Meeting with the Minister
In 2016, the Honourable Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities launched a consultation process to help shape new federal accessibility legislation. The vision is to create equality of opportunity for persons with disabilities and lower barriers – not only physical, technological, and regulatory barriers, but also the attitudes and beliefs that people have about who people with disabilities are and what they have to offer. She asked, “What does an accessible Canada mean to you? Please take the time to participate in our online consultation or to attend one of our public sessions in person. Together, we will make history."
And many of us did just that contributing in-person or online. A reflecting group of L’Arche people who have studied disability issues (Madeline Burghardt, Pam Cushing, John Rietschlin, Agnes Thomas, Lori Vaanholt) contributed to L’Arche Canada’s submission that was approved by the Board of L’Arche Canada. And we asked to meet the Minister in order to introduce L’Arche, share some of our concerns, and offer our appreciation and support.
Going to Parliament Hill
It is always moving to enter the hallowed buildings of the Parliament of Canada, more so when you are there to represent L’Arche and be heard by members of that important body. On April 6, 2017, Hollee Card, National Leader of L’Arche Canada, Jules Paris, member of L’Arche Ottawa, John Rietschlin, L’Arche Canada Board President, and I, came to meet with Minister Qualtrough in her office in Centre Block.
We four had been here before. In 2014, as part of a much larger group representing the regions of L’Arche in Canada, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of L’Arche with the Speaker of the Senate, other members, and chaplains of different faiths. That was a moving experience celebrating our past and the special place of Canada in the L’Arche story. Today, we were looking more to the future than the past.
Our meeting with the Minister was warm and positive from the start as she connected with Jules who is thoughtful and charming in both official languages. He and John R. shared about their friendship and how we share life in L’Arche as we work, learn and create home together. Jules proudly spoke of his work refinishing furniture. We explained that we support individuals with intellectual disabilities not as client and support staff, but in friendship and collegiality. Hollee explained that we “do ordinary things with extraordinary love” and invited the Minister to come visit L’Arche near her Greater Vancouver riding or in Ottawa or Gatineau.
The Minister listened with interest then engaged us in the need to create change together – the federal government with the provinces/ territories, and all levels of government with the non-profit sector and the entire community. We spoke of the need for more affordable, accessible and inclusive housing. We shared our concern that people with more complex support needs and dual diagnosis are being left behind as we focus on competitive employment and independent living; these individuals have much to offer their communities.
It was clear to us that L’Arche has something important to add to the conversation and that we must be more engaged if we seek to have greater impact. We must engage with ministers, governments and national organizations. We also must be part of the conversation and action where we live – in fact it is the place of our greatest impact.
Together, we can bring more to life the vision named by Jean Vanier, “Can we reasonably have a dream of a world where people, whatever their race, religion, culture, abilities or disabilities, whatever their education or economic situation, whatever their age or gender, can find a place and reveal their gifts?”