Exclusive: Monia Mazigh Responds To Omar Khadr Settlement

(Monia Mazigh Human Rights Advocate and Author Best Known For Her Advocacy of Her Husband Maher Arar Responds to Omar Khadr Settlement)

 

Mind Bending Politics sat down with Monia Mazigh this week to discuss the Omar Khadr settlement and her thoughts on the future of human rights in Canada.  Before that interview we wanted to recap what has taken place over a very polarized week in Canadian politics.

This past week we’ve seen a very polarized political atmosphere regarding the Trudeau government’s settlement of $10.5 million to ex-Guantanamo Bay detainee Omar Khadr. The settlement comes as the highest court in the land (The Supreme Court of Canada) landed 3 court decisions in Khardr’s favor stating over the past decade that his rights had been violated.  The federal conservatives lead by new leader Andrew Scheer, spearheaded opposition to the settlement, calling it disgusting and a slap in the face to those serving in military and to taxpayers.  The Trudeau Government for its part, have been very quiet on the issue, only issuing very brief statements rather than attacking the opposition to this settlement head on.

The lack of response from the Liberals has fueled a lot of anger by misinformed Canadians, and fear used by the conservatives to project far right wing reform party ideologies against our constitutional rights, and to wedge the issue for political gain.  We’ve seen this before 5 years ago with the conservatives, most notably from then conservative public safety minister Vic Toews comments that you either let government in on your internet communications, or you side with child pornographers.  That sparked intense backlash from Canadians who stood up for their civil rights to #tellviceverything (even from conservatives) which saw the eventual scrapping of the internet snooping legislation, and eventual withdraw from public life by Toews.  The same argument is being made by the conservatives again regarding Khadr.  If you support Khadr’s settlement, than you side with the terrorists and are against our Canadian armed forces.

The majority of media for its part has been happy to play along, rather than providing proper information and facts surrounding our constitutional rights, how they are enforced, and more importantly question the motives of those who are not putting out factual information towards the general public.  There is an excellent article from the National Observer regarding the media’s role in allowing misinformation, false facts, and baited fear to go unanswered.  To quote the article:

So many media outlets are telling you what you ought to think. But you deserve thoughtful analysis to make up your own mind on an issue as fraught as this one.

To that end we at Mind Bending Politics thought it would be a great idea to connect with Mazigh and get her thoughts over this past week to what has transpired. Here is that interview in full:

MBP: Ms. Mazigh thank you for taking the time to sit with us today. There has been a lot of talk about the government awarding Omar Khadr $10.5 million over the past week at various media outlets. Can you provide your initial thoughts on the Khadr settlement? Do you think justice has been served?

Mazigh: For years, as a human rights advocate and as someone who went through injustice with my entire family, I closely followed the case of Omar Khadr. I signed petitions for his return, wrote several articles about him, attended rallies and organized event for his lawyer to speak about the case. So when I recently heard that Omar Khadr reached a settlement with the government, I was very pleased and I felt that finally justice has been served for this citizen who has been imprisoned in the infamous Guantanamo prison when he was 15 years old for almost 10 years, who has been abused by Americans officials and by Canadian officials. Omar Khadr was never given the chance to due process. He was basically dehumanized through false claims, and became the target of legal vendetta by the previous Canadian government. He had to pay for the mistakes of his family and used as “scarecrow” for anyone who dares to criticize the war on terror or issue any doubt about its efficiency.

MBP: This issue regarding the Khadr settlement has been very polarizing for Canadians. Why do you think that is, and also do you think a lack of information regarding what rights are afforded to us under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and how they are upheld could also be contributing to that polarizing debate around the settlement?

Mazigh: Unfortunately, this polarization was influenced by political partisanship, by emotional reactivity and by some media outlet with political and social agenda. In some inflamed discussions, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was rarely considered and the facts were totally and deliberately ignored. Actually, rather than real facts, false claims or distorted facts took over and became the norm. We heard things like “Omar Khadr is a convicted terrorist”, “Omar Khadr was brought to court”, and “Omar Khadr killed a paramedic”. For years, those distorted facts were challenged explained around Khadr left some citizens feel cheated or betrayed by the government. Indeed, it is false to say that Omar Khadr is a convicted terrorist. He was brought in front of a military commission that was considered by many experts as “Kangaroo court”. This presumed “conviction” was nothing than a “sham”. People look at the US and think that it is the country of freedom and constitution so how possibly can we have a “sham” there? It is important to remember that Guantanamo is a military prison. In 2002, 779 prisons were flown from Afghanistan to Guantanamo. By 2011, 600 prisoners were released most of them with no charges. Today there are 41 detainees left and many of them are cleared to go home but still imprisoned.

The successive American administrations had hard time to convict these prisoners. There is a flagrant lack of evidence at the first place and a documented use of torture. Also, some people keep repeating “Omar Khadr killed a paramedic”. The sergeant was not acting as a medic when he was at the battlefild. He was tragically killed in the battle and there is no evidence that Omar Khadr killed him.

MBP: You were instrumental in bringing your husbands case forward to the Canadian government, and to us Canadians. I remember following his situation and eventual resolution for some time. Some Conservatives commentators have raised your husband’s payout when speaking on the Khadr settlement as legitimate because your husband was found innocent of any wrong doing, and are arguing that Khadr’s settlement isn’t legitimate because of a conviction by a US military tribunal. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has come out publicly supporting the Khadr settlement stating that “It’s a legal truism that a right without a remedy is no right at all”. I was just wondering if you would be willing to respond to the way the some are using the settlement your husband has received to delegitimize Khadr’s?

Mazigh: Unfortunately, once again, it is a political partisanship war. My husband, Maher Arar, was compensated under Stephen Harper government and the public announcement about the apology and compensation at that time was also demonized by some groups and individuals. My husband was called “ a terrorist” even after the settlement and up to today some people are resentful to his settlement. When, my husband was in a Syrian dungeon some conservative MPs, rose in the House of Commons and denounced the security laxness of Canada and praised the seriousness of the US administration after arresting a “terrorist”, my husband. People tend to forget and turn a blind eye on the stigma ones go through even after the settlement. People look at the dollar figure and forget that it is impossible to find a job when you were once labelled a terrorist, despite your numerous degrees and skills. Money won’t bring back your life, your name or your reputation.

Today, the individuals and groups attacking Omar Khadr, don’t think about his future, his career, his family, his children. It is the least of their worries. They are so angry that he received money, period. And by the way, that 10.5 millions settlement isn’t even exclusively for Omar Khadr. His lawyers are sharing it with him.

MBP: There was a recent poll done by Angus Reid, in which 71% of Canadians surveyed believed that the Trudeau Government did the wrong thing by paying Khadr money and that the courts should have decided whether his detention was illegal. Missing from this poll was anything regarding the actual reason why Khadr was paid out, and that’s the fact that the Supreme Court of Canada ruled 3 times that Khadr’s rights were violated. If you were part of a polling agency, what question would you ask to Canadians regarding the Khadr settlement?

Mazigh: The polls are dangerous for our democracy. I am not saying they shouldn’t exist but we can’t govern according to them. The rule of law isn’t a popularity contest. Actually, it can be the total opposite. Courageous governments around the world were always attacked and criticized for controversial decisions. Take issues like: abortion, same-sex marriage…The Supreme Court ruled on these issues and the government had no choice than to accept these decisions. In the case of Omar Khadr, it is the same situation. The Supreme Court ruled three times in his favour and today the Canadian government had no choice than to accept and reach a settlement. This decision will never make everyone happy and comfortable but this is why we live in a democracy. We constantly disagree but the Supreme Court is our ultimate test. Take the example of “banning the Niqab at the citizenship ceremony” in 2015. This political wedge issue was used by politicians to win votes. It literally divided voters across the political spectrum but the court ruled that Ms. Zunera Ishaq, the lady at the centre of the controversy, was allowed to keep her Niqab. Many Canadians disagreed and felt uncomfortable but today it is the past.

MBP: Do you think as a result of the polarized political environment in Canada that our constitutional rights as citizens could be at further risk of being infringed upon in the future? If so, could you explain what can be done to get accurate information regarding our constitutional rights out to Canadians at large, and what you would like to see politicians do to ensure that government respects the rights of all Canadians through successive governments?

Mazigh: I am afraid that this polarization we live through is complex and the result of multiple factors. It is not only a matter of getting the accurate information about our constitutional rights. People are becoming less and less trusting of political elites and more and more ready to accept any information that would reassure them in their beliefs, be it false. This polarized environment is exacerbated by a hard and precarious economic situation for many citizens. The monetary settlement received by Omar Khadr make many Canadians feel uncomfortable because many Canadians are being laid off their jobs, many young people are unemployed or have unpaid internship. So they feel cheated and left out by the government.

When, Canada decided to join the so-called “war on terror”, the politicians narrowed it down to a “national security” issue but in reality it is far beyond that. The so-called “war on terror” eroded our civil liberties and rights. They made us accept things like “it is OK to spy on us”, “it is OK to use torture to gain useful information”, “a terrorist doesn’t deserve due process”. On the other hand, people don’t see the increase in the military budget, the billion of dollars to buy military equipment and join wars and the cuts in the social services and in education. We need to have a public discussion on these issues but unfortunately; we are made to feel that we should join on side or the other. In reality, we will never enjoy security if we don’t accept that we have international obligations and rules to respect and that our population need to see the full picture and not just one citizen receiving 10.5 million dollars as if he won a lottery ticket.

MBP: What do you see as the greatest challenge to civil and human rights, now and in the future and Canada?

Mazigh: The greatest challenge to civil and human rights is fear. We think that this happen elsewhere and not in our backward. But it is a slippery slop. When people are afraid of losing their jobs, losing their identity, losing their comfort, losing their kids, they become irrational and they can accept fake news and they can even welcome totalitarianism. Civil and human rights were instituted after the Second World War after the humanity experienced the worst. After 9/11, some politicians are trying to play the fear card again. Guantanamo was justified through fear and a need for security. Military courts were justified by fear.

In Canada, we shipped citizens to torture and deprived them for their rights because we were afraid of them, of their beliefs and we collectively presumed they were dangerous to our security. Security became an illusion being sold by some politicians to obtain more votes. Meanwhile, our social programs are being cut and defunded, our economy still rely on non-renewable energy, the economical inequalities are increasing and the politicians are not offering any serious plans to tackle them.

MBP: What do you see as recent steps forward in advancing civil and human rights in Canada? What would you like to see happen, both nationally in Canada and internationally to advance civil and human rights?

Mazigh: Canada must live up to its international reputation. For centuries, Canada has let down its indigenous people. It is time to build new relationships based on respect and equality. We can’t have human rights for some, it is a recipe for social uprising. Last year, Canada announced its intent to finally ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture after ignoring it for years; I hope this matter would be expedited. This way, cases like Omar Khadr would be less likely to happen in the future. In Canada, we need to have more accountability when it comes to issues like policing and national security. There were new announcements by the federal government that are very promising but we have to remain vigilant as abuses are not only committed by individuals but also by institutions. Internationally, we should partner with other countries to advance human rights in other place of the world. We can’t be happy of what we are achieving in Canada, we live in a globalized word and abuses in other part of the world would eventually affect us. So we have to help alleviate oppression overseas and make our global impact as “lighter” as possible.

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The Conservatives Have No Right To Argue Against The Due Process Rights of Canadians

 

Due process is a right that ensures every Canadian citizen is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, and the ability to properly defend and question evidence before an independent court. It is a constitutional right.

There’s been a lot of anger regarding the Omar Khadr settlement, and a lot of it coming from the alt-right side of the political spectrum, even suggestions that the constitution should not apply to those who are terrorists.  Just think for a minute. If due process rights are suspended on suspected terrorists, who decides who’s a terrorists and based on what evidence? The Supreme Court of Canada has set rules regarding how much evidence is needed to convict someone of a terrorist offense.  If you throw the Charter of Rights and Freedoms of “suspected” terrorists out the window, then there are no such rules that apply.

If you speak out against government, does that make you a terrorist? Do opposition parties then become terrorists of the state? If you had an argument with your neighbor does he get to call in the authorities and have you arrested on terrorism charges? Does witchcraft, and questioning the christian bible make you a terrorist?  All of these are strong possibilities when due process rights are not actively administered. If there is no evidence threshold because there’s no rights guaranteed by the charter and upheld by the supreme court, than a simple thing like picking up your coffee mug different than you did the morning before could be enough to land you with a room mate named bubba.

In Khadr’s case it was the US government who decided Khadr was a terrorist and this was based on a coerced confession and evidence that even former crown prosecutors in Canada have confessed wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole, let alone be able to obtain any sort of conviction in a Canadian court.  There was no trial, and no court conviction.  The only conviction Khadr received was that through the court of public opinion as a result of due process not being awarded, and being tortured into confession. He’s getting paid $10.5 million to compensate for damages he has suffered as a result.  As far as I am concerned that number should be a lot higher.

I’m going to have a lot more on this in the next few days, and weeks but I wanted to weigh in, because the real tragedy in all of this, is that I feel almost ashamed to be Canadian.  Not because we paid Khadr $10.5 million but that we have allowed the alt-right to take control of the political messaging on this for a week (as a result of the Government not coming out ahead on this), all the while they have argued against our constitution, against our Canadian values, and are calling those that support our constitution and freedoms within it, supporters of terrorism.

I must say, that as a proud patriotic Canadian, the past few days I have kicked all of my friends who claim to be from the alt-right out of my circle, without any hesitation, some of which were close friends for decades and recently bought into this cult and started attacking me for supporting our constitution, and there will be no hesitation if I find more. After what I’ve heard this week, I have no sympathy for any movement or political party that has launched such an all out assault on our constitution, which is a lot more disgusting and treasonous to me as a Canadian than ensuring one of our own is compensated for a “witch hunt” that three consecutive governments (two Liberal and one Conservative) had a hand in.

 

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Parents Set To Protest New Autism Announcement

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

———–

June 14th, 2017

TORONTO – The parents of several autistic kids will be rallying at Minister Children and Youth Services Michael Coteau’s constituency office on Friday, June 16th, 2017 at 1:00pm. Parents are concerned that transitional services over the past year to the new Ontario Autism Program have not been equally distributed, leaving many children suffering.  Last week Coteau announced changes to the Ontario Autism Program, and that it will include a direct funding option (DFO).  Last June, the DFO option was only given to a few families on wait lists, leaving many children suffering without appropriate service options over the past year.  The announcement last week by Coteau did promise DFO to all families by the end of the year, however details on how that will be rolled out, and exactly when each family can expect that option remains unclear.

Jason Koblovsky, a parent of an autistic child has witnessed first-hand the suffering of his son as a result of the government not offering appropriate transitional services to a majority of families affected by Autism over the past year. “Quite simply, you cannot accommodate some with transitional support to the new Ontario Autism Program, and leave the rest of us hanging like this, which is what has happened over the past year.”  Koblovsky said. “There is nothing available for my son who has been waiting, and who has had an extremely rough year with behavioral issues. All I have been offered as transitional support are group “workshops” in which due to my family situation I can’t even get to.  My son needed the same access to ABA as those who have received DFO over the past year.  The decision last June to provide “some” families with appropriate transitional support and not all represents a major lack of understanding on what our kids go through on a day to day basis without support, and a lack of understanding on how wrong that decision was, which continues to this day by this government. My patience has run out.”

Another parent Angelina Palmisano had to also watch her son suffer as a result of the lack of appropriate supports stated: “For over a year I heard promises from the government. My child has not had any early intervention. EVER! But the government has now decided to accommodate a small demographic of children and leave out a large portion of children out.  The turmoil it has caused me watching my son struggle with behaviors that are severe, is unbelievable and the future scares me.”

Brenna Bloodworth who heads up the Alliance Against The Ontario Autism Program agrees: “Children still left waiting while Direct Funding continues for a minority. That’s not right.”

The rally to support children current suffering and in need of transitional support will get underway on Friday, June 16th, 2017 at 1:00pm.  Address 1200 Lawrence Ave East, Toronto.

More Info: https://www.facebook.com/events/418281901877395/

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Human Rights Appears To Be An Issue In New Ontario Autism Program

 

Minister of Children and Youth Services Micheal Coteau has been a champion of human rights especially in the black community and around racism, but when it comes to autistic kids it may be a different story.  Coteau made an announcement yesterday that was very short on detail regarding the roll out of the direct funding option for many Ontario families. I sent an e-mail to Micheal Nicin who is Coteau’s chief of staff today for further followup and clarification on several key issues relating to the transition over the past year, and providing unequal level of services to children and families.  E-mail is as follows:

Mr. Nicin,

Your ministry appears to be in violation of Section 1 of the Ontario Human Rights Code which states:

Services 

  1. Every person has a right to equal treatment with respect to services, goods and facilities, without discrimination because of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, marital status, family status or disability R.S.O. 1990, c. H.19, s. 1; 1999, c. 6, s. 28 (1); 2001, c. 32, s. 27 (1); 2005, c. 5, s. 32 (1); 2012, c. 7,

There was a lack of detail in the Ministers response yesterday, that further confirms the government is not acting within the law.

Last June, the government immediately implemented a direct funding option for 2,500 families.  I argue the government as a result has waived any legal argument under section 14 of the human rights code due to those services not being equally distributed to other families on the wait list at that time, nor any new adds on the wait list during this transition over the past year. The government also had a legal duty over the past year to accommodate those children on wait lists with equal access to services under the code as well, in which undue hardship would not apply since the Minister during his teleconference a few weeks ago stated to parents that there was money already in the system, and that “Money isn’t the problem.”  I also argue that if there was any question regarding capacity going forward that those 2,500 families shouldn’t have been given priority treatment over the past year while others have suffered as a result of not providing them with equal treatment in services (documented), in order to be within full compliance of the law.

Can you please explain to me what is being done to ensure that the Minister and his staff are properly following the law, and exactly what the details are with respect to the roll out of the direct funding option so that all families currently on wait list currently have that option in a reasonable time frame.  I require specific details at this time.

Regards,

Jason Koblovsky

I will keep everyone informed of any responses.

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New Autism Announcement: Self Congratulatory And Very Short on Details

(Micheal Coteau Announces “Milestones” For New Autism Program With No Details and No Questions From Media)

Today the Minister of Children and Youth Services Micheal Coteau made an “announcement” on what the new Ontario Autism Program (OAP) will look like.  The announcement was made at one of the regional service providers in Ontario – ErinOak – and live streamed via web.  About half of the announcement was congratulating the people involved for their hard work, before many found the live streaming of the event cut out, just as Coteau started his “announcement”.

Most of what was “announced” today is what a lot of parents already knew.  It wasn’t really an announcement, more of a presentation of what the government is working on.  I participated in a teleconference town hall a few weeks ago with Coteau, and wrote about it.  The only real take away from this announcement is that the Minister seems to have moved in the right direction around regulating providers in the Ontario Autism Program, which he pretty much dismissed a few weeks ago in the teleconference.  Another big take away is that a few weeks ago the Minister told parents he was on the fence regarding an appeals process to allow parents an option to appeal decisions made in service reductions, diagnosis, etc.  There will be an appeals process in the new OAP, but no details as to what that will actually look like.

In fact, there’s basically nothing in this announcement that details anything with respect the new OAP. Concerns brought up a few weeks ago with the minister regarding direct funding and how that would be implemented were not addressed today.  Coteau stated to parents that the vast majority of kids waiting on ABA wait lists not currently receiving a direct funding option, would have to wait for a block of ABA to become available after direct funding was rolled out before they would qualify.  This would put the vast majority of kids on wait lists right now without direct funding options well into the provincial election of 2018.

Coteau then ended this “announcement” of milestones by taking no questions from media.  The Ministry has provided the following information today to media and parents, along with a “puff piece” press release on the “announcement” today:

Beginning in June 2017:

-Single point of entry: Families will join the new Ontario Autism Program through a 1-800 number for each region. Families will no longer need to apply to two separate programs, nor will they receive separate assessments or have multiple autism service plans.

-More treatment spaces: The number of treatment spaces available province-wide will continue to increase so families will experience shorter wait times and access services sooner.

-Child and family-centered services: Consistent, evidence-based clinical decision making will be focused on children’s individual needs and will include input from parents, service providers and educators. Autism services will be tailored to the individual needs of children and youth, regardless of age. Families will be actively involved and play a central role in the assessment, goal-setting and intervention planning process for their child.

-Fair and transparent waitlist transition: Families will enter the OAP in chronological order, based on their position on the current waitlist. For children who are on both ABA and IBI waitlists, the position with the earliest date will be used. New families will be added to the OAP waitlist in chronological order based on their date of referral.

-Service continuity: Families currently receiving direct funding will continue to receive funding throughout the transition, until a new direct funding option is implemented by the end of this year.

Beginning by the end of 2017:

-Ongoing engagement: The government will continue to engage with the OAP Advisory Committee, families, providers and other stakeholders throughout the transition to the new program.

-New support workers: Family Support Workers and Support Teams will be available to help families navigate the new program and to provide individualized support. These teams could include support workers, clinicians, educators, service providers and other experts that families wish to work with on their child’s progress.

-New appeals process: If families have concerns with their child’s plan for behavioural intervention, they will be able to request an independent review of the plan through a new appeals process.

-More treatment spaces: The number of treatment spaces will continue to increase, to reduce wait times and provide services sooner for all families in the OAP. When a child’s spot becomes available, the child’s family will be able to choose to receive service through direct funding or direct service.

-A choice of direct funding for all families: A new direct funding option will be available by the end of 2017 to all families who choose it. This will give families a clear, fair and transparent choice in their provider.

Spring 2018:

-Full implementation: By spring 2018, the new OAP will be fully in place.

-Ongoing engagement: Consultations with families and service providers will continue as the new OAP is fully implemented to ensure that the OAP meets the needs of families.

Over all I can only describe as a gamer.  It felt like an over-hyped tease we see all the time in the gaming industry than anything useful.  I just hope that unlike the gaming industry who hypes up game releases for a year with very little details, that on release day we don’t all feel like we’ve bought into something that quite clearly isn’t the product we expected, and that it’ll be too late to ensure things run smoothly, or to appropriately change.  The lack of details today concern me very much as a parent.

I’m not sure patting each other on the back today is at all appropriate considering 21,000 families are still waiting for services while others are receiving “preferential” treatment. There are very real ethical and legal questions surrounding that. It’s quite clear from what was announced today that the vast majority of families waiting for equal levels of service, will most likely have to wait pending the outcome of the 2018 provincial election. That is quite simply and unequivocally unacceptable.

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Epic Battle Ensued With YRDSB To Give Georgina Residents a Choice

 

One of the major issues facing school board accountability in Ontario is that when school boards appoint trustees, boards tend to favor appointees who are friendly with the board and tend to vote with the board.  In politics it’s extremely hard to unseat an incumbent, so many board appointees have somewhat of a leg up on other potential candidates during elections. Over the course of the past several months, the trustees at the York Region District School Board (YRDSB) have come under fire for misuse of travel expenses, appointment of an unprecedented multi-million dollar contract for a director of education, lack of transparency, loss of public confidence and a lot of infighting.

There has been growing calls to expand the legal roles trustees play in our public school sector to ensure broader public oversight of our education system, and on the flip side some are suggesting trustees have outlived their role and are vocally calling for the role itself to be abolished.  Whatever the side of the fence you belong to, this issue is likely to become a part of the provincial election next year, since the YRDSB is just the most recent board to come under fire over the past several years for misbehaving trustees, and board staff.

A few months ago I posted a blog regarding debates that were going on how to fill a vacant seat at the YRDSB as a result of Georgina Trustee Nancy Elgie resigning.  Since Elgie’s resignation I’ve spoken with YRDSB Chair Loralea Carruthers expressing concern regarding an appointment and that the people of Georgina need a choice.  There are significant issues that Elgie utterly refused to deal with.  Many of those concerns from constituents the Toronto Star bought up with Elgie over a 2 day interview with her and her family, in which hours after the interview Elgie resigned.  There were a large number of concerns the Star presented to Elgie regarding her representation at the board from her constituents and fellow trustees which a lot of Elgie’s supporters and her own family shrugged off as being partisan.

Carruthers admitted that she supported the by-election option back a few months ago, but the majority of the votes on the board were looking at appointing the only other candidate to run against incumbent Nancy Elgie in the last election which was Cynthia Cordova. The board, at the time this decision was going to be made, was under review by the province, and the board was concerned about public backlash as a result of that appointment.  So the board decided to hold a public consultation for mid-March with the people of Georgina and ask what they wanted.

What ensued looked very much like the board manipulating information and the process of consultation to try desperately seek the appointment of Cordova, rather than actually seek the input of the people of Georgina.

The first issue that was present was costing.  The Town of Georgina provided the YRDSB a “very rough estimate” of the costing of a by-election.  The estimate that was provided to the board by the town was the full costing of the 2014 municipal election, in which is headed on the report given to YRDSB staff.  The total cost of the full 2014 municipal election in Georgina was $300,000.  This includes election of town council, mayor, and trustee.  Carruthers during this time was all over media explaining that the board would have to spend $300,000 for a by-election.  Carruthers left out that the $300,000 was actually the full costing of the last municipal election in Georgina, and rather providing due diligence in ensuring accurate information got out to the public on the costing of the by-election, Carruthers ran to media with the $300,000 figure almost immediately. Weeks later, the town halved that figure to approx. $160,000 upon investigation by myself and curious editors at the Toronto Star.  Carruthers blamed inaccurate information by board staff for this mess, and she was just going by information the town provided her, which was titled “2014 municipal election expenses”.

Next up was this so called community consultation.  It was hastily done.  Parents didn’t get notification in some cases until hours before this “consultation” took place on where to attend ensuring that other potential candidates didn’t have time to rally their supporters, all the while ensuring an overall low turnout by holding this consultation essentially during March break.  I spoke with Carruthers to try and get this moved back a week to allow the public proper notification, which she refused.  The ballot asking people what they wanted in this consultation listed the net zero option of appointing Cordova at the top, second option was appointment of another candidate the board would select (costing for that was $60,000), and the final and last option was the by-election.  A lot of policy and law were included on this ballot as well which even for a policy wonk like myself was quite a bit, and should have been simplified for public viewing by the board.

While most living in York Region are somewhat used to this board pulling this type of thing and ensuring the voices of the public don’t actually get through, what is surprising is that all of this took place while the board was under investigation for losing public confidence for exactly that. All throughout this nonsense I was keeping the YRDSB reviewers informed of the situation.  I also consulted with a few legal experts I know well as a result of my time as a youth advocate in the policy trenches, some of whom stated that this situation could be precedent setting if the board had appointed, in that it would put into question the entire provincial school system’s legal ability to appoint, and quite possibly question the legal role trustees have – within what is supposed to be – a democratic institution.

I wrote to all trustees and CC’d the YRDSB reviewers (to ensure the public had access to my concerns at a later date.  Everything sent to the reviewers is subjected to freedom of information requests and a matter of public record).   Here was what I sent on March 17th, 2017 to all trustees:

I’ve been involved for many years working with the province as an advocate to further school board accountability.  In fact I was one of the main advocates advocating for the Ontario Ombudsman to have oversight over the school boards as a result of how dysfunctional the democratic nature of our Provincial School Boards are and how much at risk that is putting our kids in.  The following was sent to Board Chair Loralea Carruthers last night on my behalf.  I wanted to share this with all of you regarding the vacant seat in Georgina, and what the board has chosen to do, and how you have all handled this.  There will be consequences for ALL boards across the province if there is any decision to appoint anyone to this vacant seat:

In my time in the policy trenches both federal and provincially I have met and had the pleasure of speaking with politicians from all sides of the isle. Most politicians that I’ve had the pleasure of working with are very strongly committed to furthering democracy in their respected institutions.  I don’t know of any politician that would ever drop unvetted and unverified numbers on the public, and try and deter constituencies from any democratic process based on costs. Even verified numbers. I think the vast majority of those in both our provincial legislature, and our federal HoC would never do anything like that, since it would undermine the very fabric of democracy in those institutions in which they serve.  There is NO valid argument against any democratic process.
 
You are a good politician.  I know you care about the institution you serve, but I strongly believe the shortsightedness, or the inability to step outside your bubble, is one of the reasons why you are still a trustee. If anything, whatever this turns out to be, will be an fantastic case study as to why our public learning institutions shouldn’t have the legal ability to appoint. In fact you have my word, that if the YRDSB appoints in this circumstance for any reason, you will be the last board in the province to do so.  I can almost guarantee that.
 
Jason Koblovsky
Georgina Parent/Policy Analyst

Days later the ad-hoc committee tasked with this consultation delivered their recommendations to the board which recommended a by-election.  As expected a record low turnout, and those few that did were Cordova’s supporters asking for her appointment.  Publicly Cordova did state that she favored this community consultation process, however Cordova at the time of posting this blog was unavailable for further comment. Board Chair Loralea Carruthers will be at an event on June 12th, meeting with Georgina parents.

Why this blog, and why now?  It is important that all candidates know the issues present in trying to give Georgina a voice at the YRDSB.  I don’t normally get involved in local issues.  A lot of my advocacy around school board accountability was done at a provincial level, through provincial youth advocates and started back in 2009 during a high profile bullying incident at Keswick High and the responses – or lack there of – by the YRDSB and then Trustee Nancy Elgie.  The end result of that advocacy was the province agreeing to expand the Ombudsman’s investigative powers to school boards in 2015.

As a strong supporter of democratic institutions, I would rather see public voices return to school boards.  I would rather see openness and inclusion of the community in the board processes, and above all an end to protectionist behaviors of the boards, which have cost lives across this province and put even more children at great risk due to lack of accountability on the boards by those we elect to them.

Whomever wins this by-election in Georgina will have a very tough role going forward.  Not only will they have less than a year to turn this board around, and produce results for a community long forgotten, but post provincial election in 2018, they will most likely have to publicly defend the role of a trustee in the current school board system.  As a parent, I would rather have a say and my voice respected, rather than not have any voice at all.

JK

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Minister Coteau Finally Sighted By Parents On The Autism File

Micheal Coteau the Ontario Minister of Children and Youth Services as been somewhat like a Sasquatch to many in the autism community.  There have been reported sightings, but often those reports come with fuzzy details, and then he seems to vanish into the wilderness of Queen’s Park.  Almost a year has passed since Coteau took the reins on developing the new Ontario Autism Program (OAP), and he hasn’t met with a broad swath of parents, nor has adequately addressed concerns.

Last Thursday I participated in what I hope to be many teleconference town halls put together by Coteau and his staff.  There were 12 of us parents on the line.  Over the past year I have been strongly advocating for such an approach with ministry staff. I’m glad that they are attempting to properly communicate with parents.

During last Thursday’s teleconference, I got the impression that there doesn’t seem to be an adequate understanding by Coteau on the problems within the system and the amount of advocacy needed from parents to ensure service delivery for their kids.  Most of the discussions in the teleconference revolved around the direct funding option, implementation of direct funding, appeals process, and accountability within the service providers.  Out of privacy for the others that were a part of this call, I will be only touching up on these issues since it directly relates to public policy and those discussions were generalized.

Direct Funding:

What direct funding will do is provide families who are on the centralized ABA wait list the option to opt out of waiting for services and provide them with funds to purchase their own.  Coteau stated that there will be no cap in funding and it would be geared towards the level of support a child needs.

When asked when direct funding would be made available for kids, Coteau stated by the end of the year.  I did bring up that there are currently 2,500 families who are receiving direct funding payments, but the vast majority of parents are still waiting.  I stated that it seems rather unfair for the vast majority of families to wait until the end of the year, when last year the Ministry immediately gave 2,500 families that funding.  Coteau stated that it is his hope to have the direct funding out as soon as possible, and they were looking at moving it up a few months.  I then stated that there is no reason for this funding not to be available to parents in June.  Coteau stated that he wasn’t sure the capacity is there yet to handle the direct funding option so early.

The centralized ABA wait list is seemingly how people will be able to access direct funding during the transition.  So if you are not on that wait list, get on it.  If you are on the wait list, the Minister stated that the regional service providers must provide you with information on where you are on that list when requested.  Several parents brought up that the regional service providers are actively refusing to provide that information.  Coteau stated he would be following up with the regional providers on this and asked those that couldn’t get that information to connect with Ministry staff who would source that out.

Currently the ABA services offered are useless to many families and are 1 – 2 hour/week blocks.  When the new OAP is rolled out, ABA services will increase to a maxim of 20 hours per week.  For the current 1 – 2 hour/week blocks, there was some discussion on how this would work if your family is currently on the ABA wait list.  Once the direct funding is rolled out, you have to wait until your child’s name comes up for an ABA spot before you will be able to access direct funding in the new OAP, which runs counter to the intimidate direct funding the ministry provided 2,500 families last year.

From my take of this discussion, if you are currently on the wait list for the useless current 1 – 2 hour/week ABA blocks, and your child’s name comes up before the direct funding roll out, you have to go through the block of useless ABA.  If that useless ABA is done before direct funding is rolled out, it is my understanding that you will be put on another wait list for another block of ABA.  Once that next spot becomes available is when your child will be able to access direct funding.

The way things look right now is that direct funding won’t be an option for many families until after the next election due to wait lists, “capacity problems”, and politics.  Direct funding should be an option to all in June in my opinion.

Appeals:

This is a big one.  If a family disagrees with a professional decision made regarding how many hours of service a child is entitled to; will there be an appeals process to appeal a reduction of service or service withdrawal in the new OAP?  Considering the amount of problems I am aware of through social media and how regional service providers have in the past treated families, to my utter surprise Coteau stated that he was on the fence regarding an appeals process in the new OAP.

Coteau brought up an argument against an appeals process stated that he was worried that parents would constantly use the appeals process to advocate against service reduction.  If this is the main concern, Coteau is very much tone deaf to the problems the system faces right now.  I brought up twice that every patient in Ontario has the right to a second opinion, while he was defending this view.  It is a legal right and cannot be taken away. The appeals issue is being punted back to the implementation committee for further review and recommendations.

I find Coteau’s argument against an appeals process to be quite telling.  If he’s worried about parents using the appeals process en masse due to service reductions, than one has to wonder if the new OAP will actually properly support the kids that need it.  The argument against, seems to suggest Coteau is worried about backlash regarding service reductions.

Accountability:

There was some talk about getting regulation in place for those providing services through the direct service option with regional providers. There didn’t seem to be a lot of will to do so.  Coteau stated that everyone’s take on the regional service providers seems to be different.  Some really like the service they are getting, and others don’t.  This runs counter to public statements made by Coteau not even a few months ago stating that things need to change with the regional providers because he was getting a lot of complaints from parents.  This also seems counter to a lot of the discussions I have been monitoring through social media about how badly families seem to be treated by regional service providers across the province.

Off side of the three main points of direct funding, appeals, and accountability within the new OAP, I did bring up the issue of wait times, and wait lists.  I know firsthand how much damage it’s caused my son, my wife, and myself and we’re still waiting for proper ABA supports.  Coteau went on a bizarre rant about how everyone has to wait for services on a number of fronts, and used shootings in the black communities in Toronto to justify the lack of services and wait times for those services, yet in the same breath stated regarding autism services in Ontario that the money is there, and the system just needs to be more accountable, and transparent.  I’m not sure how that’s going to be accomplished without regulation, and an appeals process.

Coteau went on to say that he wants to make parents happy and proud of the new OAP, and that this government is committed to helping youth and children, and he will be doing more of these teleconference town halls after the OAP announcement in a few weeks, trying to focus on parents he has not heard from.

Coteau has had a year to consult parents, and only now when it’s starting to become election season that seems to be starting to happen.  I think going forward it’s going to be a certainty, that many families will fall through the cracks, and we’re going to see the legal side of this very soon appear in Ontario courts and tribunals.  Many serious problems will arise as a result of poor planning.  There just simply isn’t a level of understanding I feel that is needed to fix the most pressing concerns with the autism community properly.  Coteau seems rather tone deaf to major concerns facing the autism community.  Most of that is a result of the lack of consultation, and misrepresentation of the autism community on whole rather than ensuring a direct line for parents with the minister over the past year.

The caveat in all of this is that they are now committed to broadly consulting parents, but I think it’s way too late to contain a lot of the carnage that this new OAP is likely to incur. I hope I’m wrong, and I hope that all those that have worked so hard over the past year in different committees don’t see their work flushed down the toilet due to poor planning, and execution by a tired and desperate government trying to do everything it can to cling on to power, and score a win with Ontario voters. We’ve seen that before with the government’s take of expert panels on autism services last year.

In contrast, it took me 10 months to get a direct line into this provincial minister, when it took me 10 seconds to get often direct responses from federal ministers in the past through social media on questions or concerns regarding policy on a variety of topics.  Almost all federal politicians of all stripes have been a lot more forthcoming, open and approachable than Coteau has been towards concerned autism parents, and the community as a whole over the past year. One would figure that a Minister of Children and Youth Services would have been a lot more accessible to parents, especially when it relates to some of our most vulnerable in society.

As for our situation at home, none of what was talked about during this teleconference does anything for my son who has been waiting 7 years for a proper level of ABA support due to disappearing paperwork and records at Kinark. Nor was there any commitment from the government to ensure that never happens again to another family through regulation. We’re still going to be waiting when we need that support now.  My son is dramatically, and unnecessarily suffering as a result of that support not being made available while 2,500 families received immediate direct funding last year to get that support, and no solid time line as to when we can expect in home proper ABA support from this government. All this teleconference did for me, is solidify who not to vote for in the next election, and I have a strong feeling unless some major developments happen between now and the announcement of the new OAP, I won’t be alone.

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