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2014-05-18 at 13:34

Doug Ford defends controversial comments about group home

Toronto councillor Doug Ford, is pictured in Toronto on May 1, 2014.
Darren Calabrese, The Canadian Press
Toronto councillor Doug Ford, is pictured in Toronto on May 1, 2014.
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By Allison Jones, The Canadian Press

TORONTO - The city councillor brother of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford did not back down Sunday from comments about a home for developmentally disabled youth in his ward, saying it is a "nightmare" for the neighbourhood.

Coun. Doug Ford told TV station CP24 that his "heart goes out" to families with autistic children, but he said this issue is about kids in the residential home who have "violent tendencies."

"I've been a Rotarian for 25 years helping kids with challenges, but you can't disrupt the neighbourhood like that," Ford said.

"Anyone who wants to criticize, I'd be more than happy to take their address and we'll put the house right next door to them and see how they like it."

Community newspaper the Etobicoke Guardian reported that Ford's office organized a public meeting on Thursday concerning the facility run by the Griffin Centre, described as a non-profit multi-service mental health agency.

The paper reported that some residents in Toronto's west-end complained about the facility's presence in their midst and that they weren't given sufficient advance warning.

Ford was quoted as saying the home should be relocated.

"You’ve ruined the community," Ford reportedly told the facility's staff.

"You can't destroy a community like this. People have worked 30 years for their home...My heart goes out to kids with autism. But no one told me they’d be leaving the house. If it comes down to it, I'll buy the house myself and resell it."

The comments drew condemnation on social media, including former Ontario premier turned Liberal MP Bob Rae, who weighed in with a tweet on Saturday.

"This is the opposite of leadership on mental health. Doug Ford should be ashamed of himself - hurting not helping," Rae tweeted.

Ford shot back at Rae in the interview, saying he "doesn't have a clue what's going on in that neighbourhood."

"Maybe he should go there and get his little, you know, elitist, pompous self over there and maybe we should put a house right beside his house because I know he lives in an absolutely gorgeous area," Ford said.

Ford suggested the root of the problem is the closure under the Liberal government of a regional centre in the west end.

"The provincial government, (Premier) Kathleen Wynne, they closed down the Thistletown Regional Centre," Ford said.

"It was a beautiful centre, had 43 acres that allowed families to have their children with challenges there. Since she has closed that down they have dispersed these folks throughout the west end."

Wynne did not directly respond to Ford's comments when asked about the matter on the provincial election campaign trial Sunday in Mississauga, Ont.

She instead said her government had earmarked $810 million in budget funding over three years to help people with developmental disabilities, and blamed the opposition for shooting down the spending plan. The opposition parties' refusal to pass the budget triggered an election set for June 12.

The services and programs that Thistletown provided were transferred to the community and the closure is in line with government efforts to "build a more co-ordinated mental health system," the province said when it announced the closure.

At that time there were 15 adult and youth residents at Thistletown and about 400 people were receiving support through non-residential programs.

Ford told CP24 the Griffin Centre "misled" him into believing the children there wouldn't leave the house unsupervised. Instead, he said, kids with "violent behaviour" leave the home unaccompanied.

He suggested screaming can be heard in the wee hours of the morning, that cars are being broken into, and that emergency services are frequently called to the home.

"It's turned into a nightmare for this community," Ford said. "It's been turned upside down."

In an email to The Canadian Press, Deanna Dannell, a Griffin Centre spokeswoman, said the centre had several contacts with Ford before the residence opened and it was upfront about who would live there and what services would be provided.

John Tory, who is running against Rob Ford for mayor in the October municipal elections, released a statement Sunday calling Doug Ford's comments "deeply regrettable and from another age."

"For years, it was thought the best way to help people with disabilities, including those with autism, was to place them in large institutions — a kind of confinement away from the community," Tory wrote.

"Today, we know what is best for us and best for them is to include them in every possible way — at school and in our community. For Doug Ford to express surprise that kids with autism would 'be leaving the house' is incredibly out of touch and insensitive."

Doug Ford has announced he won't seek re-election as councillor, but is running his brother's re-election campaign. The mayor, however, suspended his campaign on April 30 before leaving for rehab to deal with substance abuse issues.

Rob Ford was spotted in Ontario's cottage country ahead of the long weekend. The CBC reported that Ford's doctor said the mayor was still in rehab and his off-property jaunt was approved and supervised.

The Canadian Press
© The Canadian Press, 2014

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