If you’re reading this sentence, count yourself lucky.
Three out of every 10 Canadians probably can’t.
And Rock Brisson was one of those people.
In 2003, the 50-year-old painter and handyman was considering suicide.
The reason: his inability to read prevented him from functioning within society.
His illiteracy forced him from school at an early age. He couldn’t find work. He ended up on the streets.
Eventually, he landed a welding job that didn’t require tickets.
That kept him going for 27 years.
Brisson carved out a life, backstopped by his wife who took care of the paperwork.
But then he sniffed a solvent while on a jobsite — he couldn’t read the label. The accident burned his stomach and lungs.
And when his marriage fell apart, the middle-aged guy started to founder.
“No one can handle someone who doesn’t know anything,” he said (see story on page 60.)
He moved to the Yukon, and, through literacy programs offered here, learned to read.
Others may not be so lucky.
On the day it put $13.2 billion towards the deficit, Stephen Harper’s Conservative government cut $1 billion in social programs.
Among that larger cut, $17 million was shaved off literacy programs.
It’s a strange decision from a government with so much wealth.
And it will have an effect on local agencies that teach people to read.
Yukon Learn will have to rely on more volunteers. But, with the Canada Winter Games fast approaching, volunteers are hard to come by and, following the Games, many will be tuckered out.
And l’Association franco-yukonnaise can no longer afford teachers to help people read.
Ottawa insists it is simply dismantling the system to build a better one.
But that seems like a bigger waste of money.
Fixing existing programs is usually less expensive than starting from scratch.
And, in the rebuilding, people will lack the programs that are teaching them to read.
As Brisson’s case suggests, a long wait can provoke a sense of hopelessness.
And who knows where hopelessness will lead. (RM)