The Optional Protocol and disability rights in Canada

For Individuals

If you've faced discrimination because of your disability, you've got options. Here in Canada, we have access to a few important resources that are designed to help you fight back if your rights have been violated because of your disability.

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Have your rights been violated?
About the Optional Protocol
How to make a human rights complaint locally
Making an Optional Protocol complaint
Picture of a disable man working in a compupter
Did you know?
  • 40% of people with disabilities report their disability has limited their career options*
  • 1 in 4 students with a disability have been bullied in school because of their disability*
  • 1 in 10 students with a disability end their education early because of their disability*

The Optional Protocol has been set up to make sure that people with disabilities have a way to fight back against discrimination and barriers like these.

Have your rights been violated?

Here in Canada, we have several laws in place to make sure that the rights of people with disabilities are protected. These are underpinned by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is part of Canada’s Constitution. There is also the Accessible Canada Act in addition to territorial and provincial accessibility laws, as well as territorial, provincial and federal human rights legislation.

These documents state that, just like everyone else, Canadians who have disabilities have the right to live free from discrimination, and enjoy the same quality of service, education, vocation and inclusion as people who don't have disabilities.

  • Must not be treated badly because of your disability.
  • Must not have a worse/lesser experience with services because of your disability. For example, you must not be denied access or given reduced access to stores, restaurants or any other services that other people can enjoy.
  • Must not be denied a job or career opportunity because of your disability, and must not receive any negative treatment at work, be demoted, or lose your job because of your disability.
  • Must be given reasonable accommodations by employers and service providers in order to participate fully in and access these areas of your life. For instance, you might need a wheelchair ramp to get into your doctor's office, a braille version of a job application, an American Sign Language interpreter at a community meeting, or other forms of accommodation.
If you are denied any of the rights we've talked about above, that means your rights may have been violated because of your disability. You should seek legal advice for more information about your rights and the legal options that you may have.

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About the Optional Protocol

Have you ever heard of the Optional Protocol? Even though it’s not easy to understand what it is by the name, the Optional Protocol is an important tool for people whose rights have been violated because of their disability.

Let's talk about the UNCRPD

Before you can understand what the Optional Protocol is, you need to know about the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). Why? Because the two agreements work together.

So let's talk about the UNCRPD: it's an international human rights agreement that spells out the fundamental human rights of people who have disabilities. The purpose of the UNCRPD is to make sure that people who have disabilities are treated fairly, have the same opportunities as people without disabilities, and are fully included in society. Canada agreed to the UNCRPD in the year 2010.

How the Optional Protocol factors in

How does the Optional Protocol factor in to the UNCRPD? The Optional Protocol is an extra agreement to the UNCRPD, which Canada signed on to in December of 2018. The Optional Protocol is a way that people who have disabilities can make human rights complaints if someone or something has violated their rights.

It's important to know that the Optional Protocol isn't the first place you should turn for help if your rights have been violated because of your disability. Instead, the Optional Protocol is a last resort that you can use if you haven't been able to get any help with your human rights complaint through local resources, like the Canadian Human Rights Commission. It’s also important to know that the UN can only make recommendations on how your complaint should be resolved; it can't take any direct actions.

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How to make a human rights complaint locally

If you think your rights have been violated because of your disability, you don't have to take that treatment. The more people with disabilities who complain about violations of their human rights, the less likely they are to happen – because by talking about these issues, we're showing the world that we won't tolerate them.

Okay, so how do you file a human rights complaint locally? First and foremost, it's a good idea to seek legal advice about what your rights are and what legal options you may have. In addition to legal support, you may also want support from other people who can help you with the process, such as a local disability organization. That being said, you definitely don't have to have legal counsel, and you can submit your complaint on your own if you'd like.

First, you'll need to identify where the most appropriate place to bring your claim would be. This will depend on a number of different factors. It could be a human rights body at the territorial, provincial or national level; a tribunal; or a court of law, depending on the circumstances. This is why it's always a good idea to seek legal advice, even if it's not strictly mandatory.

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Making an Optional Protocol complaint

If you'd like to submit a complaint to the United Nations Committee through the Optional Protocol, you'll need to send it in writing or another accessible format, such as audio, Easy Read or braille. Complaints can be submitted in English, French, Russian or Spanish.

When writing your complaint, try to give as much detail as you can about the human rights violation you're complaining about. And again, even though you don't have to, it may be helpful to speak to a lawyer who can help you write the complaint.

Still stumped on how to write your complaint? Click here to download the UN's submissions guidelines for making a human rights complaint through the Optional Protocol.

Once you've finished writing your complaint, you can send it to:

Petitions Team
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
United Nations Office at Geneva
1211 Geneva 10 (Switzerland)
Fax: + 41 22 917 9022 (particularly for urgent matters)

* Left Out: Challenges faced by persons with disabilities in Canada's schools, a report by the Canadian Human Rights Commission

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