Monday, April 11, 2011

Hate. Is it on the agenda?

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.


Anonymous said...

Yea! How fortunate is....


Anonymous said...

I love your article for! You asked for suggestions for another blog . . . how about "Bullying at school starts with teachers!" I have rarely seen bullying in schools that was worse than what the teachers dish out!
Just an idea!

Dave Hingsburger said...

Hi folks, sorry about the confusion today. I've mucked around until now 6AM in getting this post to look like I wanted it to. Much preambe was cut out. In effect, I was asking, if I write another for ... what should I write about. It needs to be about questions for the Federal leaders so it must be about things that fall under Federal jurisdiction. Thanks and sorry, I don't normally play around with posts after they are published. But when my piece didn't appear on their site this morning I wanted it to appear here.

Mark Pathak said...

Many thanks for the mention Dave,if anyone wants any information about the work we have done here about witness in court you can contact me via Dave.


Mark Pathak
Investigations Support Unit
Liverpool City Council

Colleen said...

Dear Dave:

Violence against anyone is unacceptable - sadly we live in country where violence is the answer to just about any problem. Our PM wants to spend more money on war and prisons - that tells us a lot!

Another article for - what are the federal candidates going to do about the high poverty rates among people with disabilities and the lack of affordable accessible housing?


theknapper said...

Great post.....we need to make our communities safe for all people. As you wrote about the experiences I was thinking about women I've worked with, some with disabilities and some without who have gone through those same experiences that you describe. We need to get better at advocating and supporting people thru the system. Thanks for the info of a place that is doing this well. What I love about your posts is you name the problem and describe it in a way that we can't ignore it and often push us to make this change and often connect us with possibilities.

Noisyworld said...

Well put Dave.
I wonder if the politicians will come up with sensible answers :/

It tried writing to my local MP recently-I think the best word for his reply is : hogwash :(

Cynthia F. said...


Anonymous said...

It so true we do need to make a safe place for everyone! CC

Andrea S. said...

I like Colleen's suggestion.

Poverty and housing certainly can belong together in the same article, since they are inter-related topics ... but each is also important enough and complex enough that you could also choose to address each in a separate article or blog post by itself.

Anonymous said...

Dear Dave, your blog about the abuse going on with individuals with a disability; Especially men! Was a real eye opener for me. I was unaware to the extent that the abuse went to. I find it completely and utterly disturbing. I believe that individuals with a disability-- whether it be physical, mental, intellectual etc,. Should be treated no less than everyone else; especially when it comes to being victimized by people in the public. I think that the Government (Federal) should look more deeply into this situation and work together with the self-advocacy groups to come up with a better and safer way to handle this situation. Everyone deserves to live in peace and not feel/have their life threatened or jeopardized in any way.
I hope that some changes are made soon.


Belinda said...

Thank you for your kind mention of my post Dave, and I appreciated your article very much. It is frustrating when the justice system doesn't function for all people equally and so gratifying when the system adapts so that it does work.

There is an Information Sharing Session On May 3 with York Regional Police; 12.30-4.00 at the York Regional Police Central Services Building, 47 Don Hillock Drive, Aurora. The session will inlude presentations on sexual assault and from a couple of agencies working in our field. Info at 1-866-765-5423 ext. 6788

Belinda said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Belinda said...

Correction to the phone number in my previous comment! It is 1-866 876-5423 ex. 6788

Ettina said...

"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."

Witness testimony is fallible from anyone. I remember hearing an analogy that explained how we should react to this fallibility - treat witness testimony like a crime scene. It's possible to contaminate it and make it useless, but if you collect it properly, it can be very valuable.

For some people, such as children and people with cognitive disabilities, their testimony is more easily contaminated. That doesn't make it useless. Instead, it means that the proper training is even more important, in order to gather and use their testimony.

In addition, many people with disabilities communicate differently. This should be treated the same way you'd treat an immigrant who doesn't speak English well - by providing an interpreter. Not just when they literally speak a different language, such as ASL, but when they communicate in echolalia or Beatles metaphors (I Am Sam) or whatever.