There is no schedule

By Francesca Nardi

“Horario no hay”.

“There is no schedule”.

This was one of the first phrases that I heard on my first day at my new job in Argentina and asked what time I should be expecting to arrive and leave the office every day.

After finishing 1L exams, and leaving 12 hours later for a grueling 36 hour journey to Mar del Plata, Argentina, this was the last sentence I ever expected to hear. Like many law students, our lives are governed by strict class and study schedules, with many of us often having to schedule in time to do basic things like eating and sleeping. This was my first introduction to a completely different sense of time that would shape much of my Argentine experience.

I had never realized the extent to which schedules shape cultures until I arrived in Argentina and was forced to reflect on the way I think about time. In Canada, and especially in the legal profession, time is money. In my experience in Argentina, things move much more slowly, people arrive late to almost everything, and deadlines are merely a suggestion. At first, I took this as a frustrating indication that my time wasn’t valued. How was it that things could seem to move so much more slowly here?

The last six weeks have taught me that the laissez-faire approach to time and schedules in Argentina is not a sign of disrespect for other people’s time, but precisely the opposite. The laid back approach to scheduling here comes from a recognition of how valuable time is, and the importance of making space in life for the things that are important. In Mar del Plata, people are extremely physically active, spending time outside walking and running on the beach, dancing, or working out in a gym. This is seen as an indispensable and important part of life. Argentinians are also incredibly social and family oriented, always setting aside time to get together with friends and family for an asado on the weekends, or to go and enjoy a coffee and conversation somewhere together. The relatively relaxed approach to time in my workplace reflects a recognition that while work is important, there are so many other things in life that warrant time and energy. A flexible schedule expresses this, and acts as a reminder that it is up to all of us to prioritize the things in our lives that truly matter, while still getting things done in the workplace.

Since arriving in Argentina, I have been able to explore a variety of areas of the law, including disability and fertility law, while also collaborating with the legal clinic on issues of disability rights in the context of public transport. Mar del Plata has a long way to go to making the city accessible for people with disabilities, the elderly, and parents with young children. Working on this project has allowed me to look more critically at the structures of the cities I have lived in, and become more aware of the architectural and attitudinal barriers that prevent everyone from enjoying the city and accessing essential services.

I have also been working on a project exploring the implications of prenatal and preimplantation genetic testing on the disability community. This project has forced me to think more deeply about the complex reality of technological development, and the challenges presented by technologies that may seem benign and even positive. Finally, I collaborated with a group of students at the faculty on an international research paper examining the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities throughout other UN committees and oversight bodies.

In my spare time, I have been taking advantage of the truly spectacular beaches in Mar del Plata to spend time outside, learning to dance tango, and making friends at the local gym. On the weekends, I have been travelling and getting to see some of the incredible corners of this beautiful country! Like any new experience far from home, there have been challenges, but the Marplatense community have embraced me with open arms, and have already made this summer an unforgettable part of my law school experience!

Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)

By Keiran Gibbs

In 2006 the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which has since gained worldwide support faster than any human rights convention in history [1]. The CRDP was first proposed by Gilberto Rincón Gallardo, a former Mexican politician appointed as the head of the Anti-Discrimination Council. Mexico was also the first country to ratify it, yet, the CRDP has had little effect on Mexican law and practice. Such a lack of political will on Mexico’s part has resulted in severe continuous violations of the rights of at least thousands of people detained in psychiatric and social security institutions throughout the country.

In November, 2010, Disability Rights International (DRI) and the Mexican Commission for the  Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (CMDPDH in Spanish), released a report[2], that revealed a tragic reality that vividly depicts  Mexico’s breach of acceptable norms. While the living conditions in many of Mexico’s psychiatric and social welfare institutions are appalling[3], the legal structure that denies  autonomy to those diagnosed as having a disability is arguably just as troubling. This legal structure which allows for voluntary or involuntary internment is virtually identical in all of Mexico’s thirty-two states, and it often keeps the thousands of people living in  these institutions unable to ever leave, regardless of whether not they have a disability at all[4].

Generally all that is required for ‘voluntary’ internment into an institution for the disabled is the signature of a family member and a medical professional (i.e., a psychiatrist validating the diagnoses of ‘disabled’). Often the institution itself retains tutorship[5]; the person with a disability then deemed  incapable of ever making decisions for her or himself. Needless to say, involuntary incarceration creates an even lower standard for the exercise of autonomy; the requirement for a family member’s signature is eliminated. An aggravating factor is that such decisions to institutionalize people with disabilities are virtually never reviewed by a third party[6].

One particularly stark example of the detrimental effect this can have is illustrated in said report, where a child who had no disability whatsoever, spent her entire formative years in an institution, in which she might expect to be adhered to an object for prolonged periods of time[7]. Yet, as an abandoned child her legal guardian, the institution and the very same actor causing the harm, had complete authority over her and her whereabouts.  It is in fact a ludicrous circumstance and it would be practically impossibly not to sympathize with the feelings of  helplessness that such official barriers to the exercise of autonomy must cause this child and others like her. Whether or not one has a disability should not eliminate one’s capability in having reasonable autonomy over the decisions in one’s life.

While it isn’t unreasonable for States to ask for some patience as they attempt to reach the ideal situation that the Convention demands, any stalling on Mexico’s part in revising the laws that act as an impediment to making the Convention a reality, specifically the laws dealing with tutorship and capacity,  is not only unreasonable in this instance, it is indeed criminal.


[1] [1] U.N. Enable, Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, http://www.un.org/disabilities/default.asp?id=150

[2] Abandoned and Disappeared: Mexico’s Segregation and Abuse of Children and Adults with Disabilities [ November, 2010]. Available at: http://www.disabilityrightsintl.org/media-gallery/our-reports-publications/. Also see some of the video documentation which contributed to the report at: Neglect at a Mexico mental institution, ABC News, Nightline, http://abcnews.go.com/Nightline/

[3] Ibid. See for example Section I: Conditions in Institutions, which documents many institutions that leave the patients in urine and feces, leave them in restraints for prolongued periods of time, distribute pills from the same cup to all patients, as well as other incidents of physical and verbal abuse.

[4]
Ibid. See especially Chapter I: Segregation from society of people with disabilties (A) & (B).

[5] Ibid. Chap I : As many as 80% of many of the institutions visited were considered ‘abandonados’, making the institution itself the legal guardian.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

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