Disability in Canada

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People with disability in New Brunswick, 2017.
People with disability in New Brunswick, 2017.

According to a 2012 survey by Statistics Canada, around 3.8 million adult Canadians reported being "limited in their daily activities due to a disability". This represented 13.7% of the adult population. The three most-prevalent forms of disability in Canada are chronic pain issues, mobility, and flexibility limitations. Around 11% of Canadian adults experience one of these disability types, and 40% of those people have had all three at the same time.[1] Disabled people in Canada have historically experienced many forms of discrimination and abuse, such as segregation, institutionalization, and compulsory sterilization. They were not given the same rights as non-disabled people until the end of the 1970s, when the Coalition of Provincial Organizations of the Handicapped (now Council for Canadians with Disabilities) initiated significant changes. Legislation intended to protect disabled Canadians include the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Canadian Human Rights Act, and the Employment Equity Act.


Currently-existing federal legislation which protects the rights of Canadians with disabilities most prominently includes the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Canadian Human Rights Act, and the Employment Equity Act.[2] Discrimination against persons with disabilities is prohibited by the Canadian Human Rights Act, which was enacted in 1985.[3] In addition, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, enacted in 1982,[3] guarantees that persons with disabilities are protected by and will receive the same benefits under the law as any other Canadian.[4] The Employment Equity Act aims to ensure that particular groups, including persons with disabilities, enjoy the same employment opportunities and benefits as anyone else.[5]


Largely having to do with the widespread trust of medical authority and the growth of industrialization, Canadian society during the late 19th and early 20th centuries fostered the segregation of persons with disabilities.[6] Public institutions, such as psychiatric hospitals, houses for the blind, houses of refuge, and church-run homes, confined and isolated persons with disabilities from the rest of society. Persons with disabilities were seen as being a burden on the rest of society and denied the full exercise of their rights.[6]

War wounded[edit]

After World War I, many veterans returned to Canada with disabilities due to war injuries and had difficulty re-integrating into society. The needs of these veterans gave rise to disability advocacy organizations such as the War Amps, which fought for the need for services like rehabilitation, training in sheltered workshops, and other employment-related services.[6] A disparity formed between the status of veterans with disabilities and that of civilians with disabilities, which would continue to widen until after World War II. In the mid-20th century, civilians with disabilities and their allies advocated for the rights of all persons with disabilities to participate fully in society. The deinstitutionalization of persons with disabilities was among their primary causes.[6]

Compulsory sterilization[edit]

From the end of the 1920s and into the 1970s, provincial legislation in Alberta[7] and British Columbia[8] allowed for persons with mental health disabilities who had been institutionalized to be sterilized for the purpose of preventing them from having children who would inherit the same disabilities. While legislation in British Columbia required the consent of the person in question, their spouse, or a guardian, a 1937 amendment to the Sexual Sterilization Act of Alberta meant that, in certain circumstances, this procedure could be completed without the consent or even the knowledge of the person being sterilized. In Alberta, this legislation was repealed in 1972 under the Progressive Conservative government of Peter Lougheed. David King, the MLA who had tabled the bill for the repeal of the Act, stated that he saw the legislation as being in violation of human rights.[7] In British Columbia, legislation permitting sexual sterilization was repealed in 1973, and the E (Mrs) v Eve Supreme Court decision in 1986 affirmed that, in Canada, it is not legal to sexually sterilize someone without their consent outside of emergency situations.[8]


During the 1950s and 1960s, the process continued for the deinstitutionalization of persons with disabilities. Not-for-profit organizations such as the Canadian Association for Community Living (formed in 1958, then called the Canadian Association for Retarded Children) opened group homes for persons with disabilities and advocated that money saved by closing government institutions could be used for the expansion of community services.[6]

Disability rights organizations[edit]

The end of the 1970s marked the establishment of the Coalition of Provincial Organizations of the Handicapped (now the Council for Canadians with Disabilities [CCD]), a prominent advocacy group. This organization stood out from others in that it was composed mainly of persons with disabilities themselves, rather than allies or professionals.[6]

In 1981 the United Nations International Year for Disabled Persons drew attention to and triggered an increase in Canadians' awareness of disability issues. The following year the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was amended to include disability as a basis for discrimination,[3] a cause strongly advocated by stakeholder groups such as the CCD. Canada's Human Rights Act came into effect in 1985, and the Employment Equity Act in 1986.

As a result of the economic recession, the early 1990s marked a difficult time for persons with disabilities: less funding was available for social assistance and government subsidies were scarce and more difficult to obtain.[6] Developments on disability issues continued to be made at a federal level. In 1991, under the Mulroney government, a five-year strategic action plan was announced for the Integration of Persons with Disabilities. In 1996 Prime Minister Jean Chrétien appointed a Federal Task Force on Disability Issues.[3] The federal government Office for Disability Issues, the Government of Canada's focal point on matters with relation to disability, was founded in 2001.[3] The 1990s marked the emergence of an academic discourse aimed at determining the place of disability in Canadian society....

Twenty-first century developments in disability issues include a 2012 Supreme Court decision which established that persons with mental-health disabilities can provide reliable court testimony,[3] and Canada's ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in March 2010.[6] In signing the convention, Canada committed to attempting to improve the social and economic condition of Canadians with disabilities, and in 2014 it submitted a report to the UN detailing its progress.[6]


According to the 2012 Canadian Survey on Disability by Statistics Canada, about 3.8 million or 13.7% of Canadians aged 15 to 64 were regarded as disabled.[9] There is a correlation between disability and age, from 4.4% of those aged 15 24 to 42.5% among those 75 and older.[1]


Only 20.2% of Canadians with disabilities have a university degree compared to 40.7% of their non-disabled compatriots.[10]

Income inequality and employment[edit]

Disabled men aged 15-to-64 earn $9,557 less than non-disabled men of the same age. In the case of disabled women in the same age-group the income difference is $8,853.[10] In 2006 the unemployment rate among disabled Canadians was 8.6%, compared to the national average of 6.3%.[10]

Social inclusion[edit]

According to a 2004 survey, 10% of Canadians believe disabled people are fully included in Canadian social life. About 1.4 million disabled adults required assistance with activities of daily living in 2006.[11]


  1. ^ a b "Disability in Canada: Initial findings from the Canadian Survey on Disability". Statistics Canada. Retrieved 14 December 2017.
  2. ^ "Acts and Regulations: Disability". esdc.gc.ca. 2013-12-17. Retrieved 2015-11-12.
  3. ^ a b c d e f "People with Disabilities Significant Historical Events" (PDF). Region of Waterloo.ca. Retrieved 2015-11-12.
  4. ^ "Human Rights". Council of Canadians with Disabilities. Retrieved 2015-11-12.
  5. ^ "Employment Equity Act". justice.gc.ca. 2015-11-05. Retrieved 2015-11-12.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Disability Rights Movement". Historica Canada. 2015-02-04. Retrieved 2015-11-12.
  7. ^ a b "Eugenics". Canada's Human Rights History. Retrieved 2015-04-09.
  8. ^ a b "Eugenics Timeline". eugenicsarchive.ca. Retrieved 2015-11-12.
  9. ^ "The Daily — Canadian Survey on Disability, 2012". Statcan.gc.ca. 2013-12-03. Retrieved 2015-04-09.
  10. ^ a b c "Report on Equality Rights of People with Disabilities" (PDF). Chrc-ccdp.ca. Retrieved 2015-05-21.
  11. ^ "Table 1 - Adults with disabilities that need help with everyday activities, by sex and age groups, Canada, 2001 and 2006". Statcan.gc.ca. 2010-01-29. Retrieved 2015-04-09.