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Canada Ontario government denies freezing wait list for autism treatment despite e-mails showing a ‘pause’

Lisa MacLeod, Ontario's Minister of Children, Community and Social Services speaks with the media in Ottawa on Aug. 13, 2018. MacLeod is denying reports that she ordered services for those on an autism waiting list to be frozen, despite e-mails that show the provincial government told service providers last fall to “pause” making calls to families.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Ontario Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod is denying reports that she ordered services for those on an autism waiting list to be frozen, despite e-mails that show the provincial government told service providers last fall to “pause” making calls to families.

As the controversy surrounding the Progressive Conservative government’s changes to the autism program deepens, the social-services ministry said Monday that it instructed autism therapy providers last fall to only bring on new clients who had received previous service commitments.

The confirmation by the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services was made after news reports quoted internal e-mails from autism service providers that asked for calls to families to be “paused" until the new autism program was announced.

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“You are only bringing new clients into evidence-based behavioural service from those families to whom previous service commitments have been made,” the government told service providers in the fall.

Ms. MacLeod said the direction doesn’t amount to a freezing of the waiting list, calling such suggestions “erroneous" and fighting back against opposition demands for her resignation.

“We’ve never indicated that there would be a freeze. But we only have so much money,” Ms. MacLeod said Monday, adding that the program was bankrupt when her government came to power last year.

"The whole motivation behind this plan is to clear the wait list of 23,000 children in the next 18 months.”

Kerry’s Place, one of the province’s largest autism service providers, declined to comment on any directive that was provided by the government, but it did confirm the authenticity of e-mails that have been circulating on social media.

“This e-mail is in regards to our recent directive from the ministry to pause making calls to families regarding [services]," reads one e-mail sent in October, 2018.

“These messages are confidential and are not to be shared out publicly.”

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Ms. MacLeod has been on the defensive since she announced her government’s new autism program earlier this month. The changes take effect April 1 and will mean families receive a set amount of funding based on age and income.

NDP MPP Monique Taylor, who was ejected from the legislature on Monday over her language protesting against the government’s program, said Ms. MacLeod needs to come clean about what happened.

“We clearly know that she has lied," Ms. Taylor said.

Kally Flewitt, who lives in Whitby, Ont., said she received a call last February from a service provider saying that her son would be receiving government funding for intensive therapy in the fall, and would be removed from the waiting list.

But when Ms. Flewitt called in October, after hearing from other families that people weren’t necessarily being removed from the list, she was told by a manager that children were just moving through at a slower pace.

“We were totally deceived,” said Ms. Flewitt after learning about the controversy surrounding the waiting list.

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