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Badly done, Ottawa

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I wrote today about 30-year-old Kevin Taylor, a guy with cerebral palsy who lives in St. Theresa Point in a home with no running water that’s not wheelchair accessible. His dad has to carry him to the outhouse. When Taylor can’t use his crutches, he drags himself around with his arms.

I find this humiliating to imagine. It’s worse to see it. Taylor’s lawyers took some short video clips while on a visit up north. I watched them and cringed.

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What’s worse, though, is the refusal of the federal government to discuss, in any useful or human way, Taylor’s situation.

Health Canada and Indian and Northern Affairs both refused to comment on Taylor’s human rights complaint or the huge issue it raises, namely the remarkable gap in services for disabled people on reserve and off.

Taylor is largely housebound. He gets one bath a week – one bath - at the nursing station. They used to do his laundry, but not anymore. He has no vocational training, no home care or physiotherapy, no day programs, says his mother, Alice.

Except for the joy he clearly brings to his parents, his life is largely wasted. I think that’s ugly enough to deserve a genuine and thoughtful response from a real human being in the national government.

Instead, I got the email below.

That’s nothing new from Ottawa, and I was not surprised.

Health Canada and INAC are among the worst federal departments to deal with. These days, all media requests go through Ottawa, where young public relations staff rarely have ever heard of Pukatawagan or Shamattawa and act only as stenographers, writing down word-for-word a reporter’s questions.

All questions are answered by email. The responses are almost always useless and irrelevant.

It takes days to get a reply because most are vetted by the Prime Minister’s Office. Reporters are no longer ever allowed to speak to a real expert – a Health Canada nurse from Island Lake, a policy analyst familiar with on-reserve funding models, a Manitoba program coordinator who might say Alice Taylor is wrong, that there are options for disabled people. There is never a chance for a real conversation where a little give-and-take and a few follow-up questions could add valuable nuance and context to a story.

And at no point does anyone do the most basic thing: Acknowledge the national shame that is Kevin Taylor’s situation.
 

INAC's response to emails concerning Kevin Taylor's situation.
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About Mary Agnes Welch

Mary Agnes Welch joined the Free Press in 2002, first covering city hall and then the Manitoba legislature before moving to her current post as public policy reporter. Before Winnipeg, she worked at the Windsor Star and the Odessa American, a small daily newspaper in West Texas. There, in addition to covering more than 20 counties, she took high school football scores from coaches all over West Texas by phone every Friday night.

Mary Agnes is a graduate of Columbia University’s journalism school. She has been part of two teams of reporters nominated for a Michener Award. In 2011, 2012 and 2013 she was nominated for a National Newspaper Award in the beat category.

She was a Southam journalism fellow at the University of Toronto’s Massey College in 2012-13, where she studied indigenous issues, urban planning and political science. She is also the former national president of the Canadian Association of Journalists and has served on several boards.

She once misspelled "Shih Tzu" in the paper and received 37 emails from angry dog-owners.

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