Ontario Autism Program: Controversial Residential Institution to Lead Workshops for Parents of Autistic Children

  cw: physical abuse in a residential institution

The Ontario Government has enlisted a residential institution facing accusations of human rights violations (including one recent conviction of a staffer for attempted murder) to lead its “Mental Health Training” workshops to providers and parents of autistic children. Under the new Ontario Autism Plan, the government plans to offer 15 in-person training sessions by the provincially-operated Child and Parent Resource Institute (CPRI), to parents and educators “to increase understanding of children on the autism spectrum and co-occurring mental health challenges”.

We are asking the government to reverse this decision and divest itself from CPRI. Institutions like it have no place in a progressive society. For information on how you raise awareness about this, please see the bottom of this post.

Background into CPRI
The Child Parent Research Institute is the subject of a class action by former residents from 1963-2011, charging that many residents were harmed at CPRI and that the Ontario government, who administered the CPRI, did not protect them. According to the CBC, one complainant in the case states that he was repeatedly called “worthless” by CPRI staff and witnessed “the repeated and continuous abuse and punishment of residents by CPRI staff and other residents.” The lawsuit alleges that the Province was negligent in “its control of CPRI, resulting in physical, sexual, and emotional abuse of residents, as well as other harms.”

There have also been criminal cases. A CPRI staff member was sentenced six years ago to 20 years in prison for attempted murder for beating a 12-year old child at the CPRI, leaving him with permanent brain injuries requiring round-the-clock care. After the child was dropped off at the centre following a weekend at home with family, the staffer (Greg Simard) “took him into the woods and beat, kicked and stomped on him. When he thought the boy was dead, he left him there.” Following his arrest, Simard called the child “a drain on society”.

Located at 600 Sanitarium Road in London, Ontario, the CPRI’s former name was the Child Psychiatric Research Institution. Although it has a new name, it remains a large-scale residential institution for persons with developmental disabilities and currently houses up to 60 youth. The original sanitarium building ( opened in 1910 for inpatients and now used for outpatient business) is surrounded by 5 residential housing units where youth are kept overnight.

CPRI and the Proposed Parent Training
It shocked us to learn that the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services had launched a parent training program led by CPRI, and that the government press release stated the decision came out of recommendations by the government’s autism advisory panel.

We cannot understand why the advisory panel would approve the training of parents and professionals by an institution like CPRI, a relic of the large residential institution era. CPRI is a Schedule 1 Facility, like the Huronia, Rideau and Southwestern Regional Centres, also residential institutions for developmentally disabled individuals which have been the subject of class actions for systemic human rights abuses (see the Clegg v. Ontario class action for citations to actions).  In 2013, the Ontario government settled a class-action suit with former residents of Huronia Regional Centre in Orillia with terms including $35 million and a formal apology. Other settlements have followed.

It is our view that the CPRI – which is the subject of litigation alleging decades of human rights abuses on its premises – should not be presenting educational information to parents about how to manage their autistic children’s mental health through a government autism program. The government’s decision to engage in education through the CPRI should be cancelled.

Action Needed
We are requesting that every member of the Implementation Working Group, especially its leader, Ann Huot, call for the immediate cancellation of the CPRI contract to teach parents and providers about autism and mental health.

Also, the government and former members of the Ontario Autism Advisory Panel must explain what measures of due diligence were undertaken before the decision was made to engage CPRI, and to agree to review best practices for vetting these decisions within future community advisory panels.

We hope that the government will reverse the decision and ultimately divest itself from CPRI, a vestige of Ontario’s old residential institution system which has no place in a modern, progressive Ontario.

Ontario’s large residential institutions for the developmentally disabled were a mistake: that is why the government moved to closed them down in the 1990s and early 2000s. However, some institutions such as CPRI re-branded and marketed themselves as “short term” residential settings. We agree with other disability advocates that there is simply no way to re-brand residential institutions for developmentally disabled people. They should just be closed down.

What You Can Do
If you are a parent, please do not support the initiative. For low-cost, informative and up-to-date education about raising autistic kids to be happy and healthy, we recommend the Foundations for Divergent Minds online education modules. They are inclusive and interactive, with sessions for teachers and other caregivers too.

Please write to your MPP to express your concerns. Find your MPP’s contact info here.

For Media
To learn more about the history and current issues of abuse in residential institutions in Ontario, please contact us.

More Information for Survivors
For information about the current class action, please visit this link.