In a heated exchange in the Ontario Legislature Thursday, the Opposition leader took the Liberal government to task over the treatment of a Toronto-area boy who was restrained and sedated on his first day of school.
Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown said the CBC Toronto story "left a knot in the pit of [his] stomach," and the actions of the school and hospital are "disgusting and unacceptable."
On Tuesday, Debbie Kiroff said her son was taken to a hospital alone in the back of a police car, placed in restraints and injected with a sedative because he was acting out on the first day of school.
The eight-year-old has behavioural problems and a severe learning disability, according to Kiroff. So when the principal at Holland Landing Public School in York Region phoned her to say the boy's behaviour was "escalating," it didn't come as a surprise.
"They know he's a runner," she told CBC Toronto earlier this week.
At Kiroff's request and to protect his identity, CBC is not naming the boy.
When the boy disappeared from the teacher's sight on the first day, Kiroff said the school called police. He was taken alone to Southlake Regional Health Centre by police car. At the hospital, a staff member told her, "I just wanted to let you know that we had to restrain him … and also inject him with a sedative."
On Thursday, Kiroff said the response she's had to her story left her "overwhelmed" but that she's "willing to go farther and keep fighting."
'Shackled and sedated'
"I want everyone in the chamber to imagine if this was your nephew, if this was your child or son … no parent should ever have to hear an eight-year-old child plead with them to have restraints removed," said Brown, who asked the Liberals: "How will they guarantee that no other child in Ontario will be shackled and sedated?"
Education Minister Mitzie Hunter responded that the priority for school boards and the ministry is the safety of all students.
She would not go into details about the case, but confirmed the boy had been reintegrated into the school as of Sept. 15.
"It is my understanding that the parent, the school and the school board have been in communication, in contact, and that they are working on ensuring that the student has the supports that they need," said Hunter.
She refused to comment on the actions of hospital staff, who injected the boy with a sedative without his mother's consent.
Hunter said her government is "providing the supports in our school system for students with special needs, for students who have mental health needs," and that it is making "necessary investments" for students to have "every opportunity to succeed."
In a followup statement provided by the minister's spokesperson to CBC Toronto, Hunter said that in this case, "It appears that student well-being was jeopardized."
"I have asked my ministry to monitor this situation closely and I'm encouraged by the fact that the school administration is investigating this incident," she said. "It is my expectation that this student will have adequate supports to learn and to thrive."
Yearlong wait lists
Brown raised the issue of wait lists, and quoted CBC's article, in which Kiroff said her son is on a wait list at Blue Hills Child and Family Centre, Kinark Child and Family Services and The York Centre, but that it will likely be a year before anything happens.
He asked the Liberals for a commitment to slash wait-list times, which would help Kiroff's son and thousands more like him.
Minister of Children and Youth Services Michael Coteau said the government takes mental health seriously, and raised the Liberals' Bill 89.
Among its many goals, the new legislation introduced earlier this year includes a plan to transform mental health services for young people by establishing lead agencies. Those agencies would make it "easier for children, youth and families to know what services are available and how to access the services they need," said Alicia Ali, from minister Coteau's office.
Since CBC's story was published, Kiroff said she's been contacted by all three centres, which are planning to add some supports for him at school. Kinark Child and Family Services has offered her a spot, which means she'll spend 1½ hours a week at the centre with her son.
"I would love my son to thrive in exactly the way he is — he's got a lot of great qualities," said Kiroff on Thursday. "He's very smart, so I just want him to start learning and control his way of thinking.… He's only little, he doesn't know 100 per cent yet."
The York Region District School Board said it would not discuss Kiroff's son's case, citing student privacy, but also said the board's primary focus is "always student safety."
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