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Autism families angered by income level to qualify for maximum funding





Allison Jones, The Canadian Press

Published Tuesday, February 19, 2019 2:50PM EST

Last Updated Tuesday, February 19, 2019 4:50PM EST

TORONTO — Advocates and families of children with autism angered by a revamped government program that reduces funding for therapy say new information about who can qualify for that money sets a “ridiculous bar.”

The new autism program gives families up to $140,000 to pay for treatment — a maximum available only to the lowest income families whose child is in treatment from ages two to 18. The funding is also subject to annual caps of $20,000 a year until a child turns six, and $5,000 a year after that to age 18.

The government confirmed Tuesday that only families with an adjusted annual net family income of under $55,000 will be eligible for those full amounts, with funding determined on a sliding scale up to a maximum of a $250,000 income.

But families say intensive therapy can cost up to $80,000 per year.

Michelle Costa has been paying out of pocket for therapy for her five-year-old son, who has been on the waiting list for nearly two years. The amount she will likely qualify for will pay for under two hours of therapy per week, she said.

“We paid privately always assuming that when our name came up on the wait list we would then receive the adequate funding,” Costa said. “It seems really likely that some families will qualify for almost nothing. For a double-income family or even a single-income family, $55,000 is a very low threshold to be able to pay for something that’s actually crucial to your child’s life.”

New Democrat Rima Berns-McGown raised Gaull’s story in question period Tuesday and Children, Community and Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod responded that the new plan will allow Gaull’s family to buy such technological aids. Gaull said since she will qualify for less than $5,000 a year, that won’t leave much money from an already small pot to pay for actual therapy.

“Who’s going to teach the children how to use the devices?” she said. “His therapists are teaching him how to communicate on his iPad program. His anxiety level has gone way down because he can tell us what he needs, what he wants.”

MacLeod has said that her goal with the new program is to clear a backlog of 23,000 children waiting for treatment, saying it’s unfair that only about 8,400 are currently receiving funded therapy. She said that the flow of kids coming off the wait list had slowed to a trickle, leading her to believe that if she didn’t make changes, they would stay on that list forever.

But many of those on the list say they’d rather wait for full funding.

The president of the Ontario Autism Coalition called $55,000 “a ridiculous bar,” saying MacLeod is clearing the wait list by giving thousands of families very low levels of support.

“The means the testing component of this program is particularly cruel,” said Laura Kirby-McIntosh. “As parents are starting to take a closer and closer look at the fine print on this plan they’re getting angrier and angrier.”

Parents are planning a protest at the legislature on March 7.

Michael Coteau, who was the minister in charge of the file when the former Liberal government unveiled a revamped program in response to protests in 2016 from families, said Tuesday that he is asking the integrity commissioner to investigate MacLeod warning a group of behaviour analysts of consequences if they didn’t support her new autism program.

“The minister should not be using her position of influence to push organizations, not-for-profit organizations, and stakeholders to support a plan they clearly do not support,” said the Liberal legislator.

MacLeod has apologized after the Ontario Association for Behaviour Analysis said she and her staff told them it would be “four long years” for the organization if they didn’t provide a positive quote to help promote the program.

She said Tuesday that she doesn’t remember making the remark, but she hasn’t denied it, either, and described the meeting in question as “tense.”

“I think probably the tone wasn’t probably the best, so I’ve apologized,” MacLeod said. “I don’t recall what I may or may not have said, so I just wanted to apologize so we can move on.”


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‘Too soon to celebrate’ Ottawa’s low case count, says Etches





Ottawa Public Health (OPH) logged just 11 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, the lowest daily total since Sept. 1.

Because of the lag between testing and reporting, the low number could simply reflect low turnout at the city’s testing sites on weekends — all month, new case counts have been lower on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. 

During a virtual news conference Tuesday, the city’s medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches said she doesn’t read too much into a single day’s report.

“I don’t think we can make too much of 11. Actually, it could be a lot higher tomorrow — I would expect that, on average,” she said. “It’s too soon to celebrate.”

Provincewide, public health officials reported 1, 249 new cases Tuesday.

OPH also declared 62 cases resolved Tuesday, lowering the number of known active cases in the city to 462. Two more people have died, both in care homes currently experiencing outbreaks, raising the city’s COVID-19 death toll to 361. 

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Santa Claus isn’t coming to Ottawa’s major malls this year





Santa Claus may still be coming to town this Christmas, but he won’t be dropping by any of Ottawa’s major malls, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Friday, Cadillac Fairview said Santa won’t be making an appearance at any of its 19 malls across Canada, including Rideau Centre in downtown Ottawa. On Tuesday, Bayshore and St. Laurent shopping centres confirmed they, too, are scrapping the annual tradition.

“Due to the evolution of the situation in regards to COVID-19, we have made the difficult decision to cancel our Santa Program and Gift Wrap Program this year,” Bayshore spokesperson Sara Macdonald wrote in an email to CBC.

Macdonald said parent company Ivanhoé Cambridge cancelled all holiday activities “due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases across the country.”

Macdonald said families that had already booked an appointment to visit Santa will receive an email with more information.  

Virtual visits with Santa

Rideau Centre said based on customer research and discussions with public health officials, its North Pole is going online this year.

“Children will be able to have a private chat with Santa,” said Craig Flannagan, vice-president of marketing for Cadillac Fairview. “You’ll also be able to join a 15-minute storytime with Santa over Facebook Live.” 

At Place d’Orléans Shopping Centre, visitors are invited to take a “selfie with Santa” — actually, a life-size cutout of Santa Pierre, the man who’s been playing Santa at the east end mall for years.

“We understand that this is not ideal, but in lieu of this tradition we will be doing what we can to maintain and encourage holiday cheer,” according to a statement on the mall’s Facebook page.

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Ottawa Bylaw breaks up two large parties in Ottawa over the weekend





OTTAWA — Ottawa Bylaw is investigating social gatherings of more than 10 people in private homes across Ottawa last weekend.

Mayor Jim Watson tells Newstalk 580 CFRA that Ottawa Bylaw broke-up two house parties over the weekend, with 20 to 25 people at each party.

“That’s the kind of stupidity that angers me, that’s where the bulk of the transmissions are taking place, if we exclude the tragedy of the long-term care homes; it’s these house parties with unrelated people,” said Watson on Newstalk 580 CFRA’s Ottawa at Work with Leslie Roberts.

“The message doesn’t seem to be getting through, particularly to some young people who think they’re invincible.”

In a statement to CTV News Ottawa, Bylaw and Regulatory Services Director Roger Chapman says, “There are still ongoing investigations from this past weekend that could result in charges.”

Chapman says recent investigations led to two charges being issued for social gatherings of more than 10 people in a private residence in contravention of the Reopening Ontario Act.

“In one case, up to 30 individuals were observed attending a house party in Ward 18 on Oct. 24,” said Chapman.

“The second charge was issued following a house party in Ward 16 on Oct. 31, where up to 16 individuals were observed to be in attendance.”

The fine is $880 for hosting an illegal gathering.

Alta Vista is Ward 18, while Ward 16 is River Ward.

Ottawa Bylaw has issued 24 charges for illegal gatherings since the start of the pandemic.

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