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Crippled by condition, lack of help

Few services on remote reserve

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It's tough enough growing up on a remote reserve in an overcrowded home with no running water.

Kevin Taylor did it with cerebral palsy.

His home in St. Theresa Point is among the thousands up north with no indoor plumbing, so Taylor's dad sometimes has to carry him to the outhouse if the path is too muddy or icy for crutches.

Taylor's home is also not wheelchair accessible, so the 30-year-old spends most of his time on the floor. To get around his house and sometimes around the reserve, Taylor uses his arms to drag himself forward on the ground, "like bunny-hopping," said his mother, Alice Taylor. That wrecks his clothes, bruises his body and damages his dignity.

He gets a bath once a week at the nursing station but has no access to home care, vocational training, speech therapy, physical therapy, day programs or respite care for his parents -- all the things available to disabled people in Winnipeg and in other northern non-reserve communities. Taylor's plight highlights the yawning gap between federally funded health and social services available on reserve and services available off-reserve that are funded by the province.

The moment Taylor leaves his remote community on Island Lake, a long menu of provincial programs open up to him. That disparity -- in health, education, child welfare, infrastructure, housing and flood protection -- has plagued Manitoba's remote reserves for generations. It's so acute the Manitoba government has begun to quietly overstep its constitutional jurisdiction and offer services on reserve, including child and family aid and flood protection.

It's now the subject of a complaint filed with the Canadian Human Rights Commission, one Alice Taylor and her lawyer are worried may not even get heard. In a complaint filed last year, she and her lawyer, Beverly Froese of Legal Aid Manitoba's Public Interest Law Centre, argue the disparity in services and the quality of life for disabled people on reserve amounts to discrimination.

"As a result of the discrimination, my son's quality of life is diminished and he cannot realize his full potential as a valued and productive member of society," Alice Taylor wrote.

In an email, Health Canada refused to comment on Taylor's case and offered no insight into the shortage of services for disabled people on Manitoba reserves. Indian and Northern Affairs Canada also refused to comment. Alice Taylor believes her son would love to learn new skills with his hands, perhaps woodworking, since he loves chopping wood. He could also learn some computer skills, improve his speaking and mobility with the help of trained therapists and get out of the house more often.

Taylor gets a weekly visit to the nursing station for a bath and occasionally goes to church or to visit his granny. It's getting difficult for his parents to carry him to the car, so he is largely housebound. Alice Taylor and her husband worry he'll be institutionalized in Winnipeg after they die.

"I want the services to come to Kevin, not Kevin going to the services," she said.

The Taylors are on a waiting list for a new house, one with indoor plumbing that could accommodate Kevin's wheelchair, but they keep getting bumped by needier families.

Alice Taylor said she and her lawyer are worried a recent ruling by the federal human rights commission on a similar case might kibosh theirs.

In March, the commission's tribunal turfed a case filed in 2007, alleging the federal government violated the human rights of aboriginal children by chronically underfunding child and family services provided on reserves. Provincial governments spend as much as 22 per cent more per child than Ottawa does. The tribunal dismissed the case, saying the legislation allows complaints only based on services provided differently by the same level of government.

Since Ottawa doesn't provide child-welfare services off reserve, no real comparison can be made so no discrimination occurs.

It's possible the commission will feel the same about Taylor's case.

"It's a discouraging thought," sighed his mother. A ruling on whether the commission has the jurisdiction to even accept the complaint is expected any day.

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 20, 2011 A3

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Updated on Wednesday, April 20, 2011 at 5:41 PM CDT: Adds video.

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