The Invictus Games will be a tremendous moment to celebrate our veterans and their sacrifices. The Games can also be a chance to apply pressure on our elected leadership to follow through with action on the promises they made for disability advocacy. By Adam Kassam
Fri., Aug. 18, 2017
These two diminutive words have featured prominently in arguably one of the most patriotic advertising campaigns in this country’s history. And while Molson was able to capitalize on nationalistic pride by creating the “I am Canadian” commercials, the slogan I Am, inspired by key phrases of the Invictus poem, will carry an entirely different meaning in the coming weeks.
From Sept. 23 to 30, Toronto will play host to the Invictus Games, an initiative started by Prince Harry with his vision to create an international version of the U.S.-based Warrior Games for wounded, ill and injured military personnel and veterans. Invictus Latin for unconquerable is also the title of the poem that inspired the I Am slogan.
Interestingly, the poem was penned by William Ernest Henley, who suffered from tuberculosis and received a below-knee amputation. That Prince Harry named the Games as a subtle nod to an English poet who could relate to other amputees many of whom will be competing in the Games is quite an elegant anecdote.
Not so elegant, however, is the considerable amount of work we as a society still need to do in terms of advocacy and accessibility for those with disabilities. Canada has an opportunity to be a global leader in this area, but it needs to improve its track record of championing causes for both veterans and civilians with disabilities.
Disability, as defined by the World Health Organization, is an umbrella term covering impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions. An impairment is a problem in body function or structure; an activity limitation is a difficulty encountered by a person in executing a task or action; while a participation restriction is a problem experienced by an individual in involvement in life situations.
Military veterans often suffer violent injuries on the battlefield. These include physical injuries such as traumatic amputations, brain injuries and spinal cord injuries, in addition to the development of latent diseases including chronic pain and mental health disorders including depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress. Moreover, a study published in the Journal of Disability and Rehabilitation shows that Canadian military veterans are more than twice as likely as the rest of the population to experience a long-term disability.
Canada’s defence minister, Harjit Sajjan, recently announced the federal government’s defence policy entitled “Strong, Secure and Engaged,” which comes with a price tag of $62 billion. Most of the investment will focus on military infrastructure, however, $198.2 million or just $9.91 million a year will be invested in what is described as the Total Health and Wellness Strategy. Disappointingly, this represents less than 0.5 per cent of the entire budget. Put another way, the federal government spends more than twice on the prime minister’s personal security than it plans to spend for all military veterans’ disability-related health needs in a given year.
To its credit, Canada is one of a few nations to have a federal minister dedicated to addressing the needs of those with disabilities. However, nearly two years after being installed as Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities, Carla Qualtrough has yet to produce the legislation she was tasked with.
In her mandate letter from the Prime Minister, her top priority was to lead an engagement process with provinces, territories, municipalities and stakeholders that will lead to the passage of a Canadians with Disabilities Act. While the minister indicated it was too early to speculate on a timeline for this legislation, two years can seem like an eternity for those dependent on these initiatives.
Even provincially, the government has failed to keep its promise of enforcing the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. This comes as Premier Kathleen Wynne recently amended the requirements of the Customer Service Accessibility Standard, enacted under the disabilities act, in what critics have called “a sad game-changer for 1.8 million Ontarians with disabilities.”
The Liberal government has even gone so far as to obstruct investigations by disability advocates. This does not seem like leadership “committed to building a more accessible Ontario as it is not only the smart thing to do, it’s the right thing to do.”
The Invictus Games will be a tremendous moment to celebrate our veterans and their sacrifices for the freedoms we enjoy every day. It will also be a high-profile event attended by all levels of government. With municipal, provincial and federal elections around the corner, the Invictus Games can serve the function of applying pressure on our elected leadership to follow through with real action on the promises they made for disability advocacy.
Adam Kassam, MD, is a resident in the Department of Physical Medicine and rehabilitation at Western University in London, Ont.