Health Benefits

(This is an edited version of a story that was recently published by http://northendbreezes.com/)

Community Legal Clinics are mandated to do Public Legal Education and Law Reform Work.

The Ontario election campaign that is just concluding provided an opportunity to encourage dialogue on issues important to our community and clients.  The matter of health benefits for low-Income people is one such issue.

Here are three facts to think about for the new government.

Fact One: One third of workers in Ontario do not receive employer-paid benefits.

A 2015 study by the Wellesley Institute shows that a growing number of workers (1/3 of all workers) do not receive employer-paid benefits. This means that more and more people are going without prescription drug, dental, and vision coverage. Because jobs without benefits are often low-paid, these workers are unable to afford to pay these expenses on their own. That Wellesley report indicates that women, single parents, racialized groups, new immigrants, temporary foreign workers, Indigenous peoples, people with disabilities, older adults, and youth are more impacted by the lack of employer-paid benefits.

Fact Two: 1.6 million Canadians don’t fill prescriptions or skip doses – or fail to take medication at all – because they can’t afford to pay for it.

This shocking fact comes from a study published earlier this year from the University of British Columbia School of Population and Public Health.

Fact Three: One in every five Ontarians do not visit a dentist because they can’t afford it.

Instead, according to a recent Public Health Ontario study many go to hospital emergency rooms. However, they don’t get dental treatment there. In 2014, there were almost 61,000 visits to hospital emergency rooms for dental problems.

People on social assistance get prescription drug coverage and limited dental and vision care.  All low-income children get OHIP+ prescription drug coverage and Healthy Smiles Ontario dental coverage.  Improvements are called for.

For example, adults receiving Ontario Works (OW) can only access emergency services, not basic dental care.

Seniors have some drug benefit coverage but must pay a co-payment when prescriptions are filled and/or pay for their own prescriptions up to a deductible amount.  They have no access to public dental coverage.

All Ontarians deserve benefits that will contribute to their health and quality of life.

isac

The Income Security Advocacy Centre (ISAC) has provided more detailed analysis on these issues at http://incomesecurity.org/

Update

Recently we reported on Bill 26, provincial legislation that proposed waiving fees for individuals who cannot afford to pay fees required for photo cards and birth certificates.  Sadly, this Bill died when the legislature adjourned in May.

 

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Fee Waivers Needed for Photo Cards and Birth Certificates

A birth certificate is needed to apply for new pieces of ID both provincially and federally.

In Ontario, marginalized and vulnerable individuals often cannot afford to pay the fees for this identification. Without government ID, individuals cannot obtain social assistance, open bank accounts, secure housing or receive medical care.

Recently, a private members bill was introduced in the Ontario Legislature by Ms. Sophie Kiwala which addresses this problem.

Bill 26 amends the Photo Card Act, 2008. If passed, fee waivers will be provided for individuals who cannot afford to pay the fees required for photo cards and birth certificates.

Debate on the Bill

Gilles Bisson, MPP for Timmins-James Bay spoke in a debate on Second Reading of Bill 26 on March 29th.

When Bisson was first elected in 1990 he was surprised that most people did not have any identification cards.

“Most citizens who live in that part of the world didn’t even have a status card, let alone a health card or a birth certificate or a social insurance number,” Bisson noted in the debate.

The hospital had a non-insured health program that allowed people to be flown out from places like Attawapiskat to the hospital in Kingston. But the hospital funding was based on how many members resided in the community who were status Indians.moose factory hospital

“There were a number of them who didn’t count because they didn’t have status cards,” recounted, Bisson. “They didn’t have birth certificates, they didn’t have health cards, they didn’t have social insurance numbers—they had none of that because they were not registered at birth.”

The riding that Bisson represents, like many other places in Ontario, contains isolated areas where prospects of getting regular work are sometimes not good. Families couldn’t afford to pay the fee that was associated with registering the child when the child was born. Bisson continued:

“If Mom goes into labour and goes to the hospital, let’s say, in Attawapiskat or the health clinic in Kashechewan, and has the child—maybe in the community, but more times than not, she’s airlifted to Moose Factory to have the baby at the hospital in Moose Factory, at Weeneebayko. So Mom is there. She has four or five kids back home in Attawapiskat. She doesn’t have a lot of money, because they happen to be unemployed. They give her the forms and they say, “Register your newborn child.” Mom doesn’t have the money to pay all of the various fees that are associated with getting a birth certificate, with getting a health card, with getting a SIN number, with getting all those things. Mom goes back to Attawapiskat, and guess what? You get to Attawapiskat and there’s nowhere to register, because there is no Service Ontario in those communities. It’s essentially a non-existing service.”

Bisson’s office set up some local clinics until to address the problem and eventually Service Ontario starting providing services in those communities to register people.

All the above highlights the need for fee waivers as set out in Bill 26.

Learn More

Read the bill at http://www.ontla.on.ca/web/bills/bills_detail.do?locale=en&BillID=5858&detailPage=bills_detail_the_bi

Find out more and how you can support Bill 26 at https://law.queensu.ca/queen%E2%80%99s-pro-bono-students-lead-queen%E2%80%99s-park-bill

 

 

 

 

Statement from the Southwest Indigenous Justice Coordinators Re Colten Boushie

Southwest Indigenous Justice Centres

 There are five Community Legal Clinics in the Southwest Region funded by Legal Aid Ontario to facilitate access to justice for Indigenous clients.  These clinics work in their respective communities collaborating with Indigenous agencies and networks to build relationships and trust.  They work to foster and improve co-ordination and integration with the other legal aid services and across all elements of the justice sector.

With the leadership of Indigenous Justice Coordinators, culturally respectful  and appropriate clinic law services are provided to Indigenous clients.

The Indigenous Justice Coordinators recently published an open statement regarding the death of Colten Boushie

Twenty –two year old Boushie was killed in a shooting incident in Saskatchewan on August 9, 2016.

Boushie was a member of the Cree Red Pheasant First Nation of Saskatchewan was shot by Gerald Stanley. Stanley was arrested and charged with second-degree murder. A jury acquitted him on February 9, 2018.

Here is their statement.

Re: Open Statement from the Southwest Indigenous Justice Coordinators

We extend our sincere condolences to the Boushie/Baptiste family along with the members of the Red Pheasant First Nation. To every Indigenous person in Canada we offer prayers and hope. We recognize that situations such as this can often trigger pre-existing personal and/or systemic trauma. We hope that all can find peace. We also acknowledge the Gerald Stanley verdict has affected the safety of Indigenous people across this country and we are conscious of the trauma caused by the verdict. We must stand together in support of one another.

It is important to address the need for equity for Indigenous people particularly in the justice sector to repair the injustices and betrayals that have occurred and continue to occur. In the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions’ recommendations, Call to Action number 50 under “Equity for Aboriginal People in the Legal System” states:

“In keeping with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, we call upon the federal government, in collaboration with Aboriginal organizations, to fund the establishment of Indigenous law institutes for the development, use, and understanding of Indigenous laws and access to justice in accordance with the unique cultures of Aboriginal peoples in Canada”

There is a justified, continuing mistrust of the justice system as Indigenous people have been overrepresented in the legal system, marginalized, traumatized and retraumatized due to legal processes, a legal system that has not allowed for the integration or even recognition of Indigenous laws and legal principles.

To begin to repair the strained relationships between Indigenous people and the colonial system of justice, we must commit to addressing and implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions’ 94 Calls to Action as well as the recommendations of numerous commissions and reports that have highlighted the pervasive systemic racism present in the justice system including but not limited to: The Royal Commission on Aboriginal People, The Ipperwash Inquiry into the death of Dudley George, and presently, the inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

On February 14th, 2018, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the Federal government’s intention to create a Recognition and Implementation of Rights Framework. We are cautiously optimistic as we must move forward collectively to address the systemic injustices faced by Indigenous people. We must ensure the process has full endorsement through consultation, free and informed consent, as well as the recognition of treaty rights and sovereignty of Indigenous people in Canada.

The Indigenous Justice Program is established and delivered by Community Legal Clinics in Southwestern Ontario and funded by Legal Aid Ontario.  This program is an important example of how the integration of Indigenous centred services and Indigenous legal principles within legal organizations creates an environment where trust can grow between Indigenous people and members of the justice sector.  Unfortunately these types of programs are far from universal and large gaps exist in the provision of Indigenous centred justice services.  More work needs to be done federally and provincially to ensure the availability of such programs to all Indigenous people.

We are calling on The Federal and Provincial justice system to commit to:

  • The implementation of the TRC’s 94 Calls to Action and the endorsement of the United Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. An example of implementation of the TRC recommendations is “A Journey to ReconciliAction” developed by Hamilton Community Legal Clinic.
  • Increased and permanent funding for Indigenous specific programs to address the pervasive systemic barriers present in our justice system, and to facilitate a trusting collaborative relationship in which Indigenous Laws and Legal traditions are respected and utilized.
  • An inquiry into Colten Boushie’s death as well as the treatment of Colten’s family during the investigation process.

The Indigenous Justice Coordinators invite you show your support by endorsing this letter and sending it to our list of recipients. We appreciate the hard work being accomplished by our Indigenous colleagues and our allies and understand we have a long, difficult journey ahead.

In solidarity,

Southwest Indigenous Justice Coordinators,

Luane Roberts, Ahwenehaode, Waterloo Region Community

Lyndon George, Yén:Tene, Hamilton Community Legal Services

Sara George, Tehuwatilihwas Kenháse Ukwekóku, Elgin-Oxford Legal Clinic

Jeff Plain, Baamseedaa, Community Legal Assistance Sarnia

Shawna Labadie, Interim, Anishnaabe Gwiikchigewin Wiidookaagewin, Legal Assistance of Windsor

Show Your Support

Please show your support by wrting to the Hon. Yasir Naqvi, Attorney General of Ontario at ynaqvi.mpp@liberal.ola.org and the Hon. Jody Wilson-Raybould, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada at Jody.Wilson-Raybould@parl.gc.ca 

 

 

Toronto not Abiding by its Sanctuary City Policies

The City of Toronto recently cancelled the childcare subsidies for many parents based on their immigration status. A campaign has been initiated to fight back against the cancellation of the subsidies and to demand that the City abide by its “sanctuary city” policy. The Income Security Advocacy Centre has signed on to the open letter in support of the campaign.toronto city hall

There will be a “people’s daycare” at Toronto City Hall on February 16th at 9:30. Please spread the word, call your city councillor, attend if you can, and consider signing on to the campaign.

Join in setting up a people’s daycare at City Hall on February 16, 2018 at 9:30 AM!

See a Facebook invitation here: 

https://www.facebook.com/events/151062689032073/

Push Government on Income Security Reform

The first report in 30 years to recommend major investments in and improvements to programs that affect the lives of low-income people in Ontario was released on November 2, 2017.

A Roadmap for Change is a ten-year plan to transform income security system in Ontario, including social assistance.  https://www.ontario.ca/page/income-security-roadmap-changeIncome-Security-A-roadmap-for-change-slide-Nov-2-2017-4

Why Transformation is Needed

The income security system was designed for a workforce of the past that featured long-term good-paying jobs.  But today we have many more low-paying, part-time, temporary jobs with no benefits and little security, says Mary Marrone, Director of Advocacy & Legal Services, at the Income Security and Advocacy Centre (ISAC).

A Roadmap for Change reflects a fundamentally different approach to supports and services.  The approach would put people – and their needs and rights – at the centre of the system. In addition, the report recognizes the differential impact of poverty on disadvantaged groups, Indigenous peoples, racialized people, people with disabilities and other marginalized communities. Three Working Groups

At the request of Helena Jaczek, the Minister of Community and Social Services ,  three working groups contributed to the report.  Those groups were the

helena

Helena Jaczek requested the report

Income Security Reform Working Group, the First Nations Income Security Reform Working Group and the Urban Indigenous Table on Income Security.

Key Action Areas

It is a hefty report at 180 pages.  At the risk of oversimplifying it though it can be said there are five key areas for action.  They are:

1. Achieving income adequacy

2. Engaging the whole income security system

3. Transforming social assistance

4. Helping those in deepest poverty

5. Responding to unique concerns & needs of First Nations (FN) and Indigenous communities.

Where it could Lead 

If recommendations in the plan are adopted Ontario would be a different place. For example ISAC suggests that:  *People would have greater control over their own lives i.e.; able to meet their essential needs.

*People would have improved sense of personal agency, respect and dignity – Are empowered and equipped to better achieve personal success, however they define it.

*The proposed system would be easier to use, connect people to supports and services, and respond to their diverse and changing needs.

*Front-line staff will be empowered to make a positive difference in people’s lives.
*There will be greater social and economic inclusion.

What you can do 

The government will release its own Income Security Strategy in early 2018.  We need to push them to get it right.

There are at least three ways to make input.

1. The government is looking for feedback until January 5, 2018.  That doesn’t allow much time for input.   ISAC has created some tools to give feedback that you can find  at http://incomesecurity.org/policy-advocacy/a-roadmap-for-change-tools-you-can-use-to-have-your-voice-heard/

2. Those tools can also help you or your group in making a written submission to the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs by Jan 19 or you can write to the Minister of Finance.  The 2018-2019 Budget is the last budget before the June election. The 18-19 budget should make investments as suggested by Roadmap.

3. The provincial election is scheduled for June 7th.  We need to work to ensure income security is an election issue.

For more background on the report you can watch a webinar put on by CLEO – Your Legal Rights at  http://yourlegalrights.on.ca/webinar/income-security-roadmap-change-what-it-says-why-it-matters-and-what-you-can-do

 

 

Advocate for Protections for Vulnerable Ontarians

A Bill from Welland MPP Cindy Forster designed to protect vulnerable adults and seniors in Supportive Living Accommodations (SLAs) is stalled in the Ontario legislature.

cindy forster

Cindy Forster

Bill 135, the Protecting Vulnerable Persons in Supportive Living Accommodation Act, would put in place licensing rules for privately operated SLAs, as well as increased protections to prevent mistreatment of vulnerable high-risk adults and seniors living in this type of housing. Included among the safeguards proposed in Forster’s bill is a provision that would require housing providers to be provincially licensed in order to collect ODSP cheques and other types of support payments on a resident’s behalf.

SLAs provide low-rent accommodation to vulnerable tenants, and often provide additional care services. In many cases, SLAs serve as an effective response to affordable housing shortages across the province, catering to high-need adults who may not necessarily qualify for long-term care.

According to Ms. Forster though “the lack of regulation and oversight of these services have, in some cases, exposed tenants to substandard living conditions resulting in physical harm and, tragically, even death. In 2014, despite numerous charges and warnings from municipal fire officials, a 72-year-old man died after a SLA home caught fire in London, Ontario.”

In Hamilton, members of the Coalition of Residential Care Facilities Tenants have contacted their five area MPP’s asking them to support the bill.

The Coalition was pleased that Ted McMeekin MPP for Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale and a member of the government supports the bill.

However, the Bill isn’t moving forward. It passed second reading and was referred to the Standing Committee on General Government but has yet to be debated. As the governing party, the Liberals determine whether the bill goes to Committee for debate.

According to Paul Miller MPP for Hamilton East – Stoney Creek the Liberals have “dragged their heels on this legislation.”

Miller says his colleagues will continue to pressure the Wynne Government to move this bill forward in the legislature so that it will become law. They would also support this bill be incorporated into a government sponsored bill.

Hamilton Windsor and St. Thomas have by-laws in place that set standards of care. But why shouldn’t all Ontario have such protections?

Neal Schoen, a Paralegal at Justice Niagara, reports that 45 municipalities across the province have passed motions to call on the province to create provincially enforced standards.

What You Can Do

Advocates are encouraged to reach out to their MPPS. They should also contact the Ontario Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, Eric Hoskins eric hoskinsat ehoskins.mpp@liberal.ola.org. to let him know that the Government should put Bill 135 on the committee agenda to move it forward.

 

 

Concerns Voiced on Basic Income Pilot

(The following is a slightly revised version of a story that originally appeared at http://www.hamiltonjustice.ca)

The Basic Income Pilot Project is up and running in Hamilton, Brantford and Brant County and Thunder Bay.  It will soon start up in Lindsay. https://www.ontario.ca/page/ontario-basic-income-pilot

The anticipated four thousand participants who will be directly impacted by receiving a basic income is a drop in the bucket of the entire Ontario population.

So, those in the rest of Ontario can be forgiven if they aren’t paying attention right now.  But this three year pilot project could have major implications for social policy development in the province.  We all need to pay attention.

Yesterday, the province held a media event to update the public on how the program is going so far.   It is off to a slow start as you can see from this report from CBC http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/basic-income-cheques-going-to-400-households-as-project-gets-off-to-slow-start-1.4329212

What is more concerning though is that rules and regulations are not set in many areas.

One area that they haven’t figured out yet is the issue of recipients being subjected to garnishments.  They had no answers at the October 3rd media event.  (Here is the news release for the event https://news.ontario.ca/mcss/en/2017/10/ontario-basic-income-pilot-helping-provide-more-security-and-opportunity.html)

Questions to the Premier

Later in the day when pressed on it during question period Premier Wynne, had no answers either.

Hamilton MPP Paul Miller wanted the Premier to commit to resolving the garnishment issue.  Miller referenced a position taken by the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction (HRPR) earlier in the day.

The HRPR will not be making any further referrals to the basic income application sessions until they clarify whether basic income is subject to garnishment.

We’ve become concerned that unlike OW or ODSP, participants in the basic income pilot could have their incomes garnished from creditors.  This is particularly concerning for OW or ODSP recipients who may owe money to landlords, payday loan companies or other collection agencies, said Tom Cooper the Roundtable Director

tom cooper

Tom Cooper, Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction

Perhaps a bigger question posed by Miller was as a follow up.  What about the larger issue of social assistance reform, and why the province is stalling on Bill 6, An Act to amend the Ministry of Community and Social Services Act to establish the Social Assistance Research Commission?

No answer to that one either.

What these answers are to the day to day operations of the Basic Income Pilot matter a lot to potential participants.

And these answers will matter eventually matter to all of Ontario.  So will the bigger picture policy question MPP Miller posed about delays in establishing a much needed Social Assistance Research Commission.

You can read Miller’s questions and the Premier’s response below.

———————–

Mr. Paul Miller: My question is to the Premier. This morning, the Liberal government announced that only 400 people have so far signed up for its Basic Income Pilot Project in Thunder Bay, Brantford and Hamilton. New Democrats have  raised concerns that the amounts received are not adequate for the

Paul_Miller

Paul Miller, (MPP, Hamilton-Stoney Creek) has questions on the Basic Income Pilot.

participants and could keep them struggling in poverty if the basic income is subject to garnishments and debt collections.

Well, surprise, surprise: Now we’ve learned that anyone who signs up for the basic income project may be subject to garnishments and debt collections on that income. This is according to the coordinator of the Basic Income Pilot Project.

 This is unacceptable. Regular recipients of ODSP and OW are not subject to these additional garnishments and collections, but it seems those on basic income will be. It has even gotten so bad that poverty advocates in my hometown of Hamilton are warning people not to join the project.

 Many Ontarians struggle under household debt, but for people in poverty debt this can be a crushing, endless loop. Will the Premier confirm that basic income is subject to creditor liens on that income? Will she commit to making the necessary changes to ensure that this isn’t the case?

Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: I appreciate the question from the member opposite. My understanding—I have asked about this, and the responses I’ve received from staff are that there are not many hundreds more but, in fact, thousands more people who are in the pipeline to be processed and to be part of the pilot.

Are there questions about the rules around the pilot? Are there adjustments that will likely have to be made?  Yes, Mr. Speaker. It is a pilot project. This has not been done for decades. It has been talked about for 30 or 35 years, but until now, until our Liberal government, no government has taken it upon themselves to actually put a pilot in place to find out whether this is something that can help people. We’re doing that, and we are working very hard with the researchers to get it right.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?

Mr. Paul Miller: Well, poverty is affecting people right now, Premier; however, it will be years before Ontario makes a final decision on whether to turn the pilot project into a broad policy.

This is the reality, Mr. Speaker: Poverty is affecting Ontarians now. And we have a solution. Bill 6, the Ministry of Community and Social Services Amendment Act, could actively help reduce poverty immediately. By creating a Social Assistance Research Commission, annual recommendations can be made to determine what the social assistance rates need to be in each region of this province. Moving Bill 6 forward will give the province the ability to experiment with this minimum-income project.

So my question is, Speaker, why has this government stalled Bill 6 in committee?

Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: As I said, the Basic Income Pilot is one part of a response to poverty reduction in Ontario. It’s an important pilot project, and we’re working very hard to get it right. The Minister of Community and Social Services is also engaged in reform of the social assistance program.

basic income announcement

Premier Wynne announcing Basic Income Pilot earlier this year in Hamilton.

But, on top of that, we recognize that people need support. So free tuition for over 200,000 students in this province, an increased minimum wage to $15 an hour, free medication for children from zero until their 25th birthday: Those are all supports that are being put in place to tackle poverty across the province.  There’s always more that we can do. The Basic Income Pilot is part of that.

Clansmothers to Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources:   “Stop spraying the land.”

Clansmothers, grandmothers, and municipal townships  of Treaty 3 and 9 traditional territories are standing up against the aerial spraying of land which poisons the blueberries, bears, amphibians, bees, plants and people.aerial spraying

They have been doing this for 15 yrs in support of elders of the Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) Elders Group Sagamok Anishnawbek First Nation and any other groups speaking against the spraying, according to a Media Release.

The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry continues to spray an ‘herbicide’ that is an evolution of Agent Orange.  It is sprayed  from the air, over the land that has been clear-cut, in order to kill plants that would get in the way of the trees they will take for profit.

The Indigenous families of the Treaty 3 and 9  traditional territories have always picked blueberries, as a yearly tradition.   (Watch this video to find out more. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s3QQ67D_RgM&feature=youtu.be

“This is the natural food and this is what we do to sustain ourselves. This is how we live under the natural law,” says Darlene Necan while holding a pail of berries she has just picked.

Aerial spraying of the land is Chemical Warfare. Poisoning traditional food is an Act of Genocide, declares Darlene Necan.

What you can do?

You can support the Clansmothers. Call and demand all aerial herbicide spraying be immediately cancelled and no longer used as a forestry practice.

 Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources:                   1-800-667-1940

Ontario Food, Agriculture and Rural Affairs:           1-888-466-2372

MPP Kathleen Wynne:                                                  416-325-1941

Phone calls earlier this season successfully stopped spraying in certain areas of Treaty 3 and 9.

Media contact: Darlene Necan 807-344-4439

Learn More

**Battling for blueberries

http://www.chroniclejournal.com/news/local/battling-for-blueberries/article_76abb29a-3664-11e5-a760-7f83062790bf.html

**Elders oppose spraying in Northern Ontario Forests

http://www.thesudburystar.com/2017/07/26/elders-oppose-spraying-in-northern-ontario-forests

**In Northern Ontario, herbicides have indigenous people treading carefully and taking action

https://beta.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/in-northern-ontario-herbicides-have-indigenous-people-treading-carefully-and-takingaction/article33088274/?ref=http://www.theglobeandmail.com&

Increasing Access to the Internet

How important is it to you to have easy access to the Internet?

Many of us take easy access for granted.  But research has shown that only 59% of Canada’s lowest income households have home internet access (CRTC, 2013).

For those who face the dilemma of whether to feed the kids or pay the rent, the additional consideration of paying for the internet is now added to this unsolvable equation.

What is happening in various other jurisdictions?internet-access-basic-human-right

The United Nations has declared that online freedom is a human right that must be protected.  Also, several countries have established internet access as a fundamental right in law.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was formally adopted by the United Nations on December 10, 1948.  It is the most universal human rights document in existence, delineating the thirty fundamental rights that form the basis for a democratic society.

Of course, the Internet wasn’t around in 1948 so access to it wouldn’t have been considered an issue in the immediate post war period.

What legal experts have to say

Today internet access is an issue of great debate. Experts have weighed in.  Earlier this year, researcher Charis Jung from Pro Bono Canada worked with staff from the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic and looked at what legal experts have to say on the matter.

It is fair to say there is not a clear consensus.  For example,   Michael Karanicolas, Senior Legal Officer with the Halifax based Centre for Law and Democracy, argues that if one was denied access to the Internet that individual would effectively lose the ability to fully exercise their right to free expression.  That is fundamental right #19:  Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression.  This right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. https://digitalpublicsquare.com/2015/09/17/interview-with-michael-karanicolas/

On the other side, there are scholars like Brain Skepys.  Skepys argues that the Internet is not a form or expression but a means for forms of expression to be heard. In a paper in the Journal of Politics and Law, Skeyps presents five commonly made arguments for a human right to the Internet.  They all fail, he concludes. http://www.ccsenet.org/journal/index.php/jpl/article/view/22541/14534

So, there is a real question as to whether it matters if access to the internet  is considered a basic human right.

In Canada the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has declared the internet an essential service. The CRTC says that the internet is “necessary to the quality of life.”  It is a “vital” and “basic telecommunications service” that all Canadians are entitled to receive.  The CRTC recommended putting significant resources into achieving these goals

Unfortunately, the federal government is ignoring the CRTC’s recommendations.

In the most recent budget the government allocated just $13.2 million over 5 years to support low-income Canadians’ access to broadband.

The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) says that amount is over 100 times lower than suggested by PIAC and other public interest groups in evidence presented last year to the CRTC.

 “The support given by the budget essentially amounted to the funding of a tool which would identify low-income households for the purpose of assisting with internet affordability. However, as there is no plan for affordability in place, this database does little to address the problem which keeps getting tossed back and forth like a hot potato, says PIAC in their summer newsletter. https://www.piac.ca/our-specialities/summer-newsletter-affordability-and-accountability/

Other Levels of Government

If the federal government is unwilling to act, what about other levels of government?  It is doubtful that provinces will help.  How about local governments?  What can they do?

Lethbridge, for example,  stands out as a community that has thought and acted on this issue.

This Alberta city of 98,000 people has embraced the opportunities and challenges created by information technologies.

They’ve recognized that some residents and businesses don’t have access to fast and reliable internet services.  Or they may reside in weak cellular coverage areas and in locations where publically available WiFi is desired but not available.

The city has set up a connectivity working group made up of nine different municipal departments.  The group works with various carriers Shaw, Telus, Rogers, and Bell to streamline processes to improve service and “develop a broadband and Wifi strategy for the city.”

Lethbridge believes that their community should be one where “everyone has the ability to access the internet regardless of age, race, gender, or socio-economic group.”

That is because, Lethbridge notes, “as more and more services evolve from paper to online processes, access to the internet provides everyone with equal availability to benefit from those opportunities.  It supports the idea that internet access is not a privilege of the wealthy but is a right for everyone.”

Lethbridge’s response seems like something all communities should aspire to.

What Can Be Done?

ACORN Canada, is a national organization with of low and moderate income families with over 102,000 members.  They focus on building power for change.  One issue they have been active in is the Digital Access to Opportunities campaign.  ACORN_Canada_logo_Button_NewThey presented at the CRTC hearings and were successful in making the CRTC acknowledge that access to the internet has become a necessity.  ACORN is running a petition campaign that you can find at http://www.internetforall.ca/

Of course, another approach would be for activists to lobby their local governments to copy what Lethbridge has done.

What do you think?


 A similar version of this story originally appeared at www.hamiltonjustice.ca

 

 

 

OPICCO Newsflash – July 2017

 

 

newsflash-decal

Province-Wide

  1. SBT Medical Review Early Resolution Pilot – Update and Survey
  • Supporting Organizations: Social Benefits Tribunal (SBT), ISAC
  • Date: Deadline is August 14th
  • Event Summary: The SBT has gradually been expanding its “Medical Review Early Resolution Pilot Project”. The SBT is asking participating clinics to complete a survey by August 14.

Your completion of the survey would be greatly appreciated, to ensure that we identify all the benefits and problems with the program.

 

  1. SST Appeal Process Review – Submission Deadline
  • Supporting Organizations: Social Security Tribunal, CRO, ISAC
  • Date: Deadline is August 8th
  • Event Summary: The federal government has hired KPMG to review the SST appeals process. We have been talking for years about all the problems with this tribunal; now is our opportunity to voice those concerns! But the deadline is coming up soon. We invite you to make submissions to the review before the (recently-extended) deadline of August 8. The survey does not address all the issues that we have flagged. Make sure you use the comment boxes to explain all the problems you have experienced and to clearly explain how you think the process needs to be changed

You can participate by written, audio, video feedback, or by completing the online survey.

Mail: Review of SST

KPMG LLP

150 Elgin Street, Suite 1800

Ottawa, Ontario K2P 2P8

Email: tribunal@kpmg.ca

 

GTA

  1. Immigration Funding Action Campaign
  • Supporting Organizations: Willowdale Community Legal Services, ICIWG, private bar
  • Date: Ongoing
  • Event Summary: Willowdale Community Legal Services issued a written statement to all of our MP’s and MPP’s, the Minister of IRCC, and the Attorney Generals for ON and Canada about the immigration and refugee Legal Aid funding issue. We followed up with specific MP’s that we thought would assist further, and one of them wrote a letter of support to the Minister of IRCC, on our behalf.

We contacted community partners and asked them to endorse our written statement and write to the MP’s/ MPP’s. We were in contact with ICIWG and private bar (through Maureen Silcoff) to coordinate action.

So far we have received responses from the Minister of IRCC and one MP – both acknowledging the issues. There was some indication that additional funding may be available to address the deficits creating this crisis

Contact Info: Willowdale Community Legal Services

 

  1. Housing Stabilization Fund Action Meeting
  • Supporting Organizations: ISAC, GTA Clinics
  • Date/Time/Location: August 3rd, 10:00 am, 55 University room H1 on the 14th floor
  • Event Summary: Changes to the HSF have been made without consultation with community partners and legal clinics. A meeting to talk about our next steps in pushing for better reform to the HSF. Agenda includes:
    • Changes to the HSF: Questions and Clarification
    • Updates since the submissions and letter
    • Next Steps (Clinic Actions- some of the proposed ideas from our SAAC group)
    • Meeting with City Councillors
    • JR
  • Contact Info: ISAC

 

North

 

  1. OESP Awareness Sessions
  • Supporting Organizations: Geraldton branch office of the Kinna-aweya Legal Clinic
  • Date: May 24th, July 19th
  • Event Summary: The Geraldton branch office of the Kinna-aweya has been working with First Nation communities in the Greenstone area to ensure that all First Nation Members take full advantage of the Ontario Energy Support Program and benefits the program has to offer. Many of the FN in Northern Communities strictly heat with Hydro as gas is not available. This is resulting in extremely high energy cost for northern FN communities therefore it is extremely important that all FN communities take advantage of the program.

A first successful PLE session was held at the Longlake #58 First Nation on May 24th. A second session was held on the Aroland First Nation on July 19th.

Contact Info: Kinna-Aweya Legal Clinic

 

Southwest

  1. I AM COMMITTED Campaign
  • Supporting Organizations: Hamilton Community Legal Clinic
  • Date: Ongoing
  • Event Summary In the words of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC), our collective journey must be led by our conviction, courage, love and COMMITMENT. The I AM COMMITTED campaign is a way to publicly state your COMMITMENT to Reconciliation.

You are invited to state your name and join the growing list of people COMMITTED to Reconciliation. Start by reading the TRC’s 94 Calls to Action.

Take it one step further. Add your photo to this campaign. Then share it on social media. Spread the word with your family, friends, neighbours, classmates, colleagues and acquaintances. Encourage them to become COMMITTED! In this way, we make a concrete contribution to Reconciliation.

Contact Info:  Hamilton Community Legal Clinic

 

East

  1. Indigenous Outreach Project
  • Supporting Organizations: Peterborough Community Legal Centre
  • Date: Ongoing
  • Event Summary We have established ongoing relationships with six local Indigenous service providers in Nogojiwanong. This has led to some very meaningful collaborations such as: organizing a Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Trans event in partnership with Nogojiwanong Friendship Centre on April 10, 2017 and writing a support letter to the City of Peterborough to create a by-law to exempt Nogojiwanong Friendship Centre from adhering to the Ontario Fire Prevention Act when it comes to open-air burning for traditional ceremonies and cultural workshops and events.

We also implemented a land acknowledgement in our waiting room and are putting posters from the “I Am Affected” series in our waiting room and intake room. We are continuing to build on these relationships in order to increase access to justice among the Indigenous peoples of Nogojiwanong.

  • Link for more info: Find our project report Find our support letter for Nogojiwanong Friendship Centre here. Find the “I Am Affected” posters we chose here and here.

 

  1. Fundraising for Impact Recovery
  • Supporting Organizations: Peterborough Community Legal Centre and Impact Recovery
  • Date: TBD
  • Event Summary We are planning on doing some outreach with Impact Recovery in Peterborough. This service provider helps people who hoard prepare for bed bug spraying. We will be helping them with some fundraising in return for some volunteer hours to help preserve the tenancies of our clients who are hoarding and facing eviction to their inability to adequately prepare for bed bug spraying because of this. This service would usually costs someone up to $7,000 depending on the level of hoarding that is present, which our clients cannot afford.
  • Link for more info: N/A

 

Is your clinic working on a campaign or initiative you’d like featured? Contact Meghan MacDonald for more info about the monthly OPICCO Newsflash.

 

Interested in Community Development/Community Organizing? Check out our Website: https://opicco.org/, or contact our co-chairs Regini David or Meghan MacDonald