Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Another Christmas has come and gone.

We certainly don't believe any children are reading this website, are they now? They've already sprung from the beds four mornings ago and whipped their way to the Christmas tree to open their presents. Imagine when every child does that, what the amount of paper wasted might be?

On Christmas Eve night, we followed Santa Claus' path on Norad.Tracking.Santa and we waited and we waited and we waited ... we actually believed we heard some hoof prints on our roof, with a fat man dressed in a red suit looking for a chimney. And finding none, he took off and flew away ... "Now, Dasher! Now, Dancer! Now, Prancer, and Vixen! On, Comet! On, Cupid! On, Donder and Blitzen!", and of course, poor Rudolph.

I know it's true ... I read about it on the Internet!

If there really was a Santa Claus, do you think we would be able to logically explain a few things to our children? Perhaps, this website is a start ...

There are six billion people in the world, and the population is growing larger and larger each day. The number of young children is much higher in developing countries, where we see all those commercials with kids with fat bellies and flies in their hair and a voice-over telling us to give, give, give ... until it hurts. At least a third of the world's population are children.

That means Santa Claus has to consider at least two billion children to find gifts for and to deliver them personally to each and every child. He only has one night in which to do it. Being generous, give him 24 hours, as the earth turns it becomes dark at some point every twenty-four hours.

So we watched Santa right from the very beginning, except it was very difficult to see him, as the sack full of toys was so huge that it can fit several small planets inside, let alone toys ... and stored atop a sleigh driven by eight magical reindeer led by a baby one with a shiny nose.

Those reindeer must have been working out! Hup-two, hup-two, hup-two!!! It certainly isn't Santa himself, as he always looks as though he can lose a few pounds.

And the sleigh travels at such speed. Imagine how many houses must contain those two billion plus children. Let us be conservative and say there are two children per household, and therefore, one billion homes have to be visited within twenty-four hours to stop on the rooftop, slide down the chimney and dump all of those toys under the trees within ... and don't forget, many homes leave milk and cookies for Santa Claus as well.

At the rate he must travel to get all his work done, he will certainly need them; however, he must inhale awfully fast, because at a rate of 0.0000864 second per house he must travel. That doesn't leave much time to stop, take a breather, slip down a chimney, taking all the toys that belong to that house and dropping them off under the trees within ...

That is assuming all the houses have a tree to put the toys under, or have a chimney to climb down, or even have kids in them ... we can always dream, can we?

Let us assume this is even possible under the laws of physics. As a conservative estimate, even if Santa just gives one toy to each child, which we KNOW this is not true, because in TV commercials and the movies, there are usually many gifts under the tree for each child. Now that has to be true! Because we saw it on TV!!!

Anyways, let us assume the weight of each gift would be between 3 - 10 pounds on average. Given the conservative estimate of one gift per child, we are looking at an average weight of 6.5 pounds X 2 billion gifts, which adds up to 13 billion pounds. That is a lot of weight to bear, even for the most toughest structures built to withstand California earthquakes!

Can you imagine an object of that weight and size landing on your roof, even for a millionth of a second and not expecting anything to happen to your house?

What about those houses that don't have chimneys? What about children that live in apartment buildings? Does Santa somehow crawl through the duct work? How about those mud shacks that many children in the developing world live in? Of course, Santa has to go to those houses too, because he is not prejudiced, nor picky on nationality, religion, or silly things like that.

Don't forget that Santa also must remember the names of all those two billion children and where they live at all times, and precisely where they will be staying on Christmas Eve night. What about children that end up in homeless shelters, orphanages, juvenile detention centres, hospitals or other ill begotten locations? Yes, if you truly believe in Santa, he will stop by these places too ...

It must take Santa at least a year to remember all the names, addresses and specific preferences of each child. He would have to order parts, direct his elves to make the requisite toys to be delivered and supervise his staff to manufacture these toys, as well as issue quality control, e-test whenever required, etc. That is an amazing amount of work in itself!

Hold on, hold on ... who exactly PAYS for all the raw materials, the machinery, the elves, and the fuel whatever it is, that gets Santa from here, there and everywhere? It has to be the taxpayers, right? The same people who pay Superman, Batman, Spiderman, and all those other super-heroes that save our day, right? You can't imagine this is ALL volunteer work, do you?

Like, who would VOLUNTARILY dress up in a red suit, jump in a sleigh, and say, "Ho ho ho", and fly all over the world, while people like me point at them and laugh at their antics? I would wonder if Santa has a real job, like the rest of us do ... or does he do this full-time?

Santa does have his admirers though. Hundreds of thousands of imitators work the malls year after year after year, trying to fool the children into thinking they just might be the REAL Santa Claus. Santa stars in movies, even many cartoons. He is famous.

Yet he has the same complex that the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and the Groundhog have in common: That is a complex where they feel they are being ignored, that they do not really exist, apart from people's imaginations and the odd television commercial or two at this time of the year.

Perhaps, the American Psychiatric Association should be consulted for their next version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, as to what the name of this particular malady might be. Or what the name of the disorder might be for those that want to imitate or pretend to be Santa Claus, even if he does not actually exist.

The only way to prove he exists is to contact agencies like the Internal Revenue Agency, Canada Revenue Agency, or any other similar taxation department, including prying it out of those Swiss Bankers, to see if anybody by the name of Santa Claus has declared an income at all this year, last year, the year before that, etc., and if so, where that income came from.

I could only guess it is the same income that funds the Post Office, the military, the police and fire departments. You and me taxpayer. You can't imagine somebody wanting to PAY Santa Claus for doing these ridiculous feats year after year after year, do you? It has to be the taxpayers!

What about checking lists, to see who is naughty or nice? Do such lists exist? One might argue they do. We have "no fly" lists, CSIS has "files" on various Canadians, and the Bilderberg group meets periodically to discuss certain "citizens". It is just as easy to stretch this to believe there are such naughty and nice lists ... how do people get on either list? Is there a phone number to call to report somebody, or send best wishes for? Or are these "lists" created in the same way that God determines who goes to Heaven and who goes to Hell? Meaning, there is no number to call, but he just "knows".

There has to be a number of people on the naughty list, because there are specialized coal dealers in the world. Where else would Santa find lumps of coal to hand out to all of these "naughty" people? One place that comes to mind is Cole's: The Coal People. They have a few branches here in the city, so there must be a LOT of naughty people running about.

One also wonders what makes a reindeer fly. If any of you seen the way our cats can get at night time, you would probably be close, and figure that the reindeer are simply eating what our cats are eating ... on steroids.

Do you still believe in Santa Claus? If you do, you probably had a bit too much jolly with your eggnog this year. Merry belated Christmas, folks and have a fantastic and comical New Year! This one is on the house, for sure ...

Thursday, November 26, 2009


There is a lot of realism that goes on with the lives of people around us. I think this is what I particularly enjoy about my profession, the very realism of people's lives and their stories. This realism makes me want to do more about these things that revolve the lives of the folks I work with.

Unfortunately, however, apathy is the way of life of people in the region I live in, particularly the higher up you go. Apathy kills cities, kills nations. Apathy creates leaders that we do not want, and leads to the creation of situations whereupon our populace suffers more than it needs to. I live in a region of people that not only not want to pay their taxes, but want to pay as little as they can get away with, and then they blame the victims of failing infrastructure that are not being supported to the extent they should be, for their very needs.

It has always been a subject of debate as to how much infrastructure and "people" based services we need, or can do without. A disturbing feature of many people I work around is that they believe that if we had no infrastructure or support, our vulnerable people will magically re-emerge on their own and somehow "pull up their bootstraps", as the saying goes. We know this is not fact. We know what happened to many people after welfare rates were chopped by 22% not a minute too soon after Mike Harris took office in Ontario in 1995. Mike Harris is long gone, a party of a different stripe got elected, and more than seven years have past since his government left Queen's Park, yet as a society we are still dealing with the indifference, apathy and cruelty of the apparently sheltered part of our population. I see the results of this everyday in my work.

I work in a profession that is relatively recession-proof, and many people around me think I am lucky. However, they see none of the stress, none of the desperation, and none of the tragedy that I am called upon to do something about. When I genuinely can't do anything about it, I feel powerless and sad. The law is a tool that can only perform certain tasks, and apart from these tasks, the law is useless in addressing many of the issues that abound. The law is technical, procedurally-driven and objective to the point that it does not address emotion, sentimentality or sadness. It only picks winners and losers, and many times - the wrong side wins while the other loses.

The world of politics and law intersect, sometimes to a detrimental extent, as the rule of law cannot be based on demagoguery and majoritarianism. Important moral decisions cannot be decided by taking a vote around the table, and drawing from the majority of voters present. The majority of Canadians want to see capital punishment reinstated, yet nothing stops this population from feeling the same way when wrongly accused people are put to death. The majority of Canadians seem to feel there is a need to put more religion in our laws, but see nothing wrong with marginalizing the religions of a minority, or of those without a religion.

At one time, people felt slavery of blacks was an acceptable choice for society. As time evolved, we stopped making them slaves, but did not let them share our drinking fountains. Later on, we felt okay about blacks sharing our communities, we just didn't hire them. There is no shortage of writers that would blame the unemployment and poverty of blacks on the blacks themselves. They were said to have lower intelligence scores, had more children than whites, were more prone to criminal activities, and so on. Cutting welfare to blacks was thought to be a great idea, then they will become more like whites. We all know that didn't work. Society had to evolve to develop a respect for and inclusion of this part of our population, in order to enable this part of our community to grow and develop with us.

At one point the majority felt that it should be illegal for whites to marry blacks. If the majority ruled then, there would be a law barring the same. In fact, some societies had such a law. Was this law effective? What benefits did society derive from having such a law? I can't even find among the most prejudiced people that I know somebody that can identify a rational benefit that society derived from having these types of mores and laws, yet their prejudice prevails.

As a society, we had no choice but to pass human rights laws that prohibited this type of segregation. Many restaurants were known to exclude persons of colour, or even persons of certain creeds and religions. This had to stop. People can feel whatever they wanted to, but they had to act in a way that was lawful and tolerant. The rule of law is higher than society's majority and popular vote. The effect of these laws not only made people aware, but in many created a kind of cultural dissonance that resulted in a more tolerant society where persons from minority situations felt more comfortable to belong.

As society evolved, new prejudices are uncovered and people affected come to the light. I recall one time in my university days watching a film about the suffragette movement in the U.S., Canada and Great Britain. It began among women of propertied classes, and gradually moved to include all women, in solidarity for various goals. It was once accepted that women should not have the right to vote or run for public office. Women were not allowed to practice law, dentistry or medicine. However, over time, it was not the men in society that welcomed women in these roles, but women who asserted themselves into these roles, many times through marches and at times, violent demonstrations. In one of the films, it showed some of the women leaders getting arrested. They would go to jail to enforce their rights.

Today, too many women take these rights for granted and still do not understand the origins of the rule of law and how women became equal partners. I remember in one of my classes, there was a woman who often sat beside me that would ask a lot of questions of a female lecturer from a women's shelter that presented on the issue of family violence against women. She would keep asking about men's shelters. I know males are roughly equal in terms of their victimization, as the statistics are becoming more clear in this field; however, the point of this lecture was to inform the largely female student body how far we've come. If it were not for many of these women in the late 1800's and early 1900's putting up a major fight, getting arrested, jailed and sometimes even killed for their beliefs, none of us would be sitting in those chairs that day listening to this lecture.

Soon, the gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgendered community emerged from the closets of existence. People of Toronto remember the bath house raids of 1981, certain laws on the books prohibiting certain sexual behaviours, albeit between consenting adults. These individuals needed to form loosely knit organizations that would force the issue in many ways ... Society had one of two reactions to the "gay" community. One was to ignore them, and think if we did this long enough, homosexuality will go away. The second reaction was to show contempt and hatred for those claiming to belong to the "gay" community. If you listened to members of the LGBT community, as they call themselves today, many will speak of ostracism, being disowned by their families, fired from their jobs, to downright violence.

Eventually society had to learn that every member of the LGBT community was no different than the rest of us, apart from who they choose for their life partners. Unfortunately, there are still many people that feel members of this group are somehow less deserving, or are less moral, or less Christian, than the "rest of us". People that don't like human rights laws tend to point to a tribunal decision made sometime back involving a printer that refused to publish brochures for an organization representing the LGBT community, solely on the basis of his own "Christian beliefs", which likely included an opinion that members of this group were less Christian or moral than he was. Nevertheless, he was sued successfully and was made to compensate this organization for its embarrassment and infringement of their rights.

One of these people kept asking me why a business person has to be obligated to serve everybody. Why can't a business person do business with whomever he or she chooses? This argument may seem to be rational and simple. Of course, as a business, you have that freedom to work with who you want; however, this man's refusal to serve the LBGT organization was no different than the restaurants of the 1950's that refused to serve blacks. The person complaining to me about this thought all of these things should go to court. The decision against the printer was appealed by him, and the Divisional Court, as well as I believe, an appellate court, if I remember correctly, also upheld this decision. Human rights are integrated into the rule of law. You don't have to agree with the positions of the LGBT community on any of their issues, as that is also your right, but you don't have the right to treat them differently or deny them access to services normally afforded to the public.

There is also the question of persons with disabilities. Disability law, as well as human rights and constitutional law, have always been my tools to help me understand the world and how to integrate within it. These issues take up a large part of my practice. Persons with disabilities have unfortunately been slow to take up their rights, as many are too ill to fight. One's disability itself can be very disempowering, particularly if one tires easily or cannot communicate or express oneself the same way others do. Persons with disabilities are also disempowered by the charitable model of "receiving help", as opposed to learning to work the world around them and exercise their rights to equal treatment and access to goods and services. There is currently a multi-billion dollar business model out there that is designed to "help" people with disabilities, some of which is set up to search for a "cure" for some types of disabilities.

This is not an affront to the many men and women that work in organizations like Canadian Mental Health Association, Brain Injury Community Re-Entry, Multiple Sclerosis Society, etc. All of these organizations do have their benefits; however, the very structure that led to their creation is abysmal and anti-everything I stand for, especially when I attempt to fit persons with disabilities in my life within what I view as the rule of law, and how our Charter works. Some of these organizations themselves have begun to realize how much their "help" can actually hurt those they are attempting to support, so they strive to develop models of service delivery that are more responsive to the choice of those they work with.

For example, service providers within this structure must confront their own ideas about who the clients are that they work with. Do they understand the concept of consumer choice, the right to take risks and the right to fail? Do they believe any of their clients are capable of doing their jobs, or even the job of their bosses? The latter question tends to be difficult, as most people in helping professions have a hard time equalizing the people that come to them. Many are surprised when they learn a client has an advanced degree, and worked in positions much more senior to their own in the past. It is natural to feel threatened when this information is given. In my own experience, I learned that service providers confronted with this issue tend to not know what to do, how to address that person's needs or where to begin. This is not created by something bad, but there are always working biases people have when they attempt to learn about someone and the community they come from. My answer to this is to interact with the person, as though they were a neighbour or a friend and try to find out what THEY want.

In my work in the legal profession, I confront people of varying abilities, capacities for the English language, as well as political viewpoints, and so on. To me, what is important in serving anybody that comes to my door are: (a) the actual facts of the person's situation (what their legal problem actually is comprised of); (b) what that person wants to see happen with their legal issues; and (c) how we can best work together. For example, if somebody doesn't have strong English language comprehension, I try to arrange it so they have interpreters that they can trust. For legal proceedings, we find a professional certified to work with the courts. If somebody is using a wheelchair or scooter, I have ensured that my office can accommodate them. However it IS difficult with limited real estate options in my area to find 100% accessible space. If a person has a severe mental health issue, I still speak to them and have them make decisions with as much information as possible, as opposed to letting somebody else speak for them.

People have the right to instruct their OWN legal counsel, as far as I am concerned. They can also choose who they want with them, and who they don't want to work with ... I let them make this choice. My relationship with one client can be very different than it is with another client, specifically for these reasons, yet they are all getting service that recognizes their right to choose, their right to take risks, and their right to fail. I also treat them at my level, not at a level beneath me. I discuss things other than their legal case, show an interest in who they are, and listen. This does take about twice as much time for many of the people that come through my door, but this makes their experience a positive one, even if we are not successful.

This gets me to my final point, as I started to imply earlier about a pending backlash against human rights issues. Even some of my colleagues are reluctant to deal with human rights issues. Human rights issues are seen by many to be representative of a form of "political correctness", or in some extreme cases, some see it as an infringement of their freedom of speech and association. These people don't want to take these laws as part of life; many want to dismantle them. They forget the violence, the riots, the lawsuits and other conflicts that got us to this point. Many want us to return to an age when we could once again discriminate against whoever we want, hire whoever we want, rent to whomever we want, etc. without a fear of getting sued.

Their leaders want to dismantle the human rights system as we know it in Ontario. While they say they simply want to ensure it fulfills its "original purposes", we know they are saying they do not want to be told what to do. Unfortunately, "those days" that many of these folks are dreaming about are days when our society was more homogeneous than it is now, when interest articulation and balancing of competing perspectives are an issue. Majority rules might have worked at one time, but as history dictated, it only lasted awhile each time, until somebody outside of the majority made those in power uncomfortable.

PC Leader Tim Hudak has mused about dismantling the Tribunal altogether, not recognizing that a specialized Tribunal such as the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, probably can cut the wheat from the chaff much better than the civil courts, and as such, it IS more accessible to persons concerned about "access to justice" issues. In a regular court, you are confronted with even a bigger maze of rules and regulations, labyrinths of disclosure, deadlines, forms, etc. that mean nothing to you, and are hard to find online. If you can't do it in a court by yourself, you have to hire a lawyer, which is costly. In a Tribunal, the hearings are set not only to be evidence-based, but they do have the benefit of informal structures that are flexible enough to address self-represented litigants. Further, licensed paralegals can represent individuals at this Tribunal that cannot afford a lawyer, but do need representation. In my time with this Tribunal, respondents have been able to represent themselves, or use paralegals, and have been able to deal with the facts of an issue readily without going into unnecessary constitutional arguments, which if done by a lawyer, can run into tens of thousands of dollars.

Hudak and many others want to throw this all away. The Tribunal certainly has a lot of problems, but these are not problems that would be resolved by tossing the Tribunal itself out of the window. To me, this can only work in favour of those that do the discriminating. That is, it would be a boon for employers, landlords, businesses, and others, that do not want people that look different, think differently, or act or move or communicate differently in their lives. To me, this is a battle against people with disabilities, as well as members from other protected categories.

My office receives twenty to thirty phone calls a day. It can be exhausting taking these calls, and trying to sort through who has a case, and who does not. The stories people tell are horrific - so horrific, I cannot repeat them here. As a professional that works with people, I have to protect myself, as their stories can become my nightmares, my veil of depression, and my sorrow. By protecting myself, I am able to take what is the law from each of these cases, and place the circumstances into the right venue, and if I can't do it, I know somebody that can. At some point, I might write about what a typical day looks like for me, so people can become aware of why human rights and the rule of law still matter today, just as it did when the suffragettes and inspired leaders like Rosa Parks were around to make us understand that all of us are equal under the rule of law.


Monday, September 28, 2009


Did any of you ever watch the movie called Groundhog Day? This is the one starring our own Jim Carrey? The last time I watched it, it reminded me a lot of where I live: Niagara Region. Each day I wake up, I confuse the events of the day with the events of the day before, and the day before that, and so on.

In Niagara Region, the politics is so stale, I could leave the area and return fifty years later and I wouldn't miss a thing. If it's not the same old people at the helm, it is the same old family members of people at the helm. Many of the Niagara-based businesses are family businesses, which means the good jobs go to family. It isn't hard to guess who the bad or low-paying jobs go to.

One can learn about the groundhogs in Niagara by reading letters to the editor. Apart from my own tinge of sarcasm about the political backwardness of the people here, or the fact that Niagara has not yet grown up and developed itself a transit service yet, many people argue about the Bible.

The Bible is two thousand years old or more, and to me, there is no point arguing about it. The book is read, and it is time to move on. I am not that concerned about what is in the Bible. If all people have to think about or worry about is what the Bible says or what it means, obviously they are comfortable living in a perpetual Groundhog day. As for me, I want change.

To me, it is not about the people themselves, although a little bit might be about the people, but it is mostly the politics and how slow things seem to happen. Getting Regional transit in place here is like waiting for molasses to pour in the bitter cold of January. In the meantime, people like me lose money because we have to go places too, yet those of us that don't drive are not allowed to do so with comfort, reliability and affordability.

I have often been accused of attacking drivers. Well, taxpayers (which includes ME too) have been over-subsidizing their "privileges" for years. We subsidize drivers on a per capita basis more than we subsidize people on a per capita basis for our universal health care system. We pay for roads, traffic lights, traffic enforcement, highways, parking lots, environmental damages of highway building, pollution and its effects, and other things that keep cars on the road and drivers driving, yet we pay less than 20% of this figure on subsidizing transit users. Transit users pay taxes too, and yes - when I have to take a $70 taxi ride to and from Welland, I am sure they can take some of that out for my "share" of the roads. I just want to get around without giving up my first born each time.

Other than transportation, there are a lot of other issues that Niagara is lacking for ... probably because it wants to still think of itself as a township and not a region or network of cities. For example, my neighbourhood that I live in is okay. I own my own home, although people think I pay less than most do for it (which is about $1200 - $1500 a month including all utilities and costs). It is peaceful in my backyard ... we have built a small communal porch, a sitting area under a gazebo and a waterfall, as well as a compost area/garden. Our front porch which is sheltered from the elements is especially nice. The neighbourhood is quiet, which is probably a good thing after I leave the wingnuts of downtown.

However, that is it. They are just wingnuts. People without direction. People without political discourse. We have as much if not more poverty, disability and hardship as Toronto, yet there are very few protests or even community meetings to go to in order to discuss these things. People in Niagara take it up the tail pipe literally.

I am probably well known in this community for my outspoken manner and devil-may-care attitude. Why? I've never had an employer that bothered wanting to hire me for my skills, so I don't have to kowtow to anybody. If I had a good job with a good employer, I suppose the attitude would have to be kept at the door, and I've done that for years when I did work for others. It is not that my attitude is bad, as most people seem to like what I have to say ... I am actually not disrespectful of individuals, just political environments.

While it is true that people create political environments, I just feel that the folks involved in creating Niagara's political environment have to try harder to make this region a truly inclusive one. When they hear from people like me that at times I do not feel like I am even a citizen with rights in this region, the leaders need to ask why ... and I can rest assure them that I am not the only that has felt this way. I am just getting sad and my nose is getting out of joint because I am losing way too many friends to other cities, even provinces, where they have miraculously been able to find work or fit in better.

There are a lot of beautiful places in the region to go to, but I've never been to see these places in years. One needs a car to get to any of them. If Niagara wants to stand out as even a tourism destination, they should at least provide other ways for potential tourists to get around, as NOT EVERYBODY DRIVES ... I miss the Falls. I miss the town of Jordon. I miss Fort George. I miss most of Niagara-on-the-Lake. Maybe someday I will get there if I ever get my bike back on the road. But for now, these places might as well be on the moon.

What about jobs? Niagara has lost a ton of them ... entire companies have gone under and sent pink slips home to thousands of Niagara workers. No "white knight" is going to come to the region to replace these companies, and any new jobs that come out of our "new economy" aren't likely going to pay even half as much. So, those of us with mortgages, payments, kids, and other expenses, are not likely going to want to do these jobs, unless we can do three or four of them simultaneously (which gives us a new meaning for multi-tasking). As it is, most families need two or even three incomes to survive. Try surviving on just one! Mine!

Well, Liberal leader Michael "Rasputin" Ignatieff has finally turned against the present minority Conservative government in Ottawa. He wanted to create this hairy ass election over ... whatever. The other parties, the Bloc Quebecois and the New Democrats saw the nonsense in Ignatieff's move in his attempt to call an election that nobody wants ... so they sided with the Conservatives. It is not because they are now buddies with Stephen Harper, but this is minority government at work ... the particular ways and means bill was about implementing many of the popular aspects of the budget the Conservatives tabled last January, and by the way ... a budget that Ignatieff bought and supported (but now he doesn't support?).

This is just another example of the circus coming to town. We all know that Barnum and Bailey wouldn't make it in Ottawa, as there already is a "free" circus available to anyone at Parliament Hill. All somebody has to do is start singing, "Send in the Clowns" ... oops, they are already there. The animals are all there too, up to the usual parlour tricks, except they are all two-legged animals. It kind of makes you want to cozy up to groups like PETA and ZOOCHECK to protect the four-legged kind from being corrupted by this type of circus.

So despite the histrionics and hissy fit thrown by Michael Ignatieff in an attempt to push for an election that nobody wants, the whole tough talk that he gave over the summer seemed to have died down to a trickle. If I walked down the street here and asked everybody I see if they can identify the leaders of the three main political parties in Ottawa, I would bet the least identifiable would be the leader of the Liberals. Many would not even know how to pronounce his name!

However, over the radar of awareness is this new HST (harmonized sales tax) that is being shoved down all of our throats here in Ontario. It is supposed to be good for business, which I still fail to understand. I run a business. How is charging my customers 8% more for my services going to benefit ME or MY CUSTOMERS? They say there will be less paperwork. I don't give a flying hoot about paperwork. That's what I pay my accounting firm for. I am sure they aren't going to reduce their fees to do my annual corporate, HST and personal returns ... I am sure if you asked them they will tell you there is no less work in preparing these returns than there was before.

I am supposed to be able to claim more input credits. Well, what are input credits? This is something my customers don't give a horse's you know what about ... they just see the 8% hike on their bills. Sure I can now write off items that had PST on it before. Whoopie doo! Let's release the balloons. I will still be forking over more of this tax than I get to keep as a result of these inputs, or why else would the government force this HST down our throats in the first place? They have to be making big bucks off of this ... off of small business, off of consumers, off of anybody that comes through my door.

The government has PROMISED income tax cuts in return for us buying this tax. Who are my customers? About a third of them are individuals with disabilities, usually receiving an income that does not attract provincial (or federal for that matter) income taxes of any kind. The work I do involves making insurance companies, government agencies, large companies and other people do what they were supposed to do in the first place ... and even when we get paid in full, none of the proceeds are taxable to them anyways. We also have quite a few senior citizens on "fixed incomes". These are NOT the people with the GM or Teacher's Pensions to give their golden years more than just "fool's gold". Most of these people get at least some Guaranteed Income Supplement, and their own savings are either poor or non-existent, so I don't see these people paying much provincial income tax either ... but I am told I have to hit all of these people with an 8% tax hike!

Unfortunately, with this tax, there is no harmony at all ... so I prefer to call it what it is... the BST, initials for which you don't even have to ask. The Tories call this the Dalton Sales Tax, and the NDP call it the Unfair Tax Grab. Would love to give Hudak's head a shake, like wasn't it HIS federal Conservative cousins that just dumped $4.2 billion on the province to set up this new tax? I just don't get it anymore. Canada's politics are all screwed up.

Each time there is an election, there seems to be less and less people showing up to vote. I know that at some point in my lifetime, there will be an election called and nobody will show up. We will end up with a lot of empty ridings, as nobody will run either. So, we might just not bother with elections anymore. Maybe coup d'etats serve more of a taste for Canadians at this point. I don't know the answer.

But I think it is worth a discussion.

What about you?

Saturday, September 5, 2009


In the recent debate about the new Ontario Photo Card Act, it was revealed by the Minister of Transportation that four million Ontarians of driving age do not have a driver's license. To this end, there is a new enhanced Photo Card that non-drivers can obtain for identification and cross-border purposes, as an alternative to a Passport. At least somebody is thinking about this.

Unfortunately, nobody has sought to dig deeper into the problem. There are over thirteen million people living in Ontario, not all of whom are of driving age. If four million of those who are of driving age will not or cannot acquire a driver's license, we need to start asking deeper and more serious questions. The issue of identity is one issue. People that do not drive are deemed by many agencies and businesses to be non-citizens because they cannot produce the proper identification they require. These same businesses somehow feel non-drivers would somehow have a passport, but then again, non-drivers are even less likely to have one of those than any of the other forms of "acceptable identification". People who don't drive don't cross the border that often anyways, if at all. They cannot open bank accounts, pick up registered mail, identify themselves to the tax people over the counter, rent a video, etc. I had to threaten legal action at some of these places in order to access these services in the past ... but I still know some people who can't even get a bank account because they don't have a driver's license.

In Niagara Region, the powers that be have no trouble excluding members of this group, simply by ignoring their needs. They do not only use the same criteria for establishing citizenship, they deny non-drivers access to employment, recreation, access to low-cost shopping, education and other things. We are supposed to just accept that. We are supposed to accept our lot as minimum wage workers, or people who cannot access cost savings on life's necessities such as cheaper housing and discounts on the grocery bill. We are supposed to accept our lot as inferior workers, just because employers in the Niagara Region think we have no skills because we do not drive or do not have access to a car.

There are innovators here. It is not that everybody has their heads in the sand, although in my humble view, the leaders of this region do ... as most of them, like most drivers in this region, take this privilege for granted. They take the act of hopping in their car and going wherever they like in record time for granted, especially at the relative low cost per kilometer for costs. They do not even think about the fact that if they did not have the right to drive or access to their vehicle, they probably would not be holding the jobs that they do. They don't want to think about this, as it is people who don't drive who somehow "deserve" to work in the low-wage, unstable employment sector.

The message that non-drivers are low skilled or no skilled is obvious because even when the innovators act, they develop initiatives that connect more people to low-wage jobs than with middle and higher range levels of employment. The Job Bus that operated in our region until the recent bankruptcy of Opportunities Niagara connected workers in one city to another to low-wage hotel cleaning and dish washing jobs, while at the same time, the Canada Border Services Agency was seeking university educated workers to become Customs Officers at the border. No Job Bus was ever offered to take prospective workers there. Of course, anybody with skills above minimum wage has a driver's license, so we don't bother to worry about sending people to better paid and more stable employment.

The other message that non-drivers receive is that their time is worth nothing or very little when compared to that of drivers. There is some fractional inter-city transit operational within Niagara, but it takes too long to travel this way, and it is way too complicated for the average commuter to use. In order for me to travel a total of 12 km from my house to the Welland courthouse, which is about a 20 minute car ride, I have to: (a) board a city bus which is ten minutes from home (and takes twenty minutes to get downtown); (b) arrive downtown and transfer to the Brock bus (which takes another fifteen minutes to get to Brock); (c) once at Brock, sit around and wait for another twenty minutes until the Welland Transit bus arrives and transfer to it (and travel for another twenty-five to thirty minutes as it meanders across the region); and (d) arrive at Niagara College and wait another ten to fifteen minutes to get the downtown terminal bus to travel another five to ten minutes to the terminal, whereby the court is only a two minute walk. I tried it one time. With all the traveling, transferring and waiting, it took me nearly two hours to arrive to my destination, and I was in certainly no shape to do any work as I was completely exhausted! I can go to Toronto faster. The message to me from the region's fathers was that my time is worth nothing, so my efforts must be worth the same. And then, they wonder why nobody uses this route as a commuter option.

The only other option one has is taxi, which is anywhere from $60 - $70 for a round trip to the same place. Again, my money and time is worth nothing and I am certainly not welcome in some parts of the Region unless I pay to join the "club". I know of no driver that pays $60 - $70 for ONE trip back and forth between a single city within the Niagara Region. If this were the case, there would be a Third World War for sure, and maybe there should be ... as why should I be treated as an inferior entity simply because I do not drive and worse so, because of a disability? The most my colleagues pay to hop in their cars and take that trip to Welland is perhaps five to seven dollars, including parking. How does that make me even nearly competitive, if I actually charged for travel time (which I don't and I am forced to swallow)?

That means my colleagues that do the same work I do can take on almost twice as much work as I can for less cost. It is no small wonder that they have staff of their own, live in nice houses and most will retire with more than nothing.

One such person with an attitude commented on whether or not I should determine whether it would be worth it to remain in business. Okay, maybe that same person can point to me other job opportunities that exist within the Region where one is not required to have a driver's license and a vehicle and pays well enough for me to consider it worth my time and expense going to post-secondary education and other senior work experience I had prior to losing my license. There are many job boards if one wants to find work in Niagara Region. There is the HRDC Job Bank, the Job Gym, various company sites, public service site (although few of those jobs are for people living in Niagara), and the various classified ads. There is also word of mouth, but people who don't drive can't get to the events where word of mouth job information is shared.

Anybody reading this can certainly check this out for themselves. Almost every job that appears available to non-drivers is minimum wage or slightly above it, requires little to no skill at all (so why bother graduating high school if I wanted to work at any of these places) and usually has minimum to no benefits. My husband was given one of those jobs. It lasted exactly three days, not because my husband is a poor worker, but because they were looking for somebody to sell whatever it was they were selling to people that obviously do not want to buy. There are "good jobs" available, but they are usually only for those of upper middle to upper class standing in Niagara Region, as they usually ask for at least five to ten years experience doing the exact same thing elsewhere, or they want you to have a license and a car. Some of these jobs may not specify this, but they say they want you to work all shifts, which means you will be spending half your salary on cab fare to get either to the job or home, or the job is located in another community that you can't get to unless you have a car.

I had interviews for some of the "good jobs" I referred to above, some of them paying close to or even more than I used to make when I did drive. Unfortunately, they did not accommodate people that do not drive, even if the candidate can do everything else on the job. If you try to tell them how you can do the job without having to drive or own a car (and there are many workarounds for this), they just hire the next person that does drive, even if they have less experience or qualifications than you do. One has to live this in order to understand this.

I knew a PHd that spent five years on Ontario Works unable to find a decent job, until he came into some money through an inheritance after his father died. He naturally purchased a vehicle and within two to three weeks, he was employed. I know several other individuals who are professionals, such as teachers, social workers or technicians, that currently sit on Ontario Works or even Ontario Disability Support Program whose disabilities prevent them from driving, but not from working ... and they are punished for being in that position. They cannot earn and save enough money to escape from this area to go elsewhere where their skills would be wanted and appreciated, while at the same time this region does not want them if they cannot get behind the wheel of a vehicle to contribute to the increasing smog problem of the area. I actually count the number of vehicles that pass on busy streets with only the drivers in them, and vehicles of this type comprise over ninety percent of the traffic that is pumping out smog for me to breathe and pay for, while there is considerably more car-pooling, taxi and transit use in other communities I worked in.

My theories were confirmed when I spoke to some key people in Niagara Region, most of whom were employers themselves, or worked in human resources departments. In a non-consequential survey (and completed anonymously over the telephone), I asked the employer respondents if they ever considered a man or a woman for a job in their company that did not drive ... and if this was an issue at the interview, what did that person think was the reason these people did not drive ... For males, it was thought that if they did not drive or own a car, it was believed they likely lost their license as a result of drinking and driving or some related offense. For women in the same position, it was assumed they didn't really have to work and that they had a husband that was a primary earner and they did not really have a lot of skills, and sought basically low-skilled work. When asking if they would consider hiring a non-driver, most of these employers felt that having a driver's license was "necessary" for the job, when in fact a job analysis revealed most jobs could be done without a driver's license.

When I ask others who worked with people with disabilities or those who were unemployed, I learned that in one survey 93% of those who used the generic employment agency in Niagara (Employment Help Centre, September 2008) did not have both a driver's license and a car. Those familiar with people with disabilities know that transportation is a barrier, but unfortunately nobody does anything about it around here, and too many of these workers leave it up to the job seeker to negotiated these accommodations, which nine times out of ten doesn't work.

I can understand not hiring somebody without a driver's license for a job as a cab driver, a delivery person, a limousine chauffeur, a bus driver or even a residential contractor (that must provide their own tools). However, when I speak to people that do not drive, they are not applying for these jobs ... they are applying for jobs in offices, in stores, on computers, etc. that require skills that do not include chauffeuring people or goods to different places. They are still excluded. As far as I am concerned, if a person is working as a support worker, a social worker, employment counselor, therapist, or any other "people job", if somebody needs to be driven somewhere, there are plenty of taxi services available in the community which would cost less than paying a staff person at unionized wages to do this.

While not having access to most jobs is a major problem for non-drivers, governments at all levels at the same time do not mind extracting money from non-drivers for taxes to pay for highway expansions, road repairs, traffic conversions, parking lots, GM bailouts, and the list goes on ... and private retailers don't mind hiking the prices for drivers and non-drivers alike for the privileges only enjoyed by drivers for "free parking" at their premises. In one letter to the editor of the St. Catharines Standard, one of our frustrated taxpayer activists provided some useful information, as follows (Wednesday, September 2, 2009):

City spending and taxes are not 'moderate'

There is no end in sight to increased taxes with approval of the City of St. Catharines 2009 capital budget.

Unfortunately, 2008 financial performance results are still not published and we are almost through 2009 so we must rely on 2007 data that are available from the BMA survey of 87 regions/cities representing 85 per cent of this province's population.

In St. Catharines, the tax levy per $100,000 assessment is $1,615, 26 per cent higher than the survey average of $1,282.

The tax on an average bungalow in St. Catharines is $3,257, 16 per cent higher than the survey average of $2,819.

An average "executive" residence in St. Catharines pays $5,410 in taxes, compared to the survey average of $5,184 -- we are four per cent higher.


Look at our spending per capita.

We pay $145 for fire services, compared to $113 average. Cost of roads is $8,784 compared to $2,161.

Transit costs are $10; the average is $57.

Cultural enterprises cost $17, $6 more than the average.

Regional police costs $255 compared to $202.

Region roads: $1,407 to the average of $1,127.

Debt charges as a percentage of total expenditures is 6.5 per cent; the survey average is 4.1 per cent.

The average debt per capita is $608 and ours is $691 or 14 per cent higher.

The controller may claim our debt is moderate, but city spending is not and neither are our taxes.

Dave Bedwell St. Catharines

Pay attention to what this gentleman just said: The cost of roads (per capita) is $8,784, compared to the average municipality as $2,161. The regional road cost is $1,407 compared to an average of $1,127. and the cost of transit is $10, when the average is $57. In other words, Niagara cares only about drivers and certainly less about transit users. Their excuse is that "nobody uses transit", but the truth of the matter is if it was offered in a convenient and accessible format, people would ... people don't use transit like the convoluted commuter route I described above because it is too time-consuming, complicated and exhausting. I had a discussion with one woman a couple of weeks ago that didn't want to see "her tax dollars" to to get "five people back and forth to Welland". I just said none of those five people want to continue to subsidize her access to the roads either. It might well be nigh to see more non-drivers speak up and force the issue into the courts perhaps, as to why we are paying all this money to prop up people that drive, while people that drive pay little or nothing towards those of us that need another way to get around. Maybe malls should stop subsidizing drivers as well by making me and other non-drivers pay more for our grocery and other consumer items we buy there. It might well be nigh that non-drivers stop shopping at these stores in droves until they lower their prices and start making drivers pay for their own damn parking!

Niagara can also be considered an ableist and ageist society, as it is generally disabled and very young adults or older adults that are the least likely to drive. I read one study one time that estimate approximately 50% of people with disabilities did not drive. Older people tend to give up on their licenses as they begin to lose their reflexes or visual acuity, but do they have less rights to access visits to family, recreational and shopping facilities than those that do drive? Do they have to be now put in nursing homes because they can no longer get around and do these things for themselves cost-effectively? Try to tell THEM that and see what they say. How about people with disabilities? Almost all of them want to live independently. They do not want some damned charity to send volunteers to pick them up and drop them off places. They want to find and catch a bus to go wherever they want within reason and within a reasonable period of time and as few transfers as possible.

How about if somebody passed a law and said that drivers will only have access to the road between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. but only on a half hourly basis and after six, on an hourly basis only? If you have to go somewhere in between, you have to wait until the roads re-open an hour later. What if drivers were told they were not allowed to go to certain communities because there were no usable roads in and out? They would be stamping their feet, throwing a fit and complaining about how much taxes they pay and why can't THEY get the service they pay for? How about non-drivers who pay the SAME taxes, but are getting LITTLE to NO service for what they pay?

I personally don't think transit options will improve until somebody important in Niagara loses their license due to disability or medical reasons and then finds themselves unable to do their job because of lack of transportation. I don't wish ill on people, but sometimes it might take personal experience with this form of discrimination before anything changes here and people start to realize they need to stop propping up General Motors and other aspects of the auto industry and just start to consider various ways of getting around so everybody can access the community and all the jobs it supposedly has to offer. Until then, this current recession will NEVER end for people with disabilities and for others that don't drive either for medical or financial reasons.

Your thoughts?

Friday, August 28, 2009


There was a major series on Mental Health in the Globe & Mail recently.

There was a lot of discussion about how painful the stigma is. Many people do not seek treatment because of stigma. They may notice issues happening within themselves, and then the TV begins to repeat stories about people like Vincent Li that stabbed Tim McLean to death, or about some other killer that ended up happening to have a diagnosis ... smaller headlines accompanying the same story try to repeat that people with mental health problems are LESS likely to be violent than people with mental health problems. So, if this is the case, why mention the mental health diagnosis at all? We certainly don't refer to people's hemorrhoids or gastritis when it comes to reporting their crimes, so why do they beat the mental health dead horse?

There were a number of panelists and presenters that told their stories or spoke about potential solutions for the mental health crisis in Canada which resulted in a report from the Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology entitled Out of the Shadows at Last. I read the entire report. While it did highlight some important components to mental health, it did not really give a lot of answers as to what to do about the stigma, other than suggested the latter established Mental Health Commission to embark on some campaign to end it. There are some attempts out there to try to compare people with mental health problems with persons with diabetes, but unfortunately, that isn't working. If it worked, it would have worked a long time ago, and we not be faced with a continued stigma that even prevents many persons with mental health disabilities from entering the workforce, engaging in relationships or doing other "normal" things. The media images don't show mental health clients doing "normal" things -- they are always portrayed as violent or completely incapable of looking after themselves.

In Helen Henderson's regular Toronto Star column, she referred to a British study where it was shown that one in eight persons stated they did not want to knowingly live next door to a person with a mental health diagnosis. Further, this same study revealed that over one third indicated they did not believe people with mental health issues were entitled in the same way as others to a paid job. Similar studies have been done in Canada that have also revealed that many people would not knowingly engage a professional like a doctor or a lawyer if it was known that the person had a mental health diagnosis. So, what incentive is there to get help anyways?

There are a large number of working people I know, many in the professions, that have told me in confidence that they have suffered from depression, bipolar disorder or some other diagnosis for many years, and to maintain confidentiality, they seek help from a professional in another region, as opposed to getting it here. These people are not homeless. They are not on ODSP (although a couple of them I am aware have been receiving a partial supplement from ODSP, as they work -- but they keep that to themselves too). These people are living independently and do not need "special housing" of any kind. They, like everybody else, needs a home that is affordable, with a door that locks, a roof that doesn't leak and enough space for them to enjoy their day to day living activities.

One of them was in my office the other day and we were talking about the Registered Disability Savings Program and he wanted to know how to get it. I advised him that he would need to qualify for the Disability Tax Credit first, then I explained what happens once they become eligible for the program. It is actually not a bad program for people with serious physical disabilities, as they do not need to stigmatize themselves by applying. However, for somebody with a mental health problem, they need to show that 90% or more of the time, they have a marked restriction in thinking, perceiving and/or remembering, which would reflect more of a neurological condition, although the examiners for the purposes of qualifying people would accept arguments involving problem solving, capacity to live independently, etc. as part of their evaluation for eligibility for mental health disability.

The problem with this is that if one values their status as a professional, a student or perhaps, even an executive or manager of an organization, accepting this definition of themselves would render them unemployable, which is something most of my professional friends do not want. They do not want to face a Fitness to Practice committee of the Teacher's College or other professional regulator that would somehow question one's capacity to carry out their profession, if they allegedly have "marked restrictions" in these areas. Of course, as soon as my friend went through my literature on the topic, the whole question of the RDSP became moot. The one gentleman who receives a partial ODSP now knew this would not work well for him, thus forcing him to live within the restricted means of that benefit.

People with mental health problems CAN get the Disability Tax Credit. I have appealed many cases successfully in the past; however, in not one of these cases, was the subject able to work. In fact, even in these cases we had to prove severity. These folks had problems managing their money, handling their personal hygiene, using public transportation independently, as well as being unable to handle stress - thus, the problem-solving issue. Some of these people were relatively high functioning, such as the case with Buchanan v Attorney General of Canada, but in the end, his case was proven but he was not able to work, and had to be cared for by his wife. The new 'mental health consumer/survivor' as they call themselves today wants to be independent, competent and functioning as a human being to the extent possible, and in most cases - if analyzed at the surface, they certainly wouldn't be eligible unless they met the criteria of my successful appellants in the matter.

If somebody were injured in a car accident, for example, and ended up in a wheelchair, or if they had only 20% of their hearing and required sign language or other adaptations, then the stigma of applying for and receiving something like this isn't there. The examples given in the Canada Revenue Agency guide appear to favour physical disability over mental disability and this is post-review of the criteria, despite what some progressive mental health organizations might like to pretend they have accomplished on people's behalf. To me, this should be based exclusively on additional costs - direct or indirect - as a result of having the disability. This was in fact the original purpose of the credit. However, a high functioning consumer/survivor that is working, but needs to pay out of pocket for psychological counseling services isn't eligible. A high functioning professional with epilepsy that cannot drive due to seizures is not eligible. This can be a very long list indeed, as we can all cull out examples from our own experience.

One of the other issues faced by consumer/survivors is that they are too often chronically unemployed or under-employed regardless of their educational attainment. In a study cited by the Global Business Roundtable on Mental Health, employers tend to under-estimate the number of people they have working for them that could possibly be consumer/survivors. In this study, the figure estimated was almost always under 5% - when the general figure given is that one in five persons at one time or other experience a mental health problem, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association. When they do have problems, they are not usually accommodated, but instead sent on disability leave. If the employee is fortunate enough to have a long-term disability insurance plan, they will at least not be forced into poverty, like so many thousands of others. The loss of productivity is shameful and dispiriting.

Some consumer/survivors think it is a good idea to get consumer/survivors to work in a consumer/survivor-run business. To most of my friends I spoke of earlier, this is NOT a good idea, as one is permanently labeling themselves and later restricting their employment options, as research and experience has shown that society has not yet progress far enough to recognize the skills and talents of people without the label first. However, for those consumer/survivors who may never work again in a "normal" job, it may be an option for them. If they can be taken off or substantially off disability benefits, that is even a better thing over the long run.

So, it seems that people still do not want to accept people who directly experienced the services of the mental health system. How does one go about resolving that? This is an age-old question.
I, for one, do not like the term "mental illness", not only for its logical inconsistency, but it does contribute to the stereotype of incapacity. Moreover, there is no actual peer-reviewed research that definitively ties mental health diagnosis with a specific physiological cause. This is not to say there is no value in the use of medication, as many consumer/survivors are helped by the different medications prescribed for their condition. Because a medication may "work", it does not mean it corrects a physiological condition, but may provide symptom relief in other ways, such as a person suffering from a major headache taking an Advil. Again, as always, one needs to be informed about their medications and ensure they try different ones before they settle on a cocktail that may eventually be proven to be most effective over time.

But not all so-called "mentally ill" respond to medication or need it. Medication is just one part of an array of services, or weapons, against the problems of the condition. Alternative therapies help many consumer/survivors, as does some forms of psychotherapy. When given a wide range of choices, understanding the benefits and drawbacks to each, a consumer/survivor will eventually find their way. But, to label them "mentally ill" automatically generates a picture of somebody who is "mentally defective" or "mentally incapable", whereas the focus is on what the person cannot do, as opposed to what they can. Advocates attempting to "educate" on mental health issues and to eradicate stigma should take this issue into account.

Nor are persons with "mental illness" likely to be homeless as a direct consequence of their condition either. Unfortunately, the media and even many social workers tend to paint this picture of their clients, as people who are not capable of caring for themselves. Earlier, I referred to the Out of the Shadows at Last report from the Senate. Various deponents slated the percentage of persons with mental health disabilities as unemployed or underemployed as 75 - 90%, which also explains a lot. When you are unemployed, especially chronically so and without access to long-term disability under a private plan, you are forced to impoverish yourself in order to be eligible for the remaining programs, Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program. Neither program pays well and a single person, even on ODSP is several thousands of dollars below the poverty line.

I spoke to a homeless gentleman named John, here in the city. He supposedly had a mental health "history", but he chose homelessness over starvation, because he knew he could not afford both housing and other basic needs on ODSP. As such, most times when I seen him, he was enjoying a meal of sorts. To me, it's the consequent poverty that often arises out of discrimination and stress from the job market that leads to homelessness, not the other way around. Can you live on $572 a month and cover housing, groceries, clothing, transportation and other needs with that? My suspect is that most of the homeless are like John. The only ones where I actually feel their disability itself may have played a part are those that are addicted, as many would "blow their rent money on drugs". For those folks, we simply dry them out and get them treated and housed, but for somebody with only a mental health problem, get them enough money to live on or housing they could afford - period.

One of the consequences of linking so-called "mental illness" itself to homelessness is the danger of it translating into social policy, whereby one's liberties are once again at stake. Proponents of this "model" tend to favour forcing people into mental health treatment -wanted or not - effective or not - on such persons and keeping them under some kind of prison-like condition in the community. They would be under curfew, forced to share their accommodation with others, often with worse problems than their own, and forced to take medication at the risk of being evicted if they don't. While this policy may keep some people on their medication, it does not necessarily "cure" them, nor does it help them progress to citizenship status that we all take for granted. You need to ask yourself if YOU want that kind of quality of life FIRST, before you suggest imposing it on others. Nevertheless, liberalizing mental health incarcerations and follow-up supervision has NOT reduced the homeless numbers one bit.

Instead of attacking people for what they are labeled as, one needs to view all people for who they are. People sharing the same diagnosis are two very different people with different needs, interests and abilities. But nevertheless, they are people first. It is high time we start to demand treatment from mental health professionals and their advocates that assume they can eradicate the stigma by telling everybody how poor John is crazy, hopeless, incapable and delusional, so he becomes homeless ... How does this advocacy make John look like a person, other than distance his problems from those of yours and mine? Instead we need to stop the labeling and let John speak for himself. We might learn something.

Your thoughts?

Friday, July 31, 2009


Some of us believe that Canadians treat their low income individuals and families well, compared to say, what other countries do. The middle class folks who have always lived this way, without ever knowing the feeling of living from paycheck to paycheck for the most part do believe this country actually helps its poor. Most of these same people feel that low-income people can become middle-class if they really pulled up their socks and tried.

The reality according to many sources - particularly the lived experience of people living in poverty - proves differently.

There are many types of poverty in Ontario and for almost all types, it is getting worse and much harder to escape. Stereotypes about who the low-income and poor folks are is just a beginning and unfortunately, public attitudes turn public policy. In Ontario for the past twenty years, this public policy has become public disaster.

The first kind of poverty includes the unemployed. There are less and less Canadians eligible to collect Employment Insurance today than there were twenty years ago. Before the unemployed officially were pushed off the marginalized category of our society with the rest of the low-income population, benefit levels more closely reflected working income and at least 85% of those that paid into the program were able to collect if they lost their jobs. Today, nationally less than four in ten workers are deemed eligible for Employment Insurance, regardless that they paid into the program for years before losing their job.

What happens to the sixty or more percent of those that do not qualify? These people get thrown in the trash heap sooner than those that do; however, with the present recession, even among those that do manage to collect EI, the likelihood that they will fall into destitution is real, given that the next step off the ladder is Ontario Works - if they can get it. But, let's continue with the EI poverty folks first. Benefits are presently capped at 55% of one's earnings or $423 a week, whatever is less. For a single person living in a medium sized metropolitan census tract region, this may be approaching poverty line. For a family, it not even nearly adequate. Assuming one gets the full length of payout (which most don't), benefits "run out" in 45 weeks.

While on claim, one is expected to search for and accept any work for which one is reasonably capable of doing. One must also be deemed always available to start work at any time during their claim. Those that attempt to leave the country for a brief vacation can get caught and lose a period of their benefits, if they are not excused for this ahead of time. If it can be proven that a job offer was given, but turned down, one can lose benefits altogether. The only saving grace one really has is the fact that administrators of the program during a recession like this one tend to be overworked and lack the time to oversee many of these things; however, people have been "reported" and subsequently accused of not being eligible, or even committing fraud.

Work programs for those who are eligible for EI (or who qualify for "reach back" for benefits that have recently been received) tend to be of a higher quality than programs serving other low-income workers, although many are reportedly difficult to access. One example is the Second Career Program, which many people found to be Kafkaesque in its application process and subsequent approval, after which it is allegedly determined that person applying must "prove" the new career they are attempting is actually going to result in a job. If anybody can adequately predict this, then we should be consulting the same people about lottery numbers so more of us can be winning the millions. Nevertheless, once one gets onto this program, it offers not only payment for the training, but also living expenses -- something unheard of for other low-income recipients that want to return to work.

This category of people unfortunately has since become stereotyped by the federal Conservatives as a group of people paid to sit at home essentially, thus their reasoning for not reforming the EI program so that more people are eligible for this "insurance" policy. However, if you are sitting at a lower step of the ladder in this caste system, those on EI are probably the best treated group of people living in poverty.

First, EI is yours and even if your spouse was a millionaire that owns hundreds of properties, your EI is not impacted. Even if YOU owned hundreds of properties, your EI is not affected. While there is a bit of a boot given to you to "get a job", you are not immediately at least forced into destitution and desperation like hundreds of thousands of other Ontarians are. But at some point, EI will "run out". Some will be lucky enough to find a job before that happens. Others have family and savings to rely on to stretch this idiocy a little longer. However, many others are forced onto the welfare rolls.

The majority of middle-class Ontarians actually believe it is easy to get "on welfare". The truth of the matter is that it is not. In fact, you have to burn almost all of your bridges, including family support, retirement savings plans and in some cases, your vehicle, before you can access this system. For those who have been on both EI and Ontario Works, they will almost unanimously tell you that Ontario Works is a lot worse.

First, the amounts one can receive is a LOT lower. There is no rational connection between the actual cost of living and what one is actually given on welfare to live on. A single person is supposed to find living accommodations for under approximately $360 per month. This does not even cover the cost of a room in most jurisdictions across the province. However, somebody on welfare is supposed to find housing of that price range. For many, this means losing their current accommodations, as for most people on welfare, their current accommodations cost much more than the total amount they get one their cheque, let alone just the shelter allotment.

To make matters worse, some welfare offices have harassed recipients who were paying more than this amount for housing, threatening to cut them off if they don't find "cheaper" accommodations. Others are given a form to complete to identify their total income and how they cover their monthly costs. Most, if not all of them, either don't eat most of the month or rely on a patch work of food banks, soup kitchens and occasionally, family. If it is learned that one is getting help from family or friends, their next cheque can be deducted by approximately the same value as that "help" received. So most that do get any of this help don't mention it. The fear and reality of starvation are too closely aligned.

On top of financial humiliation and abuse received by people getting Ontario Works, they are expected to take the fastest route to a job. A lot of research has gone into this philosophy and it was found that folks that did just this ended up back on welfare shortly thereafter, as the jobs they would get would often be low-paying, short term and have no benefits. Of course, welfare recipients are a boon for slimy employers that want to refuse minimum wages, or even any wages at all, or to employers that have a management style that includes bullying their employees -- using of course, the three month quit or fire rule in the event that a person is forced from the job. Welfare offices do have discretion on how they handle this, but many people still end up in its quagmire, which ends in homelessness and often losing what little they have.

Many people on welfare are disabled or have multiple workplace barriers. If they didn't start off this way, many of them end up this way. Therefore, such folks often aspire to apply for the Ontario Disability Support Program, or ODSP. ODSP pays roughly twice the amount a single person on welfare gets and some of its rules around assets and income are more liberal. However, with regards to assets, transfers from Ontario Works to ODSP aren't usually concerned about this, as they lost almost everything they have just by trying to become and remain eligible for Ontario Works.

Those that later go onto the ODSP program that have managed to keep their housing or some kind of housing are often quite far into debt by the time their file gets transferred. ODSP rules help in this case, as one is paid back to the time they first applied to the program and many recipients get months, if not years, in retroactive adjustment payments to help cover these bills. Some end up above the allowable asset limits for ODSP and are told to discharge the excess in about six months' time (and some are granted a longer period for various reasons). Most have no trouble doing so, as housing itself takes up an average of 73% of a market renter's ODSP cheque anyways.

The unique circumstances of ODSP recipients are such that they are made to live their lives in a similar way to people who are welfare recipients, only they get paid a little more to do so. While not required to take a job, many ODSP recipients feel forced to work in order to make up the gap in income required to pay their basic living expenses. For those that cannot work at all, living on ODSP for the long term is unhealthy and downright dangerous. For the person who once pointed out that 'poverty kills', this is in fact a reality. While many people on ODSP may have shortened lifespans due to their disability that brought them onto ODSP in the first place, there is hard evidence that poverty itself is even a bigger contributor to this quandary.

Life on ODSP becomes very difficult and isolating once its recipients discover that:

1. They will unlikely attract a spouse or life partner, as if they do - that spouse or life partner ends up being on ODSP too, even if they never signed up for it in the past. All the asset rules, earnings clawbacks, etc. that apply to the recipient also apply to the spouse, so there is very little incentive for somebody who is not already on ODSP themselves to get involved with a recipient.

2. If they are working, they will not be able to contribute to a retirement pension (unless they are also eligible for a disability tax credit which has a strict criteria and the program that is tied to - the Registered Disability Savings Plan - depends an awful lot on having wealthy and generous friends and family that can contribute to this account on your behalf ...). If they aren't on an RDSP, then they can't put into an RRSP, even if they can afford to contribute something - as one's assets are capped at $5,000 (for a single person).

3. If they do work, half of one's NET income is deducted right away off their next ODSP cheque. While some costs can be written off, most costs for working cannot be. Therefore, you probably would be netting just as much money sitting at home picking your nose than you will by working and maintaining your eligibility with ODSP.

4. Employment supports provided as part of the ODSP program are available to any recipient that wants to try to work, but again, this is complicated. They must sign on with a "service provider" whose job it is to help one get and keep a job. Service providers are paid on the basis of being successful in doing so, which all sounds well and good for accountability's sake, but what this in fact does is encourage recipients to once again to take the fastest route to employment. Again, slimy employers love this program, so more under-employed people can be hired to work for low wages, no benefits and no security. After all, as some of these slimy employers told me, isn't ODSP supposed to subsidize the minimum wage?

5. There are a lot of stupid rules involving loans being defined as unearned income, which ironically makes the recipient pay it back twice - first to the lender, then back to ODSP as an overpayment. A particularly large loan that is not approved in advance can cause a recipient to be cut off altogether in the month in which it is received.

6. Sometimes the recipient waits for the requisite Godot and manages to get into rent-geared-to-income housing in their respective region (average wait is five to seven years for a single), and later learns that if they decide to work and collect ODSP, their rent-geared-to-income unit costs them more as they earn more money, thus even COSTING them to work at all. ODSP will catch up to some extent, but again, you are expected to find shelter that costs $456 or less (including all utilities - good luck!). Once you hit that magic number with ODSP, you are paying out of pocket for the privilege of having a paid job!

7. At the same time, while ODSP recipients want to work as much as anybody else, many cannot work and others try, but encounter many of these stupid rules and quit trying ... the middle class public believe most, if not all, ODSP recipients don't "really need" to be on it. It is like members of the general public suddenly become doctors and are capable of assessing people they don't know from a distance as to what they can and cannot do. While the same folks that approve people to get on ODSP in the first place are sort of like that, they do have medical training and their decisions can always be appealed. But stigma from the public cannot.

So, while one is treated a little bit better on ODSP than they are on welfare, it is a double-edged sword that one cannot help but wonder if it is its own "kiss of death". ODSP is a legitimate program with legitimate need, but major reforms must be done to make this program almost unrecognizable and thus, more useful for the person with the disability.

The fourth category of poor is the elderly. Middle class Canadians believe the government wiped out elder poverty with the Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement. The truth is unless you worked for a time as a public servant or were a well-adorned auto worker, it is not likely that you will be getting any pension other than that publicly offered by the government. CPP maxes out at just over $1,000 a month (and that is if you made over $40,000 most of your working career). OAS is just under $500. Guaranteed Income Supplement is for those seniors that do not get a pension and not enough CPP ... and I've had them in my office, folks. These people don't get much more than people get on ODSP (a difference of about $150 at most), plus these seniors lose the dental, special diet, medical travel and other benefits apart from drug coverage once they turn 65. Sounds like something to look forward to, eh?

This group of poor is not as stigmatized by the public as the other groups I identified above. It is just not recognized as being as large as it is by most Canadians. Something certainly has to be done with pensions to ensure NOBODY over the age of sixty-five lives in poverty.

The final group I want to raise is the working poor. These are folks that get no welfare, ODSP, EI, or pensions, but do get a wage - except the wage does not add up to enough money to pay the rent and feed the kids in the same month. It seems that more and more people are falling into this category and for many employers, it is perfectly all right as many of them do not want to pay what people need to live on or even what the skills of their workers are actually worth to the business. Many of these same employers are ironically great corporate citizens. They participate in the United Way drives, give major donations to the food banks and so forth, but lo and behold, they fail to realize that the majority of their employees are probably using these same stop-gap band-aid programs these employers praise in the media just to get by.

There is also a group of people that don't really fit in any of these categories, but may or may not be poor - at least at first, depending on the generosity of their accident employer. This is the injured workers under the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, or the WSIB. At some point, I will write more about the politics of the injured workers' industry (and yes, this is a BIG industry) and what tends to happen to the person that actually got injured on the job through no fault of their own. In Ontario, since the early 1900's, employers bought into this 'no fault' formula that would pay workers financial compensation that does have some relevance to real wages (unlike most social programs like welfare and ODSP) until such point they recover or are able to return to work at a different job. The legal politics are there and the explanations complicated, but nevertheless, when the WSIB pie is divided up at the end of the day, it is always the injured worker that gets the smallest piece.

A colleague of mine called me up earlier in the year to ask me if I was noticing a widespread epidemic of injured workers being cut off of WSIB benefits at the drop of a hat, it seems. At that time, my caseload for WSIB cases alone had increased 400% - most of which include unpaid lost time claims and/or discontinued benefits. "Reasons" for being cut off are myriad, similar to those of people on Ontario Works and usually have something to do with "non-cooperation" and in the odd case, somehow a person turns up with a "pre-existing condition" they never had prior to the accident but this condition somehow has caused the injury and disablement blamed on the accident ... people working in this field learn how to speak a lot of double-speak and bureaucratise. If a worker has an honest claim, they will be paid, but it appears that the job of the WSIB is to either delay payment for as long as they can (hoping that a certain percentage will not bother to appeal) or try to deny it altogether by inventing some new rule or circumstance as to why the person is suddenly ineligible. The interesting thing is that the injured workers drawing the higher level of benefits tend to be the ones they want to kick off the system the fastest and the ones on the lower level of benefits tend to be steered into low-wage jobs ... sound familiar? I might sound like a conspiracy theorist, but I do believe our own government is working hand in hand with these slimy employers to provide them with a cadre of desperate workers willing to work for next to nothing.

Your thoughts?

Monday, July 13, 2009


I have been trying to put together on a book on advocacy practice for some time, particularly around what constitutes ethics. Initially it focused primarily on the ethical parts of advocacy geared to the legal profession, but then again - we already have plenty of guidance in that through our regulator and various professional associations. However, my work is much more than that ... I talk more about meaning, what it means to speak up for yourself, speak up for others, or to represent a constituent group.

Limiting ethics to practice work is difficult, as in practice, doing advocacy as a profession still stifles us to a specific framework of how we advocate, how we present ourselves and how we maintain our clients' respective position. But nevertheless, my focus here is on self-advocacy, individual-focused advocacy and representative advocacy. There are basic ethics and guidelines in how to do these things correctly, but more or less, why you want to do it - that is the important thing.

I always say people who are white male millionnaires never need advocates. Such persons are capable of generating the resources they need when they feel threatened or backed into a corner. These are the people that threaten newspapers with libel action when unfavourable press is generated about them, or somebody at one of their social clubs attempts to exclude them in some way. The people I work with are those that need assistance with self-advocacy or need somebody to back them up big time.

I always pride myself in that I have a voice and I am eager to use it whenever I have a chance, and I will use it whenever I feel under attack. Part of self-advocacy for me is identifying my boundaries. Personal boundaries are a big thing. You have a right as an individual to decide what comes into your home, into your life or what level of abuse you are willing to exchange for valued goods and services. To me, I feel I should not have to follow any rules that are different than the rules that are followed by others. Under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms of this country, I am supposed to be considered equal before and under the law and under this province's Human Rights Code, I am supposed to live a life that is free from harassment and discrimination regardless of mental or physical disability, creed, ethnicity, racial origin, gender and a myriad of other reasons.

It is unfortunate that most people don't think this way, particularly when they are disadvantaged in some way, either by disability, ethnicity, poverty or some other issue. In 2006, I filed a couple of legal actions. These things took a lot out of me, as I don't like to get involved in protracted legal issues unless I feel I can bring something important to a final or interim resolution by doing so, when other strategies have failed. It is 2009, and these two actions will soon be winding their way back in the system. I am trying to find some time to obtain some important documentation because both of these cases are of public interest. Many people around me are aware of these two legal actions and for most, they cheer me on in the background; however, when I ask them to join me in the action, they are hesitant. For me, it is the number of people who are hesitant, not only in taking legal action, but raising hell in other ways, that leads to continued and entrenched discriminatory practices in society.

In my last posting, I made reference to Tim Hudak who campaigned and successfully won the leadership of the provincial Progressive Conservatives in part because he announced early on that he plans to dismantle the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. To me, that is a bad move. I am not a big fan of the way things are set up with the new Tribunal, as one year of full year practice has already proven for me what I thought would happen. In order to deal with a Complaint of legitimacy, one still waits. Once the Tribunal gets to it, it rushes the process to a point where it is difficult to properly assess, evaluate and play by the rules. Some Complaints that are irrelevant have been pushed through and while the Tribunal has handily dismissed them, the time the process has taken has been lost from legitimate issues.

Hudak's solution is just to put the matter to the courts. He suggested a good model would be the Family Law Courts or Domestic Violence Courts "where cases are heard on evidence as opposed to hurt feelings". That phrase made me laugh, as it is obvious that Hudak has never been the subject of a proceeding before either of these courts. The Family Law Courts handle both matters of separation, divorce, custody and support, as well as Children's Aid matters. If any of these subjects hit home with you personally, you know these courts are certainly procedurally minded, but many do feel they do not work on hard evidence. Families facing the Children's Aid feel they are kneeling below the Sword of Damascus no matter what they say or do. Parents and couples separating have found the family courts to depend largely on what Judge hears your case or how competent your lawyer is, if you can afford one. Nevertheless, many families have gone through these endeavours only to come out on the other end broke, penniliess, exhausted and alone. Many men as well also know what it is like to be accused of domestic violence as well ... what that does to their family, children, relationships and to some extent, in certain cases, their employment.

To the contrary, I do find the Human Rights Tribunals to base their decisions on evidence. In recent cases I have dealt with before the new Tribunal, I find the adjudicators to be very impartial and push parties to stick to the facts. They have mediations, discovery processes, interim decisions, motions, case conferences and other means of resolving disputes. As a young Tribunal, it is struggling still and at its birth, it was unfairly hit with thousands and thousands of cases, many of which were transferred over from but not resolved by the Ontario Human Rights Commission. If one reads the decisions of the Tribunal, which are printed through its website, one sees that the decisions are based on both fact and law. Many people do come to the Tribunal with complaints that may not necessarily fit the mould of the Code and the adjudicators are careful to ensure that the parties have an opportunity to review the law and take the opportunity to see if their case truly falls within its jurisdiction.

It is not the fault of the Tribunal that the occasional person puts forth a ridiculous lawsuit such as the one that is now before it about an alleged trans-gendered person that is accusing a ladies gym owner of barring him/her from the premises. There are reasonable defences to this respondent and I do hope he wins. However, cases like this do not necessitate the elimination of the Tribunal. People like this always seem to find a way to grind their axes in the court system too. I've encountered them in my own professional practice. An individual representing themselves puts forth a ridiculous lawsuit against my client that is either statute barred or based on non-justiciable issues, or on no evidence whatsoever, and despite motions to shut it down, the court tends to allow them to continue for a time until case conference or after some point in discovery or even in the lower courts, at time of trial. Yes, justice prevails here too, but only after months or even years of a stupid case winding through the courts.

However, the main reason I object is the issue of access. Courts are more difficult to deal with, are inherently more complex and if one is to pursue them, they usually need representation. In many courts, particularly the kind that Hudak alludes to, one can ONLY be represented by a lawyer and not by agent or paralegal. So, if a Complainant to this fictitious Human Rights Court wants to file a Complaint, they need to have money and LOTS of it ... as I said before, the white male millionnaires will probably not be filing complaints in this Court. But, the ones that really need to be in this Court will be shut out for financial and personal reasons. The Tribunal, on the other hand, while not perfect and still littered with too many rules in itself, is more accessible. More Complainants can self-represent in a meaningful way and others too, with some summary assistance by its Legal Support Centre. In some cases, the LSC will be able to represent a party all the way through a case. As well, paralegals and other approved agents can also represent a party before this Tribunal.

My concern is that if Hudak ever gets elected as Premier of Ontario and follows through with this above promise, rights abuses against vulnerable citizens will become more tolerated and accepted because there will be fewer people able to stand up against the abusers. With less Complaints, people like Hudak will make it look like Ontario is wonderful and tolerant and that the government is 'looking after' its people, while the pain and malcontent is simply shoved further beneath the surface.

Some people see how I instruct folks on self-advocacy. They complain that I can do this because I have legal training. The truth is I was doing it long before I got any of my legal training. What I understood and what I try to get people to understand is that you need to become aware of and respect YOUR personal boundaries. You know what is right for YOU and many times, when something does not FEEL right, it is not right. I sincerely believe that if even ten (10) percent of the population of low-income citizens or the population of persons with disabilities were to become effective self-advocates, many of the abuses that take place today will soon become intolerable in our society.

But unfortunately, many people do not become self-advocates or choose not to do so for a number of reasons: (1) They feel there is always somebody like me that is going to do it for them. I can't be everywhere, so other people need to chime in. (2) They feel they cannot be effective or they cannot win. Of course, you will not win by not fighting back. You can never choose your outcome by learning effective advocacy, but by not doing so - you are - you are choosing to lose. (3) In some areas of self-advocacy, they fear reprisal. People living in public housing fear they will get evicted. People receiving ODSP think they will get suspended or cut off for some real or imaginary "rule". People who assert their rights to law enforcement persons, such as the police force or even children's aid think they will be penalized in some way. The key is assertive, not aggressive or silly. (4) They fear unwanted publicity. To me, I always found the media to be an effective tool when "quieter" forms of advocacy didn't work; and (5) People feel they don't know their rights. There are always ways to find out what your rights are if you are not sure.

Some of the keys that worked for me is:


If your opponents note that you are not afraid of them, they are more likely to become afraid of you, especially if you start to assert yourself. To me, I approach all people I meet in various situations as simply other people who are doing a job. Many times, the person who is doing the job is not sure themselves if they are doing their job correctly. They will never share with you, but if you know they are acting in a way they are not supposed to, that will set them off ...


Inform your adversaries of the facts. Back it up with evidence, as required. Do not agree to any position that makes you feel uncomfortable. Sometimes, I have had clients encounter agents that try to get them to sign a statement that includes an admission of guilt for something the person does not feel they did. There is nothing wrong with refusing to sign it. A couple of times, I noted an ODSP agent writing or alleging statements that my client is not declaring an income or an asset, or is living with somebody or has lived with somebody. If these allegations are not true, say so.

Many times, I informally meet with government agents, for example, who may be unaware a certain regulation was dealt with in a particular way by a court, for example. I come in with a copy of the court decision and provide them with it, as part of my "information" and "support" role. Do this in the spirit of cooperation and support, not an attack. People will react better to you when they better understand your position. I have had many crazy decisions overturned before they even reached the appeals stage that way.


If the first stage does not resolve the issue, take it up a level. Get to know how your opponent is organized. Do they have a formal complaint process? Do they have a chain of command? Does the system you are fighting have a formal appeal process? I have had to advocate for myself and others in various systems, such as student loans, the school board, the welfare office, the co-op board, funding agencies, etc. many times without knowing what the process was at first, but I learned it.

Take the time to get to know your opponent. Who do they answer to? How do decisions by your opponent get made? Are they governed by any particular legislation? Is there a visible chain of command? Start at the point of the person you are disagreeing with, then go up the ladder. Do this in an informed way, while respecting their processes, yet at the same time being very clear as to what the nature of your concerns are.


Your opponent is not going to tell you what rights you have over them. However, no opponent, particularly any "official" opponent has absolute power and control. These people have less power over you than they try to let you believe. There are great resources to conduct research on your own to find out what your rights are. Google is a wonderful tool, which saved my hide several times. If your opponent is a government agency, you can obtain an organizational chart online to learn who is above the person who made the decision you are concerned about. There will also be information about how to file a formal complaint or appeal a decision on the organization's website or on the websites of persons or agencies that often support people like you who are fighting certain issues.


In many cases, going to the media can be a good thing. It is often the straw that breaks the camel's back in certain bureaucratic abyss' that might not move otherwise. Get to know your local media, who is in charge of it and how you can reach somebody who might be interested in your story. Many reporters have "beats" that can be used to channel your information. For example, a health reporter might write a story about a mess-up that happened in your local hospital. A police reporter might be interested in how you were wrongfully arrested, placed in jail and then cleared, but how this impacted your life. An education reporter might be interested in the fight you are having getting supports for your child in your school.

If you want to try the media, be careful first. It is wise to speak with somebody who has dealt with the media before you try to do it. Keep your point simple. Emphasize three points in your release to them, and try not to make your story too complicated. Readers and viewers like the 30-second clip or the newspaper article that grabs their attention with key facts. Pay attention to your timing. If there is a bill before the legislature about your issue, you may want to bring this to the reporter's attention. If your issue just happens to be taking place during Mental Health Week (e.g. having trouble finding mental health help for your child), Poverty Awareness Week (e.g. how you just got cut off ODSP for a "phantom" job they claim you have), etc. it is timely. Make sure you approach your reporter when nothing of immediate concern is going on, such as a multi-car pile up on the QEW, the resignation of the Prime Minister, somebody getting shot in your community, etc. These other issues tend to draw reporters away, at least temporarily from what story you might have.


You may be passionate about your issue. Your issue may be the only thing that lights up your life at this moment, but remember that whether your issue is going on or not, the rest of the world is still going on as it always has. This can make you feel alone and isolated. Talk to friends, families and community organizations that might be of some support to you and your issue. Take respite breaks from your issue to do things that relax and empower you, whether that be that hot bath, that glass of wine at dinner or listening to that new CD you bought.


Rome wasn't built in a day. Your issue will not be resolved in a day either. Any progress in the right direction is positive progress that needs to be acknowledged by you. Keep your issue in the spotlight where possible. Write letters to the editor. Write articles or post online to discussion groups that are related to your issue. Meet informally with others who have an interest in the same issue. Keep in touch with the people that have power over deciding about the issue that concerns you. Send them articles and Internet links that support your position; keep them in the loop.


You may or may not need to do this, or legal action may not necessarily be what your issue needs, but in some cases, it will push the issue to the top of your opponent's agenda. Being sued has a way of making people pay attention all of a sudden. However, before taking legal action, seeking an hour of a legal expert's time is a good investment. This person can tell you what laws apply to your situation, what legal options you have and how you can best push for your position. They can also tell you if you should take this course of action as well.

There are resources on the Internet that can help you represent yourself if you are articulate and knowledgeable enough about your issue. There are legal experts that might be willing to coach you while you represent yourself on a matter if you cannot afford to hire them to do it for you. In some circumstances, in Ontario a licensed paralegal or agent can represent you on certain matters. In others, you might need to consult a lawyer.

However, if you choose to represent yourself, make sure your documentation is done correctly and you follow the rules of whatever court or tribunal you are taking the matter to. Make sure you come prepared, have all of your facts together along with any evidence. Prepare in advance for what your opponent will say and make sure your documentation addresses this. Be clear as to what remedy you are seeking and justify why that remedy is appropriate.

Even if you are taking legal action against your opponent, treat them and any legal representatives they might have respectfully at all times. This can pay off in big dividends, particularly if your opponent admits part of your case or may be considering some type of settlement proposal. However, when you file for legal action, be prepared to take your case all the way to Trial, even though many cases, you will be able to settle the case before that. It still surprises me to this day how an amicable settlement can still be worked out in many cases, even when it seemed that the involved parties are so far apart on the issues.


When you accomplish something, write about it. Talk about it. Join or start a group where other people might also be seeking similar solutions that you were able to achieve. If you advocate for somebody else, train that person to take their own stand so that when you are finished your task, there will be at least one more person speaking up about the injustices and doing something about them.

To me, it is only when more and more people take a stand and forward action on human rights issues, that the rest of society will even begin to see their importance and stop any discriminatory practices they might have, or even intervene when they see it happening to somebody else. To me, this is the kind of society that truly respects one another.