Canada loses iconic disability rights champion

January 17, 2023 – Ottawa, Ontario – Canadian Human Rights Commission

The Canadian Human Rights Commission’s Interim Chief Commissioner, Charlotte-Anne Malischewski, and Canada’s Accessibility Commissioner, Michael Gottheil, issue the following statement:

It is with heavy hearts that we honour the life and legacy of former Ontario Lieutenant Governor and accessibility rights champion David Onley, who passed away over the weekend at the age of 72.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to his beloved family and closest friends.

For all of us in Canada’s human rights community, particularly the disability rights community, this loss is deeply felt.

We remember Mr. Onley as the dedicated champion who made history by being the first person with a physical disability to serve as Ontario's Lieutenant-Governor, a post which he held from 2007 to 2014.

He made a lifetime commitment to being an active defender of the rights of people with disabilities, having grown up with disabilities of his own after a childhood bout of polio.

He left a permanent imprint on accessibility rights in Canada, as Chair of the Accessibility Standards Advisory Council and member of the accessibility councils for the Rogers Centre and the Air Canada Centre. Known for being fearlessly forthright, he did not mince words during his 2018-19 review of Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. He wrote: “For most disabled persons, Ontario is not a place of opportunity but one of countless, dispiriting, soul-crushing barriers.”

We honour Mr. Onley’s unwavering commitment to a barrier-free Canada, and we will ensure that his lifetime of work carries on.

With his example in our hearts and minds, we will continue working towards a more accessible Canada for all.

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