Webcast archive: Review of Canadian legislation – Newfoundland & Labrador

This week we are reviewing provincial disability rights legislation in Newfoundland & Labrador.

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

  • Review of Canadian disability rights legislation: Newfoundland & Labrador
  • Mixed results on assisted suicide bills in Australia

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


  • Hi everyone! We’ve reached part seven of our series on disability legislation across Canada. With today’s review of disability rights in Newfoundland and Labrador, we’ve gone through more than half of Canada so far. Newfoundland does not have a law establishing rights for people with disabilities.
  • The latest progress on that front came a few weeks ago, when the province announced some changes to its rules governing the construction of parking lots and new or renovated buildings. These include:
    • Increasing the size requirements of accessible washrooms
    • Decreasing the slope of ramps
    • Marking parking spaces with signs, instead of blue paint on the ground (which creates a slippery surface and is invisible under the snow).
    • Increasing fines for illegally parking in an accessible spot – they will now range from $400-$700 instead of $100-$400.
    • Requiring 10% of apartments in multi-unit buildings to be accessible, instead of 7%.
    • Requiring new and renovated buildings to have automatic door openers.
    • Requiring service counters to be lowered and barrier free.
    • Requiring floors to be completely level. (currently, raised platforms are allowed in security & observation areas.)
    • The term “persons with disabilities” will be used in legislation, replacing more outdated language such as “physically disabled persons”
  • These changes will make provincial standards consistent with the provincial Building Accessibility Act and the National Building Code of Canada.
  • Lisa Dempster, minister of Children, Seniors and Social Development, told the St. John’s Telegram newspaper this summer that the government will “consult with people with disabilities, organizations and municipal governments in the coming year” about making further changes. Cecilia Carroll, who chaired the Building Accessibility Advisory Board, was extremely disappointed in the idea of more consultations instead of concrete action. She said the last review of the Building Accessibility Act took four years, ending in 2004. Most recommendations “went nowhere.”
  • Newfoundland also has a Disability Services Office, whose primary goals are to help government departments avoid excluding people with disabilities, promote inclusion, and raise awareness of disability issues. It produced a provincial strategy like British Columbia did, but there has been no follow-up.
  • Other initiatives include trying to start an accessible taxi program, offering grants to modify vehicles, and a “Words with Dignity” campaign. Newfoundlanders are encouraged to say “wheelchair user” instead of “wheelchair-bound,” or that someone “has” a disability rather than “suffers”.  But it promotes person-first language to the point where the term “disabled” is seen as negative.
  • The province also has a number of government programs to assist people with disabilities in finding work;
    • Employability Assistance helps clients access the skills and supports necessary to work. Services include: employment counselling, assessment and planning, pre-employment training, post-secondary education, skills training, and providing adaptive equipment.
    • The Employment Supports program helps workers or job seekers obtain workplace accommodations, as well as software or assistive devices (like hearing aids, scanners, or screen readers).
    • Other initiatives provide summer jobs, after-school work, internships in the field of assistive technology, and work terms in the public service. The Office of Employment Equity for Persons with Disabilities may also provide wage subsidies for Crown corporations and other governments to hire disabled people.
  • Newfoundland has multiple programs to provide housing for people with intellectual disabilities:
    • The Alternative Family Care Home Program allows “two unrelated adults with intellectual disabilities (to live) in a family atmosphere” in order to receive “room and board, supervision and personal and social support.”
    • The Cooperative Apartment Program allows up to three adults with intellectual disabilities to share a rented unit with live-in support staff. The program’s “emphasis is on skill teaching and support to enable more independent living.”
    • The Shared Living Arrangements program allows people to share a space and related costs permanently. Individual Living Arrangements are also available for those who are “unable to reside with their (family),” or, presumably, housemates.
  • The Home Modification Program provides funding to low-to-moderate income seniors and persons with disabilities, who own their homes and require accessibility modifications. An applicant must have an annual income of $46,500 or less.
  • Newfoundland also offers some in-home support services:
    • The Direct Home Services Program offers early intervention to infants, toddlers, and preschoolers who have or who are at risk of “significant developmental delay.”
    • Community Behavioural Services allows school-age children with “a developmental disability and significant behavioural concerns” to receive the support needed to lessen these “issues” at home and elsewhere.
    • For adults, the Provincial Home Support Program allows an agency, or a private worker hired by the family, to provide “personal and behavioural supports, household management and respite. Home support services are intended to supplement, not replace, service provided by the individual family and/or support network.”
  • The Special Assistance Program provides basic medical supplies and adaptive equipment, “such as dressings, catheters…oxygen (equipment)…braces, burn garments, wheelchairs, commodes or walkers.”
  • Finally, like Alberta, Newfoundland has a Provincial Advisory Council for the Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities. It has been active since 2003. Meeting notes and reports are available online. The most recent info (from 2016) shows that the Council provided advice on provincial legislation, reminding officials that it should be “rights-based and broad in scope,” covering “supported decision-making; legal capacity; inclusive education; accessible transportation and built environments; employment; procurement requirements, access to American Sign Language (ASL) and support of Deaf culture.”


  • Two Australian states had different reactions to proposed assisted suicide laws. New South Wales – the state with the largest population – defeated its bill with a 20-19 vote.
  • The bill would have allowed anyone over the age of 25, with an illness expecting to cause death within 12 months, to access assisted suicide. The person would need to be assessed by a psychologist or psychiatrist and have their decision approved by two medical practitioners. One of those two professionals must be a specialist.
  • Victoria, the state with the second-largest population, approved a bill allowing assisted suicide for residents of the state who:
    • are over 18
    • have a life expectancy of less than six months,
    • and have an illness that is incurable and causes intolerable suffering.
  • The law comes into effect in June of 2019.
  • Diane Coleman, president of Not Dead Yet in the US, wrote a letter to the Victoria Legislative Council. She explained that incorrect prognoses and misdiagnoses from medical professionals are common, and could cause someone’s life could be cut short unnecessarily. In addition, Ms. Coleman stressed that users of respiratory support – and other assistance commonly portrayed as limiting or invasive – can live full and active lives.
  • The leader of the federal Green Party, Richard Di Natale, has said that he will put forward a bill next year based on the Victorian legislation. His bill would allow each of Australia’s six states (and two territories) to come up with their own legislation.  Before that, Di Natale is planning a second bill which will overturn a law preventing the Australian Capital Territory and Northern Territory from introducing assisted suicide legislation. The ban has been in place since 1997.