Monday, November 06, 2006

The murder of Charles-Antoine Blais

Charles-Antoine Blais was murdered in Montreal 10 years ago today. He was six years old. He had been diagnosed autistic when he was five.

He was held down and drowned in his bathtub by his mother, Danielle Blais. She was charged with first degree murder, then this was reduced to manslaughter, to which she pleaded guilty.

Charles-Antoine's murder received a lot of media coverage. Autism society officials from Montreal and elsewhere went all out. They wanted everyone to know how devastating it is to have an autistic child, and how understandable it is that a parent would kill such a child. They said that Danielle Blais' life was a nightmare and that it was wrong to punish her.

Parents of autistic children showered Ms Blais with letters of support. They raised money for Ms Blais. They held a demonstration to support her and to demand the funding of one specific autism treatment, which was widely claimed to be the only way to prevent more autistic children from being killed by their parents. Carmen Lahaie, President of Montreal's autism society, stated in the media that Charles-Antoine was "happy now" that he was dead. The media published many stories about the "tragedy" of autism. On the news, it was reported that parents of autistic children wanted Ms Blais to represent them.

In court, Ms Lahaie testified in support of Ms Blais. According to the judgment signed by Justice Jean B. Falerdeau, Ms Lahaie

...explained how much of a burden it is for parents to take care of an autistic child...

Also, Ms Lahaie willing to hire Accused for 21 hours per week at the foundation of the Société de l'autisme, when Accused is released.

In his summary of the evidence, Justice Falerdeau wrote about Ms Blais,

...she did not want to leave her son alone or impose on others the burden of taking care of an autistic child.

In his review of the jurisprudence, he noted about Ms Blais that she

...could be employed in helping the parents of autistic children.

And in his summary of sentencing issues, he wrote:

It is clear that the accused does not represent a danger for society; she could work and even help the parents of autistic children.

In the summer of 1997, Ms Blais was sentenced not to jail, but to a year in a community residential centre, and she was hired as a representative--a sort of role model--by Montreal's autism society, as promised by Ms Lahaie.

When I heard this on the national news, I phoned Ms Lahaie, stunned. What are you doing, I asked. She said, you can't understand, our children have ruined our lives.

In 2003, I spoke with Justice Falerdeau, and with the two lawyers involved in this case. It was clear that Justice Falerdeau's decision was based on the evidence before him. It was not even considered that having an autistic child was anything less than devastating. It was not even considered that Charles-Antoine was anything but the burden described by the President of Montreal's autism society. Everyone saw Charles-Antoine as a burden. No one questioned this. And in the media, Ms Lahaie implied that he was better off dead--happy, to be murdered.

I have thought about the life and death of Charles-Antoine Blais every day since that day he was murdered. I'm ashamed I did not speak out at the time more than I did. I was not used to autism advocacy. I thought, what if they are right? They were in charge, after all, making all the decisions, deciding our future. They were the authorities, the people you have to go to, if you are autistic and need help and information. I didn't know any other autistic people, in 1996 and 1997. It would be many years before I got online and found I wasn't the only one who thought what happened was horribly wrong.

Charles-Antoine Blais would be 16 now, if he had not been seen as a burden and killed. I never found a photo of him, except for one in La Presse of his body being removed from his house, in his city, where his life was devalued and taken away from him. Ten years after he was murdered, autistics are still routinely described as devastating and as burdens, including by our political leaders. Charles-Antoine Blais' memory has not been respected.


abfh said...

There's no need for you to feel ashamed for not speaking out more at the time. It's obvious that the people you spoke with were so full of hate that nothing you said to them would have made any difference at all. Such people can be dealt with only by removing them from positions of influence so that they can never again harm anyone else... and that requires political organization and strong allies, which you didn't have at that time.

You've been fighting the good fight for many years now, and you deserve to be proud of your efforts.

Anonymous said...

Michelle, I cannot imagine how it must have felt to hear all the horrific details of this child's killing, and see how his killer was feted for her crime, and to think that you alone knew it was all wrong.

This idea of 'mercy killing' is getting to be much more of a problem, at least in the UK. On Saturday, I bought the Daily Mail (spit, but they had a free child's DVD inside). There was a story about a man killing his wife, which was described as a mercy killing to free her from her pain (she had not ever asked for help to die) and getting only a suspended sentence.

I tried to find the article again but can't seem to search the site. I did find something even worse;
"We must debate mercy killing of disabled babies, say top doctors"


There are some disturbing comments too, including the obligatory autism horror story.

Sad, sad stuff.

Michelle Dawson said...

Thanks abfh and Sharon. Carmen Lahaie is still President of Montreal's autism society. She's the one who's called autistic people a "plague", more than once (a plague that should be eradicated once and for all). There is now an annual award in her honour.

Sharon, that article about "mercy killing" reminded me of this . So much for learning from history.

Anonymous said...

I've just figured out how to include links in comments, so no more huge urls spilling out of the comment box.

So here is the 'mercy killing of babies' and here is a BBC link to the other story (I still can't navigate the Mail site). However the headline in Saturday's paper was 'Spared jail, the husband who killed his wife to end her suffering', which is a twisted way to report it, I think.

I wonder what you have to do to earn the Carmen Lahaie award. I can imagine all these parents competing to see who can describes their lives as the most devastated. It makes me think of the Monty Python sketch, where they all tried to outdo each other in how poor they were as children.
For the best effect, Yorkshire accents are obligatory ;-)

Michelle Dawson said...

I don't know what it takes to win the Carmen Lahaie award, but (surprise!) the winner gets this trophy-type thing made out of big puzzle pieces.

Ian Parker said...

So, if I understand this correctly, a mother kills her child because she apparently can't cope. As a result, she gains a position in an organization that purportedly represents the very people she can't cope with?

Bizarre (shakes head)

Michelle Dawson said...

Many parents experience trouble coping with their children, or at times can't cope at all. Fortunately, this doesn't usually result in them killing their children.

In this case, according to the written judgment, Ms Blais killed her son because she ultimately decided that whatever happened to her, she did not want to "impose on others the burden of taking care of an autistic child". This goes beyond her own difficulties in coping, as I tried to point out.

Anonymous said...

I am the mother of an Autistic Child. And where I do understand the devastating life sentence that autism thrusts upon families, I, in no way can justify the actions of killing your own child. This woman is not a role model to me, she is a coward. I'm offended that any autistic organisation would use the actions of a child killer in their plight to gain media advocacy to assist in creating public awarness about autism.

Anonymous said...

My son is autistic.

Sometimes we have hard days...these days are much harder on my son then they are on me...and we will have them until i understand all of his meltdown triggers so i can help make sure he is not overwhelmed. My son is brilliant. My son is not a burdern. if he melts down there IS a reason.

I want to understand how he sees the world. I want to know what he needs from me. I want to hear what autistics have to say. I want to learn from the adult autistics so i can learn to mother better. I want an autistics ideas on how i help my son during a meltdown. what should i do for him? how do i make him feel better? where are these answers?

the stress does not come from my son it comes from a school system unable to meet his needs and a soceity that does not understand and does not care to.

That woman is no hero. She is a monster. She made a choice.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I am looking for help getting a copy of the court documents and or judgment in the blais case. If you have a copy or know how i can access a copy i would be thankful. you can email me at

Thank you,

Michelle Dawson said...

I got my copy of the judgment, on paper, by walking to the courthouse and asking to have a copy made and then paying for it.

With help from a lawyer, I also got recordings (on tape, on cassettes) of the proceedings. These were mostly unintelligible.

I did that back in 2003. Sorry but I don't know what would currently be available or how best to obtain it.