Content: filicide, murder, and abuse of disabled people
On March 1st, 2020, disabled communities worldwide gathered to commemorate people with disabilities murdered by their caretakers. The International Disability Day of Mourning was observed in 34 cities. In Canada, Autistics United chapters held local vigils, as did other disability advocates and organizations. The Autistic Self-Advocacy Network, which tracks these murders, reported over 600 deaths over the past five years.
By bringing awareness to these tragedies, we say that murder is murder. We send the message to the world that disabled lives are worth living. We work towards a day where disabled people are not killed on the basis of their disability, but are instead valued as human beings.
Thank you to those who held vigils and joined us in person or online. Together, we mourned for those in our community lost to ableist violence. Together, we remembered their names, their hopes, and their dreams. Together, we carry them forward.
[Image 1: a close-up photograph of a table covered with small LED candles]
[Image 2: a concrete column with three pieces of paper taped to it. Two are visible and the third is viewed from behind due to the angle. The pages have a list of names and the heading “Mourn for the dead… and fight like hell for the living” at the top and “Remembering people with disabilities murdered by family members” at the bottom, along with the ASAN logo.]
The Disability Day of Mourning ceremony in Nova Scotia was held at the Halifax Central Library, and included lighting of LED candles, readings of poetry and essays, and reading names of victims. Due to time constraints, only the names of victims in Canada were read aloud, but the full list of victims around the world was posted in the room. Most of the attendees were Autistis United Nova Scotia chapter members, but a representative from CTV was there to cover the event.
[Image 1: A close-up photograph of Bill McArthur speaking into a microphone.]
[Image 2: A photograph of Vivian Ly standing in front of a microphone, holding papers to reference. They are standing in front of a powerpoint slide reading “Disability Day of Mourning 2020”.]
[Image 3: A photograph of Sam McCulligh standing in front of a microphone and holding papers to read from. The Disability Day of Mourning 2020 powerpoint slide is in the background.]
[Image 4: A photograph of a handmade poster reading “You deserved better. You deserved life!”. The word “Life” is written in rainbow colours. There are two ribbons attached to the poster.]
[Image 5: A set of three photos. The first shows a piece of printer paper with the title “Mourn for the dead… And fight like hell for the living” and the footer “Remembering people with disabilities murdered by family members”. The ASAN logo is at the bottom. The bulk of the paper contains a list of names, but they are not readable in the photograph. The second photo shows a handmade poster with the words “Communication badges and ear plugs”. In front of the poster is a pile of earplugs and a pile of coloured communication badges. Next to it is a piece of printer paper with the words “Sign In” and a sign-in sheet. The third photo shows a handmade poster with the words “I am not a burden”.]
[Image 6: A close-up photograph of a pile of artificial daisy flowers on a table.]
Autistics United Vancouver’s Disability Day of Mourning vigil was held at the Burnaby Neighbourhood House Community Hall. There were around two dozen people attending, along with a few more via livestream. Chapter members, along with Woodlands institution survivor and disability advocate Bill McArthur, gave speeches. Organizers read aloud statements commemorating the life of each victim in Canada, and invited attendees to join in reading the list. After a moment of silence, several community members came up to make personal remarks. Posters honoring the names of victims all over the world were put up around the venue. Special consideration was given to Florence Girard, a relatively recent victim in BC. She was a former competitive swimmer with Down syndrome found starved to death in her caretaker’s home. There was a volunteer emotional support system in place, and drivers to help attendees to make it in person. The vigil was captioned and streamed live on YouTube. CTV, The Province, The Sun, and Global came by to cover the vigil.
Fort McMurray, AB
[Image: a photograph of a table with a standing three-paneled poster behind it. The table contains various handouts with neurodiversity-related material, and the poster has pictures of people accompanied by text.]
[Image: a photograph of a table with a standing three-paneled poster behind it. The table contains LED lights and various handouts with neurodiversity-related material, and the poster has pictures of people accompanied by text. A person is standing in front of the poster, looking at the camera]
The Alberta Disability Day of Mourning vigil took the form of a poster display with images and information about each of the disabled people killed since the 2019 Disability Day of Mourning. It was set up by Fort McMurray chapter organizer Christopher Whelan at the Suncor Community Leisure Center, who was present at the table to engage with and educate passers-by. The display was up for four hours and received a positive reaction from the community, with around 50 people stopping by to see it. Each entry on the poster contained an individual’s name, age, location, cause of death, and details about their disability and personality, if available.
Autistics United Manitoba held their local vigil at the University of Winnipeg, in the Hive. There was a reading of the list of victims and a moment of silence.
Disability Day of Mourning in Canada and around the world For a full list of vigils in Canada and around the world this year, visit our previous blog post and the ASAN website. ASAN has the list of cases they have tracked at disability-memorial.org.
Transcript of the Global news coverage:
Vivian Ly (at podium, reading from papers): “She was silly. She loved to laugh. She was also an accomplished swimmer.”
Voiceover: On this International Disability Day of Mourning, people in this Burnaby community hall are remembering 54-year-old Florence Girard. She lived with Down Syndrome and died in October 2018 from starvation. She weighed just 56 pounds.
Vivian Ly: We are connecting these incidents, these single cases, as not just isolated but as part of a larger system of ableism, of oppression, of the idea that a disabled life is not worth living. And this ties, of course, into the institutions.
Voiceover: Those institutions included Woodlands in New Westminster. Bill McArthur was in and out of Woodlands starting at age five. He was part of a legal compensation battle for hundreds of survivors who endured horrific physical and sexual abuse.
Bill McArthur: I saw kids coming out of those showers, their skin hanging off them in strips, with blisters, because they’d been scalded alive. This was what Woodlands was like.
Voiceover: As for Florence Girard, her Port Coquitlam caregiver and the society that contracted her have both been charged with failing to provide the necessaries of life. Those charges have yet to be proven in court.
Vivian Ly: We want to remember, with this event…. We want to remember them as people, people like us.
Voiceover: Both the caregiver and the non-profit organization who oversaw the shared living program will be making a court appearance on March 9. Grace Ke, Global News.