TORONTO - The Ontario government's willingness to go to court rather than reveal how much it spent on fighting an autism treatment lawsuit shows it cares less about children and more about covering its tracks, opposition critic Shelley Martel said Monday.

The Ontario Superior Court of Justice heard arguments Monday about a request under the province's Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act to reveal how much the government spent defending a lawsuit filed by parents of autistic children.

The government doesn't want to reveal how much it spent on legal fees, when that money - perhaps as much as $1.5 million - could have helped so many kids instead, Martel, a New Democrat, said outside the court.

"The public has a right to know how much money the McGuinty Liberals have spent fighting children with autism and their parents in court,'' Martel said.

Ontario's information and privacy commissioner ordered that the total cost be released earlier this year, but the government launched a court challenge of that decision.

On Monday, Crown lawyers argued those fees fall under solicitor-client privilege and shouldn't be disclosed. They told the court that disclosing the fee would set a precedent that would apply to all lawyers and their clients across the province.

The Crown also said individual fees are spread across some 2,000 pages of documents, and pulling out a single total figure would not be simple.

The core issue of the lawsuit was access to specialized treatment in school for autistic children, which can cost from $30,000 to $80,000 per child each year.

Families who say they've spent their savings and taken extra jobs to pay for the treatment filed suit in 2004, alleging the government failed the children by not providing access to the treatment in school.