Absent Citizens: Michael J. Prince Book Launch & Talk

Michael Prince is Lansdowne Professor of Social Policy in the Faculty of Human and Social Development, University of Victoria. In his new book, Absent Citizens: Disability Politics and Policy in Canada, Prince describes how disability exists in the shadows of public awareness and at the periphery of policy making.


Synopsis from the publisher: Disability exists in the shadows of public awareness and at the periphery of policy making. People with disabilities are, in many respects, missing from the theories and practices of social rights, political participation, employment, and civic membership. Absent Citizens brings to light these chronic deficiencies in Canadian society and emphasizes the effects that these omissions have on the lives of citizens with disabilities. Drawing together elements from feminist studies, political science, public administration, sociology, and urban studies, Michael J. Prince examines mechanisms of exclusion and inclusion, public attitudes on disability, and policy-making processes in the context of disability. Absent Citizens also considers social activism and civic engagements by people with disabilities and disability community organizations, highlighting presence rather than absence and advocating both inquiry and action to ameliorate the marginalization of an often overlooked segment of the Canadian population. See item entry at Chapters.

Notes from Book Launch

Thursday, October 22, 2009
4:00 pm – 6:00 pm
McPherson Library Staff Lounge

Friends of UVic Libraries event marking book launch and talk by Prof. Michael J. Prince.

Michael Prince began his remarks by thanking several people involved in the completion of this book, and noted that he has been working in the area of disability rights and policy for 15 years, mainly with national advocacy organizations. While Ottawa has been a focal point, Winnipeg is the centre of the Canadian disability-rights movement and an important location internationally. The disability-rights movement has adopted the language of the civil rights movement, especially in the United States; Canadian usage tends to focus on equality.

Prince noted that Canada lags behind other countries in its study of disability (e.g, Australia and America), and this was partly the motivation for his decision to undertake this project. As to the saliency of the policy area, Canada’s aging population will increasingly challenge our response to questions of disability and inclusion. 4.4 million Canadians self-identify as living with a disability; as immigration does not lead to increased disability rates (Canada accepts very few disabled immigrants, as we screen out the disabled in our immigration policy), Canada’s growth in disabled persons will come from the aging of the domestic population.

In addition to this academic background, Prince noted his attraction to the disability rights issue based on the frailty of the human condition and to being personally inspired by incidents of individual triumph and perseverance on the part of disabled persons. He also takes inspiration from leaders such as Jean Vanier and Romeo Dallaire who seek the goodness in the humanity in the midst of difficulty and pervasive evil, and also noted his tradition of writing about underdogs. This book looks at where we’ve come in our response to disability rights and policy, and where we might go in the future.

Q: What qualifies someone as a disabled person? Is there any controversy in the disabled-rights community as to who is a disabled person

A: There is a controversy in the disability community about who qualifies (morbid obesity? drug addicts? elderly?) No clarity, but the questions are acknowledged and attempts to deal with it.

Q: Where are the effective pressure points for policy reform?
A: Focus on the provincial level (lack of national coherence in Canada); find a Premier as a champion. Most of the key issues are within provincial jurisdiction anyway. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms distracted the disability rights movement – focus has seemed to shift back to the provincial level – score some victories, and build momentum across the country.

Q: How to make sense of Alberta – lack of specific support, but a general disability rights framework (as opposed to, e.g., British Columbia, where there are lots of programs but no overarching rights approach).
A: As the movement gets more politically sophisticated, it will press for actions in addition to lofty words. There are occasionally moments for building coalition. Canada has not signed or ratified the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Disabled (U.S. will soon sign this) – this excludes Canada from certain international meetings and resources.

Q: What are the risks of using litigation for asserting disability rights? (e.g., Federal Court Challenges Program)
A: The Courts are an adversarial route that rarely results in effective policy outcomes. The movement has developed an increased political sophistication – the problem is that the political side is not attuned to the problem.

Michael Prince and Justin Longo

Michael Prince and Justin Longo


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