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04 Jan 21

Dear Ms Dawson:

Thank you for your letter of December 1, 2003, addressed to the previous minister, the Honourable Jane Stewart, concerning the reply to your open letter of October 23, 2003. Let me assure you that the Government of Canada is committed to ensuring the full participation of Canadians, including persons with disabilities, in achieving their full potential as citizens in Canada's economic and social activities.

The Office for Disability Issues has reviewed your concerns and has raised the issues in your letter with the Autism Society Canada (ASC). The ASC Board has approved the creation of focus groups that will include people with autism spectrum disorder. The ASC is also working to develop ways to become more participatory and inclusive. We recently received a letter from Peter Zwack, Second Vice-President, which clearly demonstrates ASC's willingness to assist you in the difficulties you have experienced. Mr Phil Upshall, President of the Mood Disorders Society, has also expressed his willingness to work with you. I encourage you to pursue these opportunities by contacting Dr Zwack at (514)987-3000, extension 3304, and Mr Upshall at (519)824-5565 directly.

With respect to ASC's eligibility for funding, all organizations approved for federal funding must meet program terms and conditions. Social Development officials have confirmed that under its current mandate and objectives, ASC continues to be eligible to receive both organizational and project funding under the Terms and Conditions of the Social Development Partnerships Program.

Thank you again for bringing your concerns to our attention.


Liza Frulla, P.C., M.P.
Minister of Social Development


04 Jan 24

Dear Minister,

Thank you for your response. The questions I have been asking your government, with the support of autistics, parents, and professionals in Canada and around the world, remain unanswered.

You have not explained how ASC meets your eligibility requirements. Until this information is provided, we--all of us involved in the open letter--must conclude that the rules are different when the consumers are autistic.

If you have read the open letter, you are aware that the ASC Board approved the use of focus groups, which may or may not involve autistics, in a meeting from which autistics were banned, even as silent witnesses, by this Board.

I have consulted with a person who has extensive organizational experience with focus groups. He explained their role to me. This role has nothing to do with decision-making, much less governance. The possibility of autistics chosen by ASC for their focus groups having any effect whatsoever would be erased by the Board's refusal to meet with any autistic person. Were this problem somehow circumvented, the Board has futher expressed its certainty that if autistics are allowed a voice, including in focus groups, we will make totally selfish and irresponsible decisions.

The participation of autistics in ASC and its members is limited to those autistics willing to support, for whatever reasons, including financial reasons, the views of these societies. Supporting the views expressed by ASC about autistic people requires us to see ourselves not as human beings who have human rights, but as a deplorable burden on society. Supporting ASC means supporting the view that we make no contribution to society whatsoever, and are not intelligent, important, or responsible enough to make decisions about ourselves.

I have communicated with Dr Zwack for many years about my concerns, and the result of this communication can be seen in the open letter. Not only did the situation not improve, it deteriorated. In the second-last conversation I had with Dr Zwack, I pointed out how inaccurate and offensive ASC's cost-benefit analyses are. He could not contest the inaccuracy, but was upset that my accurate position would result in the parents, who are not consumers, getting less money for themselves. In our last conversation, he stated that ASC Board members found me "overwhelming" and wished to have nothing to do with me. I have only spoken with two Board members, one of them only once.

If ASC was willing to work with me to resolve the difficulties sampled in the open letter, I would have heard from them by now. Certainly, the inexcusable osctracism of autistics from the CARW would have been mitigated in the cost-free way I suggested in the open letter, a suggestion endorsed by autistics and our supporters around the world. This did not happen. There would have been a Board meeting resulting from ASC seeking out and welcoming autistics in order to hear what it is we require. There has been no such meeting.

There would have been significant changes to ASC's offensive and autistic-free website, so that autistic people would know we are welcome in this organization. There have been no such changes.

I would not again have read in the press that there is a staggering explosion in autism cases in Canada, courtesy of ASC officials. I would not again have read, a few days ago in Canadian newspapers, that without one particular behavioural intervention, autistics are doomed to institutionalization. This is a position that ASC continues to support to the fullest extent of its federal funding. It denies our potential as autistics, and allows us to have rights only if and when we come to resemble non-autistics. It is a position that, in common with ASC's positions and actions as a whole, denies the worth and dignity of autistic people as human beings with human rights. Your government, you are informing me, believes this is what we deserve.

For what a real national disability organization might look like, I suggest you look at the Canadian Down Syndrome Society, and the beautiful advertisement it placed in the Globe and Mail recently: http://www.cdss.ca/EventDSAwareness.html . This advertisement says that intolerance must be cured, not Down syndrome. This advertisement and the CDSS policy on genetic testing consider people with Down syndrome as being valuable contributors to society. The dangers to everyone of denying the worth and contributions of people who are judged different by society are clearly recognized by this organization.

As for Mr Upshall, for reasons of his own, he has insisted that autism is a mental illness. His promotion of autism as a mental illness in the Senate hearings prompted me to contact him. He expressed his belief that autistics were well-represented by David Vardy, whose testimony was reported in the open letter and would have been illegal had it been uttered outside the Senate chamber. Later, Mr Upshall again characterized autism as a mental illness on a CBC radio program, and still has not respond to my communication objecting to his dangerous statements. For instance, he claimed that incarceration and the use of restraints are not only necessary, but even positive measures for people with mental illness, among whom he includes autistics.

Treating autistics as though mentally ill has had and continues to have appalling consequences for us. Minister Frulla, by encouraging me to "pursue the opportunity" of working with a nationally-known leader of an organization dedicated to mental illness, are you saying that you and your government believe autism is a mental illness? Do you believe that I am mentally ill? Because, Minister, if you and your government have re-classified autistics, you are responsible for disclosing and defending this decision.

Further, Minister, I want to know why you are recommending I work with a mental illness group, rather than, for instance, a sports injury group. Autistics, like non-autistics, can sometimes experience sports injuries, or mental illnesses. My question is, why are you associating autism with mental illness? This association has no medical or scientific basis. Surely, you would neither personally nor professionally deal with persons with cerebral palsy, about whom you know nothing more than their diagnosis, by directing them to seek help from a mental illness organization. Why, Minister, are you doing this with autistics? What has led you to this decision, and who has counselled you to advise me this way? 

In summary, you have expressed prejudices that would cause you grief were they expressed about any other group. You are asking autistics to accept government-funded exclusion and denigration you would never accept for yourself or your family or any non-autistic. You are again failing to accord autistic people the minimal level of consideration required for us to exist and function as persons in society, and you see no problem with this. You do not see us as being persons, just like you are a person. If you did, you would understand that your government is funding human rights violations, and you would recognize your responsibility--as a Cabinet Minister, as a Member of Parliament, as a leader, as a citizen--to act.


Michelle Dawson
Montreal, Quebec

Minister Frulla's letter and the envelope it arrived in did not include an address for herself as a minister, or for her ministry, or even so much as a postal code. This information is also not available on the relevant website. A message I sent to Minister Frulla's office asking for her address has not been replied to. As a result, the letter above was sent to her via email at min.hrdc-drhc@hrdc-drhc.gc.ca on 04 Jan 24.

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