I arrived back in Toronto late on Saturday and now am writing this final post on Thursday evening from the airport, waiting for my flight home. The last few days has felt like a bit of a whirlwind, I feel like I’ve blinked and the time has gone. It’s been amazing though.
Sunday was a really lovely chilling day. Marilyn and Jim had invited various friends and allies who might be interested to drop into their home in the afternoon for a bit of a craftivism gathering. Craftivism is the combining of arts and activism and over the last few years I’ve crafted various items to share messages and hopefully nudge people a little to think about something/in a way they’ve not considered previously. One of my fellowship objectives was to relay learning and provoke conversation in real time using social media, blogs and craftivism. Quite a few people dropped by and shared work they’d done, played with words, doodles, crochet and embroidery. There was also cake, lots of really good home baking.
Monday was a busy day. I met with Yona Lunsky first thing. Yona is Director of the Azrieli Centre for Adult Neurodevelopmental Disabilities and Mental Health and of H-CARDD (Health Care Access Research and Developmental Disabilities Program) at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, known as CAM-H in Toronto. She also has a sister with a developmental disability. We talked about how services are run in Canada, some of what has happened in the UK and premature mortality of people with a developmental disability, Yona and colleagues have a current research project looking at this too (hopefully with a publication out in the next few months).
At lunchtime I’d been invited to speak to some of Yona’s colleagues. My talk was titled Investigating the deaths of intellectually disabled people: five years of campaigning for change #JusticeforLB. I’m hoping to record the talk and slides in the next couple of weeks so the presentation can be shared with others. I covered the UK context, work on premature mortality and its limitations, CIPOLD and LEDER and I shared information about Connor Sparrowhawk, Richard Handley, Danny Tozer and Laura Booth. This was some of the audience, they were a very smiley crowd.
After the talk I had lunch with Yona and two of her colleagues Betty and Rob, before a walk home dodging the Toronto puddles and I may have (intentionally) had to shelter from the rain in a lovely fabric shop called The Workroom (check it out if you’re local).
Tuesday I met with Lee Fairclough, the Vice President for Quality Improvement at Health Quality Ontario. Health Quality Ontario are the provincial advisor on health care quality, they monitor and report on how the health system is reporting and produce guidance and work with patients to improve healthcare locally. Lee also provided a useful overview of two pieces of legislation, the Quality of Care Information Protection Act and the Excellent Care for All Act.
After Lee I headed across the city to meet a group of researchers working on the Distory project. The project is looking at disability history as told by survivors of the institutions, such as Pat and William. It also involves younger disabled people like Nicholas and Robert, who are involved because it’s important that the messages are understood in the current context, something that has struck me time and time again on this trip. Also working on the project are Ann and Leah.
The abuse in institutions of the 50s, 60s, 70s is as contemporary now as it was then. You only need to listen to the latest File on 4 by Lucy Adams and team to hear about the utter state of care for people with a developmental disability and poor mental health in the UK. I’ll share more of what they told me in a later post, but I was delighted to be able to meet with them.
Yesterday I got up early and got the bus down to Hamilton. I was headed to meet Susan Clairmont, columnist at the Hamilton Spectator. In preparing for my trip to Canada I did a lot of searching for media reports of inquests of people who might have had an intellectual disability. Susan’s coverage of Guy Mitchell’s inquest was extraordinary and exemplary. She always fronted Guy as a human, and a loved family member, and a helpful guy, before mentioning any of the horrendous elements of the ends of his life; here’s one example. It was a real pleasure to meet Susan and hear about her work, about covering that inquest and about her total commitment to social justice. I just hope more journalists start to follow her lead.
After meeting Susan it was back on the bus to return to Toronto to meet with Linda Till. Linda was one of the people pivotal to the closure of nursing homes for children deemed ‘incapable of benefitting from treatment’ across Ontario. We spent a couple of hours talking, with Marilyn Dolmage too, and the two of them provided me with such a useful contextual history to the last three or four decades. Linda was able to recall inquests that I had not heard of yet, and some which others had mentioned. I can not explain how useful it was to spend time with people with such in-depth knowledge and for whom advocacy and doing the right thing clearly runs through their veins. It was also super useful to meet with Linda and Marilyn almost at the end of my trip, a useful contextual wrap around.
My final meeting of the trip was a phonecall with a retired police detective (who’s name I’ll add once I’ve checked he’s ok with that) who had been involved with re-opening and investigating homicide cases and missing person’s cases from Huronia, the institution closed down in 2009. His call was similarly useful for filling in some of the gaps and explaining how things were the way they were. Not for the first time I found myself in conversation with a police officer who clearly passionately cared about justice and the truth, and cared about the lives and deaths of people with a developmental disability, yet the system wouldn’t really allow them to show that. No successful prosecutions were brought following the re-opening of the files and many of the deaths remained uninvestigated due to difficulty accessing the records (which all sounds far too familiar).
I’ve got to run now, my flight is boarding. I can’t believe my time in Canada is over already. I also still cant believe that I’m here and am incredibly grateful to Winston Churchill Memorial Trust for enabling that to happen.