On October 13th, 2012 the disability community once again made their voices heard on the streets of Toronto. They marched with a goal to bring recognition of the struggles and value of people with disabilities as we fight against ableism and other forms of oppression, but they also marched to celebrate and take pride in themselves as part of a community of people with disabilities.

The Toronto Disability Pride March began in the fall of 2011, inspired by the events of Occupy Toronto, and the marches against cuts to disability services that were happening in the UK. The March was also intended to raise awareness to cuts and events that were impacting the disability community locally, such as cuts to social housing and incidents with the Toronto Police. In that first year one hundred people gathered at Nathan Phillips Square and marched down to St. James Park.

The UN has noted that people with disabilities are largely excluded from civil and political processes and are overwhelmingly voiceless in matters that affect them and their society. Many people with disabilities are unemployed or underemployed against their will. Though people with disabilities are seen as less or not exploitable by the owners of the means of production, they are further oppressed by being left out of it. To put it in terms of the occupy movement, they are often the lowest 1% of the 99%.

This year we are noticing this oppression in the form of cuts by stealth, and a political scene that not only divides us by our various disabilities, but also by other forms of oppression such as race, class, gender, etc. In September, the provincial government put forth a draft standard to make parks and the outdoor environment accessible. This sounds great until you consider that the same government is eliminating Community Start Up and Maintenance funding to people living on social assistance, which many people rely on to find and keep their homes. They might as well call making these parks accessible the new Home Modification Program.

The accessibility legislation may get out foot in the door for changes in Ontario, but at what cost, but letting our government choose which barriers to eliminate and which to ignore, are we setting ourselves up for future discrimination? Where are the standards to benefit those with chemical sensitivities or mental illnesses? Who says it’s acceptable to leave them out.

The way the March was built also changed this year. Without a solid Occupy Toronto base to build from, we were basically starting from scratch. We discovered some of the perils and perks of grassroots group organizing. We came up with a new route, and made new allies that helped make our March a success.

We also discovered that for some people in our community the concept of disability pride is scary, the concept of the oppression of people with disabilities is still too hard to face, and connections between different movements in the disability community are something they are not ready to build. We need to work on that.

A question I often get asked about this March is what is disability pride. I think we can find it in a great many things. Being in the march, and making ourselves visable is one example, the solidarity we find in marching with each other is another. Another way I think we show this pride is by recognizing and fighting oppression. There are some people with disabilities who will try to tell you that oppression of people with disabilities, otherwise known as ableism, does not exist, that all we need is to eliminate a few barriers and we’ll be fine. I’ve actually gotten emails suggesting that. We know that’s not true. Anyone who’s on ODSP can tell you that’s not true, anyone who’s been asked to leave a disabiility grassroots organization because of a mental health issue knows that’s not true, and any parent who has feared having their child taken away because of their disability knows that’s not true. We can do better. For too long, the rights and oppression of people with disabilities have been discussed behind closed doors, or not at all, but through actions like the Toronto Disability Pride March we find our voice, and make ourselves heard in the chorus of movements.

It’s no mistake that the Toronto Disability Pride March brings out a call to build connections within the disability movement. It’s a call for equal access and equal rights for everyone regardless of their race, class, gender, sexuality, or what disability they have. This is something that seems to be lacking from the mainstream organizations and movements, and why the March will continue to forge its own path.

We call on our allies, people of every ability from the labour movement, the student movement and beyond. We call on those whose struggles have long been supported by people with disabilities to join our struggle and prove that we are stronger united. For more information you can find us on Facebook, or check out our website http://torontodisabilitypride.wordpress.com/. We look forward to seeing you next year!


A book was just published by a Toronto Sun cartoonist that is like a catalogue of street-involved homeless people.
It has profiles of each person with a drawing and description, often using people’s real name. The drawings also lable various features on the person’s body as if they are animals to be examed, for example “weird growth on neck”.
Each profile also includes a map of where to find people – the exact blocks where they tend to hang out.
It names and describes people like  “escaped mental patient”, “crack whore”, “pimp”, etc.
Apparently the author followed people around for two years to write the book.
Here is the website. It includes a sample of the book – the sample is NOT the ‘worst’ stuff… it gets scarier.

By Miro Cernetig, Vancouver SunFebruary 1, 2010

It doesn’t take long to get that nagging feeling something’s wrong inside the Olympics’ homeless pavilion — a.k.a. the Downside Eastside Connect, a provincial kiosk that opens today to purportedly show the world the facts of life in our downtown ghetto.

Perhaps it’s that staged, glossy photo at the door of the politicians — Housing Minister Rich Coleman and Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson — smiling as they dig shovels into the ground to symbolize the construction of 14 social housing shelters. The caption carefully leaves out the fact these projects were started too late to be ready for the Olympics and are years away from completion.

Maybe what grates is those slick, large photo portraits of hand-picked inner-city residents whose stories of living on the streets are condensed into a few lines and conclude with plucky words of how their lives are now on hopeful trajectories.

Where things get totally strange, though, is at the back of the one-room pavilion. A large placard informs you a new library has been created at a nearby location for the Olympics.

But this is not a library of books. Rather what you get to check out, for 30 minutes at a time, is a real, live human being, one of many in a collection, from the Downtown Eastside. These “human books,” paid an honorarium for their services, will recite their stories about life in Vancouver’s ghetto.

It’s well-intentioned, I guess. It’s certainly preferable to putting the homeless into red tents during the Games, an exploitative stunt to get press dreamt up by the Pivot Legal Society.

Still, doesn’t a human library inevitably hark back to the last century, when explorers brought back human specimens as living museum exhibits? It’s sort of a silly device, too, like the notion behind Night At The Museum, the Hollywood film where the statues from the exhibits come to life after hours.

That’s what’s wrong with the homeless pavilion. It’s contrived and dumbed down. Nobody needs publicity shots of smiling politicians, pre-canned 200-word testimonials or human books to find out about life in the city’s poorest neighbourhood.

You just need to go outside.

The homeless and destitute still fill our streets. And they will be there in their unnatural habitat, whether you like it or not, for the world to see, during the Games.

They are a daily reminder our governments still have a long way to go in creating the social infrastructure to treat and house the city’s homeless, its mentally ill, its addicted and its just plain unfortunate.

Their presence is also evidence of miscalculation.

After a decade of planning and building the Olympics, a multibillion-dollar enterprise that has gone pretty much like clockwork, our leaders only started focusing on the homeless file in the past few years. It had begun to dawn on them it might make for an embarrassing backdrop for Vancouver.

Inside the homeless pavilion, however, you will find no discussion of this political failure. Nor will you find any exhibits telling the ghetto’s ugly truths: HIV infection rates that rival those of the developing world, continuing reports of missing women and the psychological scars inflicted by Vancouver’s homegrown serial killer, Robert (Willie) Pickton.

No, at its essence the homeless pavilion is what one expects from a government still dealing with a crisis: A public relations exercise. Its intent is to manage anyone who might leave the Olympic bubble and be shocked by the grinding poverty a few blocks from their luxury hotel.

But this spin kiosk won’t work.

For one thing, its location — in the courtyard of the new Woodward’s complex — means most media won’t ever find it. (Though the usual anti-Liberal, anti-gentrification protesters will. They are already planning their predictable protests for when it opens.)

Finally, the homeless pavilion is so heavy-handed, so relentlessly upbeat that any visiting reporter or dignitary who does stumble in will quickly sense they’ve entered a spin machine. It’ll be hard to fool them. After all, they just have to step out, walk a block or two and discover what has been, and remains, Vancouver’s greatest social failure.

Reposted from The Vancouver Sun