Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Month – Chair-Leader 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 to deliver my statement while seated, to honour Canadians who use wheelchairs each and every day.

The Hon. the Speaker: Is leave granted, honourable senators?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

Senator Munson: Thank you, honourable senators.

Twenty-six parliamentarians are taking part today in the sixth annual Chair-Leaders Campaign, organized each year by Spinal Cord Injury Canada. Here in the chamber I am joined by Senator Buth, and in spirit by Senators Martin and White. To help raise awareness of issues affecting Canadians living with a spinal cord injury — an SCI — each of us will spend the entire day in a wheelchair. It has not been easy, especially trying to get on to Parliament Hill where they are building a fortress and an awful ramp for people who are confined to a wheelchair. I do not know how they can come up the Elgin Street entrance now, as it is so steep and difficult. We have to learn, even during construction, to do better than this for those who are in wheelchairs.

The challenges of living with an SCI are difficult for most of us to fully understand. I can tell honourable senators that getting into a wheelchair and manoeuvring through the streets, doorways and corridors that we typically take on foot every day, this experience — as it has been the last four or five years — has been a real eye opener. I am sure my Chair-Leaders compatriots will agree that spending a day in a wheelchair can be stressful and at times very humbling, but it is far from a true-life experience. The realities of living with a spinal cord injury cannot be reproduced; ways to get from one place to another and to participate in the dynamics of our communities and society, they accommodate those who cannot walk as the exceptions, if at all.

I want to repeat that we have to take a good look at our own backyard and our front yard here. What we are doing for wheelchair accessibility on Parliament Hill is just not right.

I support Spinal Cord Injury Canada because it is based on insight, knowledge and compassion. Since 1945, Spinal Cord Injury Canada has been set on fulfilling the goal of improving the lives of Canadians living with an SCI and other permanent mobility disabilities. Today the organization has more than 300 staff and 40 offices across the country.

The Chair-Leaders event is about enabling Canadians to see and reflect on what “accessibility” really means. This afternoon we will have a reception around five o’clock in the other Speaker’s chambers. I remind honourable senators to think of the 88,000 Canadians who are confined to wheelchairs every day.