Disability Community Wins Interim Step Forward – Ford Government Backs Down on Its Controversial Secret Protocol for Rationing Critical Medical Care During the COVID Crisis and Agrees to Consult Human Rights and Community Experts

ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE

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Disability Community Wins Interim Step Forward – Ford Government Backs Down on Its Controversial Secret Protocol for Rationing Critical Medical Care During the COVID Crisis and Agrees to Consult Human Rights and Community Experts

April 21, 2020 Toronto: Today, after mounting pressure from Ontarians with disabilities and others, the Ford Government appears to have backed down on its controversial secret protocol for rationing critical medical care during the COVID crisis, and has at last openly agreed to consult with human rights and community experts. We urge The Government to confirm that it will include the AODA Alliance and others from the grassroots disability community among those it will consult. (Letter from the Ford Government set out below)

Within the disability community there has been wrenching worry and mounting public pressure, because the Ford Government had in circulation a secret document that spells out how scarce medical care would be rationed or triaged if, for example, there were not enough ventilators for all the COVID patients needing them. For example:

* On April 8, 2020, the ARCH Disability Law Centre made public an open letter to the Ford Government, signed by over 200 community organizations (including the AODA Alliance). That open letter raised grave concerns that the Ford Government’s secret COVID medical rationing or triage protocol threatened to discriminate against some patients with disabilities.

* On April 18, 2020, CBC posted online a guest column by two respected law professors raising human rights concerns.

* On April 20, 2020, the Toronto Star posted online a      guest column by AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky raising these concerns, among others.

In an open letter made public earlier today from Ontario’s Ministers of Health, Seniors/Accessibility and Community and Social Services, set out below, the Ford Government appears to have backed down and distanced itself from its controversial secret protocol. It is especially important that the Government committed as follows:

“We believe that a human life cannot be valued differently. As such, Ontario Health has been asked to consult with the Ontario Human Rights Commission, as well as human rights and key community experts, to make certain that any medical protocols that may be required during this outbreak do not disproportionately affect vulnerable groups, including people with disabilities, older persons, Indigenous communities and racialized people.”

“This is an important relief and a helpful step forward, but only an interim relief. It is one for which we should not have had to tenaciously fight, while isolated in our homes struggling with this COVID crisis, said David Lepofsky, chair of the non-partisan AODA Alliance which has been working alongside many others to get this medical triage protocol rescinded. “This is but one illustration of the pressing and enormous need for the Ford Government to work with the grassroots disability community on strategies to stop this COVID crisis from disproportionately harming Ontarians with disabilities.”

Despite this step in the right direction, there are also concerns with the Government’s statement:

* As an effort to distance itself from this controversial triage protocol, The Government claims this triage protocol was only a draft, even though the document was not labelled “draft”, as draft Government documents always are. The Ford Government must explicitly rescind the March 28, 2020 triage protocol already in circulation, and direct that it is not to be followed.

* The Ford Government also tries to distance itself from its controversial triage protocol by claiming it was developed by Ontario Health. Yet Ontario Health is an agency of the Ontario Government to which the Ford Government has given a substantially expanded mandate. , the Ford Government appoints its board of directors and funds it. In a system of democratic responsible government, the buck stops with the Government and the Premier, especially on such matters of life and death.

* The Government states that in creating this controversial triage protocol, Ontario Health “worked with critical care experts and bioethicists to develop a clinical triage protocol to support frontline physicians…” This in effect concedes that Ontario Health did not include the voices of the grassroots disability community, against whom the protocol threatened discrimination in access to life-saving critical medical services. We question whether the Government got legal advice in this area that so obviously touches on human and constitutional rights. There needs at the right time to be a serious look into how this unacceptable protocol was allowed to happen, even if it were only a draft.

* This open letter does not reaffirm the important commitment of Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott, reported in the April 8, 2020 Toronto Sun, that any such protocol must be approved by Ontario’s Cabinet. Instead, this open letter leaves the strong impression that this is now all being left to Ontario Health (from which the Government is evidently trying to distance itself). It is vital that no such life and death matter be left to such a Crown agency as Ontario Health, with our elected leaders distancing themselves from responsibility for it. It is vital that Premier Ford clear this up by reaffirming that no COVID medical triage or rationing protocol will be adopted for Ontario until and unless it is approved by Ontario’s Cabinet.

We are eager to directly work with the Government on this issue. To that end, last week, we made public a helpful Discussion Paper on ways to prevent discrimination against patients with disabilities in access to critical health care during the COVID crisis.

If there is a revised draft of this medical triage protocol already prepared or in the works, the Government should immediately make it public so that we all can study it and offer swift feedback on it. It has not yet done so.

Contact: AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky, aodafeedback@gmail.com

Twitter: @aodaalliance

April 21, 2020 Open Letter from Ontario Minister of Health, Minister of Seniors and Accessibility, and Minister of Children, Community and Social Services

From the very outset of the COVID-19 outbreak, we have been driven by a clear commitment to protect the health and wellbeing of all Ontarians. This has included taking decisive action to stop the spread of this virus and ensuring the province’s readiness to respond to a wide range of new outbreak scenarios.

The government’s immediate priority since the very beginning of this outbreak has been to significantly expand both acute and critical care capacity in our province’s hospitals, including the number of ventilators.

As part of this response, Ontario Health, an arms-length Crown agency, has worked with critical care experts and bioethicists to develop a clinical triage protocol to support frontline physicians in the event the system is faced with the near-impossible circumstances that require the allocation of severely constrained critical care resources caused by a major surge. To be clear, this protocol is a draft document developed by Ontario Health. It has not been approved or authorized by our government.

We believe that a human life cannot be valued differently. As such, Ontario Health has been asked to consult with the Ontario Human Rights Commission, as well as human rights and key community experts, to make certain that any medical protocols that may be required during this outbreak do not disproportionately affect vulnerable groups, including people with disabilities, older persons, Indigenous communities and racialized people.

If hospitals are indeed faced with near-impossible circumstances, those critical decisions must be left with those highly-trained medical professionals providing care on our front lines. They are best positioned to make those difficult decisions, on an individual basis.

We would like to once again thank you for your ongoing and considerable efforts in supporting Ontario’s continued response to COVID-19. Together, we will stop the spread of this virus and protect the health of all Ontarians, including and especially our most vulnerable.

Sincerely,

Christine Elliott

Deputy Premier

and Minister of Health

Todd Smith

Minister of Children, Community

and Social Services

Raymond Cho

Minister for Seniors

and Accessibility