Webcast archive: Review of Canadian disability legislation – Quebec

This week, we examine disability rights legislation in Quebec.

Webcast archive: Review of Canadian disability legislation – Quebec

In this episode of Euthanasia & Disability, Amy Hasbrouck, Christian Debray, and Taylor Hyatt discuss:

  • Review of Canadian disability legislation: Quebec
  • Three disabled siblings murdered by their parents in Utah

Please note that this text is only a script and that our webcast contains additional commentary.


  • Welcome back to our review of disability legislation across Canada. This week, we’re looking at Quebec’s legislation. The Act to Ensure the Exercise of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities originally came into effect in 1978.
  • The law not only guaranteed equal rights, but also included programs and services to increase the participation of disabled people in society.  It also featured a broad definition of disability based on the ability to function in the environment; an approach that would later be adopted by the United Nations.
  • The Act originally contained plans to improve accessibility of sidewalks, parking, housing, public transportation and telephone services. Its biggest accomplishment, though, was the creation of the Office of Persons with Disabilities, known by its French acronym OPHQ. The Office was responsible for coordinating and promoting resources needed by people with disabilities within the government, municipalities, and public and private sectors. These included:
    • housing,
    • goods and services,
    • employment,
    • transit,
    • education,
    • recreation, and
    • cultural activities.
  • The Office could prepare “service plans” to help individuals access education, employment, and rehabilitation, as well as grant subsidies and write employment contracts to encourage hiring disabled people. It was also responsible for doing research and publishing statistics about Quebec’s disabled population.
  • The Act to ensure the Exercise of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities received a major update in 2004. “The object of this Act is to secure handicapped persons in the exercise of their rights and, through the involvement of government departments and their networks, municipalities and public and private agencies, to help them integrate into society to the same extent as other citizens by providing for various measures to apply specifically to handicapped persons and their families, their living environments and the development and organization of resources and services for them.”
  • The OPHQ’s main role changed to evaluating services and policies affecting people with disabilities. It can also advise organizations about accessibility measures to make sure they are followed. No incentives are offered for organizations to comply with the Office’s recommendations.
  • An independent report on the law’s implementation must be published every five years. Since the 2004 update, only one report has been published, in 2012.
  • One of the major additions to the 2004 law was the development of Annual Action Plans for government departments with more than 50 employees, and municipalities with more than 15,000 residents. These documents must describe what has been done to improve accessibility in the past year and plans for the upcoming year. However, there is no penalty for failing to submit or comply with a plan. If no plan is submitted, the organization may receive reminder letters and phone calls.
  • Transit companies were also supposed to submit accessibility improvement plans to the provincial government by 2005. As of 2011, only 16 of 34 throughout Quebec had done so. Some authorities assumed paratransit is sufficient – anyone who uses it will tell you that is not the case!
  • The 2004 Act also included a strategy to cut the gap in employment rates (between Quebec residents with and without disabilities) in half by 2018. Although about 2/3 of the strategy has been implemented, it has not made a statistically significant impact.
  • Physical access to buildings has been part of the Quebec Construction Code since 1976. Accessibility standards only applied to new buildings at first. Although requirements for older buildings were eventually added, “reasonable efforts” to improve accessibility only apply to major renovations on some buildings.
  • A 2006 report from the Ministry of Labour surveyed physical accessibility of buildings in Montréal, Québec and Shawinigan. An average of 54% of public sector buildings – like schools, hospitals, and government agencies – were accessible. Only 13% of schools, and 26% of vocational training centres were accessible.  Restaurants, arenas, and event venues had a compliance rate of 45%. 59% of stores were accessible, as were 25% of apartment buildings, rooming houses and hotels. There was no follow-up on this survey.
  • Finally, the 1978 law required the OPHQ to establish and maintain a data base of accessible housing, which never happened. The 2004 Act replaced this measure with the vague obligation to “ensure the implementation of means facilitating the search for housing for people with disabilities.” There are far more people looking for suitable housing than there is housing available. How can you search for something that may not exist? (A renovation funding program is available, but wait lists are years long, funds often do not cover the costs of the work, and renters who wish to make access changes must negotiate with landlords, who may require that the property be restored to its original condition.)
  • Disabled activists have continued to pressure the government and businesses to provide access to goods, programs and services.  A Class-action lawsuit is underway against Montreal’s public transit agency for failing to make the Metro accessible, or to deal with chronic problems with the accessible buses and paratransit services.

Three disabled siblings murdered by their parents in Utah       

  • The Washington Post recently published a story about the “peaceful” deaths of three young people in Utah. Christopher, Elizabeth, and James Chappell – aged 20, 19, and 15 –all had Batten disease.
  • The condition’s progress meant that the siblings had visual, physical and cognitive disabilities; they used wheelchairs and feeding tubes, which the article called “life support.” When Christopher began to need tube feeding, his parents felt that it would only “keep his body alive.” They began to reconsider the “choice” they had made for their other kids. (In what other situation is the possibility of not feeding your child legitimate?)
  • In July, the parents decided to sedate their children and stop feeding them. All three died over the course of a weekend. Legal authorities looked the other way, believing this to be a “tragic” but “understandable” response to the siblings’ disabilities.
  • The article used extremely ableist language, at one point mentioning the remaining “sentient” siblings sharing memories of the ones who were killed.  The story is told from the parents’ point of view and the reporter clearly sympathizes with the parents, while viewing the disabled young people as non-humans and objects.  Nor does the reporter question the lack of response of the criminal justice system to the starvation death of three people.
  • This story is similar to the Latimer case in Canada. In 1993, Robert Latimer killed his daughter Tracy, who had cerebral palsy. He claimed he wanted to keep her from suffering and “enduring” what he considered a very limited quality of life.
  • Latimer was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. The sentence was challenged and ultimately upheld by the Supreme Court in 2001. He was paroled in 2010.