Excerpts from


Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities


Thursday, February 7, 2002


Mr. Robin Neill (Chair, Research Advisory Board, Atlantic Institute of Market Studies):

Thank you very much.

Prejudice is a legal and institutional imposition on market forces, and to legislate against it is simply to impose a further legal constraint on market forces, that is to say, it is to lay on another layer of prejudice.

Let me unpack this statement a little. I’m now citing a book by Brian Crowley, The Road to Equity. He makes the point that people are certainly equal, but they are not the same. Tasks to be performed in our society are not the same. It is not prejudice that brings about a situation in which different people do different things. Second, setting quotas to ensure that different people do the same thing puts round pegs in square holes. It inhibits specialization and exchange, it imposes a non-market value on resources, and so it reduces the efficiency of the functioning of our economy. Third, it creates a class of people who are segregated by their being employed where they are not fully competent. This both embodies and produces prejudice.

Canadian legislation of 1995 points up the problem of quotas in hiring. It protests that there shall be no quotas. On the other hand, the legislator, having seen the problem, offered no alternative to using quotas as a device for achieving so-called equity in employment. So we have a paper by Jain and Hackett attempting to measure the success of employment equity. It concludes that it cannot be measured, because there’s no way to designate “the unfair employment barriers that the law intends to eliminate.” That’s the legislative language. As a result, all that can be measured is whether there is a program to eliminate inequity, or whether a quota is being met.

Further we have the comments of Mr. Furedy on the employment program at the University of Toronto–I believe he’s at the University of Toronto. He states that “the status of women’s equity officer sits on hiring committees and harasses the members with hostile questions.” I have no doubt that this is the case. What we are looking at here is something like the Cheka in the Bolshevik regime of the Soviet Union or the attacks of the Red Guard during the Cultural Revolution in China.

We now have a new problem. According to Echevarria and Huq, the problem now is a decline in the participation rate of males in the labour force. Employment of women is going up and the proportion of men employed is going down. Here we have a problem of a quota. Should we then legislate to improve the position of men, placing yet one more constraint on market forces? I would say, what was not good for the gander is not good for the goose; we ought not to legislate advanced employment quotas for men in this country. What we ought to do is undo the legislation we now have on the books.

Thank you.


Mr. Dale Johnston (Wetaskiwin, Canadian Alliance): Thank you very much, Madam Chair. I want to thank all of you for your presentations today.

The purpose of the committee’s work is to review the present act, and the purpose of the review is to see whether or not the act needs to be changed in any way. So I’ll just give the floor over to you, because I feel you’ve been kind of shortchanged in your presentation today, to see individually whether you feel the act, first of all, needs changing. If so, how would you change it?

Mr. Robin Neill: I have two things. As it stands now, it’s hard to implement this act without dealing with quota, and the problem with that is the same problem as that with the body count in Vietnam. You don’t deal with the substance, you’re just dealing with numbers.

The second thing–and you will forgive me for being a little emotional about this–is that there is a certain element of hypocrisy in having an equity act in a country that tolerates compulsory retirement at age 65. That is iniquitous. That is ageism. And as my colleague says, who’s going to have sympathy for a retired university professor? This is a matter of sympathy, not of justice. Add that to the act–no age discrimination.

Thank you.


Mr. Gurbax Malhi (Bramalea–Gore–Malton–Springdale, Lib.): Thank you, Madam Chair.

Highly qualified professionals, doctors and engineers, cannot work in their field because their foreign credentials are not recognized. Is there anything the federal government can do to establish standards to recognize foreign credentials? Can the professional associations, which are often under provincial jurisdiction, be monitored by a federal institution, such as the Canadian Human Rights Commission?

Mr. Robin Neill: It’s noticeable in this case–I have great sympathy with that–that it is legislation for licensing, certification, and that sort of thing that prevents these people who are qualified from functioning in our country. It’s not the market, it’s legislation that creates this prejudice. Legislation and institutions are what cause prejudice. The less we have that in the marketplace, the better.

Mr. Robin Neill: Is this a federal-provincial affair? Welcome to Canada.


Ms. Anita Neville (Winnipeg South Centre, Lib.): Thank you, Madam Chair, and thank you, all, for your presentations.

I would like to focus on the area of persons with disabilities. We heard from the Canadian Human Rights Commission that we are, within both the private and public sector, far from meeting goals based on availability. Mr. Crockett, in your brief–I’m sorry I wasn’t here for the presentation–you indicated that anecdotal evidence suggests that even if persons with disabilities are hired, promotion will be slower or non-existent. You also mentioned, Mr. Crockett, that employers need more support. Mr. Hara, you have the experience in the public sector, you, Ms. Robertson, as a member of the community and in your own work. What do we do to increase the hiring of persons with disabilities? What do we do to retain people? What do we do to ensure that they have the opportunities to move through the workforce, to achieve whatever they wish, if it’s a managerial or executive position?

My own experience in Manitoba is that the various disability groups are coalescing in a much more aggressive manner to promote their interests, and it’s probably true across the country, but we have to make this a priority, in my mind. How does it happen?

Ms. Anita Neville: Mr. Hara, I’m interested from the public sector perspective.

Mr. Dan Hara: There are three things the public sector could do. The first is to get buildings fixed to the standard that’s already in the policy of Treasury Board, but that doesn’t happen; I’ve had departments with 80% exemptions–they just exempted all their buildings. The second thing is to have a Treasury Board policy not only for accommodation of existing employees; there really isn’t one for new employees, and that means that the manager pays the cost. Third, department managers need better support in knowing what’s reasonable accommodation. They are left to judge for themselves when someone comes to them, and that’s hard on both the employee and the manager.

The Vice-Chair (Ms. Diane St-Jacques): Mr. Neill, very quickly.

Mr. Robin Neill: The public sector and the private sector are very different. There is no bottom line, no profit motive in the public sector, and you cannot apply the same rules. The public sector is all legislation, and it may be that you have to use legislation in the public sector, but the private sector has market forces, and legislation is anathema.