NOTE: We have split our UN report on Human Rights for Autistics in Ontario into sections and are blogging them. This section discusses issues of data collection in Ontario.
Issues in data collection: If there is no record of abuse, how can you stop it?
Ontario and its school districts have generated a number a lot of statements and guidelines about disability inclusion, but the Province and school boards lack meaningful tracking mechanisms for how autistic/disabled students and residents are actually being treated. There is no publicly-accessible record of the number and degree of instances of isolation, restraint, sexual assault, exploitation and other abuse in Ontario schools and other institutions. Ontario school boards and other agencies do not tend to share data nor report on general conditions, Overall, they lack transparency.
We were told by several government departments when we asked for statistics about abuse that “the content of individual complaints are private”; however, this explanation does not in any way address the dearth of general statistical data on this issue in our province.
By contrast, countries such as the UK keep records of complaints and even require workers to report the incidence of events such as the use of restraint. Because they do so, the UK is able to notice trends: for example, the recent spike in the use of restraints there could be reported in the media and acted on. This is not currently possible in Ontario.
Because our government does not adequately track abuse within or across systems, perpetrators are able to re-offend. One recent example from Barrie, Ontario: a teaching assistant was convicted of attacking an autistic student and breaking his leg. He served time in prison and was out on parole when he was hired by a home care company to care for autistic youth. Months later, he was arrested for hitting a client across the head and face with a metal water bottle. Our Province has no reliable record-keeping or communication system in place to prevent violent offenders from being hired into home care or other settings –nor adequate enforcement policy for agencies who make these placements.
There are ways to prevent these incidents and there is no excuse for Ontario not to have appropriate systems in place.
Within our government, conversations about IDDs and autism tend to dwell within “safe” territory such as inclusion and diversity statements, but avoid discussing physical abuse and other human rights violations. We need to ask: why is this? How can we change the culture to one of accountability and fairness?
In addition to a lack of core data on abuse, the needs and circumstances of autistic Ontarians have not been meaningfully studied. in fact, there isn’t even a basic demographic picture of autistic people here other than “1 in 66”. Research into our economic and social realities is essential to inform any useful policy. Put simply: policymakers have to talk to us, and they haven’t. This disconnect is one factor behind failed policy such as the Ontario Autism Plan, a $500 million project rolled out last year without any consultation from the group it is intended to serve: autistic people.