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News Release for Immediate Distribution
CDSS Concerned About Ottawa Man's Rights
Just how desperately improvements are needed to advance and promote the full inclusion and active citizenship of persons with disabilities and their families has been punctuated again with the case of Karl Gauthier, a 28-year-old man with Down syndrome, who has spent 10 days in an Ottawa jail because he refused to return to his group home and no alternative living situation could be found. The home, where Mr. Gauthier had been living with six or seven other men for a number of years, is classified as "high-support" for people who have mental health difficulties in addition to cognitive differences. Mr. Gauthier was released today back into the custody of the group home staff, and will be returned to the home after an assessment at the Montfort hospital. According to information presented to the court, Mr. Gauthier was removed from the home after an altercation with a staff member that ended with the group home calling 911.
He was originally taken to hospital, where staff recommended he be removed elsewhere because of his potential for aggression. Mr. Gauthier was then taken to jail, where he remained for the following 10 days despite not having been charged with any wrongdoing. During his imprisonment, Mr. Gauthier was eventually given the option of returning to his group home, but he said he preferred jail. "Mr. Gauthier has been denied the supports he needs to exercise what most other Canadians assume to be a basic human right: to choose where and with whom we live," says Elizabeth Dolman, Executive Director of the Canadian Down Syndrome Society (CDSS). "When he did communicate a choice about where he doesn't want to live, he was sent to jail." The CDSS believes the value of human beings cannot be put on a scale of more and less. However, it feels Mr. Gauthier has been treated as a person whose rights are less. Social devaluation separates and divides people. Once separated, people are increasingly vulnerable to the abuse of their rights and to violence. The assistance available to people with mental health difficulties and intellectual differences has been identified as especially lacking. A federal government survey showed that 80 percent of Canadians agree with the statement that "persons with even the most challenging disabilities should be supported by public funds to live in the community rather than in institutional settings." "A just society would provide Mr. Gauthier with individualized supports to live in the community in a home of his own choosing," says Dolman. The Canadian Down Syndrome Society, like most Canadians, wants a Canada that respects and upholds the rights and dignity of people with Down syndrome just like other citizens.
The Canadian Down Syndrome Society challenges the federal government to act upon the commitment they made in the October 2004 Speech From the Throne to be a steadfast advocate of inclusion. In the speech, the government agreed that the denial of basic citizenship and the exclusion of persons with disabilities that continues to occur in Canada are unacceptable. Mr. Gauthier's case is a sad example of just how unacceptable it is.
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