'It is fundamental to an inclusive society that those with disabilities be accommodated when interacting with the institutions of government.' - Justice Richard Mosley
Ottawa (23 August 2006) - The Federal Court of Canada has issued a landmark ruling ordering the federal government to make professional sign language interpretation services available on request when providing services to persons who are deaf or affected by a loss of hearing.
Written by Justice Richard Mosley, the decision makes three important findings:
"1. Professional sign language interpretation services are to be provided and paid for by the government of Canada, upon request, where a deaf or hard of hearing person receives services from or participates in programs administered by the government of Canada and the nature of communication between the government and the person requires such services;
"2. Where the government of Canada engages in public or private consultations with non-governmental organizations in the development of policy and programs in which the deaf and hard of hearing Canadians have identifiable interests and the nature of communications requires such services, visual interpretation services are to be provided and paid for by the government of Canada to allow the meaningful participation of organizations representing the deaf and hard of hearing communities;
"3. The applicants are entitled to their costs on the normal scale."
The case was filed by the Canadian Association of the Deaf (CAD) on behalf of four individuals James Roots, Gary Malkowski, Barbara Lagrange and Mary Lou Cassie.
Lawyers argued in court that the individuals were denied the services of sign language interpreters during access to the policy development process. They also lost opportunities to contract with the federal government and were unable to participate in the Statistics Canada labour force survey, the court was told.
"As Canadians, deaf persons are entitled to be full participants in the democratic process and functioning of government," Mosley wrote. "It is fundamental to an inclusive society that those with disabilities be accommodated when interacting with the institutions of government."
The association, which represents 300,000 deaf people across the country, hailed the decision as a major breakthrough.
"The Federal Court has said unequivocally that we are entitled to equal treatment," said association president Sheila Carlin. "Now we want to see all levels of government live up to that truth." NUPGE
Canadian Association of the Deaf vs. Government of Canada - pdf