Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute
The Roosevelt International Disability Award, 1997

The Roosevelt International Disability Award, 1997

Franklin D. Roosevelt International Disability Award Presentation To Canada

Remarks of Prime Minister Jean Crétien

March 2, 1998

Mr. Roosevelt, Ambassador vanden Heuvel, Mr. Reich, Madam Secretary General, ladies and gentlemen:

I am very honoured to accept the Franklin Delano Roosevelt International Disability Award on behalf of Canada.

[President] Roosevelt has been a great political personality and one of the greatest human beings of this century, and I do think that I will not talk long about him because you have been so, both of you, so nice and said so many truths about this great man, and he's done so much for the people that we're trying to share with today.

I do receive this award in all humility. This award is not about our government or any government for that matter. It is about people and a fundamental commitment to equality. This commitment underpins the work of REACH, the sponsor of Canada's nomination for this award, and I would like to salute Dr. Bruce Mills, the chairperson, and the honourary chairman, the Honourable Ray Hnatyshyn.

The best way I know to explain the Canadian experience on disability issues is to start with the delegation here from Canada. Seated in the audience are 13 truly extraordinary people. But they are not our guests, they are our government's partners and we are all but a small cross-section of a nation-wide Canadian partnership, a partnership of voluntary organizations, of businesses and of governments. But, at heart, a partnership of people. People dedicated to a simple proposition that persons with disabilities have the right, the right to enjoy and have access to any opportunity that life has to offer

Indeed, we believe it is a basic right of citizenship. Canada enjoys many blessings as a nation. We are rich in resources, both natural and human. A critical goal in Canada is ensuring that all Canadians get to share in what Canada has to offer and that they can contribute to making Canada even stronger.

We believe that we simply, cannot afford to exclude Canadians with disabilities from our social and economic development. We will shortchange them and just as important, we will shortchange our society and its future economic prosperity and quality of life.

Inclusion is important to our Charter of Rights and Freedoms which I had the honour to help draft and implement as Minister of Justice in 1982. Section 15 is a constitutional prohibition of discrimination on the basis of mental and physical disability. It also specifically permits affirmative action programs to help Canadians with disabilities, something our country is especially proud of.

In 1985, the Canadian Human Rights Act was amended to broaden the prohibition. And there is new legislation before our Parliament that broadens the concept of inclusion even further. From these legal landmarks flow a host of initiatives designed to meet the challenges of broadening the participation of Canadians with disabilities in our national life.

The challenge of access, the challenge of mobility, and above all, the challenge of attitude. we seek to practice this ethic at home and abroad and here at the UN, and in following up on the global land mine convention to ensure that land mine victims can return to meaningful productive lives

As I said I am part of a national partnership. Canadians will simply not passively accept policies. They take their rightful place in creating and drafting policy.

The first mandate of our government, we struck a Task Force on Disability Issues. It was made up of parliamentary members and guided by the disability community. It reads important recommendations that ate already taking effect. Our 1997 Budget contained innovative new tax measures. It created a new Opportunities Fund which will help Canadians with disabilities find and keep jobs. And our 1998 budget took additional steps.

Ladies and gentlemen, I don't want you to get the impression that our partnership is free of disagreement. In any good partnership, there is always a diversity of views. And believe me, the disability community in Canada has not been shy about letting our government know when it is not happy with what we are doing.

But our disagreements have been about means, not needs. Not hands. And about the pace of change, about the availability of resources and all Canadians have made sacrifices to restore the fiscal health of our nation and today I want to say to my partners here in this room and beyond, that as Canada begins moving into a post-deficit era, as we make strategic investment that has an opportunity for all, Canadians with disabilities will be included.

As I accept this award on behalf of Canada, I realize that it is an opportunity to look in two directions. As we look to the past, we can savour the many achievements we have made as a nation to enable Canadians with disabilities to play a fuller role in our society.

As we look to the future, it is with the knowledge that the full inclusion of Canadians with disabilities is a work in progress, a work that we must have the will to complete.

And at this time I am pleased to announce that a national association of disabled students has been chosen to receive the $50,000 FDR cash award.

NEADS is run by and for Canadian post-secondary students with disabilities. It is about ensuring access to opportunity. This money will help young graduates make the transition from school to work and to realize their full potential.

Canada is very proud to receive the FDR award. It says a lot about our accomplishment. about our values, about the strength of cur partnership and about Canada.

And now, I think that I will give what you want to give to me to Kent Hehr. If you give it to me, I will give it to him. Thank you very much.