“It is 2018, and how come our language isn’t recognized?”
Andrea Boundridge, deaf co-chairperson of the Recognize ASL and LSQ rally, was passionate as she explained the importance of Saturday’s gathering at the Confederation Building in St. John’s.
A group of about 100 people gathered in the East Block rallying the federal government to recognize American Sign Language (ASL), Langue des signes du Quebec (LSQ) and Indigenous Sign Languages (ISL) as official languages.
Boundridge emphasized that 43 countries recognize sign language as a national language — but Canada doesn’t — even though the House of Commons is in the second reading of Bill C-81, the Accessible Canada Act.
“The bill is fantastic, but ASL and LSQ are not on there to be recognized as languages,” Boundridge said in ASL.
“We’ve got so many barriers, and if ASL and LSQ were recognized as part of the country’s languages, we would have so much accessibility. We would have access to interpreters, whereas right now we don’t.”
Eight other provinces held sister rallies on Saturday during International Week of the Deaf.
Newfoundland Coordinating Council on Deafness president Colleen Moyst spoke about barriers faced by deaf people largely because their language isn’t nationally recognized.
“Deaf people in Newfoundland and Labrador can be hospitalized without access to information from medical staff. How would you feel going into surgery at St. Clare’s Hospital or the Health Sciences without being able to communicate with nurses or doctors about what would happen before or after surgery? Well this happens in Newfoundland and across Canada,” said Moyst.
“Many deaf people work or attend school where they have no access to information on a daily basis. Imagine if there’s an emergency and not one person could give a deaf person vital, life-saving information at work or at school every single day?
“Deaf people continue to be excluded and fight for the most simple access that, as hearing people, we take for granted.”
“How would you feel going into surgery at St. Clare’s Hospital or the Health Sciences without being able to communicate with nurses or doctors about what would happen before or after surgery? Well this happens in Newfoundland and across Canada.”
— Colleen Moyst , president, Newfoundland Coordinating Council on Deafness
Kimberly Churchill spoke at the rally about challenges her son, Carter, 7, faces because he is deaf.
When he was in kindergarten, Churchill said Carter received 13 minutes of instruction per six-hour school day from a teacher of the deaf.
“While all the other children were being taught, my son sat in the classroom surrounded by all his peers but feeling completely alone and discarded. Would you accept a child being in a classroom for six hours a day and only be taught 13 minutes?”
Todd Churchill, Carter’s father, apologized to the audience as he became emotional telling them how the family had to file a human rights complaint in order to get Carter access to a better education.
“That’s not something you should have to think about in a country like Canada, but that’s what we had to do.”
St. John’s East MP Nick Whalen spoke at the rally and said Bill C-81, if passed by Parliament, “will represent the most significant piece of legislation for the rights of persons with disabilities in over 30 years.
“Would you accept a child being in a classroom for six hours a day and only be taught 13 minutes?”
— Kimberly Churchill about her son Carter, 7
“We are trying to finally put ‘nothing about us without us’ into action, legally requiring the participation of persons with disabilities in the decisions that make a direct impact on their lives. Our government will back this up with approximately $290 million over six years to further the objectives of this new legislation.”
St. John's East — Quidi Vidi MHA Lorraine Michael also spoke at the rally and promised she will “definitely be pushing” Whalen to ensure the sign languages become a part of Canada’s official languages.