Federation joins delegation meeting with Parliamentarians to improve policies
Jewish values, such as chesed (loving-kindness) and tikkun olam (repairing the world), motivate all that I do as Advocacy Advisor to the Jewish Federation of Ottawa. One of the most rewarding aspects of my job is advocating on behalf of local agencies like Tamir, which provides support for people with developmental disabilities in a Jewish environment, precisely because their work embodies our community’s commitment to these values.
Within Canada’s wider Jewish community, there are countless other non-profit agencies like Tamir working to support Jewish and non-Jewish Canadians with disabilities. As experts at the forefront of social service delivery, these agency volunteers and professionals have an abundance of practical knowledge to share about how public policy affects lives.
That is why last week, Mark Palmer, Executive Director of Tamir, and I joined a delegation, organized by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) in partnership with Jewish Federations of Canada-UIA, and Jewish social services agencies from across the country for meetings on Parliament Hill. The timing was fitting since February has been designated Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month.
In our meetings with federal Parliamentarians, we proposed four concrete, constructive ideas that the government can implement to make Canada more inclusive and accessible for all.
First, governments at all levels must dedicate funding for Canadians with disabilities, especially those living with developmental disabilities. Consider this: nine of 10 Canadians with developmental disabilities live below the poverty line, and as many as three of 10 homeless Canadians have a developmental disability. Dedicated funding is essential to address this deeply troubling problem.
While I’m encouraged that the recently announced national housing strategy includes 2,400 units for Canadians with developmental disabilities, all three levels of government should designate a set allocation of affordable housing funds for people with disabilities. And as we stressed on Parliament Hill, governments should ensure that 5 per cent of all affordable housing funds are specifically directed to those with developmental disabilities.
Second, there is a critical barrier in Canada’s immigration laws for persons with disabilities. Fortunately, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen has pledged to revise the provision of the Immigration Act that bars newcomers with disabilities from immigrating to Canada because they pose an “excessive demand” on public services. This is clearly wrong, and I urge members of the government to stay true to Minister Hussen’s commitment.
Third, tax and other benefits offered to Canadians with disabilities are adversely affected if they earn any income. Employment is a positive outcome, and persons with disabilities should not be penalized for working. I encourage MPs to address this often-overlooked problem.
And fourth, I call for a comprehensive national inclusion and accessibility law. As in other countries, this type of legislation ensures high standards of inclusion are applied consistently in any area of federal jurisdiction. We understand the government will introduce such legislation in 2018. This provides an opportunity for MPs of all stripes to collaborate in the creation of a more inclusive, accessible society.
At their core, these four ideas are about compassion, a value cherished by both the Jewish and broader Canadian community. In an age when political discourse has become less civil, emphasizing policies that advance our collective values is an important contribution to tikkun olam.
Allyson Grant is the Advocacy Adviser for the Jewish Federation of Ottawa