Taking our place in the inclusion movement

By John Guido with Lori Vaanholt

“Where has L’Arche been?” It’s a question that Lori Vaanholt, L’Arche Canada’s new Director of Strategic Development and Innovation (formerly the Growth Coordinator) has been hearing a lot from accessibility and inclusion (disability) advocates in recent weeks as she participated in:

  • the first National Disability Summit convened by Hon. Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Public Services and Procurement and Accessibility in Ottawa, May 9-10
  • the 12th session of the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), at the United Nations, June 11 to 13.

National Disability Summit (Photo: Accessibility Canada)

It’s not an easy question to hear or to answer, especially when asked with a critical edge. Yet it’s a fair question. Although L’Arche has participated in Senate hearings, signed onto the Vulnerable Persons Standard, and participated in many provincial meetings, we were rarely present at national inclusion meetings over recent decades. When you aren’t present, people form their own opinions about what your absence means.

As hard as it’s been to hear the tough questions, it’s also been deeply affirming for Lori and others to hear a different response: “We’re glad you’re here.” Many of these leaders have been inspired by the message of Jean Vanier rooted in sharing life with persons with intellectual disabilities and welcoming their gifts and abilities. Some have witnessed how this vision is lived – authentically if imperfectly – in L’Arche communities in Canada and around the world.

They are calling L’Arche to come to the table, to help ensure that the voices and experiences of persons with a wide range of intellectual disabilities can be heard – voices and experiences of people often left behind even by the inclusion movement. And we are being called to share what we’re learning about sharing life in inclusive communities where their gifts are named, developed, and contributed for their wellbeing and the common good.

Engaging with Partners for Inclusion

These questions and calls could only be named because L’Arche Canada has been showing up in recent years. Directed by our recent Mandates, L’Arche Canada leaders and community delegates have taken strides to engage with government and civil society leaders in the inclusion movement:

  • We have had delegates in Ottawa each December for the past three years to attend the People First and Canadian Association of Community Living (CACL) annual Policy Forums and the Minister’s reception for the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.
  • Several members of L’Arche across Canada participated in the process that led to the drafting of Bill C-81, the Accessible Canada Act. L’Arche Canada presented a paper to the process and met with Minister Qualtrough to share our concerns.
  • L’Arche Canada signed collective letters and added our own to the Minister and all Members of Parliament to support the Accessible Canada Act that recently became law.
  • L’Arche Canada was recognized by the federal government as a “national organization” and was approved for an SDPP-D grant “to improve the participation and integration of people with disabilities in all aspects of Canadian society with respect to social inclusion.”
  • We are participating in meetings regarding the implementation of the Accessible Canada Act and the CRPD in Canada and have signed letters of support for two projects being facilitated by partners funded by other Social Development partnership grants.

It is an important time for Canada and the world as governments and the accessibility and inclusion movement meet “to share challenges, explore opportunities, and work together to build momentum for an accessible and inclusive Canada” in light of the CRPD and the new Accessible Canada Act.

L’Arche Canada is developing our capacity to take our place. While L’Arche is not primarily an advocacy or policy development organization, we are finding our way to contribute to and learn with the inclusion movement that we have belonged to for over 50 years.

John Rietschlin, Jenn Power, Ian Pellerin, Tricia Scott, Lori Vaanholt, and Louis Pilotte at the People First and CACL Policy Forum.

What we’re learning with our partners

At both the National Disability Summit and Conference of State Parties, Lori was struck by a few key themes that we will need to address more fully within L’Arche if we are to contribute:

  • Intersectionality – discrimination against people with disabilities overlaps with discrimination because of gender, class, race, sexual orientation, age, religion, and beliefs.
  • People with disabilities must be the drivers of their own lives.
  • People with disabilities have social capital – networks of relationships and contributions to their communities – that needs to be celebrated and built on.
  • Storytelling is key – in both analyzing measures of the impact of programs and engaging the wider society in the fundamental importance of diversity and inclusion.

We are moving beyond the mantra of ‘nothing about us without us’ to ‘nothing without us, because everything is about us.’

Minister Qualtrough is calling for a new era of cooperation within the inclusion movement and across all sectors of Canadian society. In her address to the UN, she stated, “Canada is making fundamental shifts in two key ways.

  • First, we are framing our public policy discourse in human rights. By this I mean, the rights of full citizenship and the civic, political, and economic participation of our citizens with disabilities. We are moving beyond the practice of individual accommodation to address discrimination and are moving towards inclusion.
  • Second, we are moving beyond the mantra of ‘nothing about us without us’ to ‘nothing without us, because everything is about us.’ There is not one aspect of legal, political, social, or economic decision-making that does not impact our citizens with disabilities. Our new rallying cry recognizes this.”

Engaging in a movement

One of the key elements of a successful movement is small groups of highly engaged people. L’Arche knows about building relationships based on mutual respect, knowledge sharing, and collaboration – although we also recognize where these elements need to be strengthened within L’Arche in Canada.

The same is true when we ‘go out’ to engage with partners for belonging and inclusion in Canadian society. Here are some of the awesome people Lori met at the UN conference:

(Above) Lori Vaanholt, L’Arche Canada with Diane Kreuger, Independent Living Canada, Frank Folino, Canadian Association of the Deaf, Dr. Susan Hardie, Eviance, and Kory Earle, People First of Canada. It was Susan who invited Lori to attend the UN session.

Robert Martin (right), from New Zealand, sits on the United Nations Committee to monitor the CRPD, the first person with an intellectual disability to sit on a UN Committee and to chair a session at the UN. “The work is not done yet, far from it. I'm committed to making sure people with learning disabilities have the same rights as all other people.”

Hannah MacLellan (left), a youth representative from Canada, delivered a message on the importance of language surrounding disabilities. "I have discovered the importance of descriptive language. Whether it's writing policies, speaking to others, maybe even thinking about yourself. Words are important and shape the way we see the world.”

Where are we going from here?

L’Arche in Canada is called to “Claim our place in society and help build a more human Canadian society where everyone belongs” through growth and innovation, marketing and communications, and by building “dynamic partnerships with all levels of government and with other organizations to promote the contributions of people with intellectual disabilities…”

We are building a strategic plan and developing an impact measurement framework, yet the core of our mandate is a vision and 50 years experience of a world where everyone is valued and belongs. This is the path that Jean Vanier set for us and that we are invited to follow as we carry L’Arche into the future.

With persons with intellectual disabilities as co-leaders and co-learners, we are convinced that L’Arche has something important to contribute and much to learn as we find our way in the movement for belonging and inclusion.

Lori Vaanholt, L’Arche Canada’s Director of Strategic Development and Innovation, has been a member of L’Arche for 30 years living in several communities. She is the former Community Leader of L’Arche Hamilton, Assistants Coordinator at Daybreak, and Growth Coordinator for L’Arche Canada.


Nomination of Jeff Gilbreath as Ontario Regional Leader

The Mandate and Selection Committee for the Ontario Region, chaired by Jenn Power, is at the end of its mission. The committee unanimously recommended the appointment of Jeff Gilbreath as Regional Leader for the next 4 years, a recommendation that I confirmed, and that Jeff enthusiastically accepted.

Announcement - L'Arche North Bay

L’Arche Canada acknowledges with sadness that the L’Arche North Bay Board of Directors has determined that the current state of L’Arche North Bay is unsustainable and not viable into the future. As a result of this decision, the Board has resolved to cease operations and dissolve the corporation.

Presenting Michael McDonald, new Communications Coordinator for L’Arche Canada

We are very pleased to announce that after a thorough search, interview and selection process, Michael McDonald has been hired as the Communications Coordinator for L’Arche Canada.

Bill C-81, the Accessible Canada Act, receives Royal Assent

The Accessible Canada Act is now law. The government and the disabilities community have lots to do together to make it effective.

Celebrate the Gift gathering

Celebrate the Gift, August 5-9, 2019, promises to be an amazing gathering to learn together, celebrate, and create friendships and community.

Jean Vanier Research Centre at King’s University College UWO

King’s University College at Western University has announced the creation of the new Jean Vanier Research Centre under the direction of our good friend, Dr Pamela Cushing.

Announcing a major investment in L’Arche Canada

The Social Development Partnerships Program – Disability Issues – Grant

Program on the abuse of religious women in the Church airs in Canada

L’Arche Canada reiterates our deep compassion for the victims of abuse and our commitment to a zero-tolerance policy on sexual harassment and abuse.

L’Arche Greater Vancouver launches ‘We All Belong’ campaign

The $30 million project to build a fully-accessible, three-story building is the organization’s most ambitious dream in its 45-year history.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities visits Canada

Ms Devandas Aguilar was invited by the Government of Canada and visited 5 cities across Canada looking at themes related to the articles of the CRPD.

Jordan Hart introduces “L’Arche Sundays” to his 100-day busking challenge

“I have never learned how to love more purely and profoundly than through people with intellectual disabilities.”

Dr Pamela Cushing, friend of L’Arche, to receive Tanis Doe Award

This award honours an individual who dares to “speak the unspeakable” in advancing the study and culture of disability, and who has enriched through research, teaching, or activism the lives of Canadians with disabilities.

Accidental Friends: Stories from My Life in Community

This book by Beth Porter, long-time member of L’Arche Daybreak, will be available soon in North America.

Families in Canada Conference 2019

The Vanier Institute of the Family held the Families in Canada Conference 2019, gathering leaders to deepen understanding of family diversity, expedite research to practise and enhance family well-being.

Commemorating the 10th Anniversary of the Closure of the Institutions in Ontario

Flying to Freedom was presented by institutional survivors, People First of Ontario, the Council of Community Living Ontario, Community Living Ontario, the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre, and L’Arche Toronto.

Zoom Media produces the official video for the Quebec week of intellectual disabilities 2019

It was Zoom Media’s inclusive team that prepared the content, filmed the video clip and edited it, accompanied by the Approprimage team.

Conference on love and inclusion

L’Arche Agapè will host a public conference on inclusion at the Université du Québec en Outaouais on March 21, 2019.

Federal Budget continues Ready, Willing, and Able Across Canada

“This investment allows RWA to continue working toward the vision of an inclusive and effective labour market with an employment rate for people with intellectual disabilities and ASD on par with the national average.”

Québec Recruitment Campaign

New recruitment video online!

BROKEN: Institutions, Families, and the Construction Intellectual Disability

A new book by Madeline Burghardt, long-time member and former assistant of L’Arche Toronto and L’Arche Daybreak.

Mon Ami Gil returns!

Following the success of Mon Ami Gil in the spring of 2018, a new series of short videos will delve more deeply into the story of Gil Frois – how he came to be the man he is today, sharing his life and gifts within L’Arche Agapè in Gatineau, QC, and in the other places where he belongs in the wider community.

Michael McDonald Speaking Tour

In four L’Arche communities in Alberta and Saskatchewan in the next two weeks

Bringing the VPS into 2019

From the Vulnerable Persons Secretariat

L’Arche Tova Café in the News

L’Arche Tova Café is featured in a review of 27 cafes that are social purpose businesses employing persons with disabilities across Canada.

L’Arche Beloeil becomes L’Arche Montérégie

On December 10, L’Arche Beloeil announced that it was becoming L’Arche Montérégie. The choice to make this big change was made to educate people across the region about their cause.

Measuring the Impact of Federal Legislation to Promote Inclusion

On December 3, the International Day of Person with Disabilities, L’Arche Canada participated in the 9th annual Federal Policy Forum on Inclusion hosted by the Canadian Association of Community Living and People First of Canada.

Canada accedes to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Accession to the Optional Protocol means that Canadians will have additional recourse to make a complaint to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, if they believe their rights under the Convention have been violated.

I Believe in You

“This book brings something new and surprising (...) I hope each reader can discover in a new way what it means to be human.” – Jean Vanier, from the foreword

Accessible Canada Act passed third reading

L’Arche Canada has joined the Federal Accessibility Legislation Alliance (FALA) and supports its recommended changes.

Le Sacrement de la Tendresse (the Sacrament of Tenderness) a new film about Jean Vanier

One of the film’s assets is the enthusiasm of the director, whose strength of conviction is real.

Letter from Jean, October 2018

“90 years old! My God, I can scarcely believe it. I have such a desire to shout out my thanks!”

Louis Pilotte, new National Leader

“From my very first days in L’Arche, I was convinced that I was living an experience that was part of a project for society, part of a vision of the world.”

New Community Leaders in Saint John and Wolfville

… and celebrating Homefires Community Leader Ingrid Blais

Second Reading for Accessible Canada Act

The Accessible Canada Act (ACA) legislation to ensure a barrier-free Canada

L’Arche Canada Foundation’s Fall 2018 Impact Bulletin

Top Story: Support for L’Arche Lithuania

Canada’s Medical Assistance in Dying Regulations Fall Short

September 6, 2018 – L’Arche Canada supports the Canadian Association for Community Living (CACL) and the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD) in urging the federal government to strengthen the system of monitoring Medical Assistance in Dying.

A new Community Leader for L’Arche Daybreak

L’Arche Canada and the Board of Directors present Trish Glennon, as the new Community Leader for L’Arche Daybreak

L’Arche Saskatoon’s 10th Anniversary video is amazing!

To celebrate their first ten years, L’Arche Saskatoon produced a wonderful 8-min video on “What is community?”

Third Interim Report on Medical Assistance in Dying in Canada

The Government of Canada has released the third Interim Report on Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD) in Canada (July 1 to December 31, 2017)

Minister Duncan introduces the proposed Accessible Canada Act

June 20, 2018 – This historic legislation would enable the Government of Canada to take a proactive approach to end systemic discrimination of people with disabilities.

L’Arche Canada Newsletter Summer 2018

“Community is built as we become interdependent, humbly recognizing and welcoming our need of one another.”

Letter from Jean, May 2018

“Every day, I take a walk in my little garden, with my eyes looking down because I have to be careful where I walk: this means I notice the primroses.”

L’Arche Canada Foundation’s Spring 2018 Impact Bulletin

Top Story: L’Arche Toronto’s Trying It On For Size (TIFS) project for young people with intellectual disabilities

Summer in the Forest is coming to Canada

“Summer in the Forest is an extraordinarily tender documentary that asks what it means to be human. Here, even the most gentle scenes raise mighty questions.” (New York Times)

The Courage to Listen and Speak Out

As part of the campaign on fundamental values, the L’Arche Canada communications team recently published an online, illustrated account of a person who has lived through abuse. In very simple words, the account expresses a universal reality, the truth that not being heard is a source of immense suffering.

Jean Vanier Interview on CNN

Christiane Amanpour interviews Jean Vanier following the release of Summer in the Forest

First Nations – The Courage to Meet Face to Face

At L’Arche, we are all experimenting with what it means to find “the courage to truly meet difference.” We are on this journey whether we’re encountering a new person, or group, or any culture other than our own.

“Nineteen Paper Cranes”, a Film in Homage to the victims of Sagamihara, Japan

L’Arche International is launching the 9th film in its #AsIAm web series, filmed at L’Arche in Japan, in homage to the 19 victims of the Sagamihara massacre.

Growing as we Learn: The L’Arche Canada Growth Initiative

“A learning organization is an organization skilled at creating, acquiring, and transferring knowledge, and at modifying its behavior to reflect new knowledge and insights.” – Harvard Business Review

Leadership Spring Trainings take off

The L’Arche Canada leadership development has entered a major new phase. After years introducing a model based on the core values of L’Arche and tools for reviews and team building, a comprehensive formation and training program – through over 100 online training modules – is being delivered across the country.

Communicating the Work of Outreach and Communications

It has been a challenging year of transition in the L’Arche Canada Outreach and Communications team and its work. As we move forward, new initiatives and new partnerships are emerging that promise increased impact in this important work.

Contributing Our Voices

On February 8, members of L’Arche attended an “in person” session of the accessibility consultation, as several L’Arche folk from other communities had done in their cities.

Meeting with the Minister

On April 6, 2017, representatives of L’Arche Canada met with the Hon. Qualtrough, Minister of Sports and Persons with Disabilities, to share our hopes and concerns – and express our gratitude and support – for new federal, accessibility legislation.

Revelations of Abuse in Trosly, France

In a letter dated March 24, 2015, the Leaders of L’Arche International informed the communities of L’Arche around the world of the results of a canonical (Church) inquiry into accounts of sexual abuse by Père Thomas Philippe who was involved in the beginnings of the first community of L’Arche in Trosly. (Père Thomas died in 1993 so there was no trial.)

Love at Second Sight

AboutFace, an organization providing supports to individuals with facial differences and their families, as well as public awareness and education to increase understanding and acceptance, recently hosted the Toronto premiere of this powerful film that transforms attitudes about appearance and encourages students to accept themselves and others. It’s about difference and belonging, judgment and inclusion.

What does an Accessible Canada mean to you?

The Government of Canada has launched a consultation process that will be open until February 2017. Canadians are encouraged to participate in the consultation by visiting:

L’Arche Canada response to Bill C-14’s

In response to the Supreme Court’s ruling on Physician-Assisted Dying, and as the Federal Government works on drafting legislation on this issue, L’Arche in Canada has re-committed itself to providing the best possible supports for the people with intellectual disabilities in our communities, both in life and as they approach death.

Jean Vanier: Logician of the Heart

An excellent new book on Jean Vanier by Michael W. Higgins is available from Novalis.