I was born with Muscular Dystrophy in 1968 and lived with my family until I was 28 years old. I attended elementary and secondary school, as well as Capilano College, in North Vancouver. I had a very typical, suburban childhood and adolescence. Although I was born with Muscular Dystrophy, I did not begin using a wheelchair until I was 26 years old. I became ventilator dependent 10 years later.
I moved into a group home in my community when I was 28 years old and lived there until I was forced to leave by the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority (VCHA). They refused to fund the minimal extra support needed by the group home for my care.
During this time, I was admitted to Lions Gate Hospital because I had pneumonia. While in hospital, I was advised by the group home that, based upon the VCHA’s decision to withhold funding which would provide for my necessary care, I could not return to the group home. Now, I was homeless….at the age of 37….a life-long North Vancouver resident.
My new home was a two-bed room in Lions Gate Hospital. I lived in the hospital on the tax payer’s dime for six months, only one of which was medically necessary, eventhough most people can’t stay in hospital overnight after surgery! During this time I, along with my elderly parents, searched desperately for affordable, accessible housing with necessary supports on the North Shore. It didn’t exist in 2005 and it still doesn’t exist today in 2010.
My parents contacted both North Vancouver MLAs, and their federal MP, none of whom were able to do anything to assist me.
After six months of searching for adequate accommodation in my community and finding none, VCHA informed me that I had to leave Lions Gate Hospital and move to George Pearson Centre (GPC) in south-east Vancouver, a 45 minute drive from my family and community. GPC is a 120 bed, extended care facility. I didn’t then, and still don’t, need to live in an extended care facility.
Initially, I refused consent to go to GPC. I was advised by VCHA that I didn’t “have a right to refuse consent” to live in an extended care facility. I was told that if I persisted to refuse consent I’d be charged with violating the Trespass Act. Then, my family doctor, who had been my physician since I was a baby, was told VCHA could have me committed under the Mental Health Act. He rushed to tell me this in a panic. I still refused to give consent. VCHA’s next tactic was to have two RCMP officers enter my hospital room to intimidate me into consenting. To their credit, the next day, the RCMP told the press that “its not a policing issue.” VCHA’s final tactic was to seek a court order authorizing the use of force to remove me from Lions Gate and move me into GPC. They also sought an order that if I showed up at any other VCHA facility, I would be forcibly removed and returned to GPC.
Simultaneously, the VCHA offered me a deal. They agreed that if I went to GPC, they would find me suitable accommodation back on the North Shore within two years. My family and I sought legal advice regarding my situation. $5,000 later, we were told that my legal position was weak. Because VCHA’s intimidation tactics were getting increasingly aggressive, culminating in their most recent threat of a court order authorizing the use of force, I reluctantly agreed to go to GPC.
Was GPC as bad as I feared it would be? No. It was much worse. I was abused by some of the staff. When I made an complaint about the most serious abuse, I was told by the person evaluating it that even if she believed me she “would do nothing.” The people responsible for the most serious abuse were never held accountable. Life in GPC was best summed up in the words of an elderly resident who said to me during my time there, “We can’t say what really goes on here, because if we do the staff will retaliate against us.”
After more than two years of unrelenting self-advocacy, I escaped from GPC into innovative social housing, though not located in my home community of North Vancouver.
These events happened to me but by no means are they unique in British Columbia. They inspired me to found a not-for-profit organization that will aggressively advocate for the rights of persons with disabilities resident in British Columbia. Our name is Civil Rights Now!