“Families like mine should not have to subsidize health care and education for their disabled children. This is a fundamental human rights issue. I am a proud Canadian, but this story does not align with our national values and this troubles me profoundly.”
The above quote was taken from the question Carly Sutherland posed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last night at the Townhall he hosted in Sackville, Nova Scotia.
Many of you might have heard Carly’s name and are now aware of her story. Over the last month, she’s made national headlines telling the story of her nine year old son Callum who is on the Autism Spectrum. Callum was hospitalized for weeks at the IWK’s Garron Centre due to severe aggression and mental health concerns. The Garron Centre was not equipped to support or treat Callum, unfortunately, this Province had no other avenues for Carly and her family to turn. Since Carly went public – we have heard from more families in similar situations across Nova Scotia.
To be clear, addressing these concerns and making sure children and adults on the Autism Spectrum receive the resources and supports they need and deserve is up to Premier McNeil and his government. That’s not debatable. What’s also not debatable is that they are failing in this regard.
There are a vast number of complex issues pertaining to Autism. These include early intervention, education supports, co-occurring mental health conditions, transition to employment and housing. The inability to effectively address these complex issues isn’t unique to Nova Scotia. Type in Autism in Canada on Google and you’ll get story after story of individuals and families in crisis across this Country.
Ten years ago, the Senate Report, “Pay Now or Pay Later” was introduced. Their top recommendation was for the federal government to proceed with the development and execution of a National Autism Strategy.
Guess what, folks? It’s ten years later, and governments across Canada are still paying. Families like the Sutherlands are still paying.
Last year, the Canadian Autism Partnership (CAP) Project, led by the Canadian Autism Spectrum Disorders Alliance, consulted with over 5,000 Canadians including representatives from every single province and territory. Overwhelmingly, those consulted wanted the federal government to proceed with a national model that would result in better outcomes for Autistic individuals and their families. CAP was supported by both the federal NDP and the Conservative Party of Canada, but voted down by Justin Trudeau’s Liberals.
It’s interesting to ponder how Speaker of the House, the Hon. Geoff Regan would have voted if his position allowed. After all, back when he was campaigning for votes in 2015 he told Allison Garber, member of the Board of Autism Nova Scotia and parent of a child on the Autism Spectrum, that he was a “long time supporter” of a National Autism Strategy.
When Allison pressed the Speaker on where PM Justin Trudeau stood on the issue, well, that apparently was a no-brainer.
Last night, the answer was different.
There was no commitment to a National Strategy. There was talk about research, about advocacy, about surveillance.
There was no commitment to provide provinces and territories with federal leadership on these exceptionally complex issues.
Even our Premier acknowledged that a Strategy would provide helpful guidance to this Province and others.
I question why our Premier isn’t taking a more aggressive stance on this issue. Carly Sutherland has shown exceptional courage in taking the story of her little boy in crisis public. In tears, she broke down in front of a crowd of people at Province House stating, “I started out telling you that our Callum is a nine year old little boy, and he’s scared. We’re scared. We need help, and we are at the point where I’m sitting in front of strangers begging you to share our story. Because I know we are not alone in this nightmare.”
Here in Nova Scotia, we have the second largest Autism organization in Canada – second only to Ontario. We have a national champion in Cynthia Carroll, executive director of Autism Nova Scotia. Premier McNeil, and the Liberal Members of Parliament throughout Nova Scotia, have a wide-open opportunity to show some gumption and call for federal leadership.
Last night, Prime Minister Trudeau ended his answer to Carly Sutherland by saying, “I look forward to continuing to work with groups and families like yours across the country to give you the kind of support you need, and you can have, to ensure that Callum has a great future and opportunities, while giving you the proper respite as well.”
I hope that is true.
Callum, and kids like Callum, deserve to feel safe, supported, loved and respected. It’s on all of us to make sure that happens. And yes, Prime Minister Trudeau and Premier McNeil, that means you too.