World Autism Awareness Day

By: The Hon. Jim Munson

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Majors Hill Park, Ottawa

Hon. Jim Munson: Honourable senators, I’m dedicating this statement today to a young man whose name is Gavin. Gavin is 9 years old, and Gavin is the grandson of Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard.

Honourable senators, April 2 is World Autism Awareness Day. It is law in this country. It is my honour and privilege to speak in celebration of World Autism Awareness Day for the last time in this chamber and nine years after it was passed into law.

Like so many others many years ago, I didn’t really have an understanding in 2003 when I first arrived on the Hill as a senator. That changed when I stopped to have a chat with a parent petitioning at the Centennial Flame on his lunch hour. He was desperate for supports to help his son living with autism. Those conversations lit a spark in me, and I knew I had to use my position to help.

What a long way we have come as a society in our acceptance, understanding and action supporting families with autism. But there is always more to do.

Honourable senators, this Senate should be proud of the role it played in that advancement, beginning with my inquiry in this chamber followed by an impactful groundbreaking study completed by our Science, Technology and Social Affairs Committee, then chaired by Senators Keon and Eggleton. The study heard from witnesses living with autism, neurological experts, doctors and social advocates. Pay now or pay later: autism families in crisis gave a voice to the autism community, and that title came from a person with Asperger’s who appeared before our committee. He said, “Well, senators, you’re going to have to pay now or pay later.” Later certainly has come, and it’s still a catalyst and it’s still referenced today in the autism community, which has grown as one voice in what the autism community needs.

By this time, I was well attached to the autism community. I didn’t want our work to lose momentum, so I introduced An Act respecting World Autism Awareness Day, for the first of five times, in 2008. It wasn’t passed into law until 2012, but I know it was all about the journey.

The long process allowed me to advocate to MPs and senators, gaining allies for the autism community — policy makers who remain allies today and see the importance and need for a national autism strategy in this country, an approach which combines resources and levels the playing field for families living with autism in Canada. Today, the government is working on a national autism strategy. There will be one, and all parties support it.

In closing, honourable senators, we have an obligation to represent minorities, and in doing so we can make a positive impact on the lives of Canadians. Colleagues, please never give up on these pursuits no matter how long they take. I wish everyone a happy World Autism Awareness Day on April 2. I am grateful to everyone who helped me along this journey. And Gavin, this is for you.

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