Toronto disability rights activists hold vigil for Disability Day of Mourning

Mar 21, 2024 | GTA/Local News, News

Frank Shabers had been mourning losses in his community for years before the Disability Day of Mourning was founded in 2012.

He experienced these losses at the hands of ableism within his own family and pain from his own experiences facing the bigotry. So, in response to this, Shabers became a founding member of Disability Action Now (DAN), a Toronto-based activism group.

DAN was founded by Shabes with ex-Humber student Nathan Maure and hosted its first public event on March 1, the Disability Day of Mourning.

The day was created by Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) director Zoe Gross after the 2012 murder-suicide of 22-year-old George Hodgins in California at the hands of his mother whom he was dependent on.

ASAN wanted to bring attention to the deaths of disabled people at the hands of their caregivers or parents and how media outlets cover these murders.

The victims of these crimes are often painted as low-functioning and unable to take care of themselves while presenting the murderers as caring people pushed to the limit.

One Florida A&M University law review into parents killing their disabled children found that nearly half of the killings referred to as filicide, were described as altruistic and done to ease the disabled child’s perceived suffering.

A website run by ASAN found 77 deaths in the 2023 calendar year, primarily using limited resources such as internet searches. Twenty of these deaths involved children, two were elderly Canadians.

DAN held the vigil at Matt Cohen Park at the Bloor Street West and Spadina Avenue intersection. This included a sing-along to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and handing out pamphlets.

“I know from history’s record and my own history that not all deaths to violence are recorded. I know there are far more people that we have lost in the past years that we can never find by simply searching for their names and stories online.” Shabes said.

Shabes is a wheelchair user himself and spoke through a megaphone into the bustling Bloor-Spadina intersection, he found time to interview with the Et Cetera one-on-one after the vigil.

“Really, the goal right now is to hold a meeting over Zoom because it’ll be captioned, and it’ll be more accessible to everyone,” Shabes said.

Accessibility was an issue as the group couldn’t find an ASL interpreter for this event, a role they wished they had filled.

DAN also eyes bigger goals outside of vigils to help their community.

“The biggest things that affect most disabled people in Toronto and Ontario are the rates of disability benefits,” Shabes said.

The monthly $702 given through disability services is not enough for disabled people to pay the bills, he said.

“Next to that, the biggest thing is physical accessibility. For some using a manual chair or uses a gait-aid a lot of the routes to elevators on the TTC take more energy and the wayfinding is difficult,” he said.

The vigil was marred by a heckler pushing an attendee. The unidentified person left before reporters on the scene could identify and interview them.

Trevor Miller was the attendee pushed and an activist who’s attended multiple social movement events.

“I’ve been to plenty of protests, but that’s the first time someone has ever pushed me,” he said.

Miller believes the aggressive person was disabled, too, having seen him sort medication into bottles.

“People have an idea and believe they’re right. I told him we’re here for people with disabilities, and he just was not happy.” Miller said.