Senator David Smith

Friday, May 13, 2016

By Dawn MacDonald

I had the pleasure to attend, as a guest of my dear friend Catherine Davey, the farewell dinner for Senator David Smith on May 11th in celebration of his retirement from the Senate.  A small intimate group of close friends and family were welcomed to the University Club of Toronto to celebrate Senator Smith’s wonderful accomplishments during his illustrious care in politics.

As the new Executive Director at Reach for the Rainbow it was particularly inspiring for me given Reach exists to advocate on behalf of and provide support to families who have children and youth with disabilities.

As noted on Senator Smith’s personal website the single most satisfying project during his time in Parliament occurred from 1980 to 1982 when he was appointed by Prime Minister Trudeau as Chairman of the House of Commons Special Committee on the Disabled and the Handicapped.

Excerpt from Senator Smith’s website:

This Committee was established to identify key obstacles faced by disabled persons in Canada and its recommendations contained in its report, entitled Obstacles, formed the basis of Canada’s efforts during 1981, which the United Nations declared as "The Year of Disabled Persons."

The Committee heard over 600 witnesses in 18 locations throughout Canada. Senator Smith identified 12 Canadians, with various disabilities, used many photographs in the report which illustrated their difficulties, and over 400,000 copies of this report had to be printed. High schools, nursing schools, and numerous colleges all over Canada requested copies.

Senator Smith’s involvement with the committee and in the production of Obstacles also inspired him to advocate for the equality rights of those with disabilities during the drafting of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. When the first draft of the Charter was released, there was no reference in section 15 to persons with mental or physical disabilities. Senator Smith launched a campaign within the government caucus to amend section 15 to include “mental or physical disabilities.” After numerous special caucus meetings on the Charter, Senator Smith once again raised the subject, but was interrupted by Prime Minister Trudeau who stated, "David, we don’t have to listen to your speech again, we’re putting it in."In Senator Smith’s words he was a "bucket of tears, but they were tears of joy." Section 15 (1) of the Charter now reads: "Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability."

Thank you Senator Smith for your tenacity and courage which ensured that peoples with a disability were recognized within our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  This was truly ground breaking and lead the way for the work we do at Reach for the Rainbow.

Why Should Every Child Belong?

In our watch word society most people agree, at least in concept, with the phrase Every Child Belongs. We embrace the ideals of inclusion as an abstract that we all support, and yet putting that conviction into deeds of action and tangible measures seems to consistently fall all too short.

The voices of individuals with disabilities are so often drowned out by much louder ones - calling for disaster relief, disease abatement or political dissent. The most fragile segment of our society, children in need of constant care, are sidelined for the more flashy, attractive, and in the words of Minister Lisa Raitt, "sexy" public issues.

That’s why it is critical that social policy practice and the framework of integration remains a topic that engages ongoing discussion and change. If we don’t include everyone in the fabric of society, we lose valuable and integral parts of ourselves. The different perspectives, the resilience of spirit, the power of overcoming intense struggles – the beauty of who we are as a united humanity, and the principles we hold so tightly wrapped in our Canadian identity. We are known as a nation that embraces all, regardless of emigration or faith, culture or economic disparity, and yet the concern for equality of opportunity for children with disabilities is woefully inadequate.

Reach for the Rainbow began as a means to generate a change in attitudes and the traditional methods of "dealing with" individuals with disabilities. We started small, and in addition to the usual pitfalls of newly formed non-profit organizations we were also confronted with different perceptions of what integration meant and an overarching reluctance for infrastructural change. We began with 1 camp partner and 5 campers, and at our most successful we boasted 64 camps as partners in integration and over 1000 campers.

We launched the Every Child Belongs campaign last year in an effort to regain the numbers we had just last summer, to aid the campers and families and camps we lost due to the current economic climate. We need help to continue to provide the vital integration programs, the 1:1 support workers, the adaptive equipment and accessible means for these children that we have for the last 25 years.

Embarking on this campaign has been so rewarding because we at Reach for the Rainbow are able to share the power of belonging on a national level. Now we invite all of you to share your views on the state of inclusion, and hopefully your support in our fight to include our campers. Please post your thoughts and engage others in the circle and gift of belonging – let your voices be heard and help us give the power of opportunity to children with disabilities.


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