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.