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McDonell releases statement on office incident

By Nick Seebruch with files from Shawna O'Neill
McDonell releases statement on office incident
Krista Ryan waits with 5-year-old son Xavier outside of McDonell's office fearing she will be arrested if inside. Shawna O'Neill/TC Media.

CORNWALL, Ontario – Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry MPP Jim McDonell has released a statement in regards to an incident that took place at his office on Second St. W in Cornwall on Tuesday, March 12.

On that day, two mothers, and a grandmother attended McDonell’s office with three autistic children, aged five and under, and had the intent of holding a peaceful protest. The parents wished to speak with McDonell and peacefully write letters objecting to the Progressive Conservative government’s plan to cut funding for the Ontario Autism Program.

McDonell was not in the office at the time, and a member of his staff informed the parents that he was recovering in hospital.

The staff member asked one mother, Cathy Varrette, to stop her four-and-half-year-old autistic son from playing with a window blind.

“When your government agrees to pay for my son’s therapy, I will make him stop,” said Varrette.

Varrette stated that her son was non-verbal, non-compliant autistic and that forcing him to stop playing with the blind would simply escalate the situation further.

“I’ve had enough of this and I am calling the cops,” the staff member said.

Three police cars of the Cornwall Police Service (CPS) arrived on the scene within minutes. After the arrival of the police, the parents and their children left, and no charges were laid.

McDonell acknowledged that it was an emotional situation, but defended his staff member’s decision to call the police.

“Many times, these discussions are very emotional, and those emotions can run high. I will always ensure that both my constituents and my staff feel safe during these meetings,” McDonell wrote in a statement to the media. “In the case that occurred this week, there were many people who entered the office space, and my staff felt that they needed support to ensure their safety.”

McDonell went on to state that he and staff had setup follow-up meetings to continue the discussion.

Varrette stated she was given a date in April, after the program changes will come into effect, in which she can reach out to McDonell again.

“Three adult women with their children (and grandchild) who were there to write letters and book appointments with their MPP is not a threat to safety,” said Varrette in response to McDonell’s statement. “The threat was with the employee when she approached my non-verbal, non-compliant four-and-half-year-old autistic child because he would have reacted to her poorly but he did not. I am very proud of him for not lashing out and assaulting this woman…I spoke to her with urgency as it was for her own protection…that was the only actual dangerous thing that (could have happened).”

“A simple ‘don’t touch that’ would have resulted in more of a scene and a meltdown, whereas ignoring it and rewarding him when he moves on to a different activity would have been much more effective, rather than trying to intervene when he’s happily playing in the corner by himself,” explained Varrette.

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