Toronto Activists

Toronto Activists

Mad Activism in Toronto began in the 1970s. Inspired by a visit to the MPA in Vancouver, Don Weitz established the Ontario Mental Patients Association (soon renamed On Our Own) in 1977. On Our Own would survive 20 years, operating a drop-in and a store called The Mad Market, and stimulating the publication of the well-known anti-psychiatry magazine called Phoenix Rising: the Voice of the Psychiatrized. Active in Parkdale in the same period with PARC and the publication of The Cuckoo’s Nest, writer/ activist Pat Capponi then moved east to the Gerstein Centre, where she led the Leadership Facilitation Program, an innovative training and empowerment program for people with mental health histories.

In the early 1990s a grant from a new Ministry of Health program called the Consumer Survivor Development Initiative funded the short-lived Ontario Psychiatric Survivors Alliance (OPSA) and helped establish several new activist and advocacy organizations in the city: Toronto Psychiatric Survivors, The Consumer Survivor Information Resource Centre, Job Quest, Breakaway Survivors and Friends and Advocates. OPSA also inspired the birth of survivor-run organizations all over the province. Some important Toronto survivor employment initiatives date from this period including the Consumer Survivor Business Council (now Working for Change), AWAY Express and Fresh Start Cleaning and Maintenance. In 1993 the West End Survivors organized the first Psychiatric Survivor Pride Day, which has continued as a yearly event.

Many of the activists featured Toronto Activists, a 15-minute video by Lily Ross-Millard, were leaders in the important work sketched out above.  The oral histories that are the basis of the video were compiled in 2009 by Megan Davies and Willie Willis and can be found in the archives of Madness Canada Resources.