How do the stories of an entire population go untold, unheard? And by which means should scholars, practitioners, and self-advocates endeavour to tell those as-of-yet untold stories? Throughout this reader, the contributing authors commit to unearthing the stories of disability history in Canada and, in doing so, contribute not only to Disability Studies as a discipline, but to the burgeoning field of Disability History. Starting with Canada's Confederation in the late 1800s, each author draws on distinct archives and methods to understand how disabled people have lived and influenced Canadian policy over time. Divided into historical periods, the authors move us from the Victorian era to the present day, in and out of institutions and communities, and across provinces. Manitoba and Ontario feature as key sites of disability politics and organizing. While some chapters reveal stories of resistance and activism, others present troubling stories of eugenics, segregation, and institutionalization of disabled people that make up often unanalyzed aspects of Canadian history.

Throughout the reader, disability emerges as a historically constructed category that is defined and negotiated through a variety of institutions, policies, and socio-cultural developments in Canadian history. 'Disability' is taken as a broad category to include sensory disabilities such as deafness and blindness (Iozzo-Duval; Barron; Enns et al.; Warne), physical disabilities (Drieger; Parent), intellectual and developmental disabilities (Carrington-Decker, Malacrida; McPhedran), and psychiatric disabilities (Reaume). The interdisciplinarity of the contributing authors lends itself to multi-faceted—and at times intersectional— analyses that consider how disability emerges with and through race (Demas; Spagnuolo), gender (Carrington-Decker; Chouinard), and class (Galer). In doing so, the contributing authors reveal how the history of disability is entangled with education, economics, nationalism, capitalism, racial segregation, and eugenics.

To tell these stories, the contributors draw from an impressive array of archives: institutional records, psychiatric patient records, as well as first-person and auto-ethnographic accounts from self-advocates and survivors. Each essay shows a distinct commitment to not only the untold disability histories, but to the methodological and research ethics entailed in unearthing and sharing those stories. For example, Geoffrey Reaume discusses the ethics of drawing on private patient records such as confiscated letters from the former Toronto Asylum for the Insane. As a psychiatric survivor himself, Reaume grapples with the problems of privacy and voyeurism alongside dignity and accountability. Additionally, Senator and human rights lawyer Marilou McPhedran recounts her experience recording Justin Clarke's affidavit where he, in spite of his parents' wishes, claims his competence, his desire to travel, and his aspiration to move in to the community. McPhedran notes how, in helping to prepare the affidavit, she was "…in contravention of the decision by the Ontario government and Justin's parents to block Justin's access to legal counsel…" (284). Nonetheless, McPhedran centres Justin's struggle for freedom of choice and movement, and access to the tools he needed to amplify his voice. Given these examples, this reader contributes not only to Disability History, but to disability as a locus for particular kinds of ethical relations and actions among disabled people, scholars, practitioners, and activists. Rather than simply tell previously untold stories, the authors describe and critique the structures and relations that prevented these stories from being told in the first place and how we might go about telling them in ways that actively contribute disability justice, organizing, and policy.

By starting the reader with confederation—the birth of Canada as a nation—the contributors are inevitably led to interrogate links between nationalism, inclusion, and compulsory able-bodiedness/able-mindedness (McRuer 2006; Kafer 2013). Though the authors do not readily cite this terminology from Disability Studies, the analysis thereof is present and robust. The authors show that for bodyminds to be considered unemployable and undesirable, and thus subject to segregation and eradication, there first needs to be an idealized standard of the able-bodied, productive, and contributing member of Canadian society. Within this context, disability emerges, as Turcotte tells us, as a threat to the social and economic order of the Nation. In her chapter on the inaccessibility of the Montreal Métro, Laurence Parent stresses the ability to walk as central to Quebecois citizenship and a lack of this 'essential ability' as a source of segregation and exclusion for disabled people not only from public space, but a sense of belonging in the growing nationalist identity politics in Quebec during and after the Quiet Revolution. In fact, the reader reveals that Canadian disability history cannot be told without a profound engagement with the role of segregation and eugenics in nation-building in this country.

Moreover, the 'Canadian disability history' framework makes a particular set of questions possible: How does the interplay of provincial and federal funding impact the management of institutions? How do education laws determine where families placed their disabled children? However, by using the formation of Canada as a starting point, certain historical relations, institutional realities, and stories are foreclosed. In recent years, disability scholars and activist have critiqued disability theory for centering the lives and experiences of predominantly white, western, heterosexual, and male subjects (Meekosha and Soldatic 2011; Puar 2017). Puar (2017) calls for disability analyses that consider the ways that, taken together, race, class, gender, sexuality, and ongoing settler colonialism serve to debilitate some bodies and not others. Disability analysis that take national identity for granted risks reinscribing given discourses of race, region, and inclusion. Calling for a decolonial disability studies, scholar Imada reminds us that "the colonized were always already figured and constituted as disabled" (2017, n.p). In light of these critiques I ask, which perspectives, forms of knowledge, and historical relationships continue to be occluded in the story of disability in what we now call Canada?

Settler colonialism does not go unmentioned in the reader. In chapter eight, Natalie Spagnuolo opens up the possibility of thinking about Canada as a white settler-colonial project. By analyzing immigration legislation practices in the 1920s, Spagnuolo sheds light on how ableist and racist immigration policies were bound up with the genocidal practices of a Nation committed to replacing the Indigenous population with white settlers. These policies that framed some bodyminds as mentally deficient and morally inferior led to segregation, incarceration, and debility. Spagnuolo's analysis links the ableist and racist structures of the past with current ideas about who should be considered a citizen of Canada and worthy of public resources. Similarly, Doreen Demas explores in chapter 21 how disablement continues to be experienced disproportionately by Indigenous women in Canada. Poverty, the lack of self-government, and jurisdictional quagmires are just some of the factors Demas notes as contributing to increased likelihood of disablement. Chapters like Spagnuolo's and Demas' show us questions that are made possible when Canada is understood as an ongoing settler-colonial project that continues to rely on categories of disability for its maintenance.

While a valuable contribution to the field, this reader may have benefited from a more critical reflection on taking 'Canada' as a given, as a taken-for-granted starting point to disability history on this land. How might a longer view of history inclusive of pre-confederation archives, knowledge, and stories have allowed for more in-depth and conscious analyses of the relationship between settler-colonialism and disability, between the asylum and the residential school, ableist eugenics and ongoing genocide? Overall, this reader is important not only for historians, but for those interested in the history of labour rights and work, the education system, and medicine in Canada. As an anthropologist, this reader appeals to me as a living archive of otherwise ignored or discarded stories and as grounds for action. As Reaume (2012, 39) reminds us, disability history "can influence a collective sense of self-identity and political engagement. It can also influence public policies that have a direct impact on people with disabilities as policy-makers learn from the past while being influenced to improve practices in the present." While the reader is a compilation of untold stories, it also tells the story of the institutions and policies that have historically silenced disabled people via segregation, institutionalization, and elimination. The reader is an important contribution to disability history and will take its place as a core text of Canadian disability studies.

Works Cited

  • Imada, Adria L,. 2017 "A Decolonial Disability Studies?" Disability Studies Quarterly 37(3). https://doi.org/10.18061/dsq.v37i3.5984
  • Kafer, Alison. 2013. Feminist, Queer, Crip. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press.
  • McRuer, Robert. 2006. Crip theory: Cultural signs of queerness and disability. New York: New York University Press.
  • Meekosha, Helen and Karen Soldatic. 2011. "Human Rights and the Global South: The Case of Disability." Third World Quarterly 32 (8): 1383-1398. https://doi.org/10.1080/01436597.2011.614800
  • Puar, Jasbir. 2017. The Right to Maim: Debility, Capacity, Disability. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. https://doi.org/10.1215/9780822372530
  • Reaume, Geoffrey. 2012. "Disability History In Canada: Present Work In The Field And Future Prospects." Canadian Journal of Disability Studies 1(1): 35-81. https://doi.org/10.15353/cjds.v1i1.20
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