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Special Education in Canada

Special Education in Canada

In Canada, education is the responsibility of each province and territory.

Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which was proclaimed in 1981, affects the delivery of educational services and set the foundation for other Canadian policies:

 “Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age, or mental or physical disability.”

The Human Rights Code

Each province and territory maintains its own human rights code and they are all very similar. For example, in 1987 Manitoba's Human Rights Code authorized the Manitoba Human Rights Commission to mediate/investigate discrimination complaints based on:

  • ancestry
  • age
  • ethnic background/origin
  • creed, religious belief, religious association/activity
  • nationality or national origin
  • sex
  • gender-determined characteristics
  • sexual orientation
  • marital/family status
  • source of income
  • political belief, political association/activity
  • physical or mental disability

Duty to Accommodate Disability

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Human Rights Code (Manitoba), and the resulting court cases have established a duty to accommodate disability. Thus, in education there is a duty to accommodate the needs of students with disabilities to allow them to access educational services equally, unless to do so would cause undue hardship.

In Manitoba, “undue hardship” is defined as follows: “The measures to accommodate special needs will be reasonable and required unless they cause undue hardship due to cost, risk to safety, impact on others, or other factors.”

For Additional Information

Founded in 1967, the Council of Ministers of Education (CMEC) is an intergovernmental body consisting of the 13 individual ministers of education. Its website provides a list of educational services and contacts by province and territory.

The Canadian Education Association (CEA), founded in 1891, is a bilingual, federally incorporated nonprofit organization that seeks to influence Canadian public policy pertaining to education. The United Nations’ Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was passed by the 76th Plenary Session of the United Nations’ General Assembly on Dec. 13, 2006.

Last Updated:  28 July, 2020

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