Gov't must offer services in sign language: judge
Updated Tue. Aug. 22 2006 11:57 PM ET
CTV.ca News Staff
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 interpreters.
"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.
With a report by CTV's Rosemary Thompson in Ottawa