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Gabrielle Peters: We are entering a dangerous time to be a disabled person in Canada

Assorted candles on a table with an open book.

Speech by Gabrielle Peters at today’s Virtual Vigil for the Disability Day of Mourning organized by Autistics United Canada.

Today is Disability Day of Mourning.

Every year we gather to mourn and every year new names are added and our grief grows.

We speak out loud the names of those who will never answer to them again because those charged with their care murdered them instead–individual acts of violence in a collective crime.

Today we hold space for them. Their lives have ended but their humanity will not be erased from history. 

Today we mark wrongs that too often were marked as right. We cannot correct them but we can ensure they are counted correctly.

We do this every year but this year is different. Today we grieve knowing the Canadian state is set to legislate the right to do wrong. Bill C-7 and the amendments to it moves further along fulfilling the eugenics wish list articulated decades ago after the murder of Tracy Latimer by her father Robert Latimer.

Tracy Latimer was just about to enter her first year of teen life when her father decided to end her life. What followed was a public outpouring of grief–for him, not her.

The truth of Tracy’s life was soon buried under lies.

The Dying With Dignity movement had found their hero–a martyr for their cause. Poor Robert Latimer would not be facing time in prison if Canada would only be civilized enough to give parents the right to kill their disabled children, argued University of Victoria philosophy professor, Dr. Eike-Henner Kluge to the Senate Special Committee on Euthanasia & Assisted Suicide in 1994. Kluge would go on to form the Canadian Medical Associations Ethics Department and, of course, he has had a presence in helping to promote Bill C-7.

At the time of Latimer some parents came forward suggesting they wished they could murder their disabled children. Others actually did. Just the other day a disabled person who goes by @theMadCripple on Twitter was reading my thread on Tracy’s death and the murders that followed. They said they never before put the timing of what happened to them together and realized what happened to them was in the midst of all the media coverage about Tracy’s death.

“After 25 years of wondering what the hell I did to set my family’s failed murder attempt in motion, is it *finally* time to accept that ‘being disabled’ may have been a big factor?” @theMadCripple said.

In 1996, Danielle Blais was given a 23-month suspended sentence after drowning her 6-year-old autistic son Charles. Later, The Autism Society of Greater Montreal offered her a part-time job in fundraising.

Most of us are familiar with this history. Some of us remember living through it.

We are entering a dangerous time to be a disabled person in Canada. But I repeat this history to remind us it’s always been dangerous to be a disabled person in Canada. The specific threat we face from Bill C-7 is new to us but Canadian culture, laws, and society being a threat to our safety and well-being is not.

And we have learned. We have grown. And more people than I ever remember listening to us are now listening to us. Support for us has forced the proponents of Bill C-7 to have to disguise what in 1994 they said openly and without hesitation: that their real motivations are eugenics.

There is a growing body of disabled knowledge, culture, art, documented history, and theory on this topic. We are creating community. We are building networks. We are forging alliances. During the pandemic the government abandoned us but we practiced mutual aid.

And while surrounded by hate and too-often rejection by ableds, we love and care for one another and ourselves.

We need and demand justice. And in that we are not alone. The land we are on is stolen and acts of violence written into the rule of law are the capital and operating costs of white supremacy and capitalism.

Using the rule of law to perpetrate injustice is hardly a new thing for the Canadian state. But we must also remember that neither is opposition to it. As long as there has been oppression, there have been those working to end it.

We must situate the oppression of ableism and our fight against it within history. We must connect our struggle to the struggle of others and ourselves to them. Solidarity is never something one demands with one hand unless you are offering it with the other.

Today is a sad day about unjust deaths. But it is also important to remember it was borne out of a desire and demand for justice in life.

We mourn. We mark. We hold space. And we go on. We are here. We are not done.

First published on Gabrielle Peters’ excellent mssinenomine blog, republished here with her permission. Follow Gabrielle on Twitter.

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