Do Disabled Canadians Vote?

A federal election is taking place in Canada today. All across the country, eligible voters will submit their ballots to determine the next federal government here. The months and weeks leading up to the election have been rife with controversies and scandals, including the SNC-Lavalin affair, Bill 21 in Quebec, and shocking revelations and photographs of Prime Justin Trudeau in blackface on multiple occasions.

With Autumn Peltier’s recent speech to the U.N. about water, climate, and First Nations in Canada and Greta Thunberg’s current visits across the country (including in oil-sands-dependent Alberta), the climate crisis and the water advisories that communities of Indigenous people in Canada have lived with for more than a decade have finally become federal election issues here.

Not surprisingly, accessibility and the equality rights and freedoms of disabled Canadians have been virtually ignored by candidates in this election. Last week, Rick Hansen, well known for his 1985 worldwide Man In Motion Tour, articulated the disappointment and frustration of many disabled people in Canada about the lack of attention that the three main parties (and their candidates) continue to display for disabled Canadians who comprise more than 22 percent of the Canadian population.

After interviews with Hansen appeared in major Canadian news outlets last week, candidates for the Liberals, Progressive Conservatives, N.D.P., and Green Party rushed to issue statements about their commitments to the recognition and full equality of disabled Canadians, some even vowing to thoroughly vet all legislation with the interests of disabled Canadians in mind.

When I went to cast my ballot today, I was nevertheless reminded of the extent to which the federal government of Canada disregards disabled Canadians, notwithstanding federal legislation designed to ensure that we enjoy the social benefits that nondisabled Canadians enjoy.

Located at the rear of a nearby church, the main entrance to the site of the polling station was inaccessible, with a flight of five stairs down to the polling station which has been set up in the basement of the church. When I entered the polling station (with someone who uses a walker and was forced to leave it at the top of the stairs), I asked to speak to the person in charge of the site who agreed that the situation was unsatisfactory, advised me that an elevator was available at another entrance, and encouraged me to complete a survey about the (in)accessibility of the venue.

I completed the survey, offering a terse appraisal of the situation. The form indicated that if I provided my name and phone number, someone from Elections Canada would contact me within 20 days to discuss the matter; so, I gave my name and phone number. As I completed the form, another disabled voter, whose companion carried his walker down the flight of stairs at the entrance of the building, entered the polling station.

After completing the form, I walked around to the front of the building in search of the promised elevator. At the front of the building, two temporary accessible parking signs were situated near its front entrance, though these signs provided no direction to an elevator inside. Indeed, neither directions to an elevator nor an elevator itself were found at the front entrance of the building, though inside the entrance a VOTE sign with an arrow directed prospective voters to a flight of stairs that led down to the polling station.

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