Charles Blais, 6, Murdered by Mother

(13 November 1996) — Last week, Danielle Blais drowned her 6-year old son, Charles, in a bathtub in her north end Montreal home. Charles Blais was autistic. After killing Charles, Blais attempted, but failed, to take her own life. According to the Montreal Gazette, Blais has been charged with the premeditated murder of her son. ("Charged with murder, mother gets support," 8 November 1996)

Charles Blais attended school at St. Pierre-Aporte, a special needs school operated by the Montreal Catholic School Commission. Little else is known about Charles Blais's life.

A more complete picture has been painted of Danielle Blais. The Montreal Gazette treated Blais in a sympathetic fashion, portraying her as a loving mother who reached her breaking point.

Peter Zwack, President of the Quebec Autism Society, has publicly stated that Blais should not face first-degree murder charges and she should not have to go to jail.

"Her life was a nightmare. She was all alone and that would have made things more impossible," said Zwack in the Montreal Gazette.

Quebec's social service system is facing criticism that its supports for parents of children with disabilities are inadequate. For example, Blais received $2,500 a year for baby-sitting from the Quebec government but the Montreal chapter of the Autism Society claims that $10-15,000 is required for qualified care.

CCD's member organization COPHAN informed the Quebec government a year ago last November that it was putting children with disabilities in jeopardy.

Charles Blais's murder coincides with the BC Inquest into the starvation death of Katie Lynn Baker, aged 10. Katie Lynn had Rett syndrome, which causes eating problems among other concerns.

Katie Lynn's mother claims that her daughter had the right to choose to die by refusing to eat and that she helped Katie Lynn fulfill that wish. This premise is being advanced because Katie Lynn was a person with a disability and as such was devalued by our society. If Katie Lynn had not been disabled, it is highly likely that social services would have intervened to protect her life.

Abetting the premature and planned death of one's child is completely contrary to the parental obligation to provide necessities for children. That there is not greater public outcry about Katie Lynn's death serves to devalue other children with disabilities and puts vulnerable children with disabilities at greater risk.

In both the Blais case and the Baker case, a lack of adequate services is noted as a problem confronting the parents of children with disabilities. While it is well known that disability services are inadequate and, indeed, deteriorating in many communities, this cannot be used as a justification for the killing of people with disabilities. "The unmet service needs of people with disabilities is always an issue—a very important issue for the living; however, we must be very vigilant when we relate this issue to the murder of people with disabilities, such as Latimer, Wilkieson, Blais or Baker, that we do not allow any possibility of anyone misunderstanding this need for services as justifying murder in any way, or to any degree," stated Jim Derksen. The murder of a person with a disability must be treated in exactly the same manner as the murder of a nondisabled person.

"Compassionate Homicide" Recommended by Senate Committee

As is demonstrated by the Latimer and Blais cases, the murderers of people with disabilities often receive sympathetic treatment. Alarmingly, there are those who are prepared to legalize what they call "compassionate homicide". In June 1995, the Special Senate Committee on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide recommended that Parliament should consider the creation of a separate offense of compassionate homicide that would carry a less severe penalty than a mandatory life sentence.

The Senate's report states, "These members emphasize that this compassion or merciful element must be clearly and narrowly defined in order to limit the availability of a more lenient sentence." Ironically it is recommended that penalties be increased for crimes motivated by hate. The impact that legalized compassionate homicide would have on people with disabilities would be devastating.

The community of persons with disabilities was outraged by the Senate Committee's recommendations. "We, as people with disabilities are the objects of pity, our lives are considered not worth living, and now a Senate Committee recommends that those who kill us should not receive the full penalty of the law but be given a lesser sentence. This is barbaric and undermines the fundamental guarantee of the Charter "to life, liberty and security of the person," stated Jim Derksen, following the release of the report.

"The Senate Committee obviously did not understand the concerns of the disabled community," said Gregor Wolbring, a member of CCD's Human Rights Committee. "How dare they suggest that killing with the label of mercy is more acceptable. So now the disabled person depends on the mercy of the able bodied world to value their life and if not, mercy killing is acceptable?" continued Wolbring.

"These Senators have missed the heart of the matter. Society's negative view of disability is so firmly entrenched that it will erode the safeguards of any system, no matter how conscientiously it is designed, " stated Hugh Scher, Chairperson of CCD's Human Rights Committee. While it is theoretically possible to describe a case of "compassionate killing" which would meet all safeguards this is not sufficient for the creation of good public policy, because it ignores prevalent attitudes and social practices which devalue people with disabilities.

Motivating the Senators' recommendation on "compassionate homicide" are concerns about pain and suffering. However, the very nature of pain and suffering put them beyond standard legal decision making. Policies hinging on notions of pain and suffering are uncontainable because neither pain nor suffering can be judged objectively.

If "compassionate homicide" were legalized, it would have an adverse impact on persons with disabilities due to the widely held misconceptions about disability. A widely held myth is that life with a disability is a life of suffering and not worth living. The corollary of this is the misguided assumption that it is a kindness to end suffering. Cognizant of this reality, CCD has been working to protect the fundamental human rights of persons with disabilities.

A Chronology of CCD's Work Supporting Fundamental Human Rights

In January 1995, CCD and the Saskatchewan Voice won intervenor status in Latimer's appeal.

On 23 February 1995, CCD explained to the Court of Appeal why it would be discriminatory for Latimer to receive a reduced sentence.

In November 1995, CCD hosted a community meeting to plan a litigation strategy to protect fundamental rights.

In February 1996, the CCD Council agreed to seek a publisher for a book commemorating the Tracy Latimer Vigils.

In October 1996, CCD began the Latimer Watch to educate the community about the need to protect the fundamental human rights of persons with disabilities.

To help promote the fundamental human rights of persons with disabilities, contribute to the Tracy Fund. (CCD, 926-294 Portage Ave., Winnipeg MB, R3C 0B9.)