A4A was contacted by the Ministry of the Attorney General to give our view on a proposed legislative change of the definition of “child” that would include disabled adults, potentially over-riding the Substitute Decisions Act, which governs decision making for developmentally disabled adults in their decisions in housing, health care and more.
Below is our response:
Response to the proposed definition change of “child” in Ontario policy
As an autistic-led advocacy organization, Autistics for Autistics opposes the proposed change in the Province of Ontario’s definition of “child” so as to align with the federal definition of child in its Divorce Act, to include disabled adults.
We present this response with the understanding that although autistic and/or developmentally disabled adults are not children, unfortunately many in Canadian society still hold that view. This includes policymakers at both the provincial and federal levels.
That regressive approach to policy has profound negative effects on the lives and safety of autistic and/or developmentally disabled adults in Canada, due to residential segregation (which is sadly a norm in Canadian policy); poverty; unemployment; and the denial of communication access rights (AAC) for many nonspeaking autistic adults.
The bulk of Canada’s federal and provincial disability-related legislation has been applied only to disabled adults without intellectual disability, meaning that:
- developmentally disabled adults in Ontario and across Canada do not have their access rights protected (despite promises in legislation);
- developmentally disabled adults are not able to choose their own support workers (as other disabled people are); and
- there is no commitment to independent living in the community by either the Government of Canada or the Government of Ontario.
- In fact, 80 per cent of housing in the I/DD sector is still allocated for residential
institutional models (large institutions or group homes).
Proposed change to the definition of “child”
After surveying our members and reviewing case law in the US and Canada, we’ve identified two significant risks with the proposed definition change, outlined below.
Risk 1: The new definition could be used in court proceedings to infantilize an adult who may otherwise be a candidate for independent living and supported decision making.
This infantilization would have a devastating effect on disabled individuals’ capacity to live independently with supports if they are presented in court as a “child” rather than an adult with the needs and rights of all other adults.
- All disabled adults – including those with developmental disabilities – should have the right to housing and supported decision making that is independent of their parents.
- Some parents wish to retain control over their adult children’s finances and independence for a variety of reasons; many have good intentions, others are doing so for their own fiduciary gain.
- Regardless of those parents’ intentions for limiting their adult offspring’s living options, it leads to a lack of basic freedoms as identified under the Charter and a grim future as the person ages through young adulthood, midlife and into their senior years.
- Judges are not immune to bias. The use of the term “child” would reinforce any existing biases about developmentally disabled adults having unequal rights with other adults.
- Robust policy is a form of insurance against bias in decisions; the current definitions provide an important degree of protection.
Risk 2: If the definition of child is changed as proposed, it would raise problematic issues for the interpretation of the Substitute Decisions Act –with the Children’s Law Reform Act being utilized where it is not appropriate.
- Currently, the Substitute Decisions Act governs issues around decision making for developmentally disabled adults.
- While there is room for improvement in the Substitute Decisions Act, it remains a critical tool for ensuring rights of developmentally disabled and other disabled Ontarians.
- Without a rigorous Substitute Decision Act, decision-making bodies could easily relegate disabled adults to the status of children, limiting their rights and freedoms.
- With decisions applying the new definition of “child,” individuals would more often be denied access to independent living and supported decision-making.
- Those individuals able to access the resources to appeal a decision that deprived them of supported decision making would have less recourse if the Substitute Decision Act loses its rigour.
Autistics for Autistics supports independent living and supported decision making. We oppose the existing regressive approach to guardianship in Ontario, which need a complete overhaul. We advocate for provincial (and federal) politicians to study best practices in other countries and to reach out to groups such as ours when making policy–instead of their current approach of giving millions in discretionary funds to organizations that profit from segregation and abuse.
Our hope for the future is that our province will move towards recognizing newer models of housing independence such as the “money follows the person” model in various US jurisdictions and the wonderful work of currently underfunded organizations such as LiveWorkPlay in Ottawa.
Perhaps this is a moment where our province could lead the way towards Canada-wide reform by contemplating why, in 2021, it has considered labeling disabled adults as “children”. Perhaps policymakers could use this moment to learn and grow, studying best practices and consulting with autistic and/or developmentally disabled adults across the province about the kind of lives they want and deserve—independent lives in the community, reflecting the overarching values of our province and our democracy. This discussion is long overdue.
Please feel free to contact Autistics for Autistics to read our provincial and federal policy reports or to discuss any other issues.
Anne Borden King
Board member, representing the Board
Autistics for Autistics, Ontario