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Thoughts on December 10, 2020

International Human Rights Day, 2020

The byline for this year’s theme is Stand up for Human Rights

And on this day in Canada, 212 elected representatives in the House of Commons stood up, one by one, to poison the spring from which the spirit of human rights flows. One by one, 212 drops of poison.

Perhaps, to be generous, some of those officials believed that what they were doing was right, and good, and even progressive. That seems the only way to understand the votes of Parliamentary champions of conscience and principle like Elizabeth May.

Others were guided by pragmatism. Yes, the process had been flawed, but in the end, they would hold their noses and meet the Québec court deadline, thereby avoiding an awkward impasse between Québec and the federal government.

And others, I hope not as many as I fear, were driven by craven political ambition. Bill C7 has a popular base of support, in ways that tough choices in defence of human rights do not.

I hope at least that all of them had considered the arguments against Bill C7 that a unified national disability rights movement had spoken aloud, forcefully and consistently, and with increased national attention in the past 10 days. For I cannot bear to think that given the ultimate human stakes of this Bill, an elected representative would favour the tidy processed logic of a partisan Justice Department briefing note over the complex and nuanced analysis of a socially marginalized group defending its precarious claim to equality. In other words, I hope that no one voted in favour of Bill C7 rather than doing the work of grappling with the content and the implications of the disability rights position.

Perhaps if we had more time – but that was the point of this legislative joyride. It takes time to see what is plain for some, but invisible to most. It takes time on both sides – we who recognize the faintest scent of ableism must calibrate our every word to each listener’s ear, must find our way, brick by brick, to expose the unseen logic of ableism. One by one, it seems, we must gently pierce through the protective veneer of fellow citizens, even friends and colleagues, who believe themselves kind, and cannot entertain the slightest insinuation of a reflex that fears, or worse, reviles, disabled bodies.

It takes time as well for those who do not understand, and therefore cannot agree, that Bill C7 rolls back the very footings of our self-respect as disabled people. It takes time, and deep thought, to fully grasp and commit to the principle that our lives are worth more than death, that our pain and suffering, like all human pain and suffering, deserves more than death, and that the myths and stereotypes that govern our relations with fellow citizens must not be permitted to infect our precious and hard-fought-for place in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Without time, we were doomed to fail in the House of Commons. The status quo in thought and structure would prevail. And ableism would persist in stealth of plain sight, on its quiet march toward an illegitimate authority.

At least in the Senate, we can still hope for a little more time.

Meanwhile, in my corner of the country, night has fallen on Human Rights Day 2020. May the evening offer rest and reflection to us all, and may the setback of a wrongful vote serve to remind us of the strength of our solidarity and the integrity of our collective commitments to the human rights of all.

December 10 is a day to remember the cause of human rights. December 11, and every one of the other 364 each year, are the days for rising, in whatever ways we can, to their defence.

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