CHARLOTTETOWN — When the P.E.I. businessman arrived at the group home in Charlottetown to pick up his daughter, two RCMP officers were waiting for him.
He immediately assumed his daughter was dead.
“In those few seconds, I visualized a pile of bloody rags on the road, which was her body run over by a truck,” he says, his voice shaking.
The officers assured him the young woman was fine.
But his sense of relief fell away when the Mounties handcuffed him, saying she had accused him of sexually assaulting her.
It was Feb. 7, 2015. For the next six months, he and his wife were effectively prohibited from seeing their daughter as they were drawn into a bizarre legal nightmare that pitted them against police, the P.E.I. Health Department and the group home.
Independent psychological testing, later arranged by her family despite resistance from the province and group home, found she was incapable of making the allegations attributed to her.
The clinical psychologist who did the testing said it demonstrated that questions put to the woman were actually being answered by group home workers using a disputed method known as facilitated communication.
The father was never charged.
However, a judge later concluded the province’s Health Department and the group home acted in a “deplorable” manner by repeatedly ignoring the parents’ attempts to have their daughter’s communication skills independently assessed.
The case is an echo of a disturbing trend that first appeared in the early 1990s, when there was a string of cases of non-verbal people apparently using facilitated communication (FC) to accuse family members of sexual abuse.
A subsequent study of these cases, by London-based psychiatrist Elizabeth Starr, found that not one resulted in a conviction because it could not be shown that independent communication was taking place.
“In the meantime, families have faced stigma and humiliation, and have incurred enormous legal bills,” Starr wrote in 1994. “What began as a potential tool of empowerment and independence … has become a tool of devastating destruction when uncritically adopted.”
The woman’s parents, who are speaking out for the first time, say those responsible for their ordeal should be held accountable for their actions. More importantly, they say they want to make sure no other family suffers a similar fate.
Their daughter was diagnosed with autism when she was about three. By the time she entered junior high school, facilitated communication was among a long list of therapies they had tried.
First introduced to North America in the early 1990s, facilitated communication was initially hailed as a breakthrough for those unable to speak or write.
The technique involves an aide holding the user’s wrist, finger or arm as they point to letters or type on a keyboard. The theory behind FC is that the support calms and steadies the user, unlocking a previously hidden ability to communicate.
However, more than 40 scientific studies have shown that, in all but a handful of cases, facilitators unconsciously guided the hand of the FC user, says Eastern Michigan University Prof. James Todd, a longtime critic of the technique.
Despite widespread skepticism within the scientific community, supporters of FC say the method works.
The Institute on Communication and Inclusion at Syracuse University in Upstate New York — a leading force in the FC movement — says problems with FC are typically caused by failure to adhere to best practices.
“The goal is always a fading of that (physical) support toward independent access of a device,” says a statement from the institute last fall.
However, the woman in the P.E.I. case never graduated to that level. In 2001, she was using FC when she moved to a group home at the age of 21. At the time, the technique was used mainly for basic communication about meals and other simple choices, her father says.
In the last few years, the parents say, staff at Queens County Residential Services in Charlottetown told them their daughter’s FC sessions were getting longer, and she was expressing more complex thoughts and feelings.
In 2013, the parents say they started complaining about deteriorating conditions at the group home, and they say they started hearing reports that their daughter was making inappropriate sexual comments through FC.
In the fall of 2014, they say they were stunned when they were told their daughter had apparently used FC to say she wanted to have sex with a group home worker.
“I cautioned them about facilitation,” the mother said. “I said, ’Is there a problem? Could there be something going on?”’
They were told not to worry because the male staff member was married, she says.
Yes, a wedding ring is a magic shield that stops any and all sexual depredations and misconduct.
According to court documents, on Jan. 19, 2015, staff member Aaron Taylor submitted a report to his supervisor saying the woman had told him through FC that she was feeling tired and angry because her father had “kept her up playing with her vagina.”
Two other staff members signed another report confirming the allegations, also obtained through FC.
Two days later, staff member Jennifer Hendricken filed an internal report saying she used FC to determine the woman was biting her own hand and hitting herself because: “My dad touches my private parts and I don’t like it.”
Hendricken’s account, also part of the court file, alleges the woman had been assaulted nine times over a series of months during regular visits to her parents’ home.
Group home manager Barb Mullally filed a complaint with the RCMP the next day, and on Jan. 23, 2015, Const. Louanne McQuaid questioned the woman with the help of two facilitators — Hendricken and Maureen Mills.
During a videotaped interview, McQuaid was told that the 35-year-old woman was spelling out words on a small, laminated letter board that indicated her father had sexually abused her on a regular basis since she was 13.
In the video, the alleged victim rarely looks at her letter board as she moves around the room, her parents say. And some of the facilitated answers to basic, personal questions were wrong, including an answer to a question about the name of the family’s pet dog.
“She would do five taps and they would come out with a long sentence as to what she said,” her mother says. “We were horrified.”
The father was arrested after returning from a family vacation. During an interrogation that day, he denied abusing his daughter and insisted the allegations did not come from her, according to a police transcript.
“It’s about facilitation,” he told McQuaid, the RCMP’s lead investigator. “You are believing what you are hearing from a third party.”
Glad to see somebody in this Canuck clusterfuck knows what hearsay is.
The father was released on a promise to appear later in court to face a sexual assault charge and a charge of sexual exploitation of a disabled person. He signed an undertaking saying he would refrain from contacting his daughter or anyone under the age of 18.
As the investigation progressed, there were signs the Mounties may have had doubts about what they had heard through FC. An internal report dated Feb. 12, 2015 — five days after the arrest — says investigators wanted to conduct a second interview with the woman, this time with an impartial facilitator.
But that never happened.
Uh-oh, looks like some social worker got caught with their pseudoscience trousers down around their ankles again.
When a speech pathologist arrived at the RCMP detachment on March 13, 2015, the alleged victim was “unwilling to communicate,” McQuaid’s report says.
An RCMP spokeswoman said investigators sought advice from an expert, but Sgt. Leanne Butler declined to offer details, citing privacy concerns.
“We did everything we could as an investigative body,” she said. “It’s to the betterment of the investigation when we take our time.”
Between February and July of 2015, the woman’s mother made repeated attempts to visit her, but the province and the group home failed to co-operate, court records show.
“Imagine having a two-year-old and they’ve been kidnapped,” the father says. “That’s how we felt … For six months, we wondered, ’What the hell is really going on?”’
The parents decided that the only way they were going to see their daughter was to file a court application to become her legal guardian, citing reports from two family doctors who concluded she was not competent.
That’s when the province’s then-health minister intervened, exercising his role as head of the Adult Protection Program. Doug Currie issued an emergency intervention order, without explanation, stating there were grounds to believe the woman was at risk of serious harm.
The order, signed by Currie on April 28, 2015, gave the minister responsibility for the woman. A subsequent order banned the woman’s entire family from seeing her.
Dawn Frizzell, an adult protection worker, later filed an affidavit with the court saying the woman had indicated through FC that she did not want to take part in supervised visits with her mother at the group home.
“(She) told me, via her facilitated communication, that she was happy and was in support of the (minister’s) order,” Frizzell said, adding that the woman said she wanted to make decisions for herself.
Bureaucrats protecting other bureaucrats against peasants who dare to assert that they have rights. Take that down. It’s important.
The province repeatedly failed to respond to requests to have her skills put to the test, court records show.
Finally, on June 10, 2015, clinical psychologist Dr. Adrienne Perry — an expert on autism and developmental disabilities at York University in Toronto — conducted a series of tests to determine the woman’s abilities.
Images from a videotaped, 90-minute session clearly show how the woman rarely looked at her alphabet board when pointing to the letters. Perry estimated her eyes were focused elsewhere 90 per cent of the time.
More importantly, the psychologist found facilitator Jennifer Hendricken couldn’t help the woman answer the simplest of questions, unless Hendricken already knew the answers.
But somehow, using the mystical powers of “facilitated communications” she was able to tell a social worker that she wanted to get him off and that her father had been molesting her since she was 13. This was in no way some twisted fucking low-IQ “social work degree or flip burgers” asswipe getting their fucking jollies at the expense of a man (because men’s lives/reputations/sanity don’t matter).
At one point, the woman was shown a small figurine — a pink pony — while Hendricken was out of the room. When Hendricken returned, the woman was asked to use FC to describe what she had seen.
The first facilitated answer was: “I seen a picture of a ball.” Asked again, the answer was: “A picture of a kid.” After Hendricken was told it was actually a pony, the woman was asked to describe its colour. The facilitated answer? “Black.”
Other tests produced similar results.
“(She) is incapable of generating the communications that are being attributed to her. Furthermore, validity testing of FC used with (her) demonstrates that it is not (her) doing the communicating but that answers are being generated by the facilitator,” Perry concluded.
Reached by phone, Hendricken said she had been told not to talk about the case.
I think I can communicate this one without the aid of a facilitator:
You’re busted, bitch.
However, in an affidavit, Hendricken insisted the woman could independently communicate through FC — an opinion shared by three of her colleagues in similar affidavits.
“I do not point to the letters or symbols myself, rather (she) holds my hand and then she points herself to the letter or symbol with her index finger,” the affidavit says.
“I believe that (the woman) has the ability to facilitate on her own; however, she has not done so and I believe has grown accustomed to holding someone’s hand. I believe that people with autism generally … find the sensation of pressure to provide a level of control or stabilizes her hand.”
Bureaucrats are not motivated by serving the public or the common good or even a sense of morality; they protect their own asses and protect each other.
Despite those assertions, a Crown attorney filed a stay of proceedings in the father’s case on June 26, 2015. But it would be another month before Currie withdrew his protection order.
The parents were appointed guardians July 30, 2015, and reunited with their daughter two days later in the group home’s parking lot.
“They never showed any remorse for their disgusting behaviour and … (there’s) still no apology from anyone at (the group home) or government,” the father says.
The parents later sued the Health Department to recover some of their legal costs.
The parents’ lawyers argued that the health minister could not realistically claim he didn’t know that facilitated communication is, in their words, a “hoax.”
“Anyone with access to an Internet connection can determine in a matter of seconds that there is no more evidence to support the validity of FC than there is to show the Earth is flat,” their court brief says.
On March 9, 2016, Judge Nancy Key awarded the parents more than $61,000.
Sweet, sweet justice. Now if only pillorying were still a legal penalty, I would ask for the Minister and the social workers to give them a week each being exposed and heckled by the public. (Note: The pillory was the traditional punishment for perjury or subornation).
“The minister of health refused to carry out his statutorily mandated obligations to the detriment and great expense, both emotional and financial, of the … family,” Key’s decision says.
“Even a cursory review of the studies of facilitated communication would have alerted the minister of health to the very real possibility the communications of (the woman) were not her communications.”
The parents say their legal bills have exceeded $200,000.
“Most families would crumble, fall apart and be in a mental institution long before this,” the father says. “The sleeplessness, the anxiety and there’s a feeling that someone needs to be punished here … There were people who didn’t do their jobs, who were grossly negligent.”
His wife added: “Our objective is that we hope no other family ever has to go through this. There’s a danger that still lurks there.”
But they will, so long as the state regards the pseudoscientific, clinical psychiatry horseshit that social workers peddle to make themselves appear more respectable is accepted as sufficient proof of wrongdoing by fathers against which they must prove their innocence.