Persons with disabilities come from all walks of life, age groups, cultures, and geographic areas of Canada. An estimated 3.8 million adult Canadians reported being limited in their daily activities due to a disability in 2012; this represents 13.7% of the adult population.  Persons with disabilities may face challenges and social barriers that prevent them from participating fully in the community. For example, they may encounter barriers to enjoyment of their equality rights; they may have difficulty securing accommodations at work; or they may experience challenges in accessing the justice system.
If you are interested in learning more about how the justice system is responding to the needs of people with disabilities, Alberta Law Libraries would be an excellent starting point for your research. Persons with disabilities may experience barriers to full and equal access to justice. Law librarians are experts at finding legal information. We can introduce you to the most relevant and trustworthy sources, both on the Internet and in the libraries’ own collections. This article provides examples of some information that can help with research regarding three aspects of the topic: Raising Awareness; Human/Equality Rights; and Access to Justice.
Two sites aimed at raising awareness of disabilities within the Justice system are FASD and The Justice System and Mental Health and the Law.
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is a non-hereditary, permanent and often non-visible disability that affects adults and children around the world. As a resource for legal professionals and others who want to understand FASD, the FASD Justice Committee developed the FASD and The Justice System website. With case law, background information, and practical tips and strategies for dealing with the unique problems presented by participants in the justice system with FASD, this site is a valuable resource.
Recognizing that the law impacts the lives of persons with mental or psychiatric illnesses, the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) has published information on Mental Health and the Law. The information includes reports produced by and for the MHCC, and related documents, all of which address the experiences of persons with mental illnesses in the court system, with the police, and in other legal situations.
Human rights and equality rights
Human and equality rights are important subjects for research regarding people with disabilities and the law. The right to equality and the duty to accommodate are guaranteed by law in Canada. Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees equal benefit and protection before and under the law. It makes it illegal for governments in Canada to discriminate against people with disabilities in their laws and programs. The Canadian Human Rights Act and the Alberta Human Rights Act prohibit discrimination on the grounds of physical or mental disability. Librarians can show you books, websites, and pamphlets that provide general background in this area of law.
To learn more about human and equality rights as they relate to persons with disabilities, a librarian might suggest a visit to the website of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD). It is a national human rights organization of people with disabilities working for an inclusive and accessible Canada. The Canadian Human Rights Act and the Alberta Human Rights Act prohibit discrimination on the grounds of physical or mental disability. Librarians can show you books, websites, and pamphlets that provide general background in this area of law.The CCD has intervened in many test cases, and the website links to not only the cases but also to related court documents such as affidavits and written arguments. Similarly, the Arch Disability Law Centre, a not-for-profit organization that works with individuals with disabilities and the disability community has represented individuals and groups in significant disability-related cases, many at the Supreme Court of Canada.
For more information on human rights in Alberta, you can visit the website of the Alberta Human Rights Commission (AHRC). It offers useful Information Sheets, including one on Mental or Physical Disabilities and Discrimination. AHRC decisions are available on CanLII and can be searched or browsed.
Under the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Alberta Human Rights Act , employers have a legal duty to take reasonable steps to accommodate an employee’s individual needs. To read about persons with mental or psychiatric disabilities and accommodation in employment, librarians might point you to the website Mental Health Works, published by the Canadian Mental Health Association, Ontario.
Access to Justice
Persons with disabilities may experience barriers to full and equal access to justice. Law librarians can show you online resources created by organizations that work to educate lawyers, judges, and others participants in the legal system of how they can accommodate and include people with disabilities. Reach Canada and the ARCH Disability Law Centre are two such organizations.
Reach Canada has published a Handbook on Disabilities for Law Professionals. Aimed at lawyers, judges and others in the legal industry, the handbook is intended to help them execute their duty to accommodate. This resource covers criminal law, contract law, informed consent to medical treatment, administrative law, self-representation, and much more.
ARCH Disability Law Centre has published the Disability Law Primer, a resource intended to increase the legal profession’s capacity to serve people with disabilities. The Primer consists of 10 articles, available in both French and English, on topics such as providing legal services for persons with disabilities, human rights and disability law, capacity to instruct counsel, and more. ARCH offers numerous publications in addition to the Primer.
Alberta Law Libraries can help
If you are interested in learning more about how the justice system is responding to the needs of people with disabilities, Alberta Law Libraries would be an excellent starting point
This article demonstrates some of the online information available with respect to how the justice system is responding to the needs of people with disabilities. Librarians can help you find resources in the libraries’ collections; authoritative books on human rights, the Charter, employment law, criminal law, and more can be located using Alberta Law Libraries’ online catalogue. The library also provides databases for case law and articles searches. The Library offers a number of ways you can get help; contact us for assistance with your research.
1. Statistics Canada. Disability in Canada: Initial Findings from the Canadian Survey on Disability (Canadian Survey on Disability, 2012).