Today's Supreme Court Ruling

By Donna Thomson

When I was doing research for my book, I read quite a lot of what American philosopher and Capability Approach expert, Martha Nussbaum, had to say. Nussbaum has been a slow learner where concerns of people with cognitive disabilities are concerned. But in 2009, she came around. In the Journal of Metaphilosophy, Nussbaum wrote:

In short: people with cognitive disabilities are equal citizens, and law ought to show respect for them as full equals. To do so, law must provide such people with equal entitlements to medical care, housing, and other economic needs. That is the easy part. But law must go further, providing people with disabilities truly equal access to education, even when that is costly and involves considerable change in current methods of instruction. Even that, our society has begun to realize. Now we must take the most controversial step of all, giving people with cognitive disabilities political and civil rights on a basis of genuine equality. What that requires, and why it requires something that seems at first look so odd, has been the central theme of this essay. Let the debate begin.

Well, the debate began and ended today in Canada’s Supreme Court. In an earlier lower court trial, a young woman with cognitive disabilities was prevented from testifying against her mother’s partner who allegedly sexually assaulted her repeatedly. Apparently, the woman failed to pass a required competency test requiring her to distinguish between truth and lies. Without victim testimony, the accused was acquitted. Today, a new trial was ordered for a young woman, this time allowing for her testimony. In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court sent a message to the courts of Canada that testimony of people with cognitive disabilities must be accepted without first having to pass a competency test. If you care about fairness for vulnerable people, it’s worth reading the Supreme Court decision.

Today, I’m especially proud to be Canadian.