Disability rights and pandemic triage

April 9, 2020

Please see the letter below from 62 national disability organizations, including the Canadian Association for Community Living (CACL), written to Prime Minister Trudeau, Health Minister Patty Hadju, Minister Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion and all Provincial and Territorial Premiers and Health Ministers.

We are all seeking a commitment from governments and their health service that the equality rights of individuals with disabilities will be assured during this pandemic public health crisis.

As has happened in the past, individuals with disabilities have been seen as less valued and thus denied healthcare and treatment that would be provided to Canadians without disabilities with the same health needs. It must not happen again.

Please feel free to contact your MP, forward this letter and let them know the life of your family member, your friend, your employee, your classmate, your teammate, or the person you support with developmental disabilities is of no less worth than the life of anyone else. Canada’s healthcare system should never be allowed to discriminate on the basis of disability.

You can read the letter below, which is also available as a PDF.


April 7, 2020

Dear Prime Minister Trudeau, Hon. Ministers Hajdu and Qualtrough, Provincial and Territorial Premiers, and Provincial and Territorial Ministers of Health,

RE: COVID-19 Triage Protocols & the Rights of People with Disabilities.

As COVID-19 spreads across our communities, medical resources are being overwhelmed. Consequently, healthcare providers are preparing to implement triage systems to prioritize the provision of care. In fact, we are already seeing such triage systems being implemented in some jurisdictions. Decisions are being made about who will get access, who will live, and who is likely going to die.

These are impossibly difficult decisions, but they will be and must be made.

People with disabilities and Deaf people are at special risk – some are vulnerable to COVID-19, and all are vulnerable to discriminatory triaging.

Organizations representing and supporting people with disabilities, Deaf people, and their families, know that disability itself is already being used as an indicator in deciding who will gain access to needed health care, and who will not. Many people with disabilities and Deaf people fear for their lives. These practices must be stopped immediately.

We urgently need rights-based, non-discriminatory guidelines for provision of health care in this pandemic.

We are calling on the federal Minister of Health and her provincial/territorial counterparts, as well as health care regulators to take urgent action in issuing guidance about triaging health care. That guidance must be grounded in the rights recognized in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities that recognize the equal right to life and to equal benefit of the law, without discrimination based on disability.

Guidance to health care providers must respect the human rights of all people, including persons with disabilities and provide that:

  1. Assumptions about the current or future quality of life a person with a disability are not a valid reason to deny access to health care for COVID-19.
  2. Existing disability-related conditions unrelated to the chance to benefit from treatment must not play any part in decisions about access to health care.
  3. The need for and use of disability-related supports and anticipated future costs of those supports must not play any role in assessing for access to treatment.
  4. A person’s need for support to make health care decisions must not be used as a reason to limit or deny access to needed treatment.
  5. Guidelines for assessing, providing, and evaluating health care must be developed with organizations of people with disabilities and their families.
  6. The assessment, provision, and evaluation of health care must be conducted with full accessibility and equality of communication, including the provision of qualified professional Sign language interpreters for people who are Deaf and Deaf-blind.

We, the undersigned Canadian disability rights organizations, Deaf organizations and supporters, urge the Canadian federal government to urgently recommend that all provinces and territories integrate these guidelines into their policies for providing medical treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Abilities Centre
Ability New Brunswick
Ability Online
Accessible Okanagan
Active Living Alliance for Canadians with a Disability
Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians
Barrier Free Canada
Brain Injury Canada
Breaking Down Barriers
British Columbia Aboriginal Network on Disability Society
British Columbia Parents of Complex Kids
Canadian Association for Community Living / Association canadienne pour l’intégration communautaire
Canadian Association of Social Workers
Canadian Association of the Deaf – Association des Sourds du Canada
Canadian Autism Spectrum Disorders Association
Canadian Council for Rehabilitation and Work
Canadian Council of the Blind
Canadian Disability Participation Project
Canadian Disability Policy Alliance
Canadian Down Syndrome Society
Canadian Hard of Hearing Association
Canadian Labour Congress
Canadian Paraplegic Association (Nova Scotia)
Canadian Spinal Research Organization
Canadian Union of Pubic Employees
CNIB Foundation
Council of Canadians with Disabilities
Communication Disabilities Access Canada
David Shannon Law Office
DeafBlind Ontario Services
Deafness Advocacy Association Nova Scotia
Deaf Literacy Initiative
Deaf Wireless Canada Consultative Committee – Comité pour les Services Sans fil des Sourds du Canada
DisAbled Women’s Network of Canada / Réseau d’Action des Femmes Handicapées du Canada (DAWN-RAFH Canada)
Easter Seals Canada
Empower, The Disability Resource Centre
Every Canadian Counts Coalition
Inclusive Design Research Centre, OCAD University
Independent Living Canada
March of Dimes Canada
Moelle épinière et motricité Quebec
Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada
Muscular Dystrophy Canada
National Educational Association of Disabled Students
Neil Squire Society
Ontario Brain Injury Association
Ontario Disability Employment Network
People First of Canada
Public Service Alliance of Canada
Resource Centre for Independent Living
Rick Hansen Foundation
Rocky Mountain Adaptive
Share Community Program
South Saskatchewan Independent Living Centre
Spinal Cord Injury Alberta
Spinal Cord Injury British Columbia
Spinal Cord Injury Canada
Spinal Cord Injury Manitoba
Spinal Cord Injury Newfoundland and Labrador
Spinal Cord Injury Ontario
Spinal Cord Injury Prince Edward Island
Spinal Cord Injury Saskatchewan
Victoria Disability Resource Centre