Canada: Gov't must offer services in sign language

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Thu Aug 24 13:16:20 UTC 2006

Gov't must offer services in sign language: judge

A federal court ruled all government services must be available in sign
language News Staff

Updated: Tue. Aug. 22 2006 11:57 PM ET

Canada's deaf community is welcoming a federal court ruling that says all
government services must be available in sign language and provided free
of charge. Until now, those who were hearing impaired had to pay for
sign-language interpreters -- a policy that members of Canada's
300,000-strong deaf community says makes it difficult to access basic
government services. The Canadian Association of the Deaf and other
plaintiffs argued in court that being forced to pay for interpreters is
discriminatory under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Justice Mosley of
the Federal Court agreed, and ruled that the government must pay for

"As Canadians, deaf persons are entitled to be full participants in the
democratic process and functioning of government," Mosley wrote in his
decision released August 11. "It is fundamental to an inclusive society
that those with disabilities be accommodated when interacting with the
institutions of government." Scott Simser, the lawyer for the Canadian
Association of the Deaf, hailed the decision as a "big victory" for the
deaf and the hard of hearing.

"From now on we can be equal citizens, not second hand citizens," he told
CTV News on Tuesday. Simser also wants sign language to be adopted as
Canada's third official language -- as Great Britain and New Zealand have
done. They also said the country's sign language policy inhibited their
ability to take part in Statistics Canada surveying and gain access to the
policy-development process. But the federal government has not yet made
any commitments and has refused to comment on the decision.

Sheila Carlin, president of the Canadian Association of the Deaf,
acknowledged to The Globe and Mail in an e-mail that the interpreter cost
is "very expensive." Sign language interpreters typically charge between
$40 to $60 per hour on a short-term basis -- which could cost Ottawa tens
of millions of dollars. But Carlin argued it's only fair that the costs be
borne by the government. "It is important that we all have the full access
of all kinds of services without any problem," she wrote to The Globe.


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