"There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things."

~ Niccolo Machiavelli, historian and writer

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Differences Don't Matter

After that heavy duty look at the criminal law, I thought it might be nice to take a step back and look at things from a different angle.

The following poem was written by Jessica Mercola many years ago as part of a diversity contest at her middle school. I found in in an issue of Exceptional Parent magazine back in 2002.

While she wrote about a "she", the sibling in her poem is actually a "he", her younger brother, who is 6 years old, has hypotonic cerebral palsy and profound developmental delay, is non-verbal and non-ambulatory and has the most gorgeous smile and eyes of anyone! [according to Mom and who are we to argue?]
I have brown hair.
She has blond hair. 
I have long hair.
She has short hair.
I am chubby and short.
She is skinny and tall.
I have braces and glasses.
She has freckles and cerebral palsy. 
I can draw, ride a bike and read.
She can't do any of these. 
I can walk and sit.
She has a wheelchair,
and tries to talk
but out comes noises,
silly ones. 
I like to chew.
She likes to go for long walks. 
I am stubborn and loud.
She is sensitive and caring. 
I am outgoing and fun.
She is different and interesting. 
I go to dance.
She goes to therapy. 
I drink from a cup and eat regular food.
She drinks from a bottle and eats pureed food. 
I like to play outside.
She likes to play with noisy toys. 
She doesn't make any choices.
We make them all for her.
I think I have a good life.
Hers could be better. 
Every day I watch her grow,
in sorrow, laughter and snow. 
I hope no one takes her away.
I would be lonely and miss her every day. 
I start every day with the positive
attitude that one day she'll be
just like me! 
I don't care what we are.
I love her anyway. 
I don't care what other people say.
We'll always be sisters and
the best of friends.
That's the way it's going to stay.
Cross-posted at Free Falling

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Pertinent and Timely Questions in Criminal Law (The Wrap Up) ~ Part III

UPDATE: Thoughts from some of those in the trenches (the president of the NSGEU and a retired community mental health worker) on these sorts of situations: 
Both Jessome and Reece agree that people with diminished capacity should not face criminal charges for their actions. They say there are alternative ways to address their behaviors. 
“No matter what the disability is, consequences can be put in place so people understand that this is not an acceptable behavior,” said Jessome. 
“Employers need to minimize the risk, and they don’t do a good job at it. 
“There are a lot of people who don’t stay in the profession where they work with people with disabilities because they can’t get the safety issues death with.”

I received the following comment on this post regarding Anna Marie Tremoni's interview with Nichele Benn and her mother on CBC's The Current:
The problem is that community services has too many individuals to care for, and too many of these cases fall between the cracks of mental health or community services. However, if you were to look into the history of these clients, you cannot just blame bi-polar for the reason for the Amanda Murphy assault charges. Have there been many assualts done by this woman?I'm guessing yes. And her family.. How long has she been apart from them? I'm guessing they haven't been able to manage her for years and she's probably been in and out of instutitions and group homes. You are right, more policies do need to come into play for housing. However, letting serious offences be pushed under the rug by saying she is either cognitively delayed and/or has a serious mental illness is not solving the problem.
After I finished shaking my head, I asked myself what, in particular, it was that some people just aren't getting. The answer, of course, was obvious - well to me, anyway. They're missing the fact that (on at least one level) this isn't about bipolar or epilepsy or any other such condition. It's about developmental age.


But before we go there, let's back up for a second; back up and try to wrap up this trilogy on individuals with special needs and the law.

There are various places where I, personally, believe the criminal justice system could be doing a far better job when it comes to individuals with special needs. One, in particular ( a pet peeve of mine, if you will) is in how it treats complainants with special needs.

In particular, I am referring to the "hate propaganda" provisions of the Criminal Code, which create an offence for "advocating or promoting genocide", defined as certain stipulated acts "committed with intent to destroy in whole or in part any identifiable group". As you will recall, although the term "iidentifiable group" includes any section of the public distinguished by colour, race, religion, ethnic origin or sexual orientation, there is mo mention of disability. The same is true with respect to the provisions of the Code concerning the promotion of hatred.

A similar pet peeve of mine is how the criminal law takes absolutely no notice of a complainant's intellectual or developmental age when it comes to luring an individual to engage in sexual activity. We protect our "children", of course; but anyone over the age of 18 years is fair game, no matter their developmental age.

And yet when it comes to the Nichele Benns and Amanda Murphys of the world, I must admit that I did not initially see these situations as a problem with the criminal justice system, per se. My reasoning being that since such cases should not be brought within 1000 yards of the criminal justice system in the first place, there should be no problem.

If the rest of the "system" (read, in this case, the Departments of Community Services and Health) was working properly, charges would never have been laid in these situations. The only *fault* I initially saw with our criminal law system was that prosecutors were exercising their discretion to lay charges in cases where a completely different decision should have been made.


At least that was the way I saw it until I read about Amanda Murphy's most recent court appearance. It was this paragraph in this story that caused light to dawn on this particular marble head.
“I’m not sure,” Gerald MacDonald, Murphy’s lawyer, said when asked after her appearance if there is a precedent stating that someone has to be dealt with by the court system according to their chronological age rather than their mental one.
That, you see, was a brilliant question asked of Mr. MacDonald. That is *the* question that needs to be asked and answered properly in these cases. And I say "properly" because if the answer happens to be that there is no such precedent, than it is long past time to create one.

The discerning reader will have noted that this very issue of whether or not there is any precedent for dealing with an accused according to their chronological age rather than their mental age is the very same difficulty we faced in pet peeve #2, above, where no recognition is given to a complainant's developmental age, even if the defendant is well aware of it.

All of which made me realize that a significant problem we face with Canada's criminal justice system is that it does not appear to offer any recognition of an adult's developmental age; not with respect to
  1. the effect it has on an accused's ability to formulate the mens rea necessary to be found guilty of committing most crimes (including both assault and assault with a weapon);
  2. the public policy issue of whether we should morally be prosecuting individuals who would not be subject to the criminal law if their developmental age matched their chronological age; and
  3. the public policy issue of why the criminal law fails to protect individuals it would otherwise protect if their developmental age matched their chronological age.
Perhaps as an aside (perhaps not), those last two points are almost enough to make a person question if our criminal justice system is guilty of discrimination, if it violates some of those very "fundamental rights and freedoms" that Canada's Constitution vows to protect. How ironic that would be.

But that, my dear friends, take us back to that anonymous commenter - the person who, much like our criminal justice system, apparently fails to see that (at least one of) the issue here is that Amanda and Nichele have developmental ages of children.

Of course this isn't the only thing this person fails to understand.