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Challenges for disabled Canadians persist, including high poverty rates: report

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Laurie Beachell, national co-ordinator for the Council of Canadians With Disabilities.

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Laurie Beachell, national co-ordinator for the Council of Canadians With Disabilities.

OTTAWA - Canada's disabled citizens face ongoing challenges to their well-being, including barriers to language and communication, learning and training, and safety and security, says a new report.

Four years after the federal government ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Canada released its first report on Tuesday into how disabled Canadians are faring under that convention.

The 61-page document, prepared by federal, provincial and territorial governments, notes that poverty rates among persons with disabilities in Canada remains a challenge, as does ensuring more disabled Canadians find work.

It provides few specifics, however, on other challenges, and instead offers up a laundry list of various federal and provincial programs and initiatives aimed at helping Canada's disabled citizens participate in everything from organized sports to post-secondary education and the justice system.

It doesn't provide any information on the success rates of those initiatives, however.

"Improving the well-being of persons with disabilities, increasing their opportunities to participate in economic and social life and fulfilling their potential requires an ongoing, multi-faceted and multi-partner approach," the report reads.

Ottawa allocates $222 million annually to the provinces and territories to design and deliver programs aimed at spurring employment opportunities for those with disabilities. The money is to be matched by provincial and territorial governments for the next four years

In last week's federal budget, the Conservative government also announced $15 million over three years for the Canadian Association for Community Living (CACL) for its new job-creation strategy.

Still, stakeholders say, the majority of disabled Canadians are under-employed or unemployed.

About one in seven Canadians are mentally or physically disabled. The most common types of disabilities among adults are pain-related, mobility or agility issues, the report states.

Laurie Beachell, the national co-ordinator for the Council of Canadians With Disabilities, said the report also pays short shrift to Canada's aboriginal community.

"The federal government has direct responsibility for people on reserves," said Beachell.

The incidence of disabilities among aboriginal Canadians is higher than the norm, he added — "almost three times higher in some age brackets" due to poverty and substance abuse issues.

"On my first read, I just thought: 'This is a population that's in really dire circumstances, and much more needs to be done,'" Beachell said.

He also chastised the government for failing to adhere to Article 33 of the UN convention on disabled people that requires Canada to designate an independent monitoring mechanism to "promote, protect and monitor" the implementation of the convention.

The report states that Canada "implements this article at both the federal and provincial/territorial levels through a variety of mechanisms such as courts, human rights commissions and tribunals, public guardians, ombudspersons and intergovernmental bodies."

Other countries, including the U.K., Germany, France, New Zealand and Australia, have designated their national human rights bodies as their independent monitoring agency, but Canada has failed to appoint the Canadian Human Rights Commission to the role.

"This convention was the first to require the naming of a monitoring body, and the government has chosen not to do so, it's chosen not to name the Human Rights Commission or another body," Beachell said.

"Instead, it simply sets forward a bit of a dog's breakfast."

The government refused to comment on the specifics of the report Tuesday, but a spokeswoman at Employment and Social Development Canada defended the Conservative record.

"No government has done more to support Canadians with disabilities than our Conservative government," said Alexandra Fortier. "Participation of Canadians with disabilities is vital to our economic success."

Follow Lee-Anne Goodman on Twitter at @leeanne25

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