Recently Ontario Premier Doug Ford made it clear that the province will be ending COVID releif for ODSP and OW recipients. The province was providing people on the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) and Ontario Works (OW) $100/month for individuals and $200 for families to help cover the extra costs of personal protective equipment (PPE), grocery delivery and costs related to COVID.
Ford basically stated that those healthy enough on ODSP and OW should go to work. The majority of people on ODSP are not healthy and have secondary health concerns and can’t work for various reasons, and that’s why they are on ODSP. People on OW are the working poor, some are single parents, and a lot of them are in hospitality and retail services and minimum wage jobs which have been hit hard. These people can’t even make ends meet on a good day, and now are being asked to put their lives at risk by the province as a result of the province not covering PPE and other COVID expenditures, because they can’t afford to cover these costs alone.
This move by the Ford Government appears to be in violation of ODSP and OW recipients section 7 charter rights. The lack of support for PPE and COVID expenses will put low income individuals lives at unnecessary and preventable risk, let alone the disabled to whom the majority have secondary health concerns and are at high risk to begin with.
Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms states:
7. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.
The federal government has provided some people with disability extra money, the majority on ODSP do not qualify for this federal support and responsibility for disability and social services lie with the provinces, not the federal government.
Fords comments regarding ending the province’s COVID support for ODSP recipients and they should “go find jobs” as it was stated in context looks to be in violation of section 15(1) of the Charter which states (emphasis added):
15. (1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.
The Ford government is no stranger to discriminating based on disability. One of the very first things the PC’s did under Ford’s leadership was scrap the Ontario Autism Program, and give Ipads instead of therapy. Derogatory comments by then social services minister Lisa MacLeod and ministerial staff under her supervision towards caregivers of autistics remain unresolved and MacLeod is still in cabinet. Ford himself has had issues in the past. Shouting at caregivers of autistics to “Go to Hell” when advocating for their children, and then accusing a reporter of “Jihad” when questioned on it. This looks to be an individual who has some preconceptions of people with disabilities, and those who are on a limited income.
Outside of the charter issues and discrimination coming from top government officials, schools are requiring parents to purchase PPE for their kids as they go back to school. This means there could be a huge swath of kids (particularly low income kids) will not have the opportunity to go to school, because parents can’t afford to buy PPE. The York Region District School Board outlined this expectation in its plan to reopen in September stating:
Parents/guardians will be expected to provide their child with a personal face covering to wear at school to reduce the spread of their own respiratory droplets to protect others.
Remember section 7 and section 15 of the charter. It applies to children as well as adults.
Outside of the charter issues, the Ontario Human Rights Code also deals with government service discrimination, and exclusion. In the Ontario Human Rights Commission Guide to the Ontario Human Rights Code (emphasis added):
“Discrimination based on 17 different personal attributes – called grounds – is against the law under the Code. The grounds are: citizenship, race, place of origin, ethnic origin, colour, ancestry, disability, age, creed, sex/pregnancy, family status, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, receipt of public assistance (in housing) and record of offences (in employment).”
Those of you who are on ODSP or OW should get in contact with a lawyer. You can get a free 20 mins of advice through a referral, and seriously think about filing a complaint to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal as well.