The 2011 Michener Award finalists talk about their award winning stories and the people who helped make them happen – Michener Awards Ceremony, June 12, 2012.
The Times Colonist reported on the plight of people with developmental disabilities when the B.C. government changed its policy to save money and to address a client backlog at its underfunded agency, Community Living B.C. People were moved from their long-term residences to less expensive accommodation, lost needed assistance once they turned 19 or were left in jail or hospital because there was no where to go. The province eventually committed $40 million to improve services.
Your Excellencies, Senator Munson, honoured guests:
First congratulations, to the other finalists. It’s inspiring to learn about your work and an honour to be here with you.
About two years ago now, we got a tip that the agencies providing care to people with developmental disabilities in B.C. were under pressure from the provincial government to cut their budgets. The main strategy was to close group homes, which are staffed around the clock, and move people in with families, a less expensive arrangement that works in some cases.
The government, however, did not limit itself to those cases, and was pushing people out of their long-time homes, and then denying it was happening. “We do not do forced moves” became the mantra of successive ministers in the legislature.
At the same time, there was a growing list of people waiting for help. Many families and agencies were frightened that if they spoke out, they would lose what little they had. But, if government was counting on that, they were mistaken. Despite their fears, families kept coming forward and we kept telling their stories.
Stories about a young man with the mental age of a six-year-old held in an adult jail because there was no place to put him in the community, about a family forced to move their 19-year-old daughter out of their home because they feared losing the very services that allowed them to care for her, about a young woman confined to a psychiatric ward when her community placement broke down.
The stories, with photos by Adrian Lam and Lyle Stafford – columns by Jody Paterson, Les Leyne and Paul Willcocks – and numerous editorials over 20 months helped expose the mistreatment of our most vulnerable citizens. Eventually, even the government’s own backbenchers stood in the legislature, echoed our reporting, and demanded action.
The minister responsible was demoted, the CEO in charge departed, a series of reviews was ordered, and the government finally admitted that it had pushed too hard, and hurt too many families. A number of planned group home closures were reversed, services were restored, and earlier this year, the government boosted annual funding for people with developmental disabilities by $40 million.
The Times Colonist’s editors deserve thanks for giving this story the time and the space it needed. But most of the credit goes to the families who stood up to government in defence of their loves ones. It’s an honour to be here on their behalf.
Michener Awards Ceremony
June 12, 2012.