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How Canada weighs the “burden” of disability: York U prof denied permanent residency for disabled son

By Lauren Scott

After three years of living in Canada, the family of Felipe Montoya, an environmental studies professor at York University, was denied permanent residency in the country. The reason for denial: Montoya’s 13 year-old son, Nico, has Down Syndrome.

Nico was considered to be too much of a “burden” on Canadian taxpayers and the family is now forced to move back to Costa Rica in June.

Natalie Spagnuolo is a doctoral student and disability activist whose doctoral research, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, explores issues of citizenship and disability. The Leveller interviewed her by e-mail:

The Leveller: What do you think of the Montoya’s situation? Why has this happened, or how is something like this possible?

Natalie: This is not at all a unique situation. Decisions like these may violate promises of inclusion in international and national human rights legislation, but unfortunately they are incredibly common. These decisions are applied against people with disabilities who are born outside of Canada, but they reflect the devaluation and dehumanization that most Canadians with intellectual disabilities and their families experience on a day-to-day basis. This takes place through the denial of basic supports, appropriate housing, a living income, education, and opportunities for meaningful participation, despite the fact that their citizenship status entitles them to these things.

The Leveller: Why would immigration officials make the decision based on the grounds of “burden” on the system? Is this important to look at or should there be more important considerations to immigration?

Natalie: These sorts of decisions hinge on subjective determinations of what counts as “burden,” so there is lots of room for personal prejudice to shape the results. The stigma associated with intellectual disability is often so strong that it discounts entire families, and not just the individual with the disability. So even though Felipe has secure employment as a tenured faculty member, the stigma associated with his son Nico is strong enough to make his whole family appear to be a liability, even if they don’t need to draw on social services because of Felipe’s income.

The Leveller: How do you think officials came to put a price of $6,000-7,000 on burden-ship? Are people with disabilities often talked about in terms of cost?

Natalie: These sorts of valuations are really central to how people with disabilities experience oppression and social exclusion. It’s impossible to quantify and fix something as dynamic as a person’s level of need. This tactic really just serves to justify exclusion for other reasons. The main function of these cost-benefit analyses is that they perpetuate existing prejudices against people with disabilities by underestimating their potential contributions and overestimating the costs of support and then just focusing on these costs.

The Leveller: Is the immigration system biased against people with disabilities? Why can this be rationalized as fair?

Natalie: The immigration system represents disability in medical terms, seeing it as “unhealthy.” It assumes that people with disabilities experience a low quality of life for “natural,” rather than social reasons. The same logic motivates a lot of disability violence,  such as so-called mercy killings. Disability activist groups have been very vocal in explaining that socio-economic deprivation and social isolation — and not their own impairments — are a major source of suffering.  This really contradicts more commonly-held definitions of disability that the Canadian government espouses at other levels, which acknowledge that physical environments and social attitudes and processes are structured in a way that advantages certain people and excludes others.

The Leveller: Felipe has called the decision medieval and barbaric. Would you agree with that statement? Why or why not?

Natalie: The incarceration and segregation of people with disabilities is a very current practice: Ontario only recently closed its regional centres, which were institutions that confined people with intellectual disabilities, and the survivor community is still working hard to ensure that reparations for atrocities committed against former residents and other promises are honoured. At the same time, people with intellectual disabilities are subject to new atrocities and forms of violence. People with disabilities, especially intellectual disabilities, are often one of the last groups to be included in progressive change.

This article first appeared in the Leveller Vol. 8 No. 6 (March 2016).

The CSRC is dead!: The Leveller says fare thee well

By: Ajay Parasram

The CSRC’s Wake.

The CSRC’s Wake.

Friends, Ravens, activists! Lend me your eyes. I come to praise the Critical Social Research Collaborative, not to bury it!

It is with a heavy heart that I must report that as of fall 2013, the infamous Critical Social Research Collaborative (CSRC) has formally disbanded. It was not too long ago, between the harvests of 2008 and 2009, that this ambitious group took shape under the spectre of a Marxist reading group. The founding vanguard included Gulden Ozcan, Aaron Henry, Ryan Katz-Rosene, Priscillia Lefebvre, and Carlo Fanelli. The group was largely affiliated with Carleton’s Institute of Political Economy, which thirstily attracts the intellectual left of this campus like the gravitational pull of a black hole sucking the very photons from its celestial sister.

Built on the conviction that critical social research ought to bring together activists, scholars, and students to be meaningful in the hostile political economic environment of contemporary Ottawa, the CSRC organized the first of five annual conferences in critical social research in 2009. As a pilot project aimed at testing the waters amongst the left-leaning Ottawa audiences, the first conference, entitled “Dialectics in Question: Revisiting ‘Capital’ &/in Crises,” was held at Carleton University. The gathering brought together activists, students, and professors across Carleton, as well as from the headquarters of Marxist academic research, York University.

But nay!

It was not enough to satiate the appetites of the hungry Ottawa masses, starved and deprived as they were, supping upon a cruel diet of Harper-esque platitudes! The people demanded more, and the CSRC grew. What was once a reading group hath now become a veritable organization, hosting seminars and workshops and assisting with critical film festivals across the polis!

Like the magicians of old, the CSRC resurrected the defunct journal, Alternate Routes, adding the subheading “a journal of critical social research.” As a founding CSRC member, Fanelli was made editor of the journal and published the first revived edition in 2011.

The CSRC’s mandate was a simple one: to be a graduate student-led research collective bringing together faculty, trade unionists, and community activists to promote, support, and create a platform for the sharing of critical perspectives and research conducted on the defining social issues of our time.

And oh, how they did!

Hosting seminars on feminist methodology, launching books such as The Ugly Canadian by Yves Engler and The AKP Years in Turkey by Simten Coşar, and allying themselves with the Ontario Public Research Interest Group (OPIRG), the CSRC had become a hub and sanctuary for those swimming against the currents of austerity, colonialism, and intellectual boredom. Scholars and students looked forward to the group’s annual conference, coming from Central and Western Canada, the northeast of the United States, the Middle East, and South Asia. To the delight of the masses, the CSRC’s fourth annual conference was held in 2012, entitled “Fault Lines of Revolution!”

With a membership continually growing, representing an increasing number of undergraduate students, the venerable CSRC became a Carleton University Students’ Association (CUSA) club – at least until the beginning of the end in 2012. Plagued by technocratic thugs who had commandeered the normally progressive undergraduate union, the CSRC was forced to spend a ridiculous amount of time haggling, fighting, and hoop-jumping to satisfy the ideologically driven new CUSA executive, arguing that, yes, even left-wing student groups deserve the same treatment as the gun club and the anti-abortionists they preferred to support. The CSRC joined with other working groups of OPIRG to defend the organization against the callous attack and attempted defunding of the PIRG, celebrating with the progressive left when undergraduate students voted to continue supporting OPIRG, with over 70 per cent in favour of keeping the progressive hub on campus. That year, the CSRC hosted its fifth and final annual conference, entitled “Eulogies for the Public: Capitalism, Warfare, and the Conservative Turn.”

While many new members have been attracted to the CSRC’s executive board over the years, and some old stalwarts remained active unto the end, its members are plagued by the torrential downpour of doctoral dissertation demands. It is perhaps fitting, then, that as they rounded out half a decade with a “Eulogy for the Public,” we offer this public eulogy in the left-wing space of thy sacred Leveller parchment! As this generation of the CSRC departs and the project lays dormant, cast thee no tear! For the foundations lie waiting for the next generation of graduate students to take up the torch and burn a fire bright enough to be worthy of remembrance!

This article first appeared in the Leveller Vol. 6, No. 3 (Nov/Dec 2013).



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