Canadians urged Trudeau to address police racism after George Floyd murder, emails show

They didn’t always agree on what to do, but scores of concerned citizens penned letters urging the federal Liberals to address police mistreatment of Black and Indigenous people as the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota helped spark indignation about injustices in Canada.

Hundreds of pages of correspondence disclosed through the Access to Information Act reveal deep mistrust of the RCMP and other police services, along with plenty of suggestions on how to make things better.

Many of the emails, from May 25 to July 1 of last year, were addressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, though they all wound up in the inbox of Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, the cabinet member responsible for the Mounties and the federal prison and border agencies.

READ MORE: 84% of Canadians satisfied with Derek Chauvin guilty verdict in George Floyd death, poll says

In most cases the senders’ names were removed, out of respect for privacy, before release under the access law.

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“The people should know they are safe in the presence of the law,” said a message from Toronto. “Right now, many do not.”

A Verdun, Que., writer said that as a white male he had never experienced racial or gender discrimination, so he could not truly understand the pain and rage of people of colour. “But I feel their pain and will not remain silent.”

Added another letter: “Although we might need the police in some specific instances, the unrestrained force that they regularly use against Black and Indigenous people is appalling and completely unacceptable in a country like Canada.”

At an anti-racism rally in Ottawa last June, Trudeau put one knee to the ground, his head bowed, as others also took a knee around him. The demonstration was one of several events in Canada following days of rallies against racism and police brutality in numerous American cities prompted by Floyd’s death at the hands of police.

Click to play video: 'Thousands gather in Ottawa for demonstration, Trudeau takes knee'

Thousands gather in Ottawa for demonstration, Trudeau takes knee

Thousands gather in Ottawa for demonstration, Trudeau takes knee – Jun 5, 2020

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki initially stopped short last June of endorsing Trudeau’s assessment that the national police force, like all Canadian institutions, exhibits systemic racism.

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In a sudden reversal soon after, Lucki spoke with regret for not having done so.

A writer from Powell River, B.C., told Trudeau in mid-June it was time for Lucki to go.

“Enough is enough! The replacement of the current commissioner will send notice to our police and all our nation’s people that this laissez-faire hedging and outright denial will not stand.”

A New Brunswick correspondent advised the prime minister that demanding Lucki’s resignation would not rid the RCMP of racism, and instead recommended improved recruitment and training of Mounties. “Selecting better suited candidates would go a long way in rectifying the situation.”

The Mounties should be completely removed from Indigenous communities, a writer from Amherst, N.S., said after seeing a video of the RCMP violently arresting Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam in Alberta.

“I have read before that the Indigenous people have grown to distrust the RCMP and I now see why.”

A letter from Calgary urged Blair late last July to take drastic action by diverting funds from police forces to “those measures that actually address the root of crime,” such as education, mental-health services, housing and social work.

“There are countless examples of police brutality in Canadian history, and without acknowledging this fact and actively working to change it, there will continue to be,” the message says.

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An email from B.C. rejected the notion of reducing police budgets, calling instead for better training of officers in arrest methods.

Another letter writer urged the prime minister to take concrete steps as soon as possible to reform Canadian policing to eliminate racial bias.

READ MORE: Why racism in Canada’s police force is as old as policing

“Unfortunately, we haven’t done enough yet to save the lives and preserve the well-being of Black and Indigenous Canadians,” the letter says.

“I don’t know what the solutions are, but I encourage you to listen to the people who do.”

The House of Commons public safety committee is preparing to release a report on systemic racism in policing.

In last fall’s throne speech, the Liberal government promised legislation and money to address systemic inequities in all phases of the criminal justice system.

It pledged action on issues ranging from sentencing and rehabilitation to improved civilian oversight of the RCMP and standards on police use of force.

The planned measures also include modern training for police and other law-enforcement agencies, as well as broader RCMP reforms that emphasize a shift toward community-led policing.

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In addition, the Liberals promised to speed up work on a legislative framework for First Nations policing as an essential service, seen as crucial to ensuring safety in Indigenous communities.

© 2021 The Canadian Press

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Canadians with disabilities struggling financially due to coronavirus pandemic: survey – National

More than half of Canadians with disabilities who participated in a crowdsourced survey are struggling to make ends meet because of the financial fallout of the COVID-19 crisis, a new report suggests.

Statistics Canada published findings on Thursday gathered from approximately 13,000 Canadians with long-term conditions or disabilities who voluntarily filled out an online questionnaire between June 3 and July 23.

Read more:
People with disabilities, autism carry a heavier pandemic burden, advocates say


Unlike most of the agency’s studies, the survey wasn’t randomly sampled and therefore isn’t statistically representative of the Canadian population.

The responses indicate the pandemic has affected the ability of 61 per cent of participants age 15 to 64 to fulfil at least one financial obligation or essential need, including housing payments, basic utilities and prescription medication.

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Forty-four per cent of respondents reported concerns about paying for groceries, while 40 per cent were worried about the costs of personal protective equipment.

COVID-19 support for people with disabilities inadequate says advocate

COVID-19 support for people with disabilities inadequate says advocate

Nearly one-third of participants said their overall household income has declined since lockdown began. More than half of this group reported losses greater than $1,000 a month.

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Of those who were employed prior to the pandemic, 36 per cent said they were laid off or saw their hours cut.

Almost half of participants said they’ve relied solely on non-employment income in the months since the outbreak hit. The most common sources were disability assistance and pandemic-related income supports such as the Canada Emergency Response Benefit.

Michael Prince, a professor of social policy at the University of Victoria, said the survey only begins to “scratch the surface” of the potential long-term financial repercussions of the pandemic for people with disabilities.

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He noted that the survey found young people were more likely to likely to have seen employment changes than other age groups, possibly permanently severing their ties to the workforce.

Read more:
Coronavirus: Payments for Canadians with disabilities still in limbo

“There’s some concern that people with disabilities may be some of the last rehired,” Prince said.

A 2017 study by Statistics Canada found that people with disabilities were more likely to live below the poverty line, and those who are employed tend to earn less than their counterparts without disabilities.

The authors of Thursday’s report raised concerns that financial losses linked to the pandemic could put many people with disabilities in an even more vulnerable position.

Earlier this week, the parliamentary budget office reported that Ottawa is spending $792 million on a one-time payment of up to $600 to help 1.67 million people with disabilities.

COVID-19 support for people with disabilities inadequate says advocate

COVID-19 support for people with disabilities inadequate says advocate

Kyle Vose, agency co-chair of the ODSP Action Coalition, noted that many Canadians with disabilities don’t qualify for the payment, and for those that do, the sum is a pittance compared to the extra costs linked to COVID-19.

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“We’re people with disabilities, so we’re used to not getting anything,” Vose said. “We’re just hoping for something.”

Before the pandemic, Vose said, lots of people on the Ontario Disability Support Program were barely scraping by.

Now, Vose said, many are “falling through the cracks” as the prices of essentials such as food, medication and transportation have gone up, and services to support low-income people have been cut back.

Most Canadians are struggling during the pandemic, he said, but for people with disabilities, those burdens are often compounded by accessibility issues that can make meeting basic needs more difficult, and often, more expensive.

“There’s got to be some sort of understanding here, and there doesn’t seem to ever be that understanding.”

© 2020 The Canadian Press

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‘I need help’: Coronavirus highlights disparities among Canadians with disabilities – National

Prior to the novel coronavirus pandemic, 27-year-old Marissa Blake was rarely ever home.

Now, Blake, who lives in Toronto supportive housing and needs assistance to walk, can only have one visitor a week for three hours and can’t see her friends in-person. An appointment to discuss surgery on her legs was cancelled, and her sleep and care schedule are in flux because her personal support workers keep changing.

“It’s difficult,” she said. “I feel like I’m in jail.”

Disability advocates say B.C.’s woman’s death shows need for clearer COVID-19 policy

Her exercise program with March of Dimes Canada, a rehabilitation foundation for disabled persons, was cancelled, and Blake said she’s been less physically active than usual.

“It’s been really making me tight, really making me feel like I’m fighting with my body,” she said. “I can’t just get up and walk. I need help.”

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But for Blake, isolation and exclusion are having the largest impact.

“The biggest thing for me is support,” she said.

Warning ignored from B.C. disability advocate about essential hospital visitors

Warning ignored from B.C. disability advocate about essential hospital visitors

“I miss my friends. I miss interacting with people. Because when you look at a computer, it’s great but it’s not the same as seeing them face-to-face.”

One in four Canadians — about 25 per cent of the population — has a disability, according to the latest data from Statistics Canada.  Despite this, advocates say they are often left out of emergency planning.

David Lepofsky, who chairs the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, likened the situation to a fire raging inside of an apartment building complex, where the people inside are alerted by a fire alarm and loudspeaker that tells them to exit by taking designated stairs illuminated by clearly-indicated markers.

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A person who is deaf wouldn’t hear the fire alarm. A person in a wheelchair would be trapped inside. And those designated markers will do nothing for someone who can’t see. Unless they receive support, Lepofsky said anyone with disabilities living in the building will likely not survive.

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Similarly, he said the government has applied a mostly one-size-fits-all approach to COVID-19 measures that offer little support the country’s disabled.

“It’s because of their disability and it’s because no one planned for them in the emergency,” he said.

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Often, Canadians with more severe disabilities will get placed in long-term care facilities, where health officials said over 79 per cent of COVID-19-related deaths occur. Lepofsky said that poses a danger to those with disabilities, as well.

He said comparable problems arise in Ontario’s virtual elementary and secondary education system, called Learn At Home. The program isn’t user-friendly for students with disabilities who may be deaf, blind or unable to use a mouse, said Lepofsky.

Woman with disability dies alone after hospital refuses entry to support workers

Woman with disability dies alone after hospital refuses entry to support workers

Despite making up upwards of one-in-six of the student population, he said much of the program was made with only able-bodied students in mind.

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When asked about this, the Ontario Ministry of Education said in a statement to Global News that Education Minister Stephen Lecce had convened two “urgent” discussions with the Minister’s Advisory Council on Special Education where they discussed how best to support students and families during this period and has consulted the K-12 Standards Development Committee struck by the Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility.

They said all resources were reviewed for accessibility based on the standards of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (2005), but that school boards were ultimately responsible for making decisions on the use of digital learning resources and collaboration tools to support students’ learning online.

“The Ministry has provided clear direction to school boards on how to support students with special education and mental health needs during school closures,” they said.

B.C. woman with disability dies alone in hospital due to COVID-19 visitor restrictions

March of Dimes Canada president Len Baker said even before the existence of COVID-19, people with disabilities were facing “significant” challenges every day, including already-existing barriers like attitudinal ones about disability.

“Those historic barriers become exacerbated during a time such as this pandemic, where now not only do they have to address the issues that they need to be able to complete their goals and feel connected to the community, but with social distancing and the isolation that the pandemic brings, it causes us concern that many individuals are going to feel even a greater sense of isolation and loneliness during this time,” he said.

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Baker said around 50,000 students with disabilities rely on the organization for opportunities to read, learn skills, get out in the community, to participate and connect with others.

But since the pandemic started, he said they’ve had to revamp their services to be available virtually or over the phone.

Calgary disability sector struggles to access personal protective equipment

Calgary disability sector struggles to access personal protective equipment

Marielle Hossack, press secretary to the minister of employment, workforce development and disability inclusion, said in a statement to Global News the federal government has increased human resources for support services for Canadians with disabilities over the phone and online, and is looking into implementing ALS and LSQ into current and future emergency responses.

The federal government has also established the COVID-19 Disability Advisory Group, which is comprised of experts in disability inclusion, that provide advice on “real-time live experiences of persons with disabilities.”

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Hossack wrote the group discusses disability-specific issues, challenges and systemic gaps as well as strategies, measures and steps to be taken.

But some advocates don’t think that’s enough.

Coronavirus: Federal panel aims to ensure Canadians with disabilities included in response

Karine Myrgianie Jean-François, director of operations at DisAbled Women’s Network Canada, told Global News that despite making up such a large percentage of the population, many are not getting support services typically provided by provincial health departments or social services.

This is due to a lot of factors, she said — because there’s a lack of protective equipment, because people are getting sick, because it’s too dangerous.

For children with disabilities, Jean-François said the pandemic means they’re often relying on their parents for mental and physical support they would have received at school.

Coronavirus outbreak: Nova Scotia health official asks province to ‘please offer your help’ to anyone with ‘unique challenges’ during pandemic

Coronavirus outbreak: Nova Scotia health official asks province to ‘please offer your help’ to anyone with ‘unique challenges’ during pandemic

“A lot of the measures that have been made to prepare for this pandemic have been done to think about the greatest number of people, which often means that we forget about people who are more marginalized and people who have a disability are included in that,” she said.

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Jean-François said that includes the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB).

Currently, 70 per cent of Canadians eligible for the disability tax credit will receive the enhanced GST/HST benefit based on their income levels due to COVID-19, but that may not add up to much for Canadians with disabilities who may also need to hire food deliveries, in-house care, or those that would be deemed ineligible for the aid because they’re unable to work.

The money “doesn’t go as far as it used to,” she said.

Coronavirus outbreak at Markham home for adults with disabilities causes staff to walk off job

When factored to include the rising cost of living, Jean-François said most Canadians with disabilities — many of whom are already living at or near the poverty line — end up barely scraping by.

“We’re not all equal under COVID-19,” she said.

“We need to be looking at… who stands up to make sure that people get what they need, and how to make sure that they’re supported in what they’re doing both financially but also mentally, because it’s it’s really hard work to support people who were left alone.”

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Coronavirus: Federal panel aims to ensure Canadians with disabilities included in response

The COVID-19 pandemic takes a particularly heavy toll on Canadians with disabilities and more efforts are needed to ensure they’re included in national efforts to respond to the crisis, the minister overseeing accessibility issues said Friday as she appointed an advisory group to take on the task.

Disability Inclusion Minister Carla Qualtrough said disabled residents have been sounding alarms about a host of concerns related to the outbreak, which has already killed at least 550 Canadians and sickened a minimum of 22,000 others. In a statement announcing the advisory group, Qualtrough said greater efforts are needed to ensure disabled voices are heard during a troubling time.

Live updates on coronavirus in Canada

“For some persons with disabilities, underlying medical conditions put them at greater risk of serious complications related to COVID-19,” Qualtrough said in the statement. “Others face discrimination and barriers in accessing information, social services, and health care. For others, the need for self-isolation and physical distancing create additional challenges.

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“As we continue to address the COVID-19 outbreak, our priority will remain helping persons with disabilities maintain their health, safety, and dignity.”

Qualtrough did not elaborate on specific systemic barriers in place, but members of Canada’s disabled community have been sounding alarms since the beginning of the outbreak.

Early public health messages and briefings at all levels of government often failed to include accessibility measures, such as sign language interpretors for the deaf or simplified messaging for those with intellectual disabilities.

READ MORE: Coronavirus — Health-care worker at Markham, Ont. long-term care home tests positive

Since then, more concerns have been raised about access to overtaxed health-care resources, the availability of educational supports for disabled students, and the greater vulnerability of those living in confined settings such as prisons, homeless shelters and long-term care institutions.

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At one assisted living facility in Markham, Ont., the Executive Director confirmed an outbreak had infected 10 of 42 residents and two staff members. Shelley Brillinger said news of the outbreak prompted the rest of the staff at Participation House to walk off the job, leaving residents without the care they need.

“Our residents are the most vulnerable in society,” she said. “… They don’t have a voice, and my message would be it’s our responsibility to speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves and ensure that they have the care that they deserve.”

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Coronavirus outbreak at Markham home for adults with disabilities causes staff to walk off job

The 11-member advisory group, consisting of academics and organization leaders spanning a range of physical and intellectual disabilities, has been tasked with apprising the government of the barriers their communities face and ensuring their needs are adequately addressed.

Committee member Bonnie Brayton, Executive Director of the DisAbled Women’s Network Canada, said the issues before the group are matters of equality and fundamental access to human rights.

She said the proliferation of the novel coronavirus has laid bear many systemic issues that dogged the community for decades, but have taken on increased urgency as the disease continues to spread.

Coronavirus outbreak: Officials say RCMP enforcement of Quarantine Act additional measure

Coronavirus outbreak: Officials say RCMP enforcement of Quarantine Act additional measure

“What the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us is that the question of equality rights for people with disabilities apparently is still on the table in the legal system, in the health system, and I think in the soul of Canadians,” Brayton said in a telephone interview. “It’s the last piece of our really becoming the country we need to become in terms of human rights.”

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Other advocates welcomed the federal governments’ recognition of the need for action, but expressed reservations about the impact such a move could have.

David Lepofsky, founder of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance and a long-time crusader for accessibility rights, said federal governments do not have jurisdiction over most of the programs with the greatest impact on the lives of disabled residents.

Coronavirus: Support continues for those with intellectual disabilities in Saskatchewan

“Only provincial governments can take 95 per cent of the action people with disabilities desperately need to avert the disproportionate hardships that the COVID-19 crisis inflicts on them, including the horrifying risk that their disability could be used as a reason to deny them medical services during rationing,” he said. “We’re disproportionately vulnerable to get this disease, to suffer its harshest impacts and then to slam into serious barriers in our health care system.”

Robert Lattanzio, Executive Director of the Arch Disability Law Centre, shared Lepofsky’s concern.

He said there is currently no uniform approach to disability inclusion during the COVID-19 crisis. While he applauded the federal government for acknowledging as much, he expressed hope that the advisory group would continually seek input from those without seats at the government table.

Coronavirus: One of Quebec’s most vulnerable groups says they are getting ignored by the government

Coronavirus: One of Quebec’s most vulnerable groups says they are getting ignored by the government

“The disproportionate impact of this pandemic on persons with disabilities is undisputed, but it is playing out very differently across different provinces, territories, cities, and towns,” Lattanzio said. “We need voices from people with disabilities who are on the ground and who understand the complexity and nuances of what is actually happening.”

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—With files from Nicole Thompson in Toronto


© 2020 The Canadian Press

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Canadians with disabilities cast doubt next federal government will address needs – National

Amy Amantea tuned in to the English-language federal leaders’ debate with modest hope there would be at least some discussion of issues relevant to disabled Canadians.

The first half of the campaign had passed with barely a reference, even from the party that had delivered a historic achievement in national disability policy. Earlier this year, the Liberals made good on a 2015 campaign promise when the Accessible Canada Act received royal assent, marking the first time any government had enacted accessibility legislation at the federal level.

The government estimates one in five Canadians over the age of 15 is disabled, and Amantea, who is legally blind, hoped leaders would use the Oct. 7 debate to address some of the many issues they face. But those hopes faded as the debate progressed, giving way instead to doubts about how Canada’s disabled residents would fare after the Oct. 21 election.

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“We have a lot of very unique needs and circumstances in our community that don’t get addressed,” Amantea said in a telephone interview from Vancouver. “Just a nod, just a mention would have been kind of nice, but it was not to be.”

Amantea said that relative silence has persisted into the final week of the campaign, giving rise to concerns throughout Canada’s disabled community. Many fear that parties who fail to make mention of key issues facing disabled Canadians while courting votes may prove even more dismissive once those votes have been cast.

They point to party platforms and public pledges, most of which make scant mention of either the Accessible Canada Act or disability-specific measures on issues such as infrastructure, health and affordable housing.

The Liberals response to questions on disability policy largely focused on past achievements. Spokesman Joe Pickerill did offer some future plans, including doubling the disability child benefit, establishing a $40-million-per-year national fund meant to help disabled Canadians find work, and simplifying the process veterans use to access disability benefits.

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The Green party did not respond to request for comment, and the People’s Party of Canada said its platform contained “no policy related to disabled persons.”

The NDP did not provide comment to The Canadian Press, but made several commitments to strengthen the Accessible Canada Act in a letter sent to an Ontario-based disability advocacy group.

The act, while widely acknowledged as a significant milestone, was also broadly criticized by nearly a hundred grass-roots organizations across the country as too weak to be truly effective. Such critiques continued even after the government agreed to adopt some Senate amendments sought by the disability groups, who hoped future governments would continue to build on the new law.

Only the NDP agreed to do so when approached by the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, which contacted all major parties in July.

“The Liberals hailed this bill as a historical piece of legislation. But without substantial amendments, it is yet another in a long line of Liberal half-measures,” reads the NDP’s response. “New Democrats are committed to ensuring that C-81 actually lives up to Liberal party rhetoric.”

The Conservatives, too, pledged to “work closely with the disability community to ensure that our laws reflect their lived realities.” Spokesman Simon Jefferies also noted party members pushed to strengthen the act but saw their amendments voted down by the government.

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The vagueness of these commitments troubles Gabrielle Peters, a wheelchair-user and writer.

“Canada’s approach to accessibility has been to grant it as a gift they give us rather than a right we deserve,” Peters said. “Now that we have the ACA, the concern is that the broader public and the government think the issue is resolved when this law is, at best, a beginning.”

Other disabled voters expressed concerns about the handful of relevant promises that have been put forward on the campaign trail. In addition to pledging expanded eligibility for the disability tax credit, the Conservatives have said they would implement a $50-million national autism strategy focusing on research and services for children. The NDP and Greens have followed suit with similar proposals and larger pots of cash.

While widely lauded among parent-led advocacy groups, some autistic adults view the proposals with skepticism.

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Alex Haagaard, who is autistic and uses a wheelchair, said that while much modern disability policy including the ACA tends to apply a social lens, discussion of autism is still framed through the outmoded medical model that positions the disability as an ailment to be cured rather than a part of a person’s identity.

Haagaard said action is clearly needed to help parents seeking supports for their children and teachers working to integrate autistic students into their classrooms, but said current attitudes at the heart of the campaign rhetoric are troubling.

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A national strategy, Haagaard said, also risks undermining the goal of broader inclusion for other disabled populations.

“That is counter to the goals of disability justice to silo autism as this individual condition that warrants this level of attention compared to other disabilities,” Haagaard said.

Like Amantea, Peters felt let down by the leaders debates, citing the prevalence of discussion around medical assistance in dying over other issues that affect disabled people. The subject is polarizing, with many advocacy groups and individuals asserting such legislation devalues the lives of disabled people and places them at greater risk.

Such a narrow focus, Peters said, shows all parties’ failure to reckon with or address the diverse, complex needs of an overlooked demographic.

“What strikes me as missing in policy and in this election is us,” she said. “Disabled people. The not inspirational, not motivational, not middle class, not white, disabled people of this country. In other words — most of us.”

© 2019 The Canadian Press

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