[lg policy] Human rights complaint against St. John Ambulance over sign language will proceed

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Thu Jun 28 10:35:45 EDT 2018


 Human rights complaint against St. John Ambulance over sign language will
proceed
By Tessa Vikander
<https://www.thestar.com/authors.vikander_tessa.html>StarMetro
Vancouver
Wed., June 27, 2018

   -
   <https://www.thestar.com/vancouver/2018/06/27/human-rights-complaint-against-st-john-ambulance-over-sign-language-will-proceed.html#>
   -
   <https://www.thestar.com/vancouver/2018/06/27/human-rights-complaint-against-st-john-ambulance-over-sign-language-will-proceed.html#>
   -
   <https://www.thestar.com/vancouver/2018/06/27/human-rights-complaint-against-st-john-ambulance-over-sign-language-will-proceed.html#>
   -
   <https://www.thestar.com/vancouver/2018/06/27/human-rights-complaint-against-st-john-ambulance-over-sign-language-will-proceed.html#>

VANCOUVER—The BC Human Rights Tribunal has accepted a complaint by a Deaf
advocacy organization that alleges St. John Ambulance is not fulfilling its
duty to accommodate Deaf or hard-of-hearing people in its courses, even
though the complaint was submitted later than usually allowed.

The complaint, filed by the Okanagan Valley Association of the Deaf (OVAD)
in January outlines several incidents in which St. John Ambulance and the
associated St. John Society is alleged to have denied paying for sign
language interpreters for its courses, the first of which was in 2013.
[image: Kimberly Wood, president of OVAD, said the complaint is important
to the Deaf community because first aid certification “is required in some
workplaces and we also would like to be able to save our loved ones or
somebody who is close to us.”]
Kimberly Wood, president of OVAD, said the complaint is important to the
Deaf community because first aid certification “is required in some
workplaces and we also would like to be able to save our loved ones or
somebody who is close to us.”  (SHUTTERSTOCK)

Under the tribunal’s rules, a complaint must be submitted within six months
of when the incidents are alleged to have happened. But this rule can be
waived at the discretion of the tribunal, especially if the group making
the complaint can prove that the discrimination wasn’t just a one-time
thing, but is ongoing.

In a June 22 decision about whether to accept the complaint, the tribunal
decided the complaint should go ahead, but it did not provide a final
ruling.

“I am satisfied that accepting any late-filed portion of the compliant is
in the public interest,” wrote tribunal member Norman Trerise.

Kimberly Wood, president of OVAD, said the complaint is important to the
Deaf community because first aid certification “is required in some
workplaces and we also would like to be able to save our loved ones or
somebody who is close to us.”

In a statement from B.C.’s Public Interest Advocacy Centre, which is
representing Deaf British Columbians in the case, several court decisions
establish the rights of Deaf people to access sign language interpretation,
and under the BC Human Rights Code both public and private organizations,
including charities, “are obligated to make their services accessible to
Deaf people unless it causes undue hardship.”

Although the complaint was filed by the Okanagan association, it was filed
on behalf of all British Columbians who are Deaf or hard of hearing, who
use sign language, and who have been impacted by the “practice of refusing
to fund sign language interpretation for St. John Ambulance courses.”

Wood said access to sign language interpreters is a vital part of an
accessible society.

“It’s same idea of telling people in their wheelchairs that they have to
bring their own ramps or build one so they can have access to buildings. We
the Deaf people and hard of hearing should be able to have access to what
we need to function in our society, not denying our access,” she said.
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According to tribunal documents, the Okanagan Valley Association of the
Deaf says that in 2013 it contacted the Kelowna branch of St. John
Ambulance and asked it to provide sign language interpretation for one of
its courses, but was denied. A similar request happened again in 2017, to
which St. John Ambulance is alleged to have replied that it does not fund
sign language interpreters because it is a “not-for-profit charitable
organization.”

In another incident outlined in the documents, a staff member from the BC
School of the Deaf contacted Burnaby and New Westminster branches of the
society to organize private first aid training for its students, and
informed the organization that the instructor would need to have a sign
language interpreter to make sure the school’s students could understand
what was being taught. But St. John Ambulance replied to her saying that
although interpreters are welcome, the society is “not able to book or fund
interpreters.”

St. John Ambulance did not reply to an interview request before deadline
and its lawyer named in documents declined a request for an interview. But
tribunal documents state that the society says it does not have a policy
against providing sign language interpreters.

In documents, the society says “their denials were not pursuant to a
policy, but rather were decisions made in response to requests and informed
by a consideration of the circumstances at the material time.”

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 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com
http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/~haroldfs/

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