Shouts of “Come outside! Come outside! Come outside!” echoed throughout the chambers of Queen’s Park as protesters stood outside, hoping to get a glimpse of Premier Doug Ford. Homemade signs could be seen scattered across the front lawn with the words, “Doug Ford is a liar.”
Hundreds gathered from all over the province on March 7 at the Ontario legislature to protest recent cuts to the autism program by the Ford government. Some protesters brought friends, some brought family and many were seen alongside their children.
“Last year, Doug Ford said that we would never again have to be here on the lawn, in the cold, protesting,” said organizer and vice-president of the Ontario Autism Coalition, Laura Kirby-McIntosh.
Below is a video of the highlights from the protest.
On Feb. 6, the Ford government announced its decision to cut funding to the Ontario Autism Program, offering families instead a “childhood budget” they said will reduce waitlists and provide more access to a range of services. The amount of the budget will be based on each family’s annual income, but also the length of time a child is in the program.
Children under the age of six will receive up to $20,000 annually in direct funding, up to a lifetime maximum of $140,000, subject to a sliding scale based on parental income. Children six and over will receive up to $5,000 annually.
Parents who spoke to The Toronto Observer say this amount will not cover the amount of therapy they require.
“They want to give me $5,000 — that would cover a month of therapy for my daughter,” said one mother at the protest.
Families with incomes over $250,000 will not be eligible.
Minister of Children, Community and Social Services Lisa MacLeod told media earlier this week that she would not attend the event due to concerns for her safety involving a “credible threat.” The following day, an Ottawa woman was charged with criminal harassment and uttering threats against MacLeod.
Kirby-McIntosh welcomed 11 shuttle buses from all over Ontario. Some people left their homes in the middle of the night, traveling hours to participate in the protest and lend their support.
Guests heard from multiple speakers including president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, Harvey Bischof, Louis Busch, a behaviour analyst, and NDP MPP Monique Taylor, who gained media attention recently after being kicked out of question period, for stating the minister had lied to the province about the Ontario Autism Program.
Protesters heard from Kirby-McIntosh’s daughter, Clara, a member of the Ontario Autism Coalition and passionate activist who is also on the spectrum.
“I’m autistic and proud of it,” she said.
Kirby-McIntosh’s family has been demanding better education and treatment for children with autism since 2005. Kirby-McIntosh’s husband, Bruce McIntosh, is co-founder of the Ontario Autism Coalition and former legislative assistant for MPP Amy Fee. He quit his job on the same day the Ford government announced its changes to the Ontario Autism Program. McIntosh said he could not in good conscience stay in his position and “defend the indefensible.”
The Kirby-McIntosh family has spent years traveling and organizing events. They have been contributors in many charity events for the cause and said they won’t back down until they win this fight.
Said daughter Clara, “I stand here today because I want every child with autism in Ontario to get the support, resources and help they deserve. But I also stand here today, because I want my parents back.
“This fight has consumed my entire life.”