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.