World Autism Awareness Day

Honourable senators, today is World Autism Awareness Day, a day recognized by 192 members of the United Nations.

A number of senators joined us in the West Block yesterday as we brought groups working on behalf of autistic people together with parliamentarians and their staff, and it was a good day. These groups had been working separately, but now they are united as the Canadian ASD Alliance. Our goal yesterday was to raise awareness and create links between decision makers and the people working hard every day on behalf of people with autism.

Today, the Minister of Health announced that Canada recognizes World Autism Awareness Day. That is an important step and I am happy she took it; but there is no force of law behind this declaration.

My bill, S-210, now before the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, which has been endorsed by Senators Keon and Oliver, includes in its preamble two very important points. First, it states that Canada has no national strategy for autism; and, second, it reminds us that Canada is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

These elements of the bill, so important to the groups who were with us yesterday, are fundamental to improving the lives of people with autism in Canada. Without a national strategy, efforts to address this disorder will remain disparate and ad hoc. Without recognizing the rights of people with autism, we fail to show them respect.

As I have already said here, recognizing April 2 as World Autism Awareness Day will not cure autism. It will not guarantee that children who need treatment, those who wait far too long for care and therapy, will get what they need. It will not provide financial assistance to families who are breaking the bank to pay for these treatments themselves.

I hope that honourable senators will continue to support my bill by making S-210 law. We are expressing compassion, caring and respect. We are saying to people with autism, “We will take action and we want to include you.” This shows what Canadian values are.