Chris Stark and Marie Laporte-Stark – A Legacy of Activism

Marie Laporte Stark, Ottawa ON, April 2016

Marie Laporte-Stark, 2016

“As long as you can see it, I have a right to know about it.”

So were the words of Chris Stark on a sunny afternoon in late April 2016 as he expressed his arguments for a more accessible Canadian society. This principle and others held dearly by Chris and Marie Laporte-Stark were forged over decades of activism, long before their involvement with the development of the talking ATM in the 1990s.

In 1969, Chris Stark, alongside other young graduates from the Halifax School for the Blind in Nova Scotia, formed a group that would formalize into the Blind Rights Action Movement (BRAM).[1] BRAM, largely inspired by the Civil Rights Movement that was also erupting at the time, “had the effect of developing a social conscience among its members,” Stark has written.[2] Although relatively short-lived, the organization represented a much larger and significant shift in terms of their approach and conviction that accessibility was not a matter of charity, but of fundamental human rights.[3] This change in perspective would not be embraced by everyone, however, leading to growing tensions between older institutions and emergent organizations that would soon follow BRAM, including the Blind Organization of Ontario with Self-Help Tactics (BOOST) and later, the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians (AEBC).[4] 

Chris Stark would go on from BRAM in the spring of 1973 to take a position with the CNIB, after which he would move on to work with the New Brunswick Bicentennial Commission, and then to Ottawa in 1984 with the Canadian Department of Transportation. During his impressive career with the federal government, Stark strived to create more accessible airports and terminals, directed studies evaluating the need for regulatory legislative amendments, developed policy for energy use and laboured to improve accessible transportation for persons with disabilities and seniors across the country.[5] He retired in 2009 after becoming ill, yet his activism continues until this day as a board member of the Broadcasting Accessibility Fund.[6]

Marie Laporte-Stark’s first act of advocacy was for herself as a student at L’Institut Nazareth in 1960s Montreal. Rather than learn piano, she convinced the school administrators and her parents that she should learn touch-typing instead. At the time, Laporte-Stark’s request was viewed as novel. As she explains, 

“… in the early 60s, girls who were blind were expected to stay at home or in institutions, play the piano or organ and sing in the church choir. But after school, I wanted to leave home, be independent and live on my own, and go to university to earn a degree, and eventually find employment.”[7]

 Laporte-Stark’s determination would eventually pay off, but not without surmounting several impediments placed in her way. Obtaining her first job as a rehabilitation teacher with the CNIB seemed relatively easy, she thought. In 1973, Laporte-Stark married Chris Stark and six years later left full-time work to raise a family. As a young mother, she found time to complete a Bachelor of Arts in psychology at the University of Ottawa, which she graduated from in 1982. Returning to the workforce in her mid-thirties, Laporte-Stark faced systemic discrimination. She nevertheless persisted and was finally hired in 1986 by the not-for-profit organization Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind. A year later in 1987, she obtained employment with the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, a position that served as the beginning to a long career with the federal service. Even here, however, Laporte-Stark had to convince upper management to provide her with reasonable accommodation so that she could perform her duties effectively.[8] Over the next two decades, Laporte-Stark moved on to work with various different departments, including Human Resources Development Canada, Citizen and Immigration Canada and finally with the Employment Equity Career Development Office of the Public Service Commission of Canada. As a senior advisor, she researched and helped develop policy for creating more viable and equitable employment standards in Canada. After 25 years with the federal government, Laporte-Stark retired in 2012.[9]

 



[1] Chris Stark, Blind-Sided: Experiences from Behind the Glass Eye: My Life and Times at the Halifax School for the Blind (Ottawa, ON: Chris Stark, 2015), 42-58.

[2] Ibid., 47.

[3] David Greenfield, “Organizations that Tried: Predecessors of the AEBC,” Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians (2011), http://www.blindcanadians.ca/publications/cbm/32/organizations-tried-predecessors-aebc

[4] Ibid.; Euclid Herie, Journey to Independence: Blindness ~ The Canadian Story (Toronto: The Dundurn Group, 2005), 168-169.

[5] Chris Stark, 2003 Resume, Stark’s private collection, Ottawa, ON. Many thanks to Chris and Marie Stark for providing our project with this document and many others to complete this exhibit. 

[6] Board of Directors and Staff, Broadcasting Accessibility Fund / Fonds Pour L’Accessibilité de la Radiodiffusion, http://www.baf-far.ca/en/board-directors-and-staff

[7] Marie Laporte-Stark, “If you don’t succeed at first, try and try again,” Getting and Keeping a Job – What Makes a Difference, Canadian Council of Canadians with Disabilities, 2013. http://www.ccdonline.ca/en/socialpolicy/employment/Getting#If%20you%20don't

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid. Marie Laporte-Stark, Curriculum Vitae, 2012, Stark’s private collection, Ottawa, ON.