Lord must deal with Autism crisis

As published on page A7 on July 18, 2003
Provincial Family and Community Services Minister Tony Huntjens said if he finds evidence showing an autistic man shouldn’t be in a Saint John psychiatric facility, he’ll have him removed.Huntjens said yesterday that he couldn’t comment extensively on the Waleed Arif case because it’s currently before the Human Rights Commission and a judicial review. He said he also needs to gather more information on the situation.

However, this morning he’s slated to visit Centracare, the mental health facility where Arif has been since March 2002, and interview its staff about the situation and any alternatives.

“I’ve already made some recommendations which I can’t talk about right now until I talk to the people at Centracare, but I certainly would be willing to say we’re trying to do the best we can first with the resources, and with the particular client,” Huntjens said.

Moncton North MLA Mike Murphy has called Waleed’s tenure at the facility “incarceration.”

“I find it unfathomable why they have allowed Waleed Arif to essentially die slowly for a year and a half at Centracare,” Murphy, Liberal critic for Family and Community Services, said in a recent interview.

He said he’s planning a news conference on Monday at Centracare to lobby for appropriate treatment for Waleed.

Waleed’s parents, Muhammad and Nusrat Arif of Fredericton, allege the province failed to provide appropriate services for Waleed, their 21-year-old autistic son. They claim that’s discrimination based on his mental disability.

In June they filed a human rights complaint against the New Brunswick government for placing their autistic son in Centracare.

The Arifs have also filed for a judicial review of Family and Community Services former minister Joan MacAlpine’s decision to place their son at Centracare.

The case is scheduled to be heard in the Court of Queen’s Bench in Fredericton on July 28.

After a special-care home said it could no longer care for their son, the Community Services Department placed him in an open ward at Centracare in March 2002.

The young man’s doctor, psychologist and psychiatrist all warned that moving him from a special-care home to an institution would make his behaviour worse and put him in danger.

The Arifs allege that his condition has steadily deteriorated, including a loss of language skills and an increase in obsessive-compulsive behaviour. They say he no longer recognizes his brother.

None of the allegations in the Arifs’ written complaint have been proven. Meanwhile, in its written response, the department has stated that the complaint is without merit.

In October 2001, the special-care home advised the department it could no longer care for Waleed because of his alleged violent and unpredictable behaviour.

Dear Editor: Bernard Lord, my 21-year-old autistic son will be graduating from high school in June.

He presently resides in a setting outside the home and receives great care. Because my wife and I have serious health problems and his condition is severe, we could not cope with him at home.

Under Lord’s government, when Chris leaves high school he will not have the program he requires because of lack in funding.

His present program has ended with his graduation. With little to do, he will become increasingly difficult.

My present employment is in a government sector threatened with privatization and my funds are very limited.

As his condition is severe and his cognitive skills limited I am speaking out for Chris.

Autism is a lifelong disability and doesn’t stop at age 21. Oh dear, Mr. Lord.

Michael P. Doherty Fredericton

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