Eight families cut off of “court-ordered” autism services last month after receiving them for more than 15 years are suing Premier Doug Ford’s government, the Star has learned.
They served the province Friday with a notice of intent to sue “for breach of contract, negligence, and breach of Charter rights.” It will be formally filed in court on Monday.
In an 18-page letter to the premier and Social Services Minister Todd Smith, lawyers Scott Hutchison and Mary Eberts note that on Aug. 6 “your government severed funding to our clients, which they had been receiving for over 15 years.”
Those long-standing payments of about $1.7 million annually were the result of previous litigation with Queen’s Park and have appeared as a line item in the province’s budget, which was $163.4 billion this year.
“This funding had enabled our clients to create and maintain a set of supports and services that kept their adult children with autism safe and secure,” the lawyers wrote.
Previous governments “promised that the funding would not end until a co-ordinated transition to other services had been made, in a way that provided alternative services with which the families were satisfied.”
But because there has never been a transition to other services for the families, the money continued to flow from 2004 until the government changed its tune this year.
“There was never an age limit on the court-ordered funding and it was not part of the Ontario Autism Program nor any other program or initiative of the government addressed to the needs of those with developmental disabilities,” the lawyers continued.
“Assessments of these adult children note that they require at least one-to-one supports, most around the clock and throughout the year,” they wrote.
“This is because of the severity of their conditions and the serious risks they face if they lack such skilled and consistent support, including self-harm, harm from others of surrounding circumstances (for example running into traffic or onto live subway lines), and harm to others.”
Suzanne van Bommel, who is speaking for the eight families and their 11 grown children, said they are “collateral damage” in provincial changes to funding for autism services.
“These are the original autism warriors,” said van Bommel, noting the families’ long-time activism led to government funding of behavioural therapy for children with autism in Ontario.
“Their lives are unwinding,” she said, adding the government clearly did not consider the fallout.
“It’s a line item on the books and it’s an easy cut.”
Van Bommel stressed “these parents are not litigants, they are parents.”
“They are people who work and are doing their best to take care of their kids. They are not looking for a court battle. They are looking for decency. They are looking for accountability and honesty,” she said.
The Progressive Conservatives, who were criticized for a botched revamp of autism services last February, have since doubled annual spending for the 40,000 families affected to $600 million.
But problems persist and further reforms are expected to be in place by next spring.
A spokesperson for Smith said the government could not comment because the case could soon be before the courts.
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“It would be inappropriate to comment further as this matter may be the subject of litigation,” said Christine Wood.
“Our government is committed to providing a needs-based, sustainable autism program that supports as many children as possible,” said Wood.
“That is why we are investing a record $600 million into the Ontario Autism Program.”