9 Aug 2004
Mr. Ken Dryden, MP, PC
Dear Minister Dryden,
I have recently been contacted by Ms. Michelle Dawson of Montreal concerning a number of issues affecting autistic Canadians. I am aware that your department has had previous exchanges with Ms. Dawson, but a number of legitimate concerns continue to remain unaddressed by your department and your predecessors. I’m hoping that your recent appointment will result in resolution of these outstanding issues.
For your information, I have enclosed a copy of Minister Frulla’s most recent letter to Ms. Dawson and her response, which I assume will be handled by you in your new capacity. Some further developments, as well as a brief summary of the relevant issues, are also enclosed in the form of Ms. Dawson's recent letter to Prime Minister Martin.
Ms. Dawson’s primary concern stems from the lack of direct representation autistic Canadians have, or do not have, within the various federally-funded disability organizations and research projects. Many autistic Canadians are perfectly capable of participating in a decision-making environment regarding matters that affect them directly. I am told that the Autism Society of Canada does not even have a member with autism on their board of directors. I personally find it surprising that the Society is unable to find a qualified or suitable representative for such a position.
Through further investigation of this situation, I am confident that you will discover two distinct ‘schools of thought’ regarding the management of autism in Canada. One segment believes that autistic Canadians are sick in the way people with cancer are sick, and require an expensive, arduous, and ethically questionable ‘treatment’ to get rid of their autism and ‘normalize’ them. The other believes that autism is not a sickness; that autism is integral to autistic people, who in turn should be accepted, be given assistance and education appropriate to their autistic nature, and have their existing and often unique skills and potential be embraced and appreciated. Ms. Dawson is concerned that only the first group is adequately represented under the existing regimes. What will you be doing to ensure the second group is adequately represented?
Finally, it would be appreciated if you could also provide me with a response that addresses each of the matters raised in Ms. Dawson’s May 3rd, 2004 letter, as well as the substance of her subsequent letter to the Prime Minister.
Carol Skelton, Member of Parliament
CC: Michelle Dawson
2004 Oct 13
Ms Carol Skelton, M.P.
I am writing in response to your letter of August 9, 2004 regarding the concerns raised by Michelle Dawson around issues affecting Canadians with Autism. Please accept my apologies for the delay in replying.
I read with great interest the issues you and Ms. Dawson outlined in your respective letters. You have both raised important issues that deserve serious consideration. As you probably know, the Canadian disability community is diverse and has many voices with multiple points of view. The Government of Canada is committed to ensuring that all these voices are provided with opportunities to be heard. This means, in part, that both families caring for children with disabilities and individuals with disabilities are provided with resources to participate in public dialogue. The Autism Society of Canada plays an important role in this, acting as a catalyst for research and debate related to individuals with autism and their families.
As you may be aware, officials in the department have had ongoing discussions with both the Autism Society of Canada and Ms Dawson around these issues. Over the past year, the Society has initiated several processes to enhance the participation of individuals with autism in the organization. Among them, the Autism Society of Canada is actively seeking nominations for individuals with autism to Directors at Large positions on their Board and has amended its by-laws to include self-advocacy organizations of people with autism as Associate Members. You may want to take this opportunity to discuss your concerns directly with representatives of the organization and to explore opportunities to assist them as they work to ensure that individuals with autism have a voice inside the organization.
I assure you that your concerns, and those of Ms. Dawson, are taken seriously and that this Department will continue to follow up on them. You will be receiving a copy of my response to Ms Dawson's recent letter to Prime Minister Martin in which I will express a similar commitment. I encourage both of you to monitor our progress on this front.
I appreciate your bringing this matter to my attention and I encourage you to continue working with Ms. Dawson to ensure that her concerns continue to be heard.
c.c. Michelle Dawson