Monday, November 27, 2006

Harold Doherty, autism advocate at work

Harold Doherty is a leading Canadian autism advocate. He has a blog, on which he has just posted his expert opinion (Mr Doherty is a lawyer) about a legal case I lost a long time ago. I lost this case for two separate reasons, reasons which are clear if you read the full, original decision.

The first reason is that in Canada, the Labour Code only protects workers who are judged to be "normal", as opposed to all those who are able to perform any particular job. So those who are not deemed "normal" are considered to have a "medical condition", are not protected, and can be obliged to do pretty much anything by their employers, even if it is dangerous to them. E.g., while it is illegal to put a hearing person in danger by not providing proper ear protection in a noisy environment, it is not illegal to put a deaf person in danger by removing from their workplace the kinds of information they need in order to work safely. The deaf person is considered to have a "medical condition", even in a workplace where s/he has advantages over hearing persons, and not to be entitled to a safe workplace under this law. I used this specific example when I argued the appeal.

The second reason is that what I was being asked to do was not part of my job description, and therefore did not fall under the law. That is, if an employer asks you to do something dangerous, you cannot use this law to refuse, if this something is not part of your job description.

The original decision hinged on wording that was only available in one language, an anomaly which caused a lot of dictionary-searching. It was long ago (regardless of Mr Doherty presenting this as news), but I vividly remember the extent to which the original decision was based on semantics.

The first reason, as described above, is problematic. It means if you are not "normal" (by the definition of whoever decides these things), no matter how well you do your work, you can be gratuitously put in danger at any time by your employer, and you do not have the right to refuse to do what they demand. Your only recourse is a human rights case, which would involve losing your job and taking years and years to fight (at your own expense) for an uncertain outcome. However, Mr Doherty is not objecting to this interpretation of the law, but to the fact that I contested it.

In my case, I was gratuitously put in danger, and this continued for a long time with multiple variations on the theme. Mr Doherty's complete response to this is in the link above, including the derisive implication that I was arguing that autism is an occupational hazard. No, Mr Doherty, I was arguing that the consequences of disability-based harassment and discrimination, including the disregarding of relevant laws and contracts, are hazardous in many ways, including to one's safety.

This is my response to Mr Doherty, major league Canadian autism advocate, and his views of an autistic adult attempting to make workplaces safe for autistic people. I've also posted this response here. The CSST (a French acronym) is Quebec's workers health and safety board.


That is an extremely and deliberately misleading subject line.

I had a better safety and work record than most Canada Post letter carriers, and maintained this for a long time. It was recognized, e.g., that I could work safely, accurately and quickly in hazardous conditions that my co-workers refused to work in.

This case involved an illegal (no legal or contractual basis, no credible reason of any kind was ever given) expertise which was scheduled in many contradictory ways, including without notice. Notice was required, both under the law and under the collective agreement.

Provincial but not federal jurisdiction workers are protected from this kind of harassment under a provincial law (ARIAOD, administered by the CSST). This kind of harassment, in my case, set precedents such that no one knew what to do or how to apply the law.

For example, apart from never agreeing with themselves over why an expertise was being demanded (only about half the time was I told it had something to do with the short, long-ago work accident), Canada Post management threatened me with disciplinary action if I refused to see a doctor who did not exist. This "doctor" was not listed as a doctor anywhere in Quebec, and it turned out that indeed, he did not exist.

Throughout the time of this case, and long after, I was at work and doing my job to the usual "exemplary" (Canada Post's word, in writing) standards. My attendance record was recognized as superb, with extremely infrequent absences for any reason.

The expertise was never related to autism, though multiple conflicting reasons for this expertise were given by Canada Post. Sometimes different reasons were given on the same day, as the threat continued for months. The duly certified injury on duty leave lasted 4 days and was my first declared work accident for 8 years. Canada Post failed to ask for an expertise within the time allowed for by the CSST's law (ARIAOD), but continued to demand an expertise for months after the time allowed, though for multiple different and contradictory reasons not founded in any contractual or legal right on their part.

I don't know about the autistics Mr Doherty works with, but it has been very dangerous for me and many other autistic adults to see health-care professionals who have no knowledge of autism--the kind of professional I was being forced to see. This was regardless that it was suggested (by doctors) that I see doctors who were knowledgeable in autism, something I would have been willing to do if a credible reason were provided for an expertise. Instead, the suggestion that I see doctors who had some familiarity with autism (doctors I had never seen before and didn't know of) was rejected by Canada Post.

The obstacle to employment for autistics here is not a failed attempt to protect us from being put into danger via gratuitous threats of an illegal medical expertise. The obstacle comes from a psychologist (a behaviour analyst) who recently informed Canada Post at the national level that there is nothing good about autistic people. This psychologist promoted a dire view of autistics as being less than human (e.g., we have no emotions) and good for nothing (e.g., if we have any abilities, we use them in totally useless ways), which Canada Post took and continues to take to heart. Yes, this psychologist was prosecuted for her grossly biased presentation and for conflict of interest (I was her client) by the Quebec Order of Psychologists, but it was already far too late. Having a long-standing excellent work record, including in the area of safety, does not protect you against this kind of professionally-promoted prejudice.

All of the above has been testified to, complete with hundreds of pages of evidence (some of it publicly available), at the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, in the first autism-related case referred for a hearing there. This case is the result of my revealing my diagnosis to Canada Post after 11 years of service, and succeeds a previous Canadian Human Rights Commission case that was settled in my favour.


It's unclear what Mr Doherty would have wanted me to do. He does seem to be implying--I'm sure he'll correct me if I'm wrong--that an autistic who knows a medical expertise is likely to be dangerous should not be believed, even when (as in my case) she has medical documentation to back her up. And nor, apparently, should any consideration be given to engaging a medical professional who has some knowledge of autism. This is typical of how my attempts to stay autonomous--and not require a high level of services, and to basically survive--have been dealt with by Canada's important autism advocates.