Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Month and Chairleader Event on Parliament Hill

Hon. Jim Munson: Honourable senators, given the special nature of this day, I would like to seek leave from the Senate so that I can deliver this statement from my wheelchair.

The Hon. the Speaker: Is it agreed, honourable senators?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

Senator Munson: Honourable senators, today is Chairleader on the Hill Day. I have been doing this with Senators Don Meredith and Bob Peterson. It has been both a good and a humbling day. This is a day organized by Spinal Cord Injury Canada, formerly known as the Canadian Paraplegic Association. This event is held each year to build awareness about spinal cord injury and the need to improve accessibility for people in wheelchairs. There are 25 of us doing this today, except that we have to think that there are people with spinal cord injuries who are doing this every day of their lives.

In addition to the physical strength and coordination needed to maneuver a wheelchair through the streets and into the buildings where we work and live, determination is crucial as challenges are everywhere — literally at every corner.

Have you folks have seen the National Press Building lately? The building’s main entry on Wellington is closed for the next two years, so one can only get into the building via Sparks Street and then going to the third floor. One then needs a battering ram to get into the National Press Building, which for some of us is perhaps not so bad. One then has to go through a corridor and get through two sets of doors. Public Works says it is wheelchair accessible, but it is not wheelchair accessible. This is just one example. I doubt anyone in a wheelchair could make it through that particular maze.

I hope Public Works is listening because I am saying that their norms are unacceptable and it is time they adapt them to the mobility needs of all Canadians.

On a lighter level, I would like to invoke the name of Rick Wardell. Everyone knows Rick. I did not cheat; I had ingenuity today. Rick is our page who is in a motorized chair. After we had our business at the Centennial Flame, I hitched a ride behind Rick. He took me back up to the Hill. I have to acknowledge Rick’s wonderful work in helping me get back up on the Hill.

Of course, we all have egos. I do not have much hair. Have you ever tried to comb your hair in a washroom while you are in a wheelchair? I know I am short, but this is ridiculous!

On a serious note again, today in this country 90,000 people are affected by spinal cord injuries. The highest rate of injury is among young people, mostly men between the ages of 20 and 29. About 4,500 in this country suffer spinal cord injuries annually. By the end of the day — by the time I finish this speech, by the time we all go to bed and are comfortable, and by the time I return this wheelchair to the organizers — there will be 11 new spinal cord injuries in this country. We have to think about that.

In closing, we are fortunate to have representatives from Spinal Cord Injury Canada with us today, particularly Bobby White. There is a reception this afternoon at five o’clock on the Hill. I hope that senators can find time to meet with them and learn more about events taking place now and throughout May as part of Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Month, as well as their work and the people who count on them for support.