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.

An apology.

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.


Andrea S. said...

Which government is this? Will there be a transcript somewhere that we can read?


Dave Hingsburger said...

Andrea, I have updated the text to make it clear that it's happening in my home province of Ontario. I imagine there will be significant news coverage of this in Canadian newspapers. Google government of ontario, apology, huronia regional center ... and you should find news updates as they happen.

Colleen said...

Dear Dave:

I hope it does everything you ask of it, this apology. I hope it truly comes from the heart and is given in such a way as to address the losses and hurts. My brother lived in institutions for over 40 years. While I was not harmed nearly as much as him, I was still harmed, as were the rest of my family. We did not just go on and pretend he never existed. There was a gaping hole in our family. My mother never recovered from having to relinquish him.

It wasn't just the families who said "no" to institutions who built community living. While my brother was in institutions my parents worked hard with the Association for Retarded Children and later the Association for the Mentally Retarded (to use the language if the day) . They still had a vision for a day when there would be no institutions. They were not the only family who had a child in an institution while working toward community living. They did what they thought was the best thing for their child. They did what people they trusted, people with authority and "expertise" advised them was best.

If there is even a whisper of blame in today's apology I will be on the warpath, letters will fly. Blaming families shifts responsibility for what happened. It lies squarely on the shoulders of politicians, doctors, and society at large. They lost sight of the fact that before they were anything else these were children who belonged with their families.

I will be listening today and I hope beyond anything that this is a true heartfelt apology.


Kris S. said...

Wow. Thanks for sharing, Dave.

Liz said...

I hope other governments follow this lead. Thanks for making it clear that families were not to blame

Anonymous said...

The only real apology is a change in behaviour . . . I'm waiting to see the resources directed towards those whose lives were irreparably damaged!

Anonymous said...