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November 20, 2022

Cruel Necessity

'Cruel necessity' is sometimes used to justify the Acadian deportation of 1755.  Neutral Acadians had to be deported because they posed an existential threat to British colonials during the Seven Years War.

It is a well used and familiar trope.  It isn't hard to imagine it being applied to the Africville relocation.  And it certainly was the justification for incarcerating Joey Delaney in Emerald Hall.  
Is it "cruel necessity" that drives the province to support the many segregated and exploitative "sheltered workshops" in Nova Scotia?  Inclusivity, minimum wage, and employment equity thrown out the window.  All in the name of saving money and preserving continuity.

Is it truly a necessity to institutionalize people?  Suppose they were allowed to determine their own lives?  Of course they should have government support.  But the support belongs to them, as do all of the equality rights in the Charter.

Sophie Lin has a terrific article on the shame of Sheltered Workshops in this month's Briarpatch Magazine from Winnipeg.  She doesn't pull any punches.  It focuses on the situation of a Nova Scotian and his experience in a workshop called the Revolving Door, now known as Carlton Road Industries.  Everyone should read the article, but here are a few salient quotes:

Donnie MacLean worked at the same non-profit for nearly 13 years before mustering the nerve to quit. Moments after giving his notice, he overheard his bosses whisper, “he knows what’s going on here.”

In the months prior, some things about his workplace had started to bother MacLean: his bosses would charge exorbitant amounts for him and his co-workers to participate in company bonding activities; the pay was meagre and didn’t increase with experience; and all of the workers were disabled, but the managers weren’t.

MacLean didn’t know it at the time, but the organization he worked for, the Revolving Door, was a sheltered workshop – a segregated workplace for people labelled with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The workshops operate as “training programs” for disabled people to be skilled up to join the mainstream workforce, but the “training” label also means employers can evade employment standards.

For over a decade in the 1980s and ’90s, MacLean worked full-time hours at the Revolving Door, starting his days at 9 a.m. and ending around 4 or 5 p.m. For every 75 hours of work, he’d earn $30. But the Revolving Door also managed the bus that transported employees to and from work, a service for which they charged $9, shrinking MacLean’s twice-monthly paycheque to $21.

MacLean left the Revolving Door in the 1990s, but the business is still in operation today. They’ve rebranded as Carleton Road Industries Association and are one of 30 recognized sheltered workshops in Nova Scotia.

MacLean can’t remember exactly how he got into the sheltered workshop system – it’s a story educator Michael Baker has heard before. 

“Everyone knows what’s happening,” Baker says. He explains that in elementary school, children perceived as having learning difficulties are flagged for a psychological assessment and streamed into “modified and individualized programming,” as it’s called in Manitoba.

And if a disabled student does manage to land a job in the mainstream labour force after they graduate, their disability benefits are cut, a policy Baker says is punitive and coerces students into sheltered work.

Modified and individualized programming offers adjusted workloads, revised curriculums, access to an aide, and other accommodations. But it also means the student is in high school until the age of 21, and earns a “certificate of completion” instead of a high school diploma.

“They’re completely excluded from college and university and much of the workforce that requires a high school diploma,” Baker says. In addition, he says that many sheltered workshops canvas schools with disabled students, promoting their programs as providing work experience as well as a community that supports each other and does activities like swimming and bowling together. 

Today, sheltered workshops are called everything from “day programs” to “employment centres” to “activity centres.” In these workplaces, disabled people build wooden crates for 50 cents an hour; pack student exam care packages for a few pennies each; assemble windshield wiper tubes for a nickel a piece; and pin together Remembrance Day poppies for a penny a poppy.

Carleton Road calls itself an “adult services centre” that provides “community (supported) employment.” Like most sheltered workshops, Carleton Road is a non-profit organization and government grants make up the bulk of its revenue. Last year, it received a total of $717,988 in provincial and federal funding. They also reported $862,769 in revenue for the “sale of goods and services” which, according to their website, includes everything from woodworking to property maintenance to postal services. Importantly, Carleton Road has eight salaried employees to whom they pay real wages.

Shut out of the mainstream labour market and ineligible for workers’ compensation or other benefits, many disabled people were streamed into sheltered work.

According to Baker, it’s rare that someone escapes sheltered work. “[It’s] not a goal of the program to graduate,” he says. Transitioning workers to the mainstream workforce would decrease sheltered workshops’ profitability, so despite being labelled “training programs,” almost half of workers stay in sheltered workshops for more than five years and over a fifth stay for more than 10 years.

“It’s a catch-22,” Baker argues. He explains that while sheltered workshops in large institutions are no longer the norm, the “gratuity pay” of the system traps workers in a cycle of poverty, leaving many with no choice but to live in institutions like group homes or long-term care facilities.

By the way, the $862,769 in revenue for the “sale of goods and services" is the fruit of the labor of participants.  Instead of being distributed to those who earned it, it is just taken as part of the revenue of Carlton Industries.

I have written on this subject many times.  Sheltered workshops are:
  • Segregated
  • Exploitative
  • Mostly government funded mock charities
  • Dangerous
  • Unregulated
  • Ableist
  • Expensive 
  • Hypocritical
They keep intellectually disabled people from entitlements.  Like many  organizations, they cover up abuse.  They are motivated by self-interest.  

I wrote last time about the many provincial agencies and departments with 'inclusion' as a mandate.  Here's a quick summary - there are probably more:

Accessibility DirectorateJustice$2,837,00014....a central government mechanism to ensure that the concerns of persons with disabilities respecting policy, program development and delivery are advanced and considered by the government.
Office of Equity and Anti-Racism Initiatives$4,803,00024We're responsible for making sure government identifies and addresses underlying and systemic differences that people experience with access to opportunities and resources
Engagement, Equity and BelongingLabour, Skills and Immigration$437,0006The branch works across the department to ensure our workforce is representative of the communities that we serve, and we continue to be responsive to the department’s needs to ensure our working environments are safe, accessible, equitable, and inclusive for all employees
Human Rights CommissionJustice288000025The Human Rights Commission administers the Human Rights Act by investigating and resolving complaints of discrimination and promoting awareness and respect for human rights through public education, training and outreach.
Sixty-nine employees,  more than $10,000,000.  A waste of taxpayer money, achieving injustice and segregation in the name of fairness and inclusion.  Time to get some answers.

How is it that none of these agencies notice that sheltered workshops are segregated?  That they violate wage laws?  That they have institutionalized what they are charged to eliminate?

By their silence, each of these agencies lends false legitimacy to sheltered workshops.

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