DULCIE MCCALLUM • Guest opinion
It was disheartening to read less than 10 days after International Day of People with Disabilities (December 3rd) that Nova Scotia once again appears to have no sympathy for its government commitments regarding the rights of people with disabilities.
As a member of Canada’s delegation to the United Nations to negotiate the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the first international human rights document in the new millennium, I was concerned that an 18-month-old child was permanently admitted to the province after being in care all information was taken from her loving mother who happens to be mentally disabled.
The purpose of this letter is not to question Judge Forgeron’s decision, but rather to highlight the possibility that relevant evidence may not have been before her, or that other considerations have been ignored or overlooked by government officials, both of which are equally disturbing.
When the Convention was concluded, our “fair” province was the first to agree to then Foreign Minister Peter MacKay that Canada should become a signatory. But now, 10 years after Canada ratified the convention, Nova Scotia again seems to have failed to meet its obligations under international human rights law.
A court ruling by The Chronicle Herald (“Infant in constant care,” Dec. 12) cites the judge’s findings: “Although the mother truly loves her daughter because of circumstances beyond her control, she is not in that Location safe to parents. The mother is a vulnerable person herself. In addition, the mother has no sustainable support options. In the face of these facts, I have no choice but to place the child in the constant care of the Minister. “
“No viable support options.” To be clear, the Convention guarantees people with disabilities the right to live with community support and services. Likewise, a person with a disability has the right to choose to be a parent and receive the necessary support and services in order to exercise that right. It is important that the Convention also obliges governments not to separate a child from their parent on the basis of a disability of the child or its parent.
One has to ask. Does the woman herself, as a vulnerable person, have the appropriate support and services? What steps has the province taken to provide the mother with the necessary support and services to enable her to become parents? Has the province presented evidence to the judge of their efforts to develop a support and service plan that takes into account the child’s exceptional needs as a result of the challenges they face as a product of incest? Or was the mother forced to prepare her own upbringing plan without support for the court?
Chronicle Herald’s Chris Lambie says there has been some justice (“Halifax Judge Sentences Man Who Impregnated His Own Daughter,” December 16). The mother’s father is convicted of incest in the new year. It appears that the only option the provincial government was investigating was for the father / grandfather to become the primary caregiver in his home for both descendants, and when this fell apart the government appeared to have looked no further. And because of the government’s request for permanent residence, which results in the child being placed in foster care, the mother cannot have visiting rights. In my opinion, both the original plan and the outcome do not pass a decency test or conform in any way to convention.
So many questions that would benefit from answers. I suspect the government has not given Judge Forgeron an opportunity to examine these questions and get answers. I am curious to see if anyone raised the rights of mothers and their daughters in the context of the Convention.
Is it possible that a woman with a disability in the province who gives Canada a thumbs up first when signing the convention could lose her daughter because officials failed to provide her with the necessary support and services as an individual and as a mother ?
Dulcie McCallum is a human rights attorney currently in the Master of Fine Arts program in creative non-fiction at the University of King’s College, working on a memoir of stories about her legal work with people with intellectual disabilities. She lives in St. Mary’s Municipality and HRM.
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