In November 2012, the Supreme Court of Canada released a decision that has increased access to public education for persons with disabilities in Canada.
Moore v. British Columbia (Education), 2012 SCC 61 was the case of a child name Jeffrey Moore who had a severe learning disability and was unable to receive the intense remedial instruction that he required in the public school system in British Columbia. Instead, his parents were forced to enroll him in a specialized private school and had to pay the required tuition rates. The child’s parents filed a human rights complaint against the School District and B.C. Ministry of Education alleging that their son had been discriminated against on the basis of his disability because he was denied equal benefit of a service available to the public.
A unanimous Supreme Court of Canada agreed with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal that the School District failed to provide support for meaningful access to educational opportunities and this failure amount to discrimination. Writing for the Court, Justice Abella concluded: “Adequate special education, therefore, is not a dispensable luxury. For those with severe learning disabilities, it is the ramp that provides access to the statutory commitment to education made to all children in British Columbia.”
An important aspect of the Moore case, and the main defence of the School District, was that it had limited financial resources at a time of budgetary crisis and had to make tough choices. The School District argued that it had to cut back on services it provided including closing a Diagnostic Centre that was vital to providing services to children with disabilities. The Human Rights Tribunal, however, found that cuts were disproportionately made to special needs programs and there was no assessment by the School District of possible alternatives. At the same time, other school programs, including an outdoor education program, were maintained throughout the budgetary crisis.
The Supreme Court agreed with the Human Rights Tribunal that the Province and the School District have a duty to ensure that no child is excluded from the benefit of public education. Ultimately, the School District, not the Province, was found liable for the discrimination.
Moore is a victory for Canadians with disabilities and all Canadians. It requires that services made available to the public be accessible even taking into account financial constraints. For more information, a copy of this case is available here.