Lawsuit alleges people with developmental disabilities denied necessary services

Lawsuit targets wait lists for support services

TORONTO — A northeastern Ontario family has filed a proposed class-action lawsuit against the Ontario government over what it alleges are unreasonable wait lists that effectively deny people with developmental disabilities the care they need.

Marc Leroux of Timmins, Ont., launched the suit earlier this month on behalf of his 19-year-old daughter, Briana Leroux, who court documents say is non-verbal and requires support services 24/7.

The statement of claim alleges the teen had access to necessary support through one government department as a child, but that was “arbitrarily and unreasonably” discontinued after her 18th birthday.

It further alleges that she applied for support as an adult through a different department and was placed on a wait list, where she remains more than a year later.

The suit, which is seeking $110 million in damages, alleges the province breached its duties to Leroux and other adults with developmental disabilities by failing to properly manage the wait lists, forcing her relatives to assume her care.

The allegations have not been proven in court and no statement of defence has been filed at this time.

“The (Developmental Services Ontario) wait lists are indeterminate and administered in an ad-hoc, inconsistent and unreasonable manner, denying eligible recipients statutory benefits which are necessary for their basic daily human needs and safety,” the claim alleges.

“Adults may spend years on the DSO wait lists, requiring family members or other caregivers to provide necessary services or supports, or going without such services. This practice damages the persons directly in need of such services, as well as their family and caregivers.”

The lawsuit argues the province was or should have been aware of alleged “administrative deficiencies” that result in unwieldy wait lists, noting at least three reports have highlighted the issue in recent years.

It cites a 2014 report by a legislative committee that recommended eliminating the lists within 12 months, a recommendation it says was rejected by the Ministry of Community and Social Services.

It also points to a report that same year by the Ontario Auditor General, which estimated it would take 22 years to clear a waiting list for adults with developmental disabilities needing residential services, assuming no one else signed up.

The latest report, produced by the province’s ombudsman last year, found that while the government has poured more money into the care system in recent years, demand for services continues to outstrip supply and thousands still languish on waiting lists.

The lawsuit alleges that the province’s negligence has caused adults such as Leroux to endure pain, anxiety, impairment to their dignity and physical integrity, and other negative effects.

The Ministry of Community and Social Services declined to comment on the lawsuit as the matter is before the courts, but a spokeswoman said the government has made a great deal of progress towards improving the developmental services sector.

“In 2014 our government announced $810 million over three years to improve community and developmental services, with the total base funding for developmental services increasing to more than $2 billion,” Kristen Tedesco said in an email.

“While we have made progress in addressing the ombudsman’s recommendations, we know that we need to continue to work hard to realize our vision of an inclusive, individualized and person-centred approach to serving some of the province’s most vulnerable people,” she said.

If certified as a class action, the lawsuit would encompass those who were approved for services under the 2008 Disabilities Act and placed on a wait list for services after July 1, 2011. 

 

Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press