"So many dreams at first seem impossible. And then they seem improbable. And then when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable."
~ Christopher Reeve

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Time Has Come To Talk Of Many Things ...

The topic of individuals with special needs and their interaction with the criminal justice system is not one that's been much discussed in this blawg. The reason being that criminal law is, in all honesty, not my forte. And I have always taken the view that when it comes to criminal law, you best really know what you're doing or else stay out of the field. Seeing as how there are serious consequences to be had, should you screw up.

However, that being said, there are a few issues related, but not limited, to the criminal justice system that I would like to discuss here.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

You might recall Mr. Mitchell's recent guest post concerning the right and ability of individuals with mental illness to represent themselves in court. Referencing a decision of the US Supreme Court in which an individual with schizophrenia was ultimately denied the right to represent himself on a charge of attempted murder due to the perceived risk that allowing the accused to represent himself could in fact undermine his own dignity, Mr. Mitchell found himself in agreement with a minority of the court.

A minority who would have granted the defendant's desire to represent himself on the basis that the fundamental principle must be that course which would allow the individual best to exercise his own autonomy which is what it was found the principles of individual equality truly rely on. “We could surely choose worse than "fulfillment of human dignity," they said.“

So, who got it right?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

In a similar vein, you might also recall the much-publicized ongoing trial of Glen Douglas Race, a New Brunswick man accused of murdering an American in New York State. Race, who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, was recently denied his request to represent himself part-way through the trial. And although that diagnosis wasn't noted in the news reports as the reason for the court's refusal to honour Race's request, one has to wonder if it didn't play a part in the decision.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Moving out of the criminal justice system, I found it interesting that the Canadian Association of Community Living (CACL) has characterized guardianship as "an ancient mechanism that was constructed without consulting people with disabilities" and takes the position that "supported decision-making" is not only preferable to guardianship, but given that "guardianship laws assume that some people do not have the capacity to make legally binding decisions" have invited us to "adopt a paradigm shift in which everyone has an equal legal capacity, without distinction based on disability."
Supported Decision-Making means a person may accept help in making decisions without relinquishing the right to make decisions. In supported decision-making, freedom of choice is never violated. Supported decision-making does not question the wisdom of a person’s choices but allows everyone the dignity of risk.

Supported Decision-Making helps a person to understand information and make decisions based on his or her own preferences. A person with a learning disability might need help with reading, or may need support in focusing attention to make a decision. A person who has no verbal communication might have a trusted family member who interprets their non-verbal communications, such as positive or negative physical reactions, or uses Alternative and Augmentative Communication.

Guardianship laws theoretically protect people with disabilities from abuse but in practice they open the door to abuse. Guardianship facilitates institutionalization; the guardian can easily give consent even when the person opposes being institutionalized. One decision by the authorities and a person loses the right to decide where to live, loses the right to vote, the right to choose who to marry, the right to start a business. This results in living in a humiliating and degrading way.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~

What do these various subjects have in common?

To me, they both examine the question (albeit in different contexts) as to whether and how much it is acceptable for society to act to "protect" individuals with disabilities. And although not so many years ago, that would have been hailed by most as a lofty goal, it seems to have fallen into disrepute more recently. As if attempts to "protect" the disabled, much like we attempt to attempt to "protect" our children, is somehow insulting and degrading to them.

And yet, although the concept of protecting disabled person from both themselves and others, so to speak, will no doubt be quite off-putting to some, I have to think that it does have a valid place in certain contexts and certain circumstances. Admittedly, in an ideal world, such a thing might well be not necessary. But who amongst us will really argue that we live in an ideal world?

Whether we are considering a defendant's right to represent himself in court or when (if ever) a guardianship order might be appropriate, we are really talking about the same thing. Do we treat individuals with disabilities like everyone else? Do we accord them special 'privileges'? Or do we place special 'burdens' or 'restrictions' on them?

And more importantly, can those questions be answered, can all the above examples be analyzed in a logically consistent way? Or is better to proceed with a haphazard, whatever 'feels right' approach?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Let me put it this way. It's 'peachy-keen' to opine that nobody should be subject to a guardianship order, to have their rights taken away in such a manner. Much better the route of "supporting" them as opposed to doing for or to them.

Just as it might give one a warm fuzzy feeling to state that every challenged person accused of some crime should be able to represent him or herself if they so choose. Perhaps we can "support" their legal advocacy in some shape or form? Just one thing, please, let me know when you figure out what that latter might look like.

Here's the problem. What might sound good ... nay, feel good, as an approach must always be tested against real world conditions. In this case, we're talking about the reality of the legal system. Which is, at the moment, as it is. Not as we might wish it to be in some idealized world.

And in the real world, people over the age of majority, who are considered competent are free to handle their own affairs as they see fit. To enter into contracts (in which they consent to having binding legal obligations placed upon them). To spend their money as they see fit. And they also have certain responsibiltities, like ensuring they have a decent place to live and food to eat, just as a start. And that they "keep their part of the bargain" and be responsible for their part of any contracts they enter into.

Consider the person with disabilities in this world.

How feasible is it to "support" their decision-making every step of the way? How agreeable might that person be to having someone else "suggest" how they might spend their money so as to be responsible? And exactly who is it that will be on the hook if the individual with disabilities enters into a contract in which he is unable to keep his part of the bargain ie) pay the bill? And if we presume him competent to enter any contracts he wishes, what will happen when he makes what any one of us might consider an obvious "bad bargain"? When he or she is taken advantage of by the unscrupulous amongst us?

Remember, you can't have it both ways.

If a person is competent to make all the daily decisions that you and I do, then they must be also be held responsible for all the choices they make, just as you and I are.

And that's the reason why, for example, I feel that CACL would be doing a grave injustice to take a stand or recommend against guardianship.

It's also the reason why I agree with the majority of the court (and disagree with Mr. Mitchell) in it's decision in Indiana v. Edwards, at least in the abstract. Without knowing more as to the exact extent of the defendant's disability in that case, it is hard to make a judgment call as to whether or not the court 'got it right' in that instant case. But I do agree with them on principle.

Just as in the case of how one implements "inclusion" in a school classroom, I believe there are no one size fits all answers when it comes to how individuals with disabilities should be treated in the legal system, be it criminally or civilly.

The "right answer", or at least as "right" as it can be, will depend on the extent of the individual's disability.

Nova Scotia Conference on Learning Disabilities Alert

October is Learning Disabilities Month across Canada.

Which would probably help explain why October 2nd and 3rd are the dates of the Nova Scotia Conference on Learning Disabilities.

Which you can find out more about here.

But don't let the cost scare you off; I have it on good authority that there are special parent rates available. Go ahead and give them a call.

Just don't wait too long. Time, it is a passin'.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Appeal Strategies For Tuition Support Program

This comment was dropped on the "Tuition Support Program Gets Fourth Year' post.
I have a daughter with a non verbal spvisual [sic] spatial disorder. Even though she has had Resource an IPP and tutoring paid by us, she is two years behind. She has no behavior issues, is a good student and tries extremely hard. She is exhibiting anxiety, and we want to send her to a place that can help her. Why would the Governmnet [sic] take this away.
Why indeed?

Which led to me a dated, but good, post outlining Strategies For A Tuition Support Appeal at the Equal Education Association of Nova Scotia blog.

Which you should check out.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Urgent Request - Ratification of U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

You might recall that we have previouslydiscussed this UN Convention and why it is so important for the disability community.

Now a recently-received missive from the Nova Scotia Association for Community Living, advising that it is considered urgent that Canada ratifies this convention now, noting that Canada, and in particular, Nova Scotians, played a crucial role in framing this document.
We need to ratify this document within days if we are to continue to be able to influence the roll out of the Convention world-wide. Simply put, there will be a meeting of nominees of advocates and experts from countries who have ratified the Convention next month. These nominees will choose the membership of an oversight Committee that will work to ensure that the convention is being adhered to by countries. If Canada does not ratify, by October 3rd, we will not be at that meeting. Canada needs to be there to make sure that the correct interpretations of these articles are being made. Please note that some countries that have ratified the Convention do not themselves have stellar human rights records but will be at that meeting by virtue of their ratification.

We need to immediately be in touch with Peter MacKay, Minister of Defence, and with David Emerson, Minister of Foreign Affairs to urge Canada to ratify.

Peter MacKay Fax ~ 902-755-9572
Peter MacKay E-mail ~ petermackay@votepetermackay.ca
David Emerson E-mail ~mailto:~emerson.d@parl.gc.ca
David Emmerson Fax ~ 613-943-0219

Where Politics and Law Collide

I have intentionally avoided much comment on the US election. It's not like it's all that relevant here and it's far too divisive anyway. Unless, of course, you enjoy spectator sport.

Until today, that is. Although my attention was grabbed by the headline, "U.K. Mother Murders Daughter Because "Embarrassed" by Disability", I really didn't expect to find much more than the usual macabre story of a parent unable to "cope" with their child's disabilities.

I certainly didn't expect this particular political spin.
This trial, which is still in progress, comes during a week in which the devaluation of children with disabilities has been very much in the media spotlight, thanks largely to Gov. Sarah Palin's much publicized decision to carry to term her son Trig, who has Down's syndrome.

Prominent bioethicist Wesley Smith recently commented on the media bias against Palin, and says it occurs in part because, "Palin is viewed as 'the other,' symbolized by her and Todd's (Palin's husband) loving acceptance of Trig."

Smith said he hopes that the unconditional love the Palin's show to their son Trig will be an example for a world that is evermore justifying murder of the innocent.

"I hope that people will decide to emulate the Palins in their unconditional acceptance and love for their beautiful son, Trig," said Smith.
Well, yes, I hope so, too. But, I still wasn't sure I really saw the connection. Until I read Patricia E. Bauer's blog [which blog, I might point out, looks very interesting from the point of keeping up with Canadian disabiltiy issues].
Andre Lalonde, executive vice president of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada (SOGC), says he is concerned that abortions in the case of Down syndrome may decline as women follow the example of Sarah Palin. Palin’s infant son Trig was born after she received a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome.

From the Globe and Mail:

As a vocal opponent of abortion, Ms. Palin’s widely discussed decision to keep her baby, knowing he would be born with the condition, may inadvertently influence other women who may lack the necessary emotional and financial support to do the same, according to Lalonde.

Dr. Lalonde said that above all else, women must be free to choose, and that popular messages to the contrary could have detrimental effects on women and their families.
Then I got it. Remember this?

Last year, the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada and the Board of the Canadian College of Medical Geneticists issued a recommendation that all pregnant women be offered screening for Down syndrome. Sounds good, right? Until you consider the fact that statistics point to over 90 per cent of pregnancies diagnosed with Down syndrome being terminated.

Which leads to the question of just what exactly parents whose pre-natal screening show that their child will have Downs Syndrome are being told. And perhaps more importantly, what aren't they being told?

It's no real secret that doctors generally paint a very dark picture of life with Down syndrome during prenatal diagnoses. In fact, it's this very situation which has led to the Canadian Down Syndrome Society challenging the ethical implications of the recommendations by the obstetricians’ group. And to the currently circulating Petition for a Prenatal Diagnosed Condition Awareness Act. The Petition we discussed here.

The thing is that if we believe in a right to "choose", if we are ever going to give more than lip service to that concept, we must never forget that the key word is choice. As in making that extra effort to ensure that the choices are promoted in a fair and valid manner. Which means giving giving people all the information they need to such a life-altering choice.

So, please, if you haven't already, read this previous post and give serious consideration to the Petition.

But getting back to Sara Palin, in the words of Krista Flint, executive director of the Canadian Down Syndrome Association:
“We know overwhelmingly the message families get is ‘Don’t have this baby, it will ruin your life,’” Flint says. “And I don’t think people would look at Sarah Palin and see a ruined life. Regardless of politics, I think it’s a good example.”
So love her or hate her (and God knows there's enough of both swirling around the blogosphere), you have to give Ms. Palin credit where it's due ... she might just be bringing into light an issue that has for too long been in the shadows. And that, no matter what your political persuasion, has to be a good thing.

As an aside, it's interesting to note that Dr. Lalonde has apparently attempted to clarify his previous remarks. According to the L.A. Times,
Doctor Lalonde's point of view should not have been portrayed as a concern that the number of abortions would decline but rather, as expressed in the Globe and Mail, that women would be influenced by Gov. Palin's decision to keep Down syndrome children that they were neither emotionally nor financially prepared to care for. Here's a link to the article on which the post, since removed was based.
Which is a good thing, I suppose. Particularly when you consider that one of the principal precepts taught all physicians is "First Do No Harm".


Monday, September 22, 2008

Pro Bono Legal Services In Nova Scotia

There should be no need to tell those in the disability community in this Province that one of the many issues we face is the inability of individuals with disabilities and their families to obtain affordable legal services.

With this in mind, I have been pleased to see recent action on the part of the Nova Scotia Pro Bono Society around the formation of a formal pro bono [free] program for legal services in the Province. This would involve lawyers donating time to "facilitate access to justice by providing free legal information, advice, and sometimes representation in court".

The Society is currently hosting round-table discussions across the province, seeking input about the legal needs of various communities and what role a pro bono organization could play in addressing them. Here is your opportunity to contribute to this study and make your opinions known.

The next round table will be held in Halifax, NS at the Weldon Law Building, 6061 University Ave. on Friday October 3rd from 2:30-4:30pm. Please note that it is requested that people RVSP.

Further meetings will be held in October in Bridgewater, Sydney, Antigonish. For more information and to contact the Pro Bono Society.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

A Conservative Fan I'm Not, But ...

I think it's really important for the disability community to make a real, concerted effort to get our issues out there and on the radar when it comes to federal and provincial elections.

Although it's true that the majority of issues we deal with (education, health care, access to services) are provincial, there are federal issues, such as those dealing with income tax benefits and the ever-venerable, RDSP.

In that vein, I draw your attention to Stephen Harper's announcement yesterday that a re-elected Conservative Government would:
  • Allow families to split their income between spouses to reduce their taxes in situations where one spouse is not working full-time in order to care for one or more family members with disabilities – whether children or adults.

  • Improve the Registered Disability Savings Program by making it easier for a person with disabilities to access money that has been transferred from the unused retirement savings of a deceased family member.
Now, as I noted above, I am most definitely not a fan of the Conservatives. However, we need to get our issues out there. So ask anyone who knocks at your door or otherwise waylays you what they are going to do to make life easier for individuals with disabilities.

Including the Conservative candidates, let's make sure they at least know what it is they say they are going to do if re-elected.

And just for the record, the above promises bring a few questions of their own to mind:
  • If one spouse works full-time and the other part-time, will the family be able to take advantage of these income splitting provisions?


  • Will the RDSP be amended to allow funds to be transferred from an RESP to a RDSP?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Mark Your Calenders

Big News ~ The 2008 version of the annual Tools For Life Conference and Exhibit has expanded to a two day event.

A "pre-conference" will be held on Thursday, October 23, 2008, at the Old Orchard Inn with the regular Conference and Exhibit day to be held on Friday, October 24, 2008.

The pre-conference theme is Working Beyond the Diagnosis: Interventions and Transition. Dr. Susan Bryson, a leading researcher in Autism Spectrum Disorders with the IWK, will deliver the keynote address with sessions focusing on research, strategies and tools for individuals with a lifelong developmental disability.

Although there is no charge to attend Friday's presentations or to view the exhibits, there is a fee to attend the pre-conference. However, I am happy to note that the $75 fee for professionals has been lowered to a special rate of $25 for family members and students. Registration for the pre-conference closes on October 21, 2008.

On Friday, October 24, 2008, Tools for Life returns to Horton High School between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. with free sessions and exhibits. Millie Colbourne, Director of Services for Persons with Disabilities, Department of Community Services, [does the name of that program sound familiar to anybody?] will deliver the keynote address. Seventy-five presentations on a variety of topics are scheduled on Friday, with more than 115 informative exhibits on display.

I have to tell you, I am a big fan of Tools For Life. With information and material on everything from physical to mental challenges, learning disabilities, aging, education, transportation, advocacy (legal and otherwise), assistive technology, speech and language therapy, home care and nursing services, medication needs, residential living ... from infancy, through childhood, adulthood to our golden years, it's all there.

Hey, I warned you that I was a big fan, right?

Unfortunately, last year, I was struck by a migraine on the scheduled day and only it made it late in the afternoon to attempt a mad dash through the numerous exhibits. I was very disappointed, I didn't even have get the chance to see all exhibits, let alone attend some sessions I was really looking forward to. This year will be different.

More information, on both the pre-conference and a complete list of the sessions available on Friday, October 24th can be found here. And the registration form can be found here.

See you there!

RDSP Survey, If You Please

The good folks at PLAN (Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network) would like to know how much you know about the RDSP (Registered Disability Savings Plan).

Which, if you happen to be one of the two or three regular readers of this blawg, should be a fair bit.

At any rate, if'n you wouldn't mind taking their survey.
Guaranteed to be both short and sweet.

So thanks. In advance.

Friday, September 12, 2008

A Graphic View of the RDSP

Given the amount of time we've spent discussing the RDSP on this blog over the past few months, it really only seemed fair.


It's also a great way to promote the blog of the same name.

And, yeah, have a little fun at the same time.

* Created by Worldle with content from The RDSP Blog

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Too Good To Pass Up - Village News Back To School '08

Check out the latest edition of the IWK Pediatric Rehabilitation Services newsletter (formerly known as the Rehab News and CP News; now renamed the Village News).

This newsletter is too good to pass up, with information on everything from
  • the opening of L'Arche's first home in Halifax,
  • an increase in the allowed number of days of facility-based respite,
  • the results of the recent 'Creating Respite Solutions Workshop',
  • the Children's Fitness Tax Credit and Canada Learning Bond,
  • sibling support,
  • the latest in the IWK's Psychology For You series (selective mutism and the early detection and treatment of autism), and
  • creating support solutions for families of children and adults with special needs




Read this document on Scribd: Village News Back to School 08

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Voila

Ever wonder what this blawg is really all about?
Well, at least recently and according to Wordle...

... it's this!

H/T to Neptunus Lex


Friday, September 5, 2008

Kudos To Justice Cromwell

Highly credible rumour would appear to be correct.

Which, although I must admit to not usually having much use for the man, good on him, says I.

The Saga Continues

The saga continues. Across the country, it seems.
Exciting news! Yet another province has decided to exempt the RDSP from affecting Disability Benefits. Saskatchewan put out a news release earlier today from the Ministry of Social Services indicating that the RDSP will not affect the calculations for those receiving social assistance, exempting both the RDSP as an asset and income.

In a statement found in the news release the Minister of Social Services for Saskatchewan Donna Harpauer is quoted as saying, “the exemption of RDSP assets and income from social assistance calculations makes sense for a number of reasons. Most importantly, it will encourage individuals with disabilities and parents of children with disabilities to create RDSPs without having to worry that the assets will be clawed back when withdrawals are made on behalf of the beneficiaries.”

This a a very exciting development for people in Saskatchewan as it now means they, along with BC, Newfoundland, and Yukon, can fully utilize the benefits that the RDSP
provides. The Saskatchewan Government has shown progressive and forward-thinking leadership in this move to exempt the RDSP and should be commended for this exemption of the RDSP.

Exciting news, indeed.

Although it does beg the question ... what (if anything) might be up in Nova Scotia? If any of my readers has even an inkling of an answer to that question, I would very much appreciate hearing it.

Perhaps we are just waiting to be last in the door?

* The official announcement can be found here.