Friday, October 03, 2008

Another autistic victory

"... the Tribunal finds that the complaint filed by Ms. Dawson against Canada Post is substantiated and that the Respondent has contravened sections 7 and 14 of the Act."
That's from paragraph 248 of a decision just released by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, in the first ever autism-related case referred to this Tribunal for a hearing.

You can find this decision here in html and here in pdf.

In some ways it's a very strange decision, with a stupefying number of just huge factual errors in it. Due to my own incompetence in representing myself (and in just generally functioning throughout the extensive hearings) and for other reasons, including the enormous factual errors made by the Tribunal, I lost some aspects of this case. But to my own astonishment, I won other aspects. Indeed the aspects I won are those most important to me, and also those which I was firmly discouraged from pursuing by the Canadian Human Rights Commission (which was a party to this case, representing the public interest).

Setting aside the astounding factual errors about the specifics of the case, as I believe they should be set aside, and setting aside my own personal situation, as I believe should also be set aside, this decision is entirely good for autistics in Canada. It is unprecedented in establishing under a human rights law in Canada that autistics--as autistic people, and regardless of what kinds of interventions we may or may not have received--are human beings with human rights.

Here is an excerpt:

[242] Be this as it may, the Tribunal finds it disturbing for the future of autistic people that they be seen because of their condition to pose a threat to the safety of others and some form of nuisance in the workplace. An employer has a duty to ensure not only that all employees work in a safe environment but also that ill perceptions about an employee's condition due to poor or inadequate information about his disability lead other employees to have negative and ill-founded perceptions about him.

[243] An autistic person should expect that his workplace be free of any misperception or misconception about his condition. It goes to the right of autistic individuals to be treated equally, with dignity and respect, free of any discrimination or harassment related to their condition. In this respect, in a society where human rights are paramount, an employer has the duty to dispel such misconception or misperception about such individuals.

[244] This duty stems from the Canadian Human Rights Act and the need to get rid of any discriminatory behavior in the workplace as well as in society in general. It is worth reminding employers as well as society as a whole that the purpose of the Canadian Human Rights Act, as stated in section 2 of the Act, is to give effect to the principle that all individuals should have an opportunity equal with other individuals to make for themselves the lives that they are able and wish to have and to have their needs accommodated, consistent with their duties and obligations as members of society, without being hindered in or prevented from doing so by discriminatory practices based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability or conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted.

[245] Autistic people, if they want to be able to accomplish themselves in a workplace or in society, need to be reassured that everything possible short of undue hardship will be done in order to ensure that misperceptions and misconceptions about their condition are properly handled by their employer, so that co-workers have a proper understanding of their condition and are not inclined to discriminate against them or harass them.

[246] To discriminate on the basis of somebody's physical appearance or social behavior might be one of the cruelest forms of discrimination. Here, Ms. Dawson was seen or perceived, at one point in her career at Canada Post, to be a threat to her co-workers because she had self-injured in the past, not because she had assaulted colleagues. She was later on perceived as a form of nuisance because she insisted on obtaining rational responses to her queries and never backed down. The fact of the matter is that Ms. Dawson was, until her diagnosis became officially known to Canada Post in 1999, seen as an excellent employee.

[247] The Tribunal is of the opinion, in view of the evidence, that the Respondent needs to review its policies in relation to discrimination and harassment and put in place educational programs that will sensitize its employees as well as management to the needs of disabled individuals in the workplace, notably autistic individuals, so that individuals such as Ms. Dawson will not have to suffer from a lack of knowledge and understanding of their condition. In this respect, given the Canadian Human Rights Commission's expertise in these matters, the latter can surely provide assistance, which should be welcomed, to the Respondent.
What I was dreading most was the same thing I had dreaded in Auton at the Supreme Court of Canada: a decision that would harm autistics, would make our lives even more difficult, would further limit our possibilities, would make it less likely that we would ever be given the opportunity to demonstrate our ability to contribute to society as autistic people. But this Tribunal decision, for all its faults with respect to the facts of the specific case, is instead a step in the right direction. It's a step towards human rights for autistics in Canada, and towards all the possibilities human beings have, when we are regarded and treated as equals, and can proceed in society as fully human beings with human rights and dignity.

As one autistic person, I did the best I could (with many thanks to those who helped along the way). And I didn't win every aspect of this specific--and very difficult and exhausting--case. But for all autistic people, this Canadian Human Rights Tribunal decision is a one hundred percent victory.

[Note: for clarity, the title "Another autistic victory" alludes to a 2005 article I wrote called "An autistic victory," about the Auton Supreme Court of Canada decision.]


Anonymous said...

Congratulations from me, and thanks in advance for all those who will be helped by this decision! (But might not ever know about it)


jypsy said...

Turtle Cheesecake all round! Congratulations, and Thank You, Michelle.

Unknown said...


abfh said...


Alyric said...

Sorry you didn't get to win all aspects but oh, the beauty of the excerpt you quote. It's just gorgeous and gives me at least a bit more impetus to go after the demonisers of autistics. Congratulations! It's wonderful

dinah said...

Marvellous result, so much hard work, it was all worth it. Those are very strong statements from the court; your struggle has turned out to be incredibly useful. Congratulations, Thank you Michelle.

Sharon McDaid said...

Congratulations Michelle, you have worked so hard and this has been so stressful for you, I am pleased for you.

All Canadian autistic people have won better recognition of their human rights because of this.

Well done on this important victory.

David N. Andrews M. Ed., C. P. S. E. said...

Michelle... for f*ck's sake... DROP THE MR. ANDREWS shite!!!

I'm David.

We're on the SAME SIDE.

And I'm congratulating you.

There's things i'm great at and things I'm shite at. There's things you are brilliant at and things you're ... well... not brilliant at.

Live with it. I do.

Point is... we're all working in our own ways to get better conditions for autistic people.

And that is something I have never stopped admiring in you. Even if you've never admired it in me.

Larry Arnold PhD FRSA said...

Yeah but Mr David Nobel Laureate pending, that is Ms Dawson's quirk innit?

Canada is as full of Quirks as Geneva is full of Quarks, I mean Harold Doherty, I ask you?

Still doesn't mean I think that Michelle grasps the bigger political picture, I put Michelle into the same pigeon hole as Jonathon Mitchell, although polar opposites in some respects, both failures to grasp the social model, and for fucks sake the social model can be defined if you like it in logic more rigorous than that of science for what is science but the outgrowth of a philosophical system and to a great extent it is dependent on the constructions of the notion of language and mathematics both to have context and validity, well you only have to look at the disputes between Wittgenstein and Godel (never mind the poker incident with Popper) to realise the complexity of all this and only someone who can think metamathematically and metalinguistically can get an angle (metaphor or likeness?) on that.

Michelle Dawson said...

In response to Mr Rex, I don't do anything political. I leave that, along with philosophy and postmodernism, to my superiors, such as Mr Rex himself.

Science, like ethics, is a methodology. It's the worst way of finding things out, except all the other ways.

So far as I can tell (working with the existing evidence), Mr Rex's way of finding things out is to ask, "does this person agree with me?" If I agree with him, then I am right and possibly brilliant. If I don't, then I am wrong--and attach list of personal insults for this abject failure, as Mr Rex wishes.

Fortunately, even the very difficult and flawed Tribunal process was not quite that grand or arbitrary. However, it did make me appreciate the scientific method all the more (an observation that's in my testimony somewhere).

Many thanks to those who dropped by to make kind, relevant and encouraging comments. I didn't manage Turtle Cheesecake or even a beer (somehow got in and out of the dépanneur without remembering what I was there for; will try again soon) but did finally manage to get a lot of very sound sleep.

Michelle Dawson said...

...Also, many thanks to Ballastexistenz for blogging about the Tribunal decision.

Michelle Dawson said...

...And jypsy supplies the Turtle Cheesecake. That's some great looking cake... (for some background on Turtle Cheesecake, see jypsy's 2005 senate brief).

Anonymous said...

Congratulations Michelle. That was extraordinary. The opinions by the court you cited were exceptional. I haven't followed your case but I do thank you for pursuing it. This is the hard work that has the potential to really change lives. I hope it receives its share of publicity in Canada so others will know they can pursue their rights.

Ettina said...

On a different topic, you might want to look at my newest blog entry:
It's an analysis of whether Lovaas's 'recovered' kids really were.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Congratulations Canada and all Canadians, especially the disabled ones, too.

I hope this means a more comfortable life ahead for you.

Anonymous said...

Also, do you suppose it's possible that people who now say you aren't really autistic might eat their words? (OK, that's a lot to ask for, but I'm hoping for it.)

Anonymous said...

What an amazing accomplishment. Congratulations!

David N. Andrews M. Ed., C. P. S. E. said...

"Mr David Nobel Laureate pending,"

AH... yeh, right... that'll never happen.

Even if I managed to get some work done that merited the award, I doubt that it'd be recognised... we 'the afflicted' cannot possibly do worthy work on what makes us who were are.

Pity, because there are some amongst us who do deserve that sort of recognition (no, I don't mean me... practitioner-researchers aren't really that sort of material; I think more in terms of those more involved in basic - as opposed to applied - research).

jonathan said...

well speaking of larry arnold's logic, he seems terribly confused in many respects, one of the primary examples is confusing a short fiction piece written over one hundred years ago which was clearly a parody of a proverb for a treatise on this so called utopian social model of disability that will somehow set all autistics free, yet in terms of philosophy one must remember what Rosseau said about man being born free but forever being in irons.

Unknown said...

Congratulations, Michelle.
As frustrating as the things they got wrong are, at least this time they got some right.

Anne said...

Larry, I think the Dawson case presents a good example of the social model of disability in operation. As the Tribunal explains it, Michelle was an exemplary employee whose problems at work arose from the false beliefs, fears or prejudices of others (autistic people as violent), resulting in discrimination and harassment in the workplace.

Well, apparently, Michelle didn't take it lying down (autistic people as annoying), which led to more harassment, but her years of perseverance have paid off in a Tribunal decision that both confirms legal rights of autistic people and also chips away at some aspects of the social model of autism disability.

Unlike other litigants in autism-related cases, Michelle didn't ask for any money or other compensation for herself. I think that's too bad. I would love to think of the Canada Post Corporation transferring a nice wad of cash to her as both compensation and a tangible reminder of things not to do. But Michelle got the judicial declaration she wanted about the rights of autistic workers, which was a major victory for everybody.

Michelle Dawson said...

I'm going to comment here (and possibly elsewhere) about just a small part of the large heap of false information Harold Doherty, leading autism advocate and lawyer, has provided in response to the Tribunal decision on his well-known and influential blog. Due to its defamatory nature, I'm not going to link to the post of Mr Doherty's in question, which is easy to find.

Mr Doherty's response to the Tribunal decision is in keeping with his frequently demonstrated standards, values, and ethics.

Mr Doherty claims that I called Dr M as a witness in the Tribunal case. Apart from testifying myself, as the Complainant, I did not call any witnesses at all. Therefore, this claim by Mr Doherty, a lawyer, is totally false, and indicates the extent of his own credibility.

Mr Doherty fails to point out that the Tribunal decision accepted some of my claims in the area of discrimination, as well as harassment. In this area, the Tribunal forcefully rejected the extreme prejudice strongly promoted by Mr Doherty and by other leading Canadian autism advocates (Senator Jim Munson, FEAT, etc.), that autistics are just naturally violent and a threat to others.

In his response, Mr Doherty also promotes the view, as is typical for himself and Canada's leading autism advocates, that individuals who do not agree with Mr Doherty (and with the ideology of autism advocacy) must be dishonest, unethical, ignorant, corrupt and fraudulent. As is also usual according to the standards of autism advocacy, no evidence was provided by Mr Doherty, a lawyer, to back these extreme claims.

Oddly, Mr Doherty claims that I provided the Supreme Court of Canada with new "evidence" in Auton. This is false. However, some documentation from Auton was successfully put into evidence at the Tribunal hearings by one of the parties, something Mr Doherty has not apparently considered.

Mr Doherty is also publicly claiming that there was a deliberate, that is dishonest and fraudulent, concealing of information from the Tribunal on my part and possibly on the part of others. That is a defamatory claim on Mr Doherty's part. It is demonstrably false and a deliberate attempt to smear and destroy the reputation of others.

This just scrapes the surface of the false, misleading, nonsensical, defamatory, etc., claims in Mr Doherty's response. This is how one of Canada's leading autism advocates, who is also a lawyer, responds to the prolonged attempt by one autistic (with help from both autistics and nonautistics) to ensure that all autistics--regardless of what interventions we have or haven't received--in Canada have the most basic of human rights.

Anonymous said...

"Scipio Africanus" would say: ROMA VICTOR! and this is sent by an Aspie whose current obsession is Roman History. This is my way of saying "Congratulations", - with class. You are the "Rosa Parks" of our community, and your humility is also an example to emulate as well.

Anonymous said...

Michelle congratulations, this is filed with my case at ECHR - thank you on behalf of all Autistics struggling to be heard against the odds.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations Michelle. That's a great result.

I didn't find out about this until now. By chance I came across the news in Google News. I haven't been checking Autism Hub lately. This should receive more coverage than it has.

daedalus2u said...

Very well done!

But kind of pathetic that it takes someone with autism to teach NTs how to treat a fellow human being as a human being.

Anonymous said...

Bonjour Michelle,

Le succès de ta détermination se traduit par une importante victoire pour tous les autistes du Canada.

Bravo et merci beaucoup Michelle !


Eleanor said...

Michelle: I read the entire opinion, and was impressed. I'm American, so don't know much about Canadian law,but a few things really struck me. First, although you represented yourself, it appears that they took your position very seriously. In my experience, that happens very seldom when a person represents himself or herself. Second, they specifically found you to be credible. (By implication, I think that means that they found some of the other witnesses not credible.) Third, given that they are apparently entirely outside of the neurodiversity movement, I think they did a credibable job explaining your worldview of autism. And most important, I think they really, ultimately, supported your worldview as entirely valid. That, I think, is really an important milestone. I'd love to see the same thing happen in my country. Congrats!

K said...

Congratulations! That is truly wonderful! I am so happy that the decision was made in Canada. It is the basis for further acceptance of Autistics in the work place.

Well done!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations Michelle! It's been awhile ("Mom with two great boys" :>)

I'm happy you won your case and I appreciate your efforts on behalf of my two boys (Matt was diagnosed with autism a month ago as well) and all autistics. Do get that cheesecake and beer, you deserve it!


Anonymous said...

Good for You.That nighmare comes to an end...Good for us. Maybe I can sue Loblaws for dishiring me upon knowing I was off to a conference on Grand Opening. Droits de la personne said there was nothing to do.Normes du Travail:Next time, don;t tell them you have ....


Adam said...

An important victory was won by critics of the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) after it was decided on March 20, that a controversial hearing into suspect activities on the part of CHRC employees would be open to the press and the public.


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Anonymous said...

So, it was in the newspapers (CanWest papers).Good.

Anonymous said...

I read the whole (entire) court entries and the decisions...I was mesmerized and could not stop reading to the end. I say Congrats to you, Michelle and for all who are autistic, in work places everywhere. What you did with your persistence brings a light of hope and change for all human beings who attempt to understand one another- We are on a journey together through this life- it is too short for it to be cluttered with inequity. Thank you! David Emanuel (Knoxville, TN)