Will help families, McGuinty promises


UPDATED AT 7:02 AM EST Thursday, Dec. 11, 2003

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty has promised that his government will help families with autistic children, despite the fact it is in court fighting parents seeking extended treatment for their children.

“I think we have a responsibility to help them,” the Premier told reporters at Queen’s Park yesterday. “We are determined to sit down with the families and find innovative solutions.”

He said the Liberals are continuing to fight the court case, which was initiated under the former Progressive Conservative government, because of the point of law involved and the issue of the extent to which the courts can order governments to provide social programs.

“The best advice I have gotten from the Attorney-General is that there is something larger at stake here in terms of mandating governments to proceed with certain kinds of expenditures. That’s why we’re in court,” Mr. McGuinty said.

In the legislature he said: “What the parents are asking the courts to do is to force the government to make certain kinds of expenditures. That has far-reaching effects beyond this particular issue.”

While Mr. McGuinty talked of larger issues, the immediate focus of the court case is the fact that the government does not provide funds for children over age 5 to participate in a program that has proven successful in enhancing the ability of autistic children to function in school and society.

There are about 500 children benefiting from the program while another 1,000 are waiting to get into it and will likely turn 6 before they qualify. Further, an estimated 2,000 have passed age 6 and will never benefit from the program if the government holds to its present policy.

Prior to the election, Mr. McGuinty promised to change the policy to extend the program to children over 5. But the government is still in court fighting a group of parents who argue that it is a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to deprive the older children of the program.

Ontario’s action is similar to a fight being waged by the British Columbia government, which has gone to the Supreme Court of Canada to appeal a court order that it must fund autism treatment for several families.

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