She’d even told staff in Liberal Bob Delaney’s office she was coming.
Until Peel Regional Police banged on her front door at 8:30 that morning.
“I ran downstairs and saw two police officers and opened the door. I asked, ‘What happened?’” Palaypayon told the Star.
Turns out they were there to talk about what she would be up to at Delaney’s office that day, she says.
“I told the police, ‘Really? They are scared of me?’ ” said Palaypayon, who is 5-foot-4 and a part-time nurse at an Oakville hospital. “I felt intimidated. It was surprise and shock, and I felt like I’m being threatened.”
The officers listened politely and the brief conversation ended pleasantly after they confirmed she could stand outside the office and hand out flyers, but not touch the door, she said.
The episode — reflecting how fraught the battle over recent changes to children’s autism services has become across the province — followed Palaypayon’s repeated calls to Delaney’s office. She had been requesting a meeting, including two calls on Thursday, so she could explain how new rules would affect her son Xavier.
After being told Delaney — who says he spoke with Palaypayon at length over the phone some weeks ago — was booked, she told staff she would come anyway, to hand out flyers and talk to anyone in the vicinity about how families are being affected.
Delaney said Friday his staff, two women, met with community liaison officers for a conversation Friday morning, before the officers visited Palaypayon, because they “did not want to be subjected to a confrontation that they felt ill-prepared to handle.”
Delaney claimed Palaypayon, after numerous calls to his office, was “very angry and rude with my staff” and used the word “we,” suggesting she wouldn’t be alone.
“We have not heard from the two officers who came and left, and the constituent didn’t show up,” said Delaney. “So what happened, I don’t know.”
The new Ontario autism program, announced by the Ministry of Children and Youth Services on March 29, includes a $333-million investment in services over the next five years.
But the initiative has been overshadowed by a controversial decision that children age 5 and older would no longer be eligible for intensive behavioural intervention (IBI) funded by the province.
The move, affecting more than 3,500 families, means children 5 and older — many; of whom have been waiting half their lives for treatment — will be removed from IBI wait lists over the next two years, and that most receiving treatment are now considered too old and will be transitioned out of the program.
Many parents who can’t afford the $50,000-a-year cost of private therapy have reacted with distress and outrage. The $8,000 grant to kids taken off the wait list barely covers two months. And the new applied behaviour analysis program they’ve been promised instead of IBI won’t be fully rolled out for two years. Few details are available.
Families have been calling for the government to reverse the age cap and have launched an aggressive social media campaign dubbed #autismdoesntendat5. They’ve protested three times at Queen’s Park with children in tow and lobbied almost every MPP. They’ve been tossed out of the legislature’s public gallery, held pop-up protests around Ontario, and been blocked by Liberal MPPs on Twitter.
They’ve also had the support of both opposition parties, unions representing teachers and educational assistants, and the association of public school boards.
“We’ve never in all these years seen a reaction like this,” says Laura Kirby-McIntosh of Thornhill, who founded the Ontario Autism Coalition, the parent advocacy group at the forefront of the storm, a decade ago. She and four other parents are slated to meet with Premier Kathleen Wynne on Tuesday.
She said Palaypayon is among a group of hundreds of outspoken and determined parents who are not going to give up.
But their frustration levels mounted this week. In an unusual move at Queen’s Park on Tuesday, the NDP and Conservative opposition joined forces with a resolution to support IBI over age 5. About 200 parents came to the legislature throughout the day. But the resolution was defeated, with not one Liberal voting in favour.
The police arrival at Palaypayon’s door Friday amounted to “a massive overreaction” to the threat of a vocal mom handing out pamphlets, Kirby-McIntosh said.
It sounded almost comical at first, she added. “But then it was terrifying.”
“This kind of intimidation tactic tells me how petty and scared this government is.”
Recounting the story hours later, Palaypayon broke down in tears. The stress of the incident and weeks of fighting for the treatment for which Xavier has waited three years was too much.
A Peel Regional Police spokesperson would not confirm any details, calling the incident a private matter that was not an issue of public safety.
Xavier “can feel all the stress,” says his mom.
“I am a parent of an autistic kid. His dad and me are the only ones he has. I cannot do anything to jeopardize him.”
Does Palaypayon still plan to protest? “I will, but not today.”