Families rally for a National Autism Strategy

and in support of Motion M-172 and Bills C-211 & C-304

Ottawa, ON – On Wednesday, November 22nd families of children with autism will gather on Parliament Hill to mark the second anniversary of the profoundly mis-guided and eye-opening Supreme Court of Canada ruling in the Auton case. They will call upon the federal government to develop a National Autism Strategy. At 12:30pm there will be a press conference in the Charles Lynch Press Room, to be followed by a rally in front of the Centre Block beginning at 1:00pm.

“Children with autism, like all others, deserve the chance to be the best they can be. The non-response to date by our federal government, first Liberal and now Conservative, to the epidemic of autism plaguing Canadian children and their families is morally shameful and economically nonsensical”, says Jean Lewis, a board member of F.E.A.T. – B.C. and an Auton litigant, who will be speaking at the press conference.

Two years after the court’s decision denying children with autism their right to be included in Medicare for their core health treatment needs, the federal government remains inactive in the face of a staggering and unprecedented autism epidemic. According to the Atlanta-based Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as of today, one in every 166 North American children is being diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. While our federal government inexplicably refuses to address the shameful reality that Canadian children with autism are excluded in every province from Medicare for their physician-prescribed, medically necessary treatment, the U.S. Senate recently passed, unanimously, the “Combating Autism” Bill, legislation that will pour hundreds of millions of dollars into autism-related health care, education and research.

Families of children with autism are calling upon the federal government to at long last demonstrate health care leadership by developing a National Autism Strategy that:
1) expands Medicare to cover treatment for every child diagnosed with autism;
2) ensures no child waits more than two weeks for a diagnosis; and
3) creates graduate level university programs for autism treatment professionals so
Canadians will not have to relocate to the U.S. for essential training.

“The myopic political class and blinkered bureaucracy in our country is diminishing the lives of children with autism, as well as those of their families, and is costing every Canadian the loss of opportunity that a totally unnecessary constraint imposes on the potential of autistic children”, states Dr. Sabrina Freeman, executive director of F.E.A.T. – B.C. and mother of a child with autism.

Parents of children with autism urge federal MPs and Senators to support Private Members’ Motion M-172 and Private Members’ Bills C-211 and C-304 that would create a National Autism Strategy. We thank MPs Andy Scott and Peter Stoffer for their leadership in this battle on behalf of some of Canada’s most vulnerable citizens. The motion and the proposed legislation is a long overdue start but will mean nothing unless and until these words result in substantive action and soon.

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For more information, contact:
Sam Yassine (Ottawa) H: (613) 841-3886
Jean Lewis (Vancouver) H: (604) 925-4401; Cell : (604) 290-5737



· Autism is one of five Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) described under the diagnostic category of Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD) in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV).

· Autism is a neurological disorder that results in a developmental disability and affects the victim’s ability to communicate and socially interact. It also affects their behaviour, which is often repetitive and limited to routines. Autism changes the way the brain processes information and can affect all aspects of a person’s development.

· Autism is the most common neurological disorder, affecting children and approximately 1 in every 166 children born in Canada will be diagnosed with an ASD.

· The cause and cure of autism are not known. However, since the 1980s, the medical community has known that the application of Intensive Behaviour Intervention (IBI) therapy treatment based on the principles of Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) can result in as many as 48% of children receiving this treatment losing their diagnosis while the remainder make great progress towards becoming independent.

· No province in Canada offers IBI/ABA autism treatment under Medicare. Some provinces offer half-baked programs under their Departments of Social Services as if autism was merely a social problem rather than a medical condition.

· A number of families initiated a lawsuit in British Columbia in 1998, seeking a court order stating that not providing publicly funded, medically necessary autism treatment constitutes discrimination and a violation of the Charter’s section 15 equality provisions. At the BC Supreme Court the families won and the government was ordered to pay for autism treatment. The NDP government at the time, with Ujjal Dosanjh as Attorney-General, appealed the decision. At the BC Court of Appeal the families won again. However, this time, the Liberal government appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC). The SCC heard the Auton appeal on June 8, 2004. The provincial governments across Canada and the federal government each intervened against the children with autism. On November 19, 2004, the SCC issued its unanimous decision in which it overturned the BC courts and stated that it was not discrimination to not provide autism treatment in Medicare because it was not prescribed in any health-related statute. This decision was a tremendous blow to the autism community across Canada and demonstrates the severe weakness of the equality provision of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as the limitation of the concept of “universality” of Medicare – health care for everyone — that is supposed to be the foundation of the Canada Health Act.

· On December 22, 2004, an Ipsos-Reid public opinion poll revealed that 84% of Canadians support the extension of Medicare to cover autism treatment.

· A national autism treatment petition calling on the federal government to amend the Canada Health Act to include autism treatment in Medicare has been tabled in the Canadian Parliament over 85 times since the Auton decision and Canadians across the country continue to access the petition at www.CanadaAutism.com and to forward signed copies to their MPs.

· Provincial governments continue to treat autism as something that can be ignored. During the 2003 provincial election in Ontario, the then leader of the opposition, Dalton McGuinty, wrote a letter to a mother of an autistic child promising to remove the age six cut-off from treatment under the Ontario Preschool Autism Program, which he called discriminatory. Not only did Premier McGuinty not fulfill his election promise, he kept litigating the ongoing Deskin/Wynberg case. The Ontario Superior Court issued a decision on Friday, April 1, 2005, stating that the age six cut-off was discriminatory and ordered the government to provide treatment beyond age six. Immediately afterwards the McGuinty government appealed the decision. On July 7, 2006 the Ontario Court of Appeal followed in the SCC’s footsteps and further gutted the Charter’s by deciding that an age-based cut-off from autism treatment was not discriminatory. Regrettably, autism does not cease on a child’s sixth birthday.

· The autism community is calling on the federal government to develop a National Autism Strategy to deal with the current crisis. The federal government should demonstrate leadership and use its ownership of the Canada Health Act, its budget surplus, its history of precedents and negotiated health accords, etc… to negotiate with the provinces the inclusion of autism treatment in Medicare from coast to coast.

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