, health, voting and inheritance laws have helped institutionalize the fallacy and inequality.

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRDP) intends to reverse this heritage by correcting the reasoning.  In concert with other provisions, article 12 recognizes individuals with disabilities as persons equal before the law. The article thus outlines enjoyment of legal capacity on an equal basis, mandates nations to provide reasonable access to the exercise of legal rights, encourages appropriate and effective safeguards to prevent abuse, and mandates full and equal property and financial rights. The extent to which governments may limit a person’s right to legal capacity proved a contentious issue in drafting the CRPD. Its translation into daily life impacts access to justice and judicial review, health and housing, financial, property and asset management of persons with disabilities. Amidst ongoing UN discussions on the interpretation and full implementation of article 12, this seminar will discuss legal and non-legal issues, challenges and steps to overcoming lingering barriers.

This second seminar will be moderated by Derek J. Jones (Research Group on Health and the Law at the CHRLP).

Anna MacQuarrie (Human Rights Officer at Inclusion International), Michael N. Bergman (lawyer; founder of the Legal Information Clinic at McGill), and Roger Bill (law student; Human Rights Intern at Disability Rights International) will serve as resource persons.

Reading resources:

1) Legal Opinion on Article 12 of the CRPD  

2) Implementing Legal Capacity Under Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: The Difficult Road From Guardianship to Supported Decision-Making, by Robert D. Dinerstein 

3) Who Gets to Decide? Right to Legal Capacity for Persons with Intellectual and Psychosocial Disabilities, by the Commissioner for Human Rights

This activity was accredited for 2 hours of CLE by the Barreau du Québec (no. 10059202).

UPDATE: download a Summary of the November 7  seminar [.doc]

Winter semester

Beyond Stigma and Exclusion: International Reforms for Mental Health in the Workplace

Wednesday, January 30, 2013
12:30 – 2:00

Chancellor Day Hall, Stephen Scott Seminar Room (room 16)

With one in five people experiencing a mental disorder during their lives, the workplace has  emerged as a prime milieu of human rights challenges for peoples with mental health disabilities. Interdisciplinary studies portray the complexity of the challenge. Employees with disabling mental illness suffer exclusion, misunderstanding, and stigma. Poor training of managers aggravates mental illness and workplace productivity, even as associated employment disability claims in many countries have risen to 30-50% of new claims.  Effective workplace policies – to outline respective rights, duties, and standards for employees, managers, and occupational health professionals – are scant. And while employers are legally obligated to accommodate disability up to the point of undue hardship, the principle in practice offers insufficient guidance.  This seminar will examine such issues with a focus on selected international standards, policies and developments for reforming mental health law and policy in our workplaces.

Anna Lawson (Senior Lecturer, University of Leeds, School of Law), Colleen Sheppard (Professor and Director at the CHRLP), and Derek J. Jones (member of the Research Group on Health and Law and of the CHRLP) will serve as resource persons.

This activity was accredited for 2 hours of CLE by the Barreau du Québec (no. 10059199).

Later that day, Anna Lawson will also be giving the Fifth Annual Lecture in Health and Law: Equality and Health: Reaching for Resolution in the Realms of Disability Rights?

Readings and video resources:

  1. Disability and Equality Law in Britain - The Role of Reasonable Adjustment - Anna Lawson [.pdf]
  2. European Agency for Safety and Health at Work - Good Practices to Promote Mental Health in the Workplace [.pdf]
  3. Hydro-Québec v. Syndicat des employé-e-s de techniques professionnelles et de bureau d'Hydro-Québec, section locale 2000 (SCFP-FTQ) (2008), 63 C.H.R.R. D/301, 2008 SCC 43 [.pdf]
  4. Sick on the Job? Myths and Realities about Mental Health and Work - OECD 2011 Mental Illness Report - Conclusions [.pdf]
  5. Mental Health in the Workplace forum held at Rotman School of Management, U. of Toronto: youtu.be/de9KxGek8_s
  6. 'see me' Scotland - Getting back to work after a mental illness: youtu.be/UMOcHLFOK9E

UPDATE: download a Summary of the January 30 seminar [.doc]

‘Mainstreaming’ Disability: Inclusive Education

Monday, February 18, 2013
12:30 – 2:00
Chancellor Day Hall, Stephen Scott Seminar Room (room 16)

This seminar will examine the role of inclusive education in integrating people with disabilities in academic settings. Despite provisions for inclusive education in human rights instruments, full integration remains elusive and people with disabilities continue to be along the least educated groups. The inclusion of students with disabilities in mainstream academic programs varies by province, leaving many children with disabilities attending segregated schools. This event will provide an opportunity for students, professors, and educators to discuss the strategies that best integrate and meet the needs of people with disabilities when implementing inclusive education.

Tara Flanagan (Assistant Professor, Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology at McGill), Cristobal Vignal (Chairperson of the Governing Board at the Mackay School), and Frédéric Fovet (Director of the Office for Students with Disabilities at McGill) will serve as resource persons.

Readings and video resources:

  1. Promoting Systemic Inclusion from the bottom up [.pdf]
  2. Developing Inclusive Education Systems [.pdf]
  3. The CRPD and its implications for Equality rights in Canada; The case of Education [.pdf]
  4. World report on disability [.pdf]
  5. Diversity in Alberta Schools: A journey to Inclusion: youtu.be/8c-3YCr7zR0 (5:50 m)

This activity was accredited for 2 hours of CLE by the Barreau du Québec (no. 10059181).

UPDATE: download a Summary of the February 18 seminar [.docx]

For more information

LLM students Dianah Msipa and Eliana Ivonne Rosas Aguilar served as rapporteurs for the Seminar Series.

The Disability Seminar Series is hosted by the Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism and the McGill Law Students Human Rights Working Group (Disability and the Law Portfolio), and supported by a generous grant from the Rathlyn Fund for Disability Rights.

The accessible entrances to Chancellor Day Hall are as follows:

  1. Law Library entrance at 3660 Peel Street
  2. Outside door to the Law cafeteria in the basement (south of Chancellor Day Hall, in front of Dr Penfield)
  3. Level 7 of the McIntyre indoor parking complex

There are ramps for wheelchair access and the elevators are located at either end of New Chancellor Day Hall.