Fighting Racism in the Age of Trump – April 21st

The election of Donald Trump in the US has emboldened the racist right in the US and around the world. In Canada, conservative leadership candidates have stoked the fires of bigotry and the result has been an increase in racist attacks here. But they can be stopped. The outpourings of solidarity against racist attacks have shown that public opinion stands strongly against hate.

Join us for this public forum to discuss strategies to build a broad movement to defeat the bigots.

Speakers

Weyman Bennett
Co-convenor – Stand Up to Racism UK
Nigel Barriffe
President, Urban Alliance on Race Relations
Chantal Sundaram
International Socialists

 

Friday, April 21st, 7:00 pm
Multi-Faith Centre 569 Spadina Ave, Toronto

Facebook Event

This forum is part of the Marxism 2017 conference.

Editor’s Note: Stay for Saturday and hear my talk on “Cripping the state: disability, health and capitalism”.

Trudeau’s ‘accessible Canada’ includes unpaid work

Marchers holding signs at the Toronto Disability Pride March
Marchers holding signs at the Toronto Disability Pride March. Featuring Beverly Smith.

Back in 2015, before the Canadian federal election, a movement of disabled people was building across the country. The call for a barrier-free Canada was built in that time by a small, dedicated group of people who reinforced their message daily through social media and on the ground action. Their methods were so effective, that what began as a grassroots call for national solidarity grew into a campaign promise by Trudeau….

Instead of reaching out to offer paid work to disabled people, they paid consulting firms to find disabled people to consult with. They are doing market research rather than accepting the expertise of disabled people in designing policies or programs.

Read the full article I wrote for Socialist.ca.

Have your say on the future of the Canadians with Disabilities Act

The Federal Government will be hosting a public forum to get input from the public on what the promised Canadians with Disabilities Act should include.

where and when this takes place:

When: Wednesday, February 8th, 2017

Time: 4:00 pm to 7:30 pm

Where: Chelsea Hotel Toronto – Churchill Ballroom, 33 Gerrard Street West, Toronto, ON

If you would like to attend this event, you will need to contact the Office for Disability Issues in advance so they can send you a short form with your contact information and accessibility needs.

Pro-Tip: Go with a group and plan the questions you want answered.

Would you like some suggestions of what you might say to the Federal Government at these consultations?

Here are a few starting points from the AODA Alliance.

Here are a few points that I’ve made regarding an Accessible Canada for All.

  • The need for accessible, affordable housing. People can’t be expected to find decent work without decent housing that meets their access needs.
  • Protection of the rights of parents with disabilities.
  • Accessibility in healthcare and all stages of education.
  • Including Indigenous Peoples and refugees in the discussion, and allowing them the same or greater accessibility as the rest of Canada.
  • Police training in effectively and sensitively working with disabled people.
  • Distribution of Health and Social transfers to address the inequities in the systemic barriers that exist between provinces and territories.

This is an opportunity for disabled Canadians to have equitable status as citizens and residents of this country. We need effective enforceable legislation that works for all of us.

Disabled Canadians are more than consumers and potential employees. The Federal legislation must have a broader scope to create equitable rights for disabled people with effective enforcement.

Other ways to Participate:

  • Write to your MP
  • Submit your thoughts to be gathered by SCI Ontario.
  • Participate in the online questionnaire until February 28th, 2017. The questionnaire is also available in an accessible PDF version.
  • Submit your feedback in the language of your choice (English, French, American Sign Language or Langue des signes québécoise) and preferred format such as online, handwritten, video or audio submissions. You can provide your input to the Office for Disability Issues via:

Phone: 1-844-836-8126

TTY: 819-934-6649

Fax: 819-953-4797

Email: accessible-canada@hrsdc.gc.ca

Mail:
Consultation – Accessibility Legislation
c/o Office for Disability Issues
Employment and Social Development Canada
105 Hotel-de-ville St., 1st floor, Bag 62
Gatineau QC K1A 0J9

All of the feedback we receive will be incorporated into reports that will be made available on the consultation website and in alternate formats, on request.

You can also consult the Discussion Guide for more information.

 

Disability Rights and Physician-Assisted Dying   – Saturday April 23rd

Saturday, April 23rd 2016 | 4:15 p.m.

Multifaith Centre | 569 Spadina Ave (north of College)

Speakers
Melissa Graham  Fighter for social justice, public speaker, writer, researcher, and proud disabled woman working with youth, women, & other disabled people in Toronto. One of the organizers and founder of the Toronto Disability Pride March. 
Maureen Aslin , Facilitator and educator working with community groups to support end of life planning. Advocate for patient rights.

Speakers list is now online at:
http://marxismconference.ca/speakers

For full program details click here:
http://marxismconference.ca/program

To register online click here:
http://marxismconference.ca/register

part of MARXISM 2016 | ideas for real change
$10 or pwyc
info: marxismconference.ca

Life, death, dignity, and the state

Originally posted at Socialist.ca

Note: Since this article was originally posted April 13th, the text of Bill C-14 has since been released. It is still in it’s preliminary form, and will likely change before it becomes law.

The right to choose when and how we die, on its surface, may seem like something the government has no business deciding. Perhaps that’s why the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the law prohibiting physician-assisted death in 2015. Effective June 6, physician-assisted death will be a funded part of Medicare across Canada. The federal government has until that date to decide just what should be funded, and under what circumstances.

The choice to live or die may seem liberating to some, but that choice is also somewhat of an illusion—layered with the familiar trappings of capitalism and oppression. In a country where poverty, gender roles, austerity and discrimination are a daily aspect of people’s lives, a state-approved right to die may sound more like a quiet suggestion than a mere option.

As the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD) state in the opening paragraph in their Submission to Special Joint Committee on Physician Assisted Dying, “the Supreme Court of Canada in Carter emphasized that there needs to be a balanced system that both enables access by patients to physician-assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia (PAD/VE), and protects persons who are vulnerable and may be induced to commit suicide.” The CCD Submission also stated risk factors for suicide included socio-economic factors, race, ethnicity, and culture, or onset of physical disability.

As Toronto Star reporter Thomas Walkom wrote in a recent article, “All of this might make eminent sense in a world where everyone (including every teenager) was rational, where physicians were all-seeing, where family members always had one another’s interests at heart and where the old, sick and disabled were not viewed as social burdens.”

Truthfully, assisted deaths have been a quiet occurrence in this country for a long time, but now that such deaths are permitted by the state, it’s necessary to consider the role government has in these decisions.

Quebec has consulted with the public since the Carter case began, and has since come out with Bill 52—which is quite narrow in scope. The Ontario government so far has made a number of recommendations without appearing to consider the research. The federal government however, is making some interesting decisions. First, it took power away from the existing federal committee to make any recommendations, then appointed its own committee made up of MPs and Senators. According to a recent article by the Globe and Mail “The majority of the parliamentary committee seeks to expand the criteria for physician-assisted death way beyond what was required by Carter or Bill 52. It includes mental-health conditions and all other disabilities, including developmental disabilities, autism, acquired brain injuries, fetal alcohol syndrome, not to mention blindness and deafness.”

So how do we as activists fit in to these unfolding events? While respect for the personal choice of individuals is important, it is equally important to consider the context of those decisions, and for whom laws get made. As the federal government and mainstream movements continue to waffle on the subject of oppression, it is up to us to continue to highlight oppression and discrimination to the forefront. The right to die can never be equitable without the right to live with dignity.

If you’d like to hear more on this topic, please join us for the Disability Rights and Physician Assisted Suicide Panel on Saturday April 23rd as part of Ideas for Real Change: Marxism 2016.

Note: There is a call for a Vulnerable Persons Standard. It addresses some of this issues, but without the context of ableism and other forms of oppression. The writers of this standard are currently looking for signatures.

Wheelchairs are Not Suitcases: a great opportunity for some #RealChange

Sign the Petition.

Every time I fly I make a silent apology to my wheelchair. I leave the chair at the gate, fingers crossed, as I’m transported to the cushy seat on the plain with a small screen in front to distract me from what’s happening to my wheelchair in the cargo hold.

For my wheelchair this journey will be far more hazardous. Once it leaves my sight, this machine that provides me with daily independence, freedom, and mobility, gets thrown on the carts and on to the loading machines with the similar respect that passengers suitcases would expect.

Imagine watching you 600 pound chair get tossed on its side and just hoping your chair isn’t melted, broken, or taken apart by the time you reach your destination. Yes, these things actually happen to people.

I’ve looked up the standards and regulations, it turns out Transport Canada is really concerned about wheelchair batteries, as they should be. They are also rightly concerned about the accessibility of the aircraft, there are also Training Regulations for Employees and Contractors Who Handle Mobility Aids. These were written in 1994.

They state:

Every carrier shall ensure that, consistent with its type of operation, all employees and contractors of the carrier who may be required to handle mobility aids receive the training described in section 4 (Employees and Contractors who interact with the Public) and a level of training appropriate to the requirements of their function in the following areas:

(a) different types of mobility aids;

(b) requirements, limitations and procedures for securing, carrying and stowing mobility aids in the passenger compartment of a vehicle; and

(c) proper methods of carrying and stowing mobility aids in the baggage compartment of a vehicle, including the disassembling, packaging, unpackaging and assembling of the mobility aids.

Were you expecting more details? Me too.

So here’s my point:

Power wheelchairs cost taxpayers thousands of dollars. I hate to make that argument, but it’s true. It’s also a good thing because that independence allows the people who need the devices to do great things that give back to the economy.

People who use mobility devices do a lot of flying, I don’t have statistics, but I’m fairly certain it has increased since 1994 when that training was put in place.

I think it’s time we treated mobility devices and the people who use them with a little more respect. When Canadians voted in their government last fall Prime Minister Trudeau promised a Canadians with Disabilities Act, and it seems like it’s been forgotten ever since.

I’m hoping he proves me wrong.

Canada makes changes to the way Canadians fly for all kinds of reasons, but changing the way we transport mobility aids would benefit Canadians, save us money in replacing these devices, and boost the economy by encouraging travel.

We can do this! Sign the Petition.

The Privilege of Niceness

Confession: The label of “nice” has benefited me as a woman and a disabled person. A smiling face has literally opened doors for me. I’ve pretended to be fine to get things I’ve needed or just to avoid confrontation.

Maybe there’s nothing wrong with that, perhaps we should reward “niceness” is society, but what happens to people who get labelled “not nice” or “difficult”?

Where do these labels come from? What are their consequences? Do we lose something by silencing people who don’t follow the status quo?

I’m not talking about someone who oppresses others. There are many forms of “not niceness” with power. I’m talking about marginalized oppressed people who carry these labels around before they even speak.  Who’ve been judged against Robert’s Rules of Order, or any system used to separate Others from professionals and decides who has a greater right to speak.

There are consequences on an individual level, with many examples. In advocacy groups made up of people labeled “professionals” and “community members”, those community members are more likely to be heard if they back up the professionals and keep their emotions in check, and speak when it’s their turn. A disabled person looking for services is more likely to get what they want when they’re articulate, and faces greater marginalization when they are not.

At a systemic level, it’s showing up in policy, through people who think social change can be brought about with legislation. Those fighting for accessibility legislation say it is the answer to our problems. Others want to introduce anti-poverty legislation, claiming income is an equalizer of fairness and respect. Sometimes activists are encouraged to play along, and keep quiet any talk about ableism or other forms of oppression…lest it disrupt sunny ways.

Don’t get me wrong, these groups are doing great work, but there’s a big piece missing. Accessibility and income cannot make up for those situations that leave us disadvantaged and devalues our humanity. Ableism and sanism are ugly truths, but we do ourselves a disservice by painting over those truths. It’s like trying to solve the wage gap between men and women without acknowledging sexism, or calling for an end to carding without acknowledging racism.

If we want change, it’s time to stop working within the same old rules and hierarchies.

It’s time to end the silencing of the uncomfortable.

 

 

Voting not for our pocketbooks, but for our future


There’s been a lot of talk in this election about what we don’t want, but what about the kind of country we want for our future. I promised a post about this election, but it’s been challenging to wade through the bitterness, anger, and shameful outbursts of hate to find something worth writing about.

For the past decade this country has suffered the consequences of a paternalistic, patronizing leader who has been telling his citizens that they are mere taxpayers, and that he knows best. He’s wrong.

That said, there is a ray of hope.

There are pockets of people taking up space and raising their voices this election, Barrier Free Canada’s call for a Canadians with Disabilities Act is just one example.  There are also Canadians like Mohamed Fahmy, who spent years wrongly imprisoned in Eygpt due to government inaction, to return and remind us that we deserve better from those we elect, and we have the power to make change.

Such things are important, not just for the call to action itself, but for bringing back the demand for more than the status quo.

When Canada was first branded into being, many were denied the right to vote. Women, Aboriginal people (who paid a price in treaty rights), people of colour, disabled people all fought for that right. They fought for the right to vote, not so they could line their pocket books with less taxes, but so they too could be represented in a society they envisioned more equitable and just.

Regardless of who wins today, let’s take a lesson from those movements who dared to take up space, who called for a better world. Let’s not just vote, let’s honour them, today and all the days after that.

“Here in Canada, we won’t see your disability”…unless we can profit from it.

The Parapan Am Games, August 2015. I was at the Torch Relay a few weeks ago, and one of the speakers, a well-known member of the disability community, and founder of a disability organization said, “Here in Canada, we won’t see your disability”.

My jaw dropped. I wanted to believe that he hadn’t just said that like it was a good thing, but he did. In fact he went on about it for another few minutes with great enthusiasm.

I doubt anyone has gone from shameless fan girl to outraged disability activist as fast as I did in that moment, but it was an uncomfortable transformation that went something like this:

“Wait, what?”… “Are you kidding me?”… “Ok, any minute now he’s going to turn around and tell all the politicians behind him that they need to step up”… “Somebody must’ve put him up to this.”… “Nope, no, please just stop”.

He meant this as a positive statement I’m sure, I mean who wouldn’t want to live in a country where ableism doesn’t exist. I think the PR department forgot to tell the white guy with the microphone that Canada isn’t that country. If that country exists right now it probably has unicorns, wizards flying on brooms…and much better Games.

I want to believe this speaker meant well; he’s a Canadian icon. Maybe he’s just speaking from his lived experience.

Maybe he doesn’t realize that there’s disabled people still fighting for accessible transportation, like RAPLIQ in Montreal. Maybe he doesn’t realize people are fighting to keep their existing accessible transportation, like Save Handydart in Vancouver.

It’s not like Canada’s a country that still euthanizes disabled people, but it does do research to screen genes for disabilities, and let’s not forget the ableism in assisted suicide.

It’s a country were disabled people can move freely…unless you’ve have been forced to live in an institution (another example), or have a suicide attempt on record that prevented you from crossing the border.

It is a country where disabled people have free will, unless compliance with medication is forced on you, someone decides you’re too disabled to parent, or you’re a refugee seeking healthcare.

Perhaps it’s easy to be misdirected by the billions of dollars that was spent on the Games and forget we’re in a province that underfunds social assistance and social housing, still has high unemployment for disabled people despite the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, and the Guy Mitchell inquest.

If I may, let’s take a lesson from our Prime Minister on what not to do, and stop trying to make problems go away by pretending they don’t exist. Disabled people exist in Canada, and not seeing that is part of the problem. Shielding our eyes from oppression is not something to be proud of and it won’t make ableism disappear.

How about we focus on making Canada a country that sees disabled people, and sees them as an asset. That sounds like something to shout into a microphone.

For more on ableism see The Invisible Backpack of Able-Bodied Privilege Checklist.

Support a Barrier-Free Canada.

This election, it’s time for an Canadian Disabilities Act

This election, it’s time for an Canadian Disabilities Act*. From coast-to-coast across Canada, disabled people and organization have been breaking down barriers without the support of or federal government, the individualized “solutions” miss the mark; access to society and quality of life is not created through tax breaks and savings plans.

Now is a time to call for change. It’s time for bold policy that benefits all disabled people living in Canada. It’s time to call on our MPs and perspective MPs for a Barrier-Free Canada.

The following is taken from a letter written by the Barrier Free Canada Committee:

Canada is one of the few developed countries that does not have a comprehensive nationally legislated Disabilities Act. It is imperative to have the rights of disabled people legitimized, recognized, and protected and we believe that an initiative such as ours can make this a reality.

What’s in it for me?

Disabled people who are not currently covered, or who are insufficiently covered by their province or territory; people who care for their disabled family members; people who are forced into poverty because their disability has prevented them from being employed; aging Canadians, Veterans, and the extended family and loved ones of all of the above can be benefited by a national act.

Even the individual who is not affected by disability directly or indirectly can enjoy knowing that as a caring country, we are advocating for all our people.

How will it help?

Enacting national legislation will ensure that disabled Canadians will not be prevented from pursuing goals, achieving dreams and otherwise living independent lives.

What is the end goal?

A streamlined law that defines civil and human rights for all disabled Canadians and that encompasses all provincial and territorial legislation.

We need all the support that we can gather and your participation is crucial in this regard. Our initiative has already obtained the endorsements of such organizations as the CNIB, March of Dimes, the MS Society of Canada, the Canadian Hearing Society, and Accessible Media Inc.

Please take a moment to visit us at http://barrierfreecanada.org/contact-us/ to add your name to the list of citizens and organizations that have already endorsed our cause. As well, we are urging you to contact your local Member of Parliament (MP) to let the Federal Government know that Canadians wish to have this law adopted now.

Follow us on Twitter @barrierfreeca and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/barrierfreeca.

Also make sure you’re registered to vote!

*Note: I deliberately used Canadian Disabilities Act rather than Canadians with Disabilities Act used by Barrier-Free Canada. This choice reflects the inclusion of non-status disabled people living in Canada who would be impacted by this Act as they are currently impacted by Harper’s cuts to healthcare for refugees and immigration policy.