Sam Kuhn and the Fight for Children with Autism

The Green Party Candidate in Westmount-Saint-Louis Hopes to Spark Change

Sam Kuhn and his son Charlie. Graphic Nadine Abdellatif

What else could have propelled Sam Kuhn, former military, proud socialist-anarchist and reluctant politician to run in provincial elections twice, except the very own anger of a father?

In this article, a GoFundMe page is mentioned. This page was created before Charlie transitioned, and therefore contains his deadname and misgenders him. Charlie, Sam Kuhn’s son, is a boy.

Charlie, Kuhn’s 11 years-old autistic son, was kicked off the waitlist for publicly-funded speech therapy when he turned five. Quebec offers up to 20 hours of free weekly intensive behavioural intervention to children with autism under the age of five. However, waiting lists are at least one-year long, according to the non-profit organization Autisme Montréal.

In Charlie's case, his father had to attract media attention and set up an online crowdfunding campaign to pay for a year of private therapy. The full-time caregiver received a total of 87 donations.

"It is a matter of [socio-economic] class. When I got my $5,000, I had a choice of literally 15 speech therapists," the low-income father pointed out. He believes that the Liberals' austerity measures instituted under Philippe Couillard’s government are responsible for the lack of access to therapy.

"If you want to help your kids, you have to embarrass the government," explained the father of four children. Three of them have special needs. 

Kuhn protested in front of the liberal Minister for Rehabilitation, Youth Protection and Public Health Lucie Charlebois' Montreal office for two months in the winter of 2018. He was joined by Alex Tyrrell, leader of the  Green Party of Quebec, who released a support video. "I felt loyalty," Kuhn said. He subsequently became the Green Party’s candidate in the wealthy riding of Westmount-Saint-Louis for the 2018 and 2022 provincial elections.

“It is important that you stand up and speak the truth.” — Sam Kuhn

The polls predict that Jennifer Maccarone, the liberal candidate, will be re-elected. She inherited the riding from former President of the National Assembly Jacques Chagnon, a liberal who represented Westmount-Saint-Louis for over 33 years.

Even if Kuhn believes that he has no chance to storm this liberal stronghold, the father of four is using the elections as a tribune to voice his ideas. "It is important that you stand up and speak the truth," Kuhn said.

This is why Kuhn participated in an environmental debate on Sept. 20 at the Saint-Jax Centre in downtown Montreal. The candidate recalled Charlie's story and held the Liberal Party accountable.

When asked about her thoughts after the debate, Jennifer Maccarone said she does not understand Sam Kuhn's anger, but is ready to sit, talk and have a "more democratic" dialogue with him.

"Mr. Kuhn's remarks are very personal and not necessarily linked to the Liberal Party's platform," Maccarone said. She is a mother of two children living with autism and believes that labour shortage is the root cause of failures to support them. "This is everyone's responsibility," Maccarone added.

The liberal candidate proposes to valorize professions in this field and to raise wages. In its platform, the Liberal Party of Quebec promises to create a secretariat for persons living with a handicap or on the autism spectrum. Families will also receive a $500 credit tax to "cover costs associated with academic success," such as speech therapy.

"That would give Charlie four sessions. That is ridiculous," Kuhn said in response.

It might be “too late” for Charlie, as his father believes. Nonetheless, Kuhn still wants to keep fighting for future generations. He already envisions running for the 2026 provincial elections under the colours of the Green Party. 

"[Electors from Westmount-Saint-Louis] can yell at me, mock me and laugh. I don't care," he said.