Saturday, December 25, 2010


I don't know about you, but while I like Christmas, I have little tolerance for the hypocrisy of the charitable sector and the upper middle class and some wealthy families in our country. Many of these people are quite active in "adopt a-family" campaigns, "give a child a Christmas: and "Christmas hamper" programs that they forget that the other 364 days of the year, these same people bash the same people who they just sponsored for these Christmas charities as "leeches", "lazy", "failures", etc. While I don't think ill is begotten by these campaigns, but little thought is given to the targets of them, how they feel about being adopted, pitied, awash with charity and fake neighbourly love, while at the same time, other days of the year, punished for their very position and circumstances.

This does not include all people of upper middle class or wealthy sectors, but a good amount of them. This also applies to "back to school". Newspapers are awash with media poornography dealing with how "wonderful" some company or organization has been to raise so many dollars from all of their "fortunate" (therefore, respectable and heroic) members to donate to all those "poor, pathetic, down-on-their luck failures" in our society. While they would never identify such persons as failures, an alarming number of people that give to charities consider those that receive from the same to be failures. Surveys have been done of staff in the charitable sector, and it was found they are just as likely to hold prejudicial views of those that approach them for help that members of the general public do.

For example, it is believed by these people that people are poor because they do not manage their money well, that they were wrongfully discharged from psychiatric or penal institutions, that they have no skills or lack a high school education. This is becoming less and less the norm; in fact, the norm of those that turn to charities are people who are really no different than members of the general public. Poor bashing originates from the necessity to create "otherness" in the population of the poor and homeless. People that donate to charities think they still have their jobs because they possess a work ethic and "work hard". Research originating from Jones and Harris blames the "fundamental attribution error" for this way of thinking, where if something horrible happens to somebody, that that person is somehow to blame for their circumstances and if something good happens, that person somehow did something to deserve it. This attribution error has self-serving properties, as it assuages those of us that are not falling on hard times that it will not happen to us, as we lack the internal qualities we attribute to those that these things happen to (e.g. lazy, mentally ill, a criminal). I shown readers in an earlier blog that laziness does not only reside in some of the jobless, but many wealthy and working people too. Wealth today is less likely to be earned as it might have been decades in the past.

In the recent Toronto municipal election, people elected Rob Ford because he appeared to be "an ordinary guy". People like Rob Ford and his brother, Doug Ford, both ran and won in the past municipal election. Both grew up as and remain to this day to be multi-millionaires. They own a company that was handed down to them by parents and likely grandparents that started it and made it successful. One only need see that if either Ford has enough time to be full-time councilor and Mayor, respectively, they are obviously not "working hard" in their business that they seem to be so responsible for. Being a member of a corporate board of directors or an owner of a large company is really not that much work. You just pay other people to run it for you and stop by once in awhile to make sure they are doing a good job. It is likely other people, perhaps, other members of the Ford family or perhaps, even hired management is doing the real work in this company. While I am not saying the Fords are doing anything wrong or their gains were ill-gotten, they cannot realistically portray themselves to be "ordinary guys". In my view, a single parent that works three part-time minimum wage jobs to keep her family's head above water works much harder than any CEO and nobody will convince me otherwise.

They, like most other wealthy people, won what is known as the Ovarian lottery. The "ovarian lottery" was named by Warren Buffet, one of the world's richest men, one of the few who will actually speak out about the nonsense of further tax cuts for the wealthy. Most wealth, high incomes and high level opportunities are inherited in some way - either by money given to them by living parents to complete their education, a business successorship, an inheritances after the parents or other close relatives die or similar circumstances. More about Buffet's analogy is written in Linda McQuaig and Meil Brooks' book entitled "The Trouble with Billionaires".

Before those of you reading this think this is a "left wing" commentary (which I don't understand as I don't relate well with the so-called left either), this book and its analysis was rated very positively by the managing editor of the National Post, typically a small-c conservative publication. There are others that are not as famous that also speak out about the wrong-headedness of further tax cuts for wealthy people. Tax cuts for corporations has never been proven to increase the salaries and benefit levels of those working for these companies, nor have they proven to distribute wealth or even opportunity equitably among the whole population. The founder of Wal-Mart, for example, was also one of the world's richest men, but we know people working at Wal-Mart earn very close to minimum wage. The same applies to the Weston family who still owns the largest stake in Loblaw's grocery stores and most workers in these stores are minimum wage and part-time.

Moreover, in their latest book, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, authors of The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everybody, comparisons among so called "rich" nations are made and various factors, such as infant mortality, incarceration rates, prevalence of certain kinds of health conditions (such as diabetes, heart disease), high school graduation rate, etc. were compared on the basis of a single independent variable: the gap of wealth and income within the nation's population. Wilkinson is an economic and a medical epidemiologist that is a full professor in London, England. His co-author, Kate Pickett, is also a professor of epidemiology and is a Career Scientist with the National Institutes of Health Research.

In Harper's Canada, the only real career path of the future will be as a police officer, a correctional services worker, a probation and parole officer, security consultant and other "criminal justice" type careers. Harper's current agenda of being "tough on crime" is going to prove itself to be not only a dismal failure, but a financially irresponsible one as well. Our crime rate has actually dropped over the past couple of decades, as an aging population is less likely to breed a new (and growing) generation of violent criminals. Further, research cited in Wilkinson and Pickett has shown that non-violent offenders entering the penal system are further away from being rehabilitated and are more likely to commit further and more violent crimes in the future. In this age of "zero tolerance", economic distress is increased among those caught up in it who can ill afford to adequately defend themselves. Even the Provincial Offences Act of Ontario has taken on a very heavy handed approach to many of its offences, making more of them "strict liability" (which means there is less flexibility in defending oneself as well as range of penalties available regardless of the defendant's circumstances). The goal here is to send more and more people to jail, more and more people to destitution and more and more people into circumstances where they can come out much more distressed and recalcitrant.

I don't care what proponents of tougher crime laws want. They have a false sense of security with tougher crime laws in place. They tell us, "if people just think before they commit the crime, then they won't get punished". That is easy to believe from a middle class, supportive familial context, where opportunities, money and resources are not a problem. Those of lesser circumstances are not necessarily more violent, but they can get caught up in things that will now can result in a penal sentence. This list includes failure to pay child support, failure to appear in court (e.g. sometimes it is hard to notify somebody of their court date when the defendant does not have a fixed address), driving under suspension, alcohol and drug related offenses, prostitution-related offenses and some property related offenses. Yes, these things can result in jail terms. They say there's no debtor's prison in Canada, but there are more than a few ways where unreconciled debts and fines can eventually put one in jail.

Persons with mental health issues can sometimes join a diversion program where they can participate in a treatment program instead of going through the penal system, and for this group of people, this has proven to be effective. However, most of the people who are caught in these cycles are not always involved in the mental health system, have few supports outside of the same people that got them in trouble in the first place, and very little money. A broader crime prevention and neighbourhood rehabilitation strategy would be much more effective than a "get tough" approach on crime. Open, supportive and non-traditional supports to persons living in disadvantaged situations can prevent people from going that direction in the first place, or get them to change their behaviour.

I am not opposed to tough sentences for child molesters, murderers, organized crime, etc. In fact, I would also like to see a "tough on crime" movement for corporate crimes, such as tax evasion by company executives, pilfering of pensions funds from employee trusts, embezzlement, contractor fraud, etc. by so-called "white collar criminals". These sorts of "white collar types" are least likely to go to jail in Canada, even though they destroy many lives and are often unrepentant for what they did and usually repeat their crimes many times before they finally get shut down. If they do go to jail, it is usually for short terms and usually in favourable conditions (e.g. minimum security, early release for "good behaviour").

It is so ironic that those that support continued and increased inequality in our society seem to believe that "welfare fraud" is a huge problem, while corporate fraud is not. It is in fact the other way around, especially given the government's own statistics, as cited by others. This information came up during the inquest into the death of Kimberley Rogers, who was convicted of "welfare fraud" for having the audacity to use OSAP to get her college diploma while trying to get by on a very reduced welfare cheque. Rogers ended up getting house arrest and being barred from receiving welfare as her penalty ... as a result, she fell very far behind in her rent and was basically a prisoner in a very overheated apartment lacking air conditioning during that hot summer. She died, while she was also pregnant with her first child. Welfare fraud was studied and was found to constitute less than 1% of all monies paid out to recipients. Income tax evasion or fraud is known to be much more common and involve greater amounts of money, but only rarely gets prosecuted. The reason for this is that those that subvert our income tax laws often have the resources of highly skilled accountants and tax lawyers and can afford to front a strong defense, if charged.

At the same time, the same people that endorse policies that lead to a more unequal society tend to give to charities that do nothing to advance the interests of the poor. I have yet to find a single person who was brought out of poverty as a result of seeking help from a food bank, a homeless shelter or any similar charity. After they get their nourishment this month, they will only be hungry again and in need of help the next month, all the while those giving and perpetuating these charities continue to benefit from charitable tax deductions and other ways to hide their wealth. To me, a business would do a hell of a lot more for the poor by hiring people off the welfare rolls, qualified to do the work of course and paying them decent wages. For those they cannot hire, they can sponsor scholarships and trust funds to allow low income people to get a post-secondary education and/or to develop their own assets.

Organizations like Social and Enterprise Development Innovations provide an alternative to perpetuating poverty among the poor and treating them so much like outsiders like we do now. There are programs they develop to assist low income people into developing their own businesses, setting up individual development accounts and furthering their education. The Metcalf Foundation of Toronto also sponsors research and programs that assist in change development as well, much of it through awareness of how current welfare programs serve to keep people in poverty. Social class mobility in Canada has substantially declined since the late 1980's, given the tightening of social program eligiblity and the softening of the labour market. To argue that everybody has equal opportunity may be true, but for many, that opportunity is very, very difficult to access when society continues to put barriers in place to those that need this access the most.

Your thoughts?

Monday, November 29, 2010

WINTER IS COMING ... So is Christmas

Winter is coming in Niagara.

We haven't had much of the "white stuff" (or snow) yet, although other parts of Ontario have already had their first snowfall or maybe their second or third by now.

At this time of the year in my region, Out of the Cold revs up its engines and our Public Health Department issues weather warnings when the mercury is dipping too low to bear. Stores have been chiming in for Christmas since the first of July, but are really chiming it in now ... in mid-November, the annual Tree of Lights celebration takes place with the Mayor pressing the button to light up City Hall like a flame. I always wondered what would happen if the Mayor ever pressed that button and nothing happened.

Television begins to show recurrent seasonal movies and holiday themed episodes of regular series' like House, Boston Legal, etc. All day Sunday, movies showed Santa here, Santa there, and commercial jingles everywhere. In the papers, at least one or two writers beg for people to put Christ back into Christmas. I am always puzzled when people say this.

That only makes me laugh as it is known fact that Christmas does not originate from the Bible or even Christianity itself. It actually has Pagan roots. Early Christians compromised with the Pagan leaders of the day to accommodate their celebration of "Saturnalia" with the timing of "Christmas", or as determined, the birth of Christ, which has been never specified or dated anywhere in any Bible.

To prove my point, if Christmas was a Christian holiday, how come virtually everybody, including representatives of the Kitchen Sink, celebrate it - Christian or not? Holiday decorations are wrapped around public buildings, seasonal ornaments are brought out to adorn reception areas and Christmas lights light up the sky by our City Hall. In recognition that Canada is a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-faith society, at least the powers that be have included signs that represent Eid for the Muslims, Diwali for the Hindu, Hanukkah for the Jewish community, as well as Christmas for everybody else, it seems.

A couple years ago, somebody created a major media flap about a Christmas tree that was on display in a courthouse and later removed by the allegedly "politically correct" administration. The reason for its removal was that some Muslims might be offended. Personally, I have yet to meet a Muslim that even cares about where Christmas trees are displayed. However, this whole perception of who will and will not get offended by the ubiquitous Christmas symbols is a moot point ... I am not terribly religious myself, but if people want to celebrate Christmas as a religious rite or use it as excuse to get drunk, I could care less.

I enjoy Christmas only because it gives me a much needed break. In my family, we do decorate our home, enjoy some eggnog and exchange some gifts, but that is not the highlight of what we do during the holidays. Holidays for me is family time. Or for those who are not fortunate to have family, a time to spend with friends or to share with others. I have spent some Christmases in the past serving the homeless and lonely a Christmas meal, or joining a group of people for drinks and relaxation. A few times, all I did was eat and sleep.

Unfortunately, however, Christmas has become an occasion to further divide the social classes between the "haves" and "have nots". A friend of mine once stated this is when all the hypocrisy comes alive. Indeed, many people suddenly seem so damned caring at Christmas time, while they turn their noses down at the same people on the other 364 days of the year.

This year I wanted to give the incoming regional council something special, a new mascot of sorts. I met with an artist and educator that specialized in prehistoric creatures. He not only provides artwork, but will soon be planning workshops to students and small groups on this enigmatic period of our planet. In admiring the names of many of these prehistoric creatures, I asked if he could create a "Niagarasaurus Rex" for me, based on the Tyrannosaurus variety. I wanted it placed on a large plaque with a caption that is timeless and can be hung right in the region's chambers - in a location that the TV cameras filming regional council meetings can't miss when they cover council sessions. He told me that he probably wouldn't do something like this. (He never said why, but I assume doing this would insult the dinosaurs - I would somewhat agree).

As Christmas passes in Niagara, we go through a very depressing period of time in January and February where nothing really happens, unless Valentine's Day is a big thing for you. The days get busier for me, as I am usually dealing with crisis after crisis among those that come through my doors. There is not a lot of mental health support for people in Niagara, although we have lots of people seeking it or needing it, or both. One cannot take a relaxing stroll down certain downtown streets in Niagara without encountering people engaged in drug deals, involved in the sex trade or getting drunk. Downtown can be an awful place after dark. In the spring, I get a flurry of new auto accident cases, as many people here still don't know how to drive in the winter and get struck. It is not necessarily the victim's fault; usually, it is the other drivers, many of whom still use cell phones as they drive or even drive while drunk.

After Christmas is over in Niagara, we don't hear about the homeless, the poor and the less fortunate anymore, because as my friend said about hypocrisy, most people only believe they exist once a year and even daring to question the political priorities and economic policies that led to them being here in the first place for us to garnish our guilty hearts with over the holiday season is even more politically incorrect than removing a few Christmas trees from the courthouse lobby.

I can only hope for a Christmas gift that I will never receive and that is the experience of boundless diversity and human tolerance and acceptance of people as they are in Niagara (as well as everywhere else),where anybody can be who they are without judgment, without criticism and without exclusion, and no person will ever have to rely on the periodic and irregular goodwill of others for their basic survival.

As somebody who has worked in the legal profession too long and before this, in social work, I have seen too much abuse of those by the so-called goodwill of others.

Your thoughts?

Monday, November 22, 2010


Madeleine Meilleur, the Minister of Community and Social Services, has been making a lot of noises lately about how there are too many people on ODSP, and how it is too "easy" to get onto ODSP. These comments have been made while community groups have tried to meet with her to open discussions on the special diet changes that are forthcoming, whereas the Madame Minister had promised that "not everybody who gets the special diet today will continue to get it under the new program". These two statements are code for big cuts ahead and as advocates, we need to be alert to these sorts of trends and comments.

As posted here before, the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal has made a ruling that the Ontario government, even under the guise of a "special program" cannot discriminate between disabilities without rationale. These cases were taken to the Human Rights Tribunal with the assistance of the Ontario Human Rights Commission after a former Minister of Community and Social Services amended the special diets program into a supplement program for persons with any one or more of 42 arbitrarily selected medical conditions. People without these medical conditions, or only a few of them and who experienced a decrease in their allowances, filed this Complaint. The Tribunal stated that in part, the government did discriminate against many of the applicants, and set up a test to determine eligibility that would meet the Code. Instead of complying with the Tribunal's Order and paying its bills, the government then turned around and decided to scrap the special diet altogether to replace it with a yet to be identified "nutritional supplement".

The history of the special diet file in Ontario is tainted with the fact that Madame Minister and members of the public that think like she does believe that people are using the money for something other than food. Well, maybe some folks with a little more money can actually pay rent and eat in the same month, which is something that Madame Minister never bothered investigating in the past. This issue was admittedly brought forth by community groups as a method to get a much needed increase to one's social benefits allowance to cover nutritious foods, while the government of the day remained twiddling their fingers at the switch, while more and more recipients became very ill with poverty-borne illnesses. It is stated that the real value of ODSP and Ontario Works' (or welfare) benefits have declined to a level below their value even at the time that Mike Harris exercised his axe on this program in 1995 and cut benefits by 21.6%.

A parallel and complementary campaign called Put Food in the Budget should have made Madame Minister aware that people cannot keep a roof over their head and eat well in the same month even among those that don't have medical conditions requiring a so-called "special diet". Residential rents and other utilities have skyrocketed in price, especially since the Liberals have passed several bills that are jacking up hydro and heating costs for everybody.

Last year about this time, the Minister appointed a Social Assistance Reform Advisory Council (SARAC) to advise her on the scope and depth of a proposed social assistance review as promised by the government during its so-called "poverty reduction" consultations. SARAC came back and made a very indepth comprehensive set of recommendations as to scope and latitude of such a review (and involving a broad range of social programs at both the federal and provincial level), but lately, we are hearing noises that the only place this review will actually be taking place is within Madame Meilleur's Ministry.

While advocates do welcome a review, we also have some concerns that the Liberals will use this review as a means to cut the program further and cut an unknown number of persons off ODSP, under the assumption that some of these people "can work". Madame Minister is not alone in her assumptions. Last summer, Richard August, of the Caledon Institute, wrote a paper that was critical of disability programs as such, that they tend to discourage people from re-entering the labour force and queried as to whether persons with disabilities should also have some type of labour market participation requirement in order to receive benefits. Echoed within this report and a subsequent Caledon study, which I will outline later, is some type of attempt to draft a sharp delineation between persons with disabilities that can work and those that cannot work.

Of course, there are persons with disabilities that can work that are on various disability programs. Idealistically, in a perfect world, almost all persons with disabilities "can work" at something, given the prescriptive removal of physical, technological, attitudinal and policy barriers. To me, this is a moot point, because nobody is forcing employers to hire anybody with a disability. In fact, most employers will not hire anybody with a disability, if they had a choice. Anyhow, the Organization for Economic and Cooperative Development (or the OECD), which we often hear about, and includes just about every so-called "rich" nation, has come up with a similar report of its own.

While the OECD praised Canada as being the country with the most stringent criteria for eligibility for disability programs, it nevertheless attacked all disability programs as removing people from the paid labour force. Again, it leads the question as to what kind of work obligation, if any, should be imposed on persons with disabilities, in order to remain eligible for benefits. It rigorously compared workplace-based disability programs that attempt to re-engage the disabled worker back into the workplace, and tried to discuss how similar programs can be established for programs like ODSP, AISH (in Alberta), CPP and Quebec disability.

While any advocate worth any salt would love to see an increased focus on assisting persons with disabilities to go back to work, or to enter the labour force for the first time, we are also quite cautious. To me, a program of this nature would not represent placing people with disabilities in jobs that will take them out of poverty and meet their educational, skill level and interests. I have spoken to employers that viewed themselves as "progressive" in the past. They hire "lots" of people with disabilities, they say - all in the mail room! Another program I am aware of was placing people in call centres, probably one of the most unstable, stressful and low paid type of position there is. Proponents of these types of programs don't care if a person "likes" their job or can live on the income derived from it, just that they want them all off benefits. This is unfortunately the way governments, including that of the provincial Liberals, seem to be going.

At the same time, groups like Caledon Institute are proposing a federal Basic Income for "persons with severe disabilities". The word "severe" is code for the fact that most persons with disabilities will not likely qualify for it, if it is ever in place. Proponents of this program want only those that qualify for BOTH the Disability Tax Credit and CPP-Disability allowance to be moved onto Basic Income. While the proponents argue that nobody should lose on such a proposal, meaning those currently on something like ODSP should continue to receive it, Caledon is stepping into potentially dangerous political territory, although I don't believe this is the intent of the report's authors.

At the present time, there is no "basic income" at the federal level apart from CPP Disability and a range of non-refundable tax credits available to some of those with disabilities. The federal government has always thought the legwork for this type of thing would be best left to the provinces to sort out. However, the trends that I am familiar with started with the Enhanced Verification Policies of the former NDP government under Bob Rae, when those who were approved for the former disability program in Ontario, then known as "Family Benefits Disability" were required to pursue ALL available income sources to which they could potentially be eligible. The list of potential sources of income included federal CPP, as well as other "first payers". If eligible for CPP-D the province would then take the monies granted through this or other programs and deduct dollar for dollar from the person's provincial disability income. This continues under ODSP.

The federal government has made several attempts to tighten the noose around the number of people drawing benefits from the CPP-D program. I have noted that even though the Federal Court of Appeal has ordered that such benefits be granted on more than the basis of disability alone, and that other factors, such as age, education and objective real world criteria must be taken into account, the so-called "real world" elements tend to be put on the back burner in light of medical evidence showing unequivocal severity of disability, e.g. lab reports, MRI's, etc. (which again is contrary to much common law in this area). One of my clients that had a leg amputated was said to be able to do "sedentary" work. At age 54, with a grade nine education, I was unsure what type of sedentary would he would be able to find. He finally was approved at the appeals stage. This has been the reality with CPP internally, and then lately, at some of the Review Tribunals, and even in a recent slew of Pension Appeals Board decisions. One has to be considered unable to work in any substantially gainful employment to qualify.

The Disability Tax Credit (DTC) is also tough to get, depending on the type of disability a person has. While the DTC does not rely on data excluding one's capacity to work, it takes a strictly functional definition of disability, whereby in practice, those with enumerated physical restrictions, such as walking, speaking, seeing, or hearing, are favoured, while those with less clear but invisible impairments have greater difficulty getting this benefit. More than 70% of persons on ODSP are receiving it due to a so-called invisible disability, whether that is mental health disability, intellectual disability, brain injury, or learning disability, and about half the remainder have physical disabilities that are not likely to meet the DTC criteria due to their episodic nature or the fact they do not fall under any clear criteria, e.g. chronic pain syndrome. I have successfully won appeals for persons seeking the DTC for "invisible" disabilities in the past, but such persons have such a degree of handicap that they are not only incapable of working, but frequently unable to care for themselves.

The Caledon Institute would give a Basic Income to those that qualify for BOTH the DTC and CPP-D, theoretically leaving the balance of persons with disabilities on ODSP. This all looks good. Let us assume that a federal government adopts this Basic Income approach. While it will provide more than ODSP, recipients will still live significantly below any poverty line, as they would be treated like senior citizens that are eligible for the GIS. They get a maximum of $14,000 a year, well below the $20,000 a year to meet the poverty line. But regardless, let us assume, they got more than that, and they can live okay on it. I already stated how the trend to uploading and downloading and offloading has started and has only sped up with abandon in the past few years, how nobody seems to want to be the first payer of income support for persons with disabilities.

Under such a plan, we are risking the Ontario government under the present or even a new constellation seeing this as an opportunity to offload "persons with disabilities". They may see this as an opportunity to save money by believing they no longer have to pay "extra" to Ontarians that have disabilities, and can get away with putting the balance of them on Ontario Works. After all, not meeting the federal criteria of being unable to do substantially gainful employment means that one can work, right? There is no LEGAL obligation on the part of Ontario to keep its ODSP program, given the federal Liberals dumping the Canada Assistance Plan Act several years ago. Any right wing government may view this as an opportunity to out do Mike Harris and do a real dump this time.

Do not think this won't ever happen. All we have to do is look south of us to the U.S. Many of us who thought the wacky Tea Party gang was a disorganized rump of angry people are now convinced that such right wing directionless thinking is actually in style and quite popular. Go to any newspaper website and read the comments section of any article that deals with social issues. People north of the U.S. border think with their wallets and think tax cuts are good, and any tax or fee is "bad", regardless of what services the taxes fund. The province's own Auditor General as much as accused the majority of people getting the dietary supplement as getting it through fraud, and that there are "overpayments in the billions" that must be put under immediate control, and subsequently he commented on the number of people receiving Ontario Works for two years or more.

Madeleine Meilleur does not want to meet with any community groups; one of the Coalitions I belong to has asked many times only to be told she was too busy. Some of our colleagues have met with her political staff, and of course, none of us are getting any answers as to what is going on, or what is being planned. The Put Food in the Budget campaign has been turned down completely because we are in a massive deficit position. There is always money to pay for $3,000 a day consultants, high priced hospital bureaucrats and huge expense accounts, but no money to feed the poor or to at least give all Ontarians an equal opportunity to take what Ontario offers.

I am not trying to frighten anybody, but we have to stand up to this attitude, which I describe at best as apathy and at worst, an actual conspiracy to attack the poor once again with yet another Mike Harris like attack. In economic recession, the poor have to wait for relief. In economic good times, the poor have to wait for relief. When do we stop waiting and start seeing the same benefits as other persons in Ontario, and be given to tools to utilize the wonderful resources this province otherwise has to offer?

Your thoughts?

Sunday, October 31, 2010


I have spoken to many people during the most recent municipal election. Many of them told me they did not feel it was worthwhile voting, as the politicians would do nothing for them. I find out where they live, and I learn that not many of their neighbours vote either. Yet these are the very people whose needs are neglected at election time. According to the Hamilton Spectator, low income voters are less likely to vote. Political wannabes know this, so they focus their campaigns in vote rich neighbourhoods, where people are most likely to vote: seniors, homeowners, business owners, middle and upper income, etc.

During this election, I worked hard to try to convince people not to vote for politicians simply trying to get in on a promise to cut taxes. Wealthy individuals would never be happy, in my opinion, until they paid next to no taxes on any of their income or assets, yet they still expect the best of civil society to develop around them, e.g. low crime, good schools, good hospitals. I stated unequivocally that I could not care less about taxes, just the quality of services we are receiving and how our tax dollars are spent.

Unfortunately, Rob Ford, known in many of Toronto's circles as a "bull in a china shop" got elected on an anti-tax, anti-government and anti-establishment platform. What always bothers me about these elections is that voters do not choose to educate themselves on their candidates, and ask these same candidates the right questions. After Rob Ford's victory was declared on CTV in Toronto, his supporters were interviewed where they likened him to an "ordinary man". In fact, Ford is not an average man and does not have a clue how the average person in Toronto lives. He was born into a wealthy family headed by his father Doug Ford Sr., who also served as a Member of Provincial Parliament, and between he and his brother Doug (Jr), they inherited the family printing business, which was already a successful company when they took it over.

His platform, which was almost exclusively based on "ending the gravy train at city hall" as he referred to it, won him many supporters, many of whom believe there is lots of "fat" to cut in any government budget. Ford campaigned on cutting taxes, without cutting services, something I find a tad impossible, if you might ask. His claims were challenged by his opponents. When Ford was confronted on what specifically he would cut to reduce taxes, he was incoherent and could only come up with examples, such as cutting out free Metro passes for city councillors, no more $12,000 goodbye parties, and so forth. The specifics proposed would not even come near what he feels he could save in four years in costs.

In terms of staffing, he wanted to promote a strong customer service platform, returning calls within a specific frame of time or always having a human being to speak to, etc. which all sounds great, but when Ford later states he will only allow the refilling of half the positions left vacant due to retirement or other causes, the math shows there would be less staff available to return calls in a specified time, and less staff to manage the phone lines to provide a "live person". His customer service declaration runs counter to his idea of cutting staff. Further, from which departments will staff be cut from? To try to argue he can cut taxes and spending without affecting services is a fool's game.

The reason I chose to provide Ford's campaign as an example of optics in politics, and how far from reality these things are, is to also illustrate why some voters are not voting, or perhaps spoiling their ballots. I am not a voter that would be persuaded to vote differently, if I were given information about Ford's personal life and controversies, which were well publicized during the election. I don't care if he was ever arrested for a DUI, or was ever accused of domestic violence, or whatever the opposition has tried to use to dissuade people from voting for him. In my view, all political leaders have something hiding in their closets. What I am more inclined to support or not support is whether or not that politician is eager to work with all of a city, not just those that voted for him.

My views take me to Niagara as well, where I unfortunately have to live, until I can afford to move out of this cesspool of 1950's antiquated thinking and endless reliance on industries that are rapidly moving out of not only Niagara, but perhaps Canada as well. This dream was so much alive that even somebody that works at General Motors got elected, likely at least in part because of that reason. I would prefer to see my region forget about bolstering General Motors up above all other possible ways to keep and to turn our economy around. Has anybody ever heard of a place like GM KNOWINGLY hiring anybody with a disability? Of course not ... which in part is why Niagara has such a huge volume of ODSP recipients and an increasing number of applicants, not surprisingly many of whom are former factory workers -- our region not recognizing the environmental, health and other hazards faced by these workers, as well as the general false economy that was present in the 1980's when the number of GM workers was at its peak, how grocery stores, rental housing, car sales, etc. were all priced to what GM workers could afford and not the whole community, esp. if you were not one of the fortunate ones to have a job there.

Niagara's political representation has to work to represent all of us, not just those that drive a car, or work at General Motors. Niagara Region has to respond to the needs of all of its residents, whether they get their living from a wealthy business and live off the dividends, or if they are long term welfare recipients. Broad based considerations are best at the municipal level, e.g. better transit, improved streamlining for business regulations and reduced "red tape", taxation set to encourage environmentally friendly behaviour, intensification of development, and greater public input into the political processes. A single regional office needs to be set up where all by-laws for each municipality are streamlined and funneled through that one office, allowing for one person to be a point person for any business setting up anywhere in the region.

Politicians also need to be willingly educated on the needs of a diversity of the population they govern. One individual phoned my office shortly before the election in an attempt to get my support for his candidacy in my ward. He admitted he knew nothing about transit policy or where improvements need to be made. The best way these people can be educated is to be forced to do without their car for a whole month, getting around the city or region using available forms of public transit or taxi, and only then they will realize where the deficits lie. It is too easy for those that drive to not consider the needs and realities of those that don't. It is too easy for those that have a large, fancy $500,000 home with a swimming pool and paid housekeeper, to recognize the realities of those that do not have these privileges.

Of course, I admire any individual that sticks their neck out to run for any level of politics, as today, politics has become more of a contact sport, with politicians and candidates becoming the target of the electorate's wrath and anger about almost everything that is wrong in their lives. This is why I was not too thrilled when people bashed Rob Ford about his so-called "skeletons" in his closet, as I couldn't care less. But if Ford is trying to get into power to take away valued services from me that I pay for, for the sake of saving me a few dollars a year off my taxes, it then raises my interest and likelihood that I would not be supporting him.

Those around me telling me they did not vote are usually the ones that continue to complain about buses not being on time, about a city hall clerk being rude to them, about a by-law officer ignoring their concerns, etc. These things are what elections are about. I made transit into an election issue here, and several candidates did campaign on this issue, both at the local and regional level. There were many others that also worked on this, as well as other important issues. Now that the election is over, our jobs don't end as voters. We need to remind these newly elected or re-elected politicians about what they campaigned on, as well as what concerns us the most.

I am concerned not just about transit, but about jobs for the transit to take us to, and they must be jobs people can make a career of, not just "survival jobs". A region that is founded primarily on the lower paid service sector is a region that is not going to grow, and its tax base is going to shrink, and people will leave ... Niagara has complained for so long about keeping young people in the region after they finish their education, and efforts in the past four years have not resolved much of this. I am not only seeing young people leave, but people my age, who are sick and tired of the loss of jobs, and lack of recognition for their own talents by whatever local employers that we have left.

The school board elections were an interesting campaign, as a lot of the issues were based on school closures and declining enrollment. The school board trustees cannot do anything about the declining enrollment. The declining enrollment originates in a different sphere than their sphere of control. With less and less young people staying in Niagara, that means less people are hooking up and procreating here in Niagara and therefore, there are less children to supply the schools with work in this area. The natural consequence of this is to close or amalgamate schools. However, some trustees did have some positive suggestions to counter school closures by viewing it from a perspective of having smaller schools, smaller classrooms and a more specialized curriculum. I voted for these trustee candidates, and one of them as far as I know did get elected.

Unfortunately, there were some individuals elected that do not have a grasp on many of the issues, and could not give a damn about learning about them. I can identify a few of them in Niagara, and wonder why people think the way they do. One person said, "this guy is going to cut our water bills down". I told him I highly doubt that he or anybody else on council can do a damn thing about our water bills, but did he read about anything else any of these candidates were campaigning on? He said no. As some people say, "people get the government they deserve".

Most voters did not vote for Rob Ford because of his platform, but they voted for him because in general, they were either voting against something else or someone else, or they were supporting the "underdog" syndrome. Even the Toronto Sun scoffed at many elements of Ford's platform, although they backed the man himself. Despite Ford's wealth, he identified himself as a kind of outsider in Toronto politics. That idea can attract voters. Unfortunately, people did not take the time to learn about Mr. Ford and his ideas before they marked their ballots. I anticipate he will be faced with many gaffes during his term of office, much like his prior colleague Mel Lastman did. Ford is also going to have to work with a very disparate council, some on the far right, some on the centre right, some in the middle, and some on the left, and even a returning councillor that once led the Manitoba Communist Party - all of whom have an equal mandate to be there as does he.

My city's election was more of the same, with positions filled by people who are similar to those that left them. The Mayor was re-elected, not only because he had scant competition, but because many people do support his agenda and the work he did in the past four years. Many other mayors were turfed in Niagara in favour of somebody else, usually one of the city councillors that chose to run for mayor in their respective city. This further diversifies the make-up of our new regional council, which is sworn in after December 2010. Their first order of business is picking a regional chair, usually from somebody from among them, although the law permits the regional council to choose somebody else.

I think our job as voters is to now follow these people to make sure they do not take us another step backwards on many issues that they reluctantly moved forward on, through only mere baby steps. One thing I do not want is somebody to offer me to save what would amount to $16 on my taxes, but force me to cough up more money out of pocket for taxis, for instance, because they do not recognize transit service as important as roads and bridges. I don't want these people to cost me more. I do not mind paying a small amount more on my property taxes so that we can all be assured of better and improved services.

I just don't want to participate in what seems to be a popular race to the bottom.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


In August 2010, an all party Select Committee on Mental Health and Addictions that has been working quietly across Ontario for a year to gather stories and feedback from individuals, organizations, professionals and law enforcement, on how to fix Ontario's mental health and addictions system released its final report with 23 recommendations. The report was praised in many quarters as it represented members of all three major political parties working together to produce this report, united in their experiences as they moved from town to town to hear stories from family members, a few "consumer/survivors", organizations and others on their own observations, experiences and assumptions about both mental health issues and what to do about them.

The report itself released on August 30, 2010, can be found on the site of the Ontario Legislative Assembly's Committee Reports. It is in a PDF format, which may be inaccessible for some, but there are likely sites online that may provide a copy of this public report in Word or text format. The report itself took up 63 pages, and is based on 25 days of public hearings and written submissions, and follows up an earlier version of this report, an Interim Report published in March 2010.

I downloaded both of them and read through them, keeping a supply of Tums handy in the event some of the terminology and recommendations made my stomach turn. While there are many positive recommendations, such as "removing silos" and blending services that would incorporate both mental health and addictions, and setting up a focused agency within the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care dedicated to these issues (similar to Cancer Care Ontario) makes some sense. Provision of better training to primary care physicians and nurse practitioners and others directly involved in the care of persons with mental health concerns is also a good thing. The report also recommended the obvious: funding has failed to follow the person, as he or she leaves the hospital and returns to the community. It is said the system is based on an acute care manner, whereas after the hospital stay is over, the person simply returns to whatever routine they left before they went there. Mental health has always been the "poor cousin" of other health services, taking a mere fraction of the system that claims to treat many more people than its funding assumes.

The report went into depth about the stigma of having a mental health problem or diagnosis, and what can be done about it. Frankly, I had to laugh at that section, because absolutely nothing is being done about this. This is not something that the Ministry, for example, can make a "feel good" commercial about, showing successful actors, musicians, athletes and business people, who have all experienced mental health issues, and are now recovered, thanks to the miracles of "modern medicine". The report begged for a champion, who can lead the fight against stigma against persons with mental health problems. The reason there are no takers for this position is because the mental health system, if adopted by such a champion, militates against somebody ever taking such a role. A content analysis of the verbal input into the committee hearings revealed a lot of prejudices, some of them developed by the media, and others brought to them by the "single case history" syndrome, about persons with mental health problems.

Most of the lay input into these hearings were family members, or associations representing family members, of persons with mental health issues. Their concerns are not to be disregarded. I am a family member survivor of a suicide, as well as a spouse and friend of another person who has struggled with mental health issues. I have also personally experienced some difficulties earlier in my life as well. In addition to this, I worked in mental health for ten years of my life, and currently in my practice, work with many clients that have moderate to serious problems with depression, psychosis, suicidal thinking, post-traumatic stress, and so forth. I don't relate well to what many of these family members were asking for, because there is a better way of dealing with these things than locking people up and forcing them to take treatment to which they may not recover. The Committee heard from some individuals with lived experience of mental health issues, but obviously not enough of them. I could count their numbers on my left hand.

The report only glosses over concerns about the human and civil rights of persons diagnosed with mental health conditions. This has been a recurring theme throughout, that somehow, the fact that people have rights, is somewhat detrimental to the health and well-being of the person. For example, the report notes "we are troubled that so many witnesses have experienced difficulty in obtaining care for family members who are clearly very ill, yet refuse treatment or are too quickly discharged from hospital. Many told us about their need to go through the complicated Form 1 or Form 2 process - involving the police or justice of peace - several time before their loved one was adequately treated. One family told the Select Committee that their son was not admitted to hospital until he threatened to jump from a four-story building ..." In these glimpses into the lives of these witnesses, forced treatment was good, personal freedom is bad. What was not shared with the committee were the results of this treatment and the quality of these people's lives afterward.

In the Interim Report, it was mentioned over fifty percent of the people on ODSP are receiving it for "mental health reasons", leaving one to wonder why such a huge percentage of people deemed disposable by our society are also labeled with some type of mental health diagnosis. I know when I worked in the mental health field, I did a research project, part of which included calling a random sample of employers in a random sampling of industries across Niagara, and learned that out of over 100 employers interviewed, only one had knowingly hired a person with a mental health history (and this person was their nephew). Several of them made jokes about people with mental health problems, while a few repeated certain stereotypes they felt were true about people with these experiences. A tire store told us that they were afraid that somebody like this would blow up the tires. Another said they would worry about what kind of mood the person would be in each day. Another one implied that persons with mental health issues were the same as persons with developmental disabilities. If employers think this way of persons recovering from these conditions, it is no wonder the majority of them seem to be sitting on ODSP - no matter how well educated, skilled, willing to work, etc.

About their rights, the report went on to note the following "Rights advocates cautioned the Select Committee that involuntary admission and treatment are such grave violations of autonomy that society has to accept these risks and dangers. They also warned that psychiatric drugs can have serious side effects to which many people are reluctant to expose themselves ..." This is fine until the report continues ... "the Select Committee believes, however, that the right to autonomy must be balanced with the right to be well. The Select Committee also believes that our present laws tie the hands of health care professionals and families and have contributed to the criminalization of mental illness, where individuals need to be arrested in order to receive care. While Ontario undoubtedly needs better access to community supports and hospital beds, some people will not avail themselves of such services because it is the nature of their condition to deny that they are ill ..." Grab those Tums!

So what if somebody denies they are ill. So what if somebody refuses to receive treatment they don't want or feel they need. I know of many cancer patients, diabetics near end stage renal disease or cardiac failure, etc. who have also done the same thing. They did not want yet another intervention to prolong whatever it is they consider to be ailing them. Do we force diabetics to submit to insulin treatment if they somehow refuse to take steps to control their blood sugars and dietary intake? Do we force a person with cancer, even one who is dying and who is loved immensely by her family, to accept yet one more round of chemo and radiation to hit her body with yet more poison to sully the quality of the balance of their lives? While the Committee members learned about the path many of these unfortunate souls took to get treatment or have it forced on them, the Committee has failed or neglected to explore what happened to these same people afterward. Hearing the story from a mother, a father, a brother, an uncle or an aunt, doesn't cut it for me. I have met too many people who have been through forced treatment to know that this is not the answer. One has to ask if one has to force treatment on someone, is this treatment really that beneficial?

I am alive because I refused treatment when I was much younger. My spouse is alive, because I personally weaned him off three highly risky psychiatric drugs he was given, which in fact drove him to the emergency room several times until he was free of them. Others have had to experiment with different drugs in cooperation with their doctors until they found something that agreed with them. This was done on a voluntary basis, in the case where a person was given a choice. I know many who are no longer with us to tell their stories because they died of complications resulting from these drugs, or from the restraints or a combination thereof. There were numerous coroner's inquests in the 1980's, that were called as a result of "psychiatric patients" dying either in the hospital, or off grounds as a result of something treatment related. These inquests took place before the laws that exist today were passed, which are the very same laws the Select Committee is suggesting we return to.

Further on it states "we have received testimony that other jurisdictions have broadened involuntary admission criteria by expanding their definition of harm, without unduly jeopardizing autonomy (my comment: this is a very difficult tightrope they are pretending to walk). For example, these jurisdictions consider the threat of all serious harm, not merely physical harm. They also permit treatment in cases of involuntary admission. The Select Committee was particularly impressed by British Columbia's mental health legislation ..." The report goes on to state that psychological harm might also be considered as a criterion for harm. This frightens me as "Big Brother". A similar change to child protection legislation was made under Mike Harris in the late 1990's, which resulted in tripling the budgets of child protection agencies across Ontario, merely as a result of over-interpreting harm. As most child protection workers are not well trained in cultural, psychological and child-rearing differences in poor families, families of persons with disabilities and families of differing ethnic origins, these families instantaneously became a target for child protection laws in the late 1990's whereas up to 87% of all apprehensions involved children living in low income families.

One may ask if child protection laws that were more loosely defined helped save any child from harm. We can't prove it did, nor can we prove it didn't, which is the very difficulty of these types of programs as they are very rarely evaluated on their merits. They are merely funded on the basis of emotional reactions and "bad case scenarios" reported in the media. However, we have seen the results of many families that have been broken up for unwarranted reasons, former parents turning to drugs and alcohol, welfare benefits dropping leading to the loss of homes, other children, divorce, etc. The child protection agencies do not see these after effects as "their problem" as their responsibility, they say, rests solely with the child. One can find lots of personal stories about this system on other websites, such as, Canada's Court Watch, and the Foster Care Council of Canada. These are not just disgruntled abusive and neglectful parents that got "caught"; many of these people were forced to sue to regain their dignity and families. Now the Select Committee on Mental Health and Addictions wants to police irritating, bothersome and offensive conduct, by criminalizing these people anyways. The Select Committee protests the idea of criminalizing so-called psych patients, then proposes a set of laws that will restrict or remove their civil liberties anyways, even if these persons committed no crimes.

My experience in working with people dictates that mental health services must be delivered in a timely, non-stigmatizing and voluntary environment, that is free of threats and influence. Many are fearful of entering the system voluntarily, fearing that somebody will later force them into another part of the system involuntarily. Others have told me they do not want to be seen entering or leaving buildings that are known to house mental health services. People in registered professions suffer in silence, fearing that if they disclose and ever end up in treatment that their capacity to carry on in their profession will be questioned. People prefer not to tell their employers about their mental health issues, even though many of them do have serious disabilities. Some use recreational drugs or alcohol to help "cover up" their disabling symptoms, fearing their employers, neighbours and others know. Doing this can lead to even worse problems, as we know. While I know that it is fact that a significant minority of people with mental health problems as serious as schizophrenia or bipolar affective disorder, do hold good jobs, the majority of these people are "hidden" - fearful of what their employer might do if they find out. Their fears are not unjustified, as in a recent case before the Human Rights Tribunal and later upheld by the Divisional Court does show how erratic an employer may react upon receiving information about an employee involving a serious mental health problem. People with mental health problems want to work just as much as anybody else, and to use the full range of their skills and education.

These facts still remain despite the fact that in cultures where persons with a serious mental health diagnosis, including schizophrenia, recover socially most of the time, when they are accepted, included and given a role or meaning in their lives. Richard Warner, a psychiatrist, studied schizophrenia in various cultures and found that in cultures where a person would return to a socially meaningful role, usually a job and a place in their community, they recover. As frequently stated by direct consumers in their testimony to the Select Committee and thereafter ignored, "a home, a job, a friend", is what they need, just like the rest of us. This concept was tested in modern western society, which with its obvious limitations and implications/stigmatization, it has been found that a model based on Sen's "capabilities-informed agenda", as opposed to today's damaged identity management, is a preferable approach.

This report not only attempts to skimp on civil liberties, but also on patient privacy as well. Later in the report, there were references to family members concerned when they approach health care providers treating their family member, and fail to obtain information over the "privacy act". This personal information, like your personal information about your diabetes, your STDs, your breast cancer, your HIV, etc. cannot be released without your consent. The same presently applies in health care for mental health clients. under the Personal Health Information Privacy Protection Act. The report lends itself to some eerie recommendations that also concern me, as it stated "... recommended that the language of the Act be amended to clarify that health information may be disclosed to reduce the risk of 'serious psychological harm', as well as physical harm. The Select Committee believes that this is a reasonable amendment ..."

The report further states that "The Select Committee was also informed that British Columbia's legislation permits the release of personal health information to health care professionals, family members, and others involved in a client's care without the client's consent for the purposes of 'continuity of care' and if it is in the best interests of the client (my comment: "best interests" as determined by whom?). In other words, you can be an inpatient of a psychiatric ward and have a sister who would love to get hold of your money, come onto the ward and be provided your health information so that she can then use this information to take over your finances. This type of information sharing is dangerous, not only in situations like this, but I have seen it alienate the person from their family entirely. Families are not always loving, caring and therapeutic, nor do they always have the best interests of one another in mind. I have seen more dysfunctional families, than functional, intact ones in my career. Would you like your family members to know all of your personal health problems, unless you deliberately permit the flow of this information? This suggestion, of course, would be only for mental health issues, and not for patients with other diseases or conditions.

The Select Committee, while it does not make specific recommendations, through its words as cited above, would like to set up a committee of family members, health care professionals and "consumers", to come up with recommendations. My money is on picking those individuals that seem to be of like mind to the Select Committee. While there are mental health 'consumers' around that might agree to these things, most do not. People generally want to live their lives with as much autonomy as possible, and to make choices about their lives and take responsibility if they make the wrong choices. By not permitting persons with mental health problems to make the wrong choices, they are not being permitted to make any choices at all. Please be assured I was a participant in the earlier drafts of various mental health laws that we have today, such as the Weistubb Report, the Fram Report, as well as the legislative committee that preceded the Graham Report, of the 1990's. These reports were also drafted by experts, including those with lived experience, such as family members and consumers. These reports resulted in the Health Care Consent Act, the Substitute Decisions Act and the Mental Health Act amendments. I also took the Toronto Star to the Ontario Press Council in the late 1980's for their portrayal of "victims" of mental health conditions as being incompetent, helpless and suicidal, one hand or homicidal human beings, on the other, despite study after study that shows mental health diagnosis does not increase the probability of somebody being violent, and they are certainly within the same range of intelligence and skill base as the general population.

The report leaves the uneducated reader with a set of assumptions about people with mental health problems:
1. They are incapable of making decisions for themselves;
2. They have or need caregivers in their lives;
3. If they refuse treatment, it is a symptom of their illness;
4. A whole system of paid staff and institutions and programs need
to be developed to control these people; and
5. Family members should be able to dictate or control the lives of
their errant loved ones.

If I brought these assumptions to the people I presently know who are living with some type of mental health diagnosis, including the serious ones, most will say the following:
1. Let me decide how I want to live my life, but please help
support me so that I can reach these goals;
2. I don't have or need a "caregiver". I can look after myself,
thank you very much. If I need help, however, please make
sure that it is available when I need it.
3. I should have the right to accept, refuse or negotiate treatments
for all of my health conditions. I do not want decisions made for me;
4. If I want help from the system, please provide supports that I can
access readily and will not threaten me with incarceration if I
refuse some of their help, or want to do some things my way; and
5. Let me choose if I want my family involved in my life or not.

After reading this, what I find is true is a dearth of VOLUNTARY, SUPPORTIVE and HOLISTIC resources for persons in crisis. If a program was non-threatening, and promised to give the person a sense of safety, the person will go. If they feel they will be coerced into something, they will refuse. It is our human nature. We continue to spend more money on hospitals, acute care and involuntary admissions ... taking this money away from much needed community-based resources. I am constantly being told as a legal professional to "get my son some help, even if you have to help me force him to". I refuse to do so, or participate in this. When their family encounters this individual, he is stubborn, angry, delusional, confrontational and downright scary. Yet, when I meet with him, he calms down considerably. His best hope of remaining well, unfortunately must be to stay away from the source of tension - their families, at least for now. I also meet with the family separately to talk to them about how they need to take care of themselves, ensure they remain healthy and strong, and how they can be supportive if and when the person returns to them. I am always armed with resources - support groups, websites, books, articles, etc. to assist the family member to de-stress and learn to let go.

It is very hard to let go. I know it. My brother committed suicide when he was twenty years old. He was three years older than me. Prior to his death, he reached out to me, talked to me a lot, spent a lot of time with me ... for years, I felt badly, and wondered if there was anything I could have done to prevent him from doing this. Twenty years later, I finally reached the realization that there was likely nothing I could have done. I finally forgave myself for the years I dwelt on this "if only" type of thinking. This doesn't mean that suicides cannot be prevented, but it is my absolute conviction that forcing people into treatment against their will is not the answer. This may prevent the suicide for today, but will not prevent it from happening later.

In the meantime, one needs to understand the difficult time we are giving people with this type of diagnosis. If they won't even share with me what is wrong with them when they come to me to appeal a disability claim, who will they share it with? I have had young men come into my office and cry about how their knees are so bad, they can no longer work. It is only after I obtain past medicals, clinical files and medical reports, that I learn that there may have been a mental health issue. We are keeping mental health problems in the shadows by attempting to treat their bearers differently than others suffering from other medical conditions. We are disrespecting their autonomy, their privacy, their rights, and then pretending at the same time, we considered all of this, and only discover the damage done when it is too late.

I don't know when the time will be when the major stigma connected to mental health issues will ever go away, or if it ever will. However, I believe in the recovery concept or the newly developed "capabilities-informed agenda", as opposed to focusing on the deficits of these human beings. When all of us, including health and legal professionals, neighbours, employers, teachers, and others, begin to think in the same way, perhaps then, the major stigma of these conditions will go away and for once, these often beautiful and creative people will feel free to be themselves.

Your thoughts?

Sunday, August 29, 2010


During an investigation into some alleged wrongdoings on the part of key Liberal party ministers and officials during "HRDC-Gate" and "Sponsorgate", one former Minister David Dingwall, who eventually moved on to head the Royal Canadian Mint, told a Parliamentary Committee that he was "entitled to his entitlements". In another investigation, Brian Mulroney was cleared of any criminal wrongdoing by accepting up to $300,000 in cash from an alleged German arms dealer shortly after he stepped down from his job as Prime Minister. These cash deposits were allegedly not put into any bank accounts, but a safety deposit box, which raised a number of eyebrows. Mulroney made a voluntary self-disclosure to Canada Revenue Agency years later. There was an expensive public inquiry into this matter, leaving many questions still unanswered and probably Karlheinz Schreiber probably ended up more tarnished than Mulroney did. But what would happen if you are I did the same thing?

At the provincial level, we learn about private consultants working for $3000 a day, plus benefits of disbursements, such as tea and crumpets from Tim Hortons. These consultants allegedly worked for e-Health, although I suspect they did other work in "communications" with the provincial government, likely to communicate their intention to cut the special diet program to poor and disabled persons with medical conditions requiring them to eat specific foods at a higher cost. All that got into the media, unfortunately, was one consultant's tab for tea and crumpets and the fact that a large Liberal-friendly consulting firm got a sole-source contract to achieve this e-Health program. This billion dollar boondoggle, like the federal one on sponsorships in Quebec, was stopped short of a scandal and Ministers resigned. Yet at the same time, none of the consultants had to pay a single penny of their "hard earned monies" back. Earlier, another Minister handed over $200.000 to a cricket club in his riding. These stories are running ad nauseum; even Mike Harris pushed Ontario into a significant debt after awarding Anderson Consulting a $284 MILLION sole-source contract to develop the computer systems for Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program ... and when there were errors, this same government had the audacity to bring them back in and pay them millions of dollars more to correct the mistakes they shouldn't have made in the first place!

During our recent recession, both provincial and federal government handed out tax dollars to the banks to the tune of over $50 billion, as well as to General Motors to the tune of $16 billion, while many workers lost their jobs and could not get on to Employment Insurance. In the U.S., George Bush as a parting gift to Obama, put the U.S. treasury over $1 trillion dollars into debt bailing out their banks and mortgage companies, many of them of which got saddled with bad loans and foreclosures. They also apparently own General Motors now, as some now call Government Motors. AIG, one of the loan companies bailed out, immediately paid its executives million dollar bonuses. After all, all of these people were entitled to their entitlements.

In Ontario, a woman named Eleonore Clitheroe was terminated from her position at Hydro One, after she raked in over $2.2 million in her last year, and upon looking into her expenses, it was also alleged that she expensed hundreds of thousands of dollars for personal expenses, such as limousine rides for her children as well as renovations for her upscale home. She naturally took the government to court and sued, it appears this likely got settled out of court. However, recently she got herself in the news again litigating over her "rights" to a $35,000 a month pension from the province, when she is apparently only receiving one in the paltry lower $25,000 level ... she argued with the court that she, too, was entitled to her entitlements.

Public sector workers, ranging from teachers, to fire fighters, to police officers and other workers "win" at least 3% raises each year for the next three years, until they start all over again. This, while many of us are losing jobs and cannot afford to pay anymore. Municipalities and school boards are helpless, as the province forces them to pay what arbitrators tell them to pay. It must be nice having a job in one of these sectors. They certainly aren't hiring anybody else, no matter how qualified you are, because if anybody at all is going to get the jobs, if there are any new openings, are those that already worked there ... so the rest of us either have to accept leftover jobs, like call centre, Wal-Mart and burger flipping, or invest in a time machine to bring us back to the 70's and 80's when new jobs were coming up in these fields and get hired then.

Workers in these public sector jobs have no right to complain about their salaries. Sure, they work hard, but so does the minimum wage doughnut shop worker. So does the teenager that fills your gas tank when you go to a full-service gas station. You say you went to school for a long time to get what you want ... not necessarily true. Teachers need a minimum of a four year degree, plus an educational degree which is one or two years. I know people who have been to school much longer and owe way more in student loans who are now stuck greeting shoppers at Wal-Mart, because virtually all the "good jobs" are in union shops and closed to the public. I know many teachers in my region, and they are the first to complain about the high cost of living here. I say, yes, try making it on less than half your salary.

Others work in the private sector in jobs like General Motors, TRW, US Steel, etc. and make over $30 an hour. They tell us they work hard. Sorry, people who make minimum wage also work hard, and yes - you can also be making minimum wage too if it weren't for the hard work and bargaining power given by others to make your job a good job. My bet is you had NOTHING to do with making your job a good job, other than being lucky enough to apply for the job at the right time and get in. To me, that is luck and not hard work. Others are single parents and get no pay at all, and they "work hard" too ... probably harder than many of the men that complain about their taxes. Some of you "hard workers" are self-employed, but the money you had to start your business probably came from your family, or perhaps the business you run belonged to your family and you got a place in it just because you were born there. So what, that means nothing to me. This doesn't make you more deserving than anybody else ... but time after time, it is YOUR TYPE OF PEOPLE who spend time on their computers at work instead of working, who bash the poor at websites, such as that for the Toronto Sun, Toronto Star and other places, where comment can be shared online. They always use fake names. I suppose they don't want their employers to read the sites and find their signatures there and esp. marked during working hours.

Personally, I have been involved as a teaching assistant and course coordinator at the university where I earned two of my degrees. I would say about half of the students attending my classes were not able to put a simple sentence together. My marking and teaching philosophy was often criticized by these students because I would mark them for grammar and sentence structure, as well as whether they were picking up anything from the course. I've had students bitterly complain to my department's chair that they had to get an 80% or more in the course, or they would not get to teachers' college. Yes, folks, many of these people just might be teaching your children today. After all, they are entitled to their entitlements.

I've known other students that never bothered showing up for lectures and would make an occasional appearance in seminars, usually looking half snapped up or on dope. In order to keep up, they paid other students for their notes and there have been occasions where plagiarism was caught red-handed. In these cases, I rightfully brought the papers to the department chair for her review and she agreed with my assessment and we gave them zeros. One of them came storming in about how his father works for such and such a law firm, and so forth, and how the school will get sued, and so forth ... I told them then to their face that I don't give a shit. Perhaps, he can go to his father to have him teach him how to write too, as that would be a great start before going to teacher's college. Very few of these students were on OSAP. A few made it quite clear they were from well to do families and did not have to take out a loan or work at all, and I believed them, because they certainly didn't work on their school work either.

Outside of school, I was also involved in consulting for a number of non-profit and publicly funded organizations. In many cases, people worked there for years taking very large salaries, and in one case, paying board members to attend meetings and help keep them in their jobs (despite not doing their job, of course). In another case, an individual would write reports for the board about the various meetings she went to or conducted, and when somebody checked this out - this person did actually nothing at all. There were no meetings and the people she spoke to did not exist. People often get into these jobs because they know somebody, whether that be a board member, the executive director, or somebody else closely tied to the organization. It is rarely about what they know. In fact, there is no law that prohibits publicly funded non-profits from hiring their relatives, high-school drop-outs or even those that have just come out of prison for fraud. This does not mean they all do this (as many organizations do care about their image -- but surprisingly not all of them), but without controls, many such organizations do fall to this. The only requirement I am aware of is vulnerable sector checks with the police, which is required only for organizations that work directly with vulnerable adults or children. However, I am not sure if the same is required for their executive director, or their accountant (although some such organizations do pass policies to cover everybody).

After many years of seeing this, I can honestly say there are not a lot of hard working people out there. Those folks that have a good job today think they did this on their own, when this is likely not the case. They likely knew somebody where they worked, had parents or friends connected to the business at some point or others who "encouraged" them to apply and gave a good word for them, or they had parents pay for their university education and possibly even their first car, so they are well out of the starting gate before their less fortunate peers even hear the starting gun. Personally, I don't care about these people and do not believe for a second, they work hard at all or they are even deserving of the good salary they make. People who read this can also relate to how on a day to day basis, they have to talk to you so-called "hard workers" in your positions, whether this be in government, insurance companies, health care organizations, car repair shops, or whatever ... and the rate of satisfaction with your customer service is pretty low. I been there. I know.

However, it is precisely this group of people and the well-paid public sector workers that do the most poor bashing. They try to convince people that they can just get "any job" and be making a middle class income within a year. First, somebody on welfare is not going to get a good paying job - ever. Studies have been done on this. Even when somebody on welfare is pushing themselves hard and takes any job for survival, they tend to cycle on and off welfare and low paying, short-term jobs. Very few are able to further their education, or get promoted in the jobs they do get. A teenager at 16 that starts working at McDonalds is not going to become its manager in the next ten years. Maybe even twenty or thirty years. We know that working at this low level does not improve their salary over time ... their wages stay the same and only increase if minimum wages go up. Ask people who work at Loblaws and Wal-Mart how often they get raises. Call centres are a bit better on the wage front, but most people do not last more than a year. I also know that very few people who are on welfare can ever move beyond a "paycheque to paycheque" situation to being a wealthy, even upper middle class person. It does not happen, not in the 21st century.

But at the same time, many of these well-paid workers get all summer off, full dental benefits that even cover cosmetic dentistry, a retirement income that many of us in the leftover sector can only dream of, as well as other things that they did not earn or work for. I know a few employers that pay people a couple of bucks more an hour just to show up! I asked them why they do this, and they tell me that many of their employees book off a lot. Office workers have been found to spend at least 30 - 40% of the time in the office on their employer's time on the computer doing personal transactions, whether e-mail, visiting personal websites, or chatting. Some employers have strict policies on this, but in larger companies it is difficult to track specific people. But I read the racist, ableist, classist and bullying comments on websites day after day, and the same pseudonyms pop up during all hours of the day, regardless ... I only wish their employers would check on these workers more often, and I suspect if they did, many of them would be on the unemployment lines right now as I speak.

I also see workers taking "personal days off" when they call in sick. This happens all the time. In a large employer you are allowed up to ten days during a twelve month period of "emergency leave days", but this doesn't mean you have to get paid. In the late spring, I've watched several people call in sick and they were at the beach, or they were heading into a bar. I heard them talk to their employers into their cell phones, saying they were sick as I watched them enter a bar on St. Paul Street ... or similar situations. Yes, they are entitled to their entitlements. I also know them when they come to my office at the other end and learn they have been fired, and ask me to represent them against their employers. Yes, there are many bad employers out there, but there are many, many bad employees. One employee apparently stole over a million dollars from her employer over seven years so she can gamble. A lot of fraud takes place by employees, we only hear about the big cases. A friend recently reported that a moving company took all day to complete what would have been a three hour move so they can bill for the whole day, as opposed to a few hours.

At a non-profit organization, there was a policy on "time in lieu" because the agency couldn't afford overtime, so as a result, they contracted with their employees to pay overtime in the form of time off equivalent, such as if they worked an hour overtime, they got an hour and a half worth of time off. Concerns were raised when I did some board training about the "abuse" of this policy. Staff seemed to spend a lot more time going to meetings and conferences than they did doing their jobs, and unfortunately, they got a lot of time off in lieu as a result! We had to re-work the policy limiting the number of hours per month they can claim for outside meetings or conferences, and anything over that was their own time - period. Even for the approved meetings and conferences, they had to be directly related to their job, and approved ahead of time by the program director.

I read in the paper that teachers are being pressured not to take marks off for late assignments, or for grammar/spelling, and to pass people more readily. Teachers are being pressured by students and more likely, their parents, to give their kids good grades. I am so pleased I had the backing of the university administration when I was in charge of my courses back then. I certainly hope things are the same now, and that these so-called hard working poor souls did not take advantage and push themselves through to "earn" undeserved credits.

Unfortunately, while nobody questions the billions of dollars that go out the window each year in tax breaks, corporate bailouts, questionable stimulus programs, and so forth, these same people bitch about the less than 2% of our gross domestic product that goes out to support low income, disabled and unemployed workers. They go on websites and claim to "know" that at least half the people who are getting disability are not in fact disabled. How do they know, I wonder ... I guess they must all be doctors and have all examined these people personally. They also seem to claim people on welfare get grossly inflated amounts of money, and query if they are really better off working. They say they are entitled to lower taxes because they "work hard", but people on assistance aren't entitled to anything more than say somebody who committed a crime is. As for whether YOU work hard, I say, PROVE it! The burden of proof is on YOU, if you are telling others how hard YOU work. I already know most of YOU do not work hard, and most of you lucked out in getting your better paying job, or got connected through somebody you know, and not because of what you know (if you know anything at all).

Nobody questions that 20 - 30% of tax returns that are filed fraudulently, at least in part, many by wealthy people who are abusing loopholes, or self-employed contractors accepting cash payments, etc., depriving the treasury of billions and billions of dollars a year, yet YOU focus on the less than 1% of people who are unfortunate enough to be on welfare that might be getting something extra they might not be entitled to. And YOU are entitled to your entitlements. I don't have the right to question you as to why you seem to be able to sit at your computer all day and evening writing racial and prejudicial epithets on websites, while you claim to work so hard. I don't have the right to ask who your employer is, so I can verify your information. For all I know, you could be on house arrest for drinking and driving or something, so don't give me any pity party stories about how hard you work, because I know you don't work hard at all. If you really did work hard, I would not be hearing from you on the web. You wouldn't have the time to go online! I have some time because I work online, and I am self-employed in an office, and it just takes a couple of minutes for me to check email, and various sites.

I hear whining and complaining from some of you saying you pay 50% of your income in taxes. In order to do that, you must be in the top 10% of income earners of Ontario, and I personally would rather make what you do and pay the taxes, than earn a lower income that doesn't attract as much taxes. So quit your bitching! You have nothing to complain about.

If the rules that applied to people that work who are on welfare applied to you, you WOULD be bitching! Not only would you have to pay taxes and regular deductions from whatever you earn, you lose an additional 50% of your pay. If you have a disability, and cannot work at all, and are forced to live on the Ontario Disability Support Program, and you are married and your spouse works, 50% of anything he or she earns AFTER TAXES is deducted from YOUR cheque! Most of you would be crying bloody murder by then, as most of you are in families where both of you work, and no matter how much either one of you earn, it does not lower the other spouse's income. I tell the government to change this rule, keep the spouses out of it, regardless of income, assets, savings, whatever ... keep them out of it and if the disabled spouse cannot work, give them their OWN income. They tell me they can't do that because then they will be making a middle class income as a family. Hey, if that disabled spouse WERE ABLE to work, he or she WOULD be making a middle class income ... so the government's position on this is that if you are disabled and unable to work, you deserve to be poor. You are also deserving of remaining single, unless you can find a spouse who is willing to take full financial responsibility for you and your disability requirements ... good luck to that today!

Some people with disabilities are self-employed. You think you can get off welfare or ODSP through developing a good business plan and "working hard"? Think again! You are NOT ALLOWED to hire paid help. That means if you are running a farm and it comes to harvest time, you have to do it ALL by yourself, and work around the clock. I wonder if the same could be said for those that own General Motors and other companies, that they should not be allowed to deduct the monies they pay to their staff to help run their plants ... there would uproar for sure, as there should be in this case too! They are also not allowed to pay off personal debts, so even though their ODSP and whatever they have left of their earnings is rarely enough to meet their own or their family's needs and they often have to put payments on credit card so they can eat or buy school supplies for their kids, they CANNOT pay back these debts.

Yet it is okay for them to declare personal bankruptcy every few years. I think if you have concerns about this, you should write to me and I will PROVE every one of my allegations about welfare and ODSP rules. If all businesses and employees had to live by these rules, our country would be bankrupt and nobody would be paying into the system ... their traps and tricks number up to 800 rules that keep people on the system and keep people poor, no matter how hard they work.

And ANYBODY can end up on welfare. Don't think it won't happen to you. If you bash the poor today, and I later learn you end up needing help, I certainly will be less than sympathetic when you start to complain about what it is really like when you come up to the other side of this very bad coin and complain when it happens to you.