© Paul Hutchings
Deer Lake resident Donna Giles hugs her 14-year-old son Cody, who has autism.
DEER LAKE Families with autistic children in western Newfoundland are angered by a letter sent last weekend to an eastern Ontario family. The letter suggested the family’s autistic child either be relocated or euthanized.
The letter was received by a family in Newcastle, near Oshawa, from an anonymous source, and has made national and international news. The one-page letter informs the family that their child “scares the hell out of normal children” because “that noise he makes when he is outside is dreadful.”
The writer follows those remarks with several insults before closing the letter, which is riddled with grammar and spelling errors, by telling the family to “do the right thing and move or euthanize him, either way we are all better off.” The author signs the letter, “One pissed off mother.”
Upon reading the letter, Donna Giles of Deer Lake said she was incensed. Her 14-year-old son, Cody, has autism and Giles said she and families like hers know all too well what children like Cody can face from people outside the home.
“You’d think people would be a little more knowledgeable about this, but you’d be surprised at how many people there are in the community that still don’t understand,” she said.
“Maybe the person who wrote that could just ask the parents some questions and become informed about the reason the child behaves this way.”
The letter has been making the rounds through social media like Facebook and Twitter, and has made the news in some American publications, as well as newspapers and websites across Canada.
Giles recalled a time at a park with her son and hearing a stranger say, “That kid shouldn’t be here.” Another time, at a store in Corner Brook, she and her husband heard a comment from a total stranger that Cody deserved to be “smacked on the ass” for his behavior.
“We turned to him and told him that Cody has autism. The guy seemed really embarrassed and I had to smile (at his embarrassment),” she said. “Everyone deserves an equal chance. I tell people that if they didn’t have a voice, they’d want someone to speak for them.”
As Cody got older, Giles said she learned to be more comfortable speaking out.
Janet Butt of Reidville said she also has no problem speaking out when it comes to her five-year-old grandson, Maverick, who also has autism.
Butt was so upset about the anonymous Ontario letter writer she was in tears when she started answering questions when contacted by The Western Star.
She said anyone who thinks the hateful behaviour can only be found outside this province needs to think again.
“We’ve had it here in town when we’ve taken Maverick out to his favourite restaurant,” she said. “The restaurant staff is always good to us, but we’ve had customers who have asked us if maybe we shouldn’t be somewhere else.
“So we don’t leave anymore. We’re staying.”
Contemplating the euthanasia comment at the end of the letter, Butt said she had trouble finding the words to describe how she was feeling.
“They’re saying to throw a child out like an old pair of socks. They’d have more concern for recyclables than for a human being — can you imagine?” she said through tears.
“How do they give themselves permission that it’s OK to put that to ink? Do they use those same hands to hug their children?”
Butt said it comes down to people being afraid of what they don’t understand, even in the case of a child who has no control over his actions or behaviour. She said she was interested in meeting the person who wrote the Ontario letter to try and understand why someone would write something so hateful.
Tuesday, the Crown Attorney’s Office in Ontario found that the letter fell below the threshold for a hate crime, but the local police are reportedly considering whether the letter violates other Criminal Code sections.
The letter-writer had not come forward as of press time. The letter is online and can be found through a simple search.