Chairleader Event on Parliament Hill

Honourable senators, I seek leave to sit in my wheelchair to deliver my statement and to work in the Senate today.

First, I thank His Honour for allowing this sort of access today. I think it is precedent setting and sends a very important message to the rest of the country and to Parliament Hill.

Honourable senators, today is the Canadian Paraplegic Association’s annual Chairleader on the Hill event. Twenty-five senators and members of Parliament are currently trying to go about their day’s business while using wheelchairs. I am pleased to see that my friend Senator Yonah Martin is among those of us who have taken up the challenge. We have had quite a day thus far, particularly crossing Wellington Street.

I appreciate the chance to once again do my part to raise awareness about the obstacles people with spinal cord injuries and wheelchair-related disabilities face every day. I have to admit, though, that I have looked forward to this day with mixed emotions. I hope this is not going too far, but last year I almost impaled myself in the men’s urinal. However, I survived that and I am back.

Being in a wheelchair, needless to say, is tough. It demands a lot of physical strength and determination. Until the first time I took part in this event, I never saw the hazards and physical barriers that prevent someone in a wheelchair from moving easily from point A to point B. The experience can be discouraging and frustrating. Now that my eyes have been opened, I continue to grow more aware of these challenges and the need to address them.

One glaring example of a challenge that should be addressed is here in our midst. I have my wheelchair in this chamber under the permission of the Speaker. Normally, I could not bring it inside and I would have walked in; but what about those people who cannot walk?

In principle and in practice, the Senate should be accessible to everyone. Even the Rules of the Senate call for a senator to rise or stand to be recognized by the Speaker. Also, senators must stand to vote. What if a person cannot stand? It is something to think about.

Last year, Robert White, Executive Director of the Canadian Paraplegic Association, appeared before the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights. In his introductory remarks to the committee, he mentioned that a colleague was supposed to have accompanied him to the hearing. His colleague could not fly from Toronto as planned, though, because there was no room for his wheelchair in the plane’s cargo section.

The CPA helps people with spinal cord injuries to achieve independence, self-reliance and full community participation. The association currently has over 20,000 members.

I would like to thank the Canadian Paraplegic Association for once again inviting me to be a Chairleader. Throughout the day, I will no doubt find myself in some tricky situations with my wheelchair, and tomorrow I am sure my muscles will ache like they did last year; but it is worth it. This opportunity to support the important goals of the CPA is a privilege and worth every discomfort of a single day.