Note: I've written a piece to appear on Canada.Com about the federal election in Canada. It was to appear today but hasn't yet. Too, you might want to see Belinda's piece for the web page. Her's appeared a few days ago. I was honoured to be asked to contribute. Here is my submission:
Hate. Is it on the agenda?
The federal election is underway. I should be thinking about the future, about what I want from politicians, about how I see my country. I can't, I'm thinking about hate born out of prejudice. I'm thinking about the men. You see, I am a man with a disability and that makes me, right now, one thing only. A target.
Men with various disabilities are being systematically attacked and beaten, some to death, in the city of Toronto. And there is silence. While the media covers the issue, there isn't the sense of outrage and concern that one could imagine if others, more valued, were being attacked. Violence against people with disabilities is pervasive; study after study has shown it. Violence against people with disabilities is greeted with quiet rage from those involved but little action from those in positions of power.
People with intellectual disabilities, through their self-advocacy groups, have spoken about the fear they have of simply being out in the community; members of one group in Nova Scotia said that there is nowhere they feel safe from social violence aimed specifically at them because of their disability. Their experiences vary from the horrifying — a man with an intellectual disability in Sarnia attacked by a gang of youths, sprayed with lighter fluid and set on fire — to the everyday experiencing of social bullying and teasing.
In session after session of teaching abuse prevention to people with disabilities, I’ve seen those who believe that their hurt matters only to them. That reports of victimization have gone uninvestigated. That even when they are believed, their disability is given as an excuse not to proceed to court, the advice they are given is as insulting as it is ineffective: just ignore it.
I see the pain with which these issues are discussed and know them to be true, having myself felt I was in extreme danger twice because I have been targeted as a man with a disability. In these teaching sessions I teach people to report these abuses; I know it's the right thing to do. But after they do the right thing, will others follow?
One theory, often brought forward, is that people with disabilities make poor witnesses. It's a “blaming the victim” statement that most hold to be sadly true anyways.
If there is to be justice, all must benefit. If there is to be respect for law, then it must be applied equally. Courts and police officers throwing up their hands with a “well, what are we to do? After all, they are, um, intellectually disabled,” is a subtle way of announcing to would be victimizers: Hey, here's the group to target. Go ahead.
The justice system must be made accessible to all. People with intellectual disabilities, people with physical disabilities and people with mental illnesses are routinely victims of serious crimes. The level of victimization of members of these groups supersedes that of other groups. Studies have shown that people with disabilities are two times more likely to be victims of violent crimes than others. Further, 91 per cent of people with developmental disabilities state they are subject to name-calling and 60 per cent have been threatened and report living in fear. It is perceived that the victimizer feels safer from eventual prosecution for crimes against those that don't matter or, better put, those that won't be listened to.
Work originally done in England through Liverpool City Council’s Investigations Support Unit has shown remarkable results in ensuring that vulnerable people get access to the justice system in a way that nothing is compromised. The only change is that people with intellectual disabilities are given support in giving testimony. The process has had remarkable success. The results are twofold. Firstly, people with disabilities are beginning to see themselves as rightful recipients of justice for crimes committed against them. Second, victimizers are beginning to understand that their crimes will be taken seriously and investigated, and that there is a significant possibility of conviction.
Will the federal parties commit themselves to creating a safer Canada for all with disabilities by looking at practices from other jurisdictions to develop policies and procedures which makes Canadian courts accessible to people with all disabilities, Canadian law responsive to the needs of people with all disabilities, Canadian judiciary workers (from judges to Crowns to police) more sensitive to the needs to people with all disabilities and more committed to seeing crimes against them as a group punished?
Will the federal parities state unequivocally that violence against people with disabilities, in any form, is unacceptable and that remedies will be sought? Will they encourage the watchdogs of public safety, the courts, the police and the Human Rights Commissions, to develop best-practice standards to ensure that Canada does not lag behind other countries in addressing the issues of violence against people with disabilities?
I want to feel safe in my home and in my community. I ask that the political parties tell people with disabilities just what they are going to do to make that simple request happen.