By Charlie Senack, Barrhaven Independent
A group of Autism parents protesting outside Lisa MacLeod’s campaign office Sunday say police were called when they wouldn’t leave.
MacLeod, the Nepean Progresive Conservative candidate who is looking for a sixth term in office, launched her campaign over the weekend, with a group of 20 to 30 protesters there to greet her. After almost four years in office, they say the Ford government hasn’t done enough to clear the backlog of autistic children on waitlists for programming.
Nepean resident Scott Corbett, who was at Sunday’s protest, said he was there to remind the Ford government that Autism parents still expect solutions.
“Things have not been fixed and here we are at the end of their term trying to run again, and we were there to let them know that they haven’t fixed the mess they started to begin with,” he said.
Under the Ford government’s first year in office, MacLeod served as the minister in charge of children, community, and social services, which included the autism portfolio. But after receiving much public backlash from the file, a cabinet shuffle was done with MacLeod becoming the minister in charge of tourism, culture, and sport.
Before the Ford government came into power in June 2018, one of Corbett’s sons was already enrolled in an autism program, his other son just getting his name on the waitlist a year prior.
In February 2019 it was announced sweeping changes would come to the Ontario autism program which aimed to clear long wait lists while re-distributing funds. The news brought optimism to parents, but then it never happened.
The news of changes caused panic for parents of autistic children, who were worried that programming and funding would stop, leaving them further behind. It sparked protests outside MacLeod’s then Fallowfield road constituency office, and on the front lawn of Queens Park in Toronto.
“We thought our son’s intensive therapy was going to end, and we ended up pulling him out of school to focus on the therapy,” said Corbett. “Due to the intense amount of pressure that was going on, they ended up extending the kids who were in therapy so he was able to continue, but it took months and months to figure out if he was going to still get support.”
Now five years since his other son went on the waitlist, Corbett says his name still hasn’t come up. He’s hoping it will only be another six months.
Corbett says parents shouldn’t need to wait this long for their children to access support, and that’s why protests have continued in Nepean three years after MacLeod was in charge of that portfolio.
Many cars gave honks of support as they were driving down Cedarview Road near Kennevale, and the protesters remained peaceful. That’s why Corbett says they were surprised when four police cruisers arrived.
“Several police officers came by, they were asking us if we were ok and checking things out,” he said. “They said there is nothing we were doing that is wrong, and said we have every right to walk up into the plaza with our signs. Here are moms and dads with their children, protesting with their signs, and the four police officers showed up to do what? The MacLeod campaign really overreacted. There was nothing threatening or intimidating going on. I don’t know if they were trying to intimidate us and get us to go away, but we have every right to be there and will continue to be there.”
The Barrhaven Independent reached out to the MacLeod campaign to find out why police were called, but did not hear back.
During her speech on Sunday, the Nepean Progresive Conservative candidate said while she believes everyone has the right to protest peacefully, she won’t stand up for threatening and intimidating behaviour.
“I will always stand up for peaceful protests, but what I will not stand up for, what my daughter will not stand up for, and what I know none of you will stand up for, is the four years of harassment, intimidation, and death threats that some people decided I should live with,” MacLeod chanted. “And again today trying to take my voice from me, trying to take your voices from you. Peaceful protests, yes. Intimidation and harassment to try and drive someone out of office is never ok.”
MacLeod has previously said that during her last four years in office, she’s received repeated death threats and other forms of harassment from people, which at times required the provincial cabinet minister to have security detail.
The parents at Sunday’s autism protest say they weren’t there to do any harm and just want to get their message across. With the next month being in full campaign mode, they intend to be there regularly to protest peacefully and lawfully, while sharing their concerns and discontent.
“A lot of promises have been made and not one of those promises have been met,” said Corbett. “In 2019 after there were mass protests over the changes they were going to put in place, (the government) said it would be fixed by 2020. In 2020 the said it was going to be 2021. Now here we are, it’s 2022, they are saying the program is starting to be rolled out in June and July of this year… There’s very little for us to believe that is actually going to take place.”