Glendon’s Jean-Gabriel Castel lecture looks at human rights

Philippe Dufresne, director and senior counsel of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, delivered the keynote speech – “From a Medical Model to the Model of Rights: The Impact of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Canadian Law” – at Glendon’s sixth annual Jean-Gabriel Castel Conference on International Law & International Organizations.

Dufresne opened his bilingual presentation by paying tribute to that day’s 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day (March 8), saying that women could also be counted as persons with disabilities, given that they are often at a disadvantage – as a group and as individuals – in legal, professional and social issues, and while great strides have been made to correct this, there is still very much to do.

Right: From left, Awalou Ouedraogo of Glendon’s International Studies Department, Professor Jean-Gabriel Castel, Philippe Dufresne, Glendon Principal Kenneth McRoberts and Professor Stanislav Kirschbaum

Dufresne went on to explain that the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, an international human rights instrument of the United Nations, was created to protect the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities and ensure that they enjoy full equality under the law. The Convention is monitored by the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

“There are 650 million persons with disabilities in the world today, approximately 10 per cent of the world’s total population,” said Dufresne. “In addition, there are all those millions who live with these individuals and are therefore impacted by their challenges.” What is needed for positive change in this area is a paradigm shift in addressing their needs, removing the barriers confronting them and enabling them to live with equal opportunities and dignity.

Left: Philippe Dufresne

Dufresne outlined three stages of development in the historical approach to disability issues in Canada and the rest of the developed world. The first was the medical model, traditionally practiced until the 1970s by finding medical solutions to disability problems. The second was the social model, implemented in the 1970s. which recognized that most of the obstacles resulted from social attitudes, physical obstacles, the man-made environment and the policies reflecting these attitudes. The third, currently in effect, is the legal model, which strives to formulate in laws and rules that persons with disabilities have specific legal rights to full participation in society, with dignity.

Dufresne is responsible for the Human Rights Commission’s representation before courts and administrative tribunals in precedent-setting cases raising issues of human rights law. Forty-four per cent of all the complaints received by the Human Rights Commission deal with discrimination against people with disabilities.

“In this country, a substantial number of the laws, rules and approaches ensuring the full participation of persons with disabilities with dignity is already formulated within our laws”, explained Dufresne. “What is needed is to ensure the full participation of all organizations. We must also plead cases at the international level in order to change the laws for everyone concerned.”

The road ahead for persons with disabilities, whether physical, racial, gender-related, mental or emotional, is still long and arduous, especially in developing countries, he said.

Dufresne  was introduced by Professor Stanislav Kirschbaum, chairman of Glendon’s Department of International Studies and host of the lecture.

More about Philippe Dufresne

Dufresne is a jurist, and director and senior counsel of the Canadian Human Rights Commission’s Litigation Services Division. He has represented the Commission before the Supreme Court of Canada on a number of occasions, including in cases dealing with the duty to accommodate, parliamentary privilege, and the independence and impartiality of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. He has also appeared before the senate subcommittee on human rights on the issue of employment equity.

From 2003 to 2004, he was a legal officer responsible for international criminal tribunals with the United Nations, Human Rights & Humanitarian law division of the Department of Foreign Affairs. Dufresne is also a part-time professor at the University of Ottawa. He is currently writing a book on human rights law in Canada.

More about the annual Jean-Gabriel Castel Conference on International Law & International Organizations

The Jean-Gabriel Castel Lecture was created in 2004 to honour Professor Jean-Gabriel Castel, an internationally acknowledged jurist and now emeritus Distinguished Research Professor in international law at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and officer of the Order of Canada. For a decade, Professor Castel had taught international law to Glendon’s undergraduate students in the International Studies Program.

Submitted by Glendon communications officer Marika Kemeny