Monday, December 09, 2013
Breaking the Silence - Today History is Made
(photo description: black and white photograph of Huronia Regional Centre. The institution sits like a large castle with turrets atop a hill. The grounds of the facility are in the foreground.)
Today is a an historical day.
Today, in Ontario, for the first time, in any jurisdiction in the world, a government leader, the Premier of the province, will apologize to people with intellectual disabilities for the conditions in the institutions and for the lives that they had to live there. It will be an acknowledgement of a historical wrong. It will also be a very public acknowledgement that those with intellectual disabilities are a 'people' who have their own history, their own political concerns, and their own identity as a minority that suffers prejudice.
Today an apology will echo through the land of the long corridor. It will be heard in places where pain was used as a tool of domination. It will be felt in places used to isolate and separate humans from humans. It will be seen as an acknowledgement that the first brick built with the intent of making captive those who had only committed the crime of difference was a mistake of the heart, a mistake of the mind and a mistake of the soul.
It was a mistake that affected the lives of those who lived and suffered through years of separation. Years of the pain of knowing 'in' while desperately wanting 'out'. But it was also a mistake that affected every single member of society. When one single group of people are removed from our midst, we are no longer community, we CAN'T be community. Community, if it means anything, it means 'all of us here together.' Community, cannot exist when some are hand picked to be cast away, set apart, to live invisible lives. We, as a society, excluded and by exclusion hurt the lives of others, hurt the lives of children who did not have siblings, parents who did not have their children, stores, their customers, churches their parishioners, schools their students.
I will hear today, a whisper, a whisper of blame towards the families who made the decision for their child to live away and apart. I WILL NOT HEAR IT. I WILL NOT. Families needed support and what they got was advice to put their child away in a place that could care for them. Families needed help and what they go was guilt - 'if you love your child you will put your child into the hands of those who know how to care for them.' Families needed acceptance and what they got was blame - 'the sins of the father;' and shame - 'what did you do to deserve this?' Families were rent apart by forces too powerful to resist.
Yet some did.
Some said 'No!'
And because those few did, because those who did built resources that weren't there before. They created to basis of what would be one day called the 'community living movement.' And it would be the community living movement that would lead us to today.
The first apology ever given to people with disabilities, from a government, anywhere in the world. This apology breaks the silence.
And in doing so I hope it echos through the hallways of every institution everywhere in the world. I hope it echos in the hearts of those who endured separation, of those who lost what they can never get back.
An apology matters.
An apology will be given.
May it shake the foundations of ableist thought and disphobic intent.the world over.