Jim Derksen, LL.D., May 26, 2009
Jim Derksen
B.A. (Wpg)

Today we honour Jim Derksen, a founder and leader of local provincial national and international disability movements for the past three decades. He has shaped how the rights of disabled people are recognized in and by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and how the governments of Canada and Manitoba as well as the United Nations, include people with disabilities in their policies and programs. His contributions have improved the lives of people with disabilities in Canada and changed all of us as a result.

Mr Derksen graduated from the University of Winnipeg. There he met other students with disabilities and learned about the barriers they encountered. Always a problem solver, he began a service transcribing books onto audiotape, providing visually impaired students and others access to print material.

Since the early 1970s, Mr. Derksen worked to develop the capacity of community-based organizations, especially those of people with disabilities. He took a lead in creating and sustaining organizations including the Manitoba League of Persons with Disabilities, the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, Disabled Peoples' International and the Canadian Disability Rights Council. In this work, he became an expert on disability public policy including human rights, employment, transportation and international development.

The Special Parliamentary Committee on the Disabled and the Handicapped used his expertise to draft the widely recognized Obstacles report in 1980. This report changed how Canadians and their governments understand the lives of people with disabilities. Mr Derksen was hired by the United Nations Secretariat on the International Year of Disabled Persons in 1982 to develop within the United Nations organizations an understanding of the full participation of disabled persons. More recently he drafted the provincial strategy on disability and was the founding Director of the Government of Manitoba's Disabilities Issues Office.

One of his greatest achievements was the inclusion of disability rights in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms Some of those involved in that process remember how persistently Jim and others lobbied them including following Jean Chretien, who was then Minister of Justice, to the washroom to make their point

Jim Derksen not only works on having the rights of disabled people enshrined in the highest public documents but on ensuring these rights are experienced in practical ways in day-to-day life. For example, while he chaired the Winnipeg Taxi-cab Board, he brought in metered wheelchair accessible taxis, making sure that those who needed wheelchair cabs would pay the same fares as those who didn't.

Since the equality rights section of the Charter came into effect in 1986, he contributed to cases of discrimination based in disability taken to the Supreme Court of Canada. Two recent Supreme Court rulings, on Via Rail in 2007 and on the airlines' fares for additional seating required as a result of disability in 2008, applied the recognition of Charter disability rights to concrete issues.

Jim Derksen embodies a model for public service. He listens, is thoughtful and reflective, uses creativity and wisdom to address challenges and works to find reasons and ways to include rather than exclude. It is this wise leadership that provides an excellent example to emulate in our lives and careers. Jim Derksen's life and work teaches of the possibilities of all people, the need for openness to a variety of ways of living and doing, and the learning that can be gained from listening rather than assuming.

Mr. Chancellor, it is an honour for me to ask on behalf of the Senate of the University of Manitoba, that you confer upon Jim Derksen the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.

-citation delivered by mentor, Prof. Deborah Steinstra, Disability Studies, University of Manitoba

Jim Derksen