Sunday, March 21, 2010


The Federal Government proudly announced that it was the 84th nation to ratify the International Covenant on Human Rights for Persons with Disabilities. In the same breath, they pat themselves on the back to announce how much of a leader Canada is in implementing equality provisions as cited in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and administratively through our Human Rights Codes. While political commentators, including this one, are pleased this was done, the plight of persons with disabilities is far from improved. In fact, many uninformed bigots continue to try to attack what few rights we have, as cited in a recent letter of mine in the local newspaper. Carol Goar acknowledges that we still have a very long way to go before people with disabilities have equal citizenship rights.

What is telling in particular are the comments that readers are allowed to contribute to any article, editorial or news items of interest to my local paper. In this paper, probably like most online newspapers, the same few seem to contribute. An individual identifying himself as "seekthetruth" and another individual that are both white males, espousing a Christian view and somehow feel that Christians are somehow under attack by human rights commissions. This is far from the truth as I am aware of Christian issues being raised in workplaces, and the rulings favouring the worker that was discriminated against due to their beliefs (such as a Jehovah's Witness' right to refuse to participate in decorating a store with Christmas decorations, and in another case, an employee denied the Holy Day off from his job to partake in his worship). As another poster stated, it is people like "seekthetruth" and people like him why we need human rights commissions. Both individuals were well-employed and never personally experienced discrimination, and at least one is enjoying a healthy retirement income. The myth that people are hired on the basis of merit has been quashed awhile back, while all the intolerant were asleep.

People with disabilities are drummed out of the workplace in many ways, which white males who are secure in their jobs, do not see or understand. Injured workers get refused a modified work position. Some are ultimately put out of a job because the worker is deemed unable to perform the essential duties of their job, so instead of trying to find alternative work for them, the person is "separated" from their job instead. They end up on welfare or if they are really lucky, Ontario Disability Support benefits, and denied even the basic tenets of the dignity of a decent job. It is not all white males that are like this, as I have represented many white males before the Human Rights Tribunal for various reasons, e.g. disability discrimination, age, sexual harassment by a female boss.

Connection to a full-time decent paying job is too often the only key to social and community participation for people. Once separated from the job, the person's self-esteem and their overall health is impacted. People with disabilities do not want to be on social assistance any more than anybody else does. Many are over-educated and well-qualified to take on work that seems to be available only to "relatives" of the boss, or to able-bodied persons that are screened in through seemingly innocuous criteria, such as a valid driver's license and a vehicle, and other potential criteria that persons with different types of disabilities cannot manage. These screening mechanisms serve to keep people out of jobs, not put them in. Then, folks question why more than half of persons with disabilities are "out of the paid labour force", or unemployed. Regardless of education level, a person with a disability does not enjoy equality to their non-disabled peers. The Canadian Association of Professional with Disabilities has formed for the purpose of promoting their members into getting into jobs they are qualified for instead of being steered by employment counselors to low-wage call centre and retail jobs.

I know many well-educated persons with disabilities who are stuck on ODSP: social workers, lawyers, former civil servants, a librarian, a forensic accountant, among many others, that employers claim they need, but refuse to look beyond their nose to seek people who may speak, move or communicate differently to join their staff and offer their many varied talents. Last summer, I sat in a circle around a food stand downtown, where I regularly met with people with disabilities: one in a wheelchair who taught martial arts as well as is a licensed social worker, another attending school for forensic psychology, and another one who was an engineer in his day ... all of whom on welfare or ODSP. Somebody needs to look at these things and take responsibility for this great loss to society.

I read an article today about older drivers. Competing interests include safety and the right to live independently. I reviewed the article in depth, and it does not say how many younger people are subject to the same removal provisions for their driver's license. It is not only a senior's issue. To me, it is fine to take somebody off the road, but you need to provide alternative transportation so the person can continue to live out their lives with relative independence. As a non-driver in Niagara, apart from work related travel, which is hugely expensive, I am house-bound. I would love to travel to my in-laws, to the beach, to Fort George, to Niagara Falls, and just hop in a car and go ... but these things taken for granted by people who drive, is another area where ignorance also plays a major role in keeping people with disabilities down.

On a group that I help run called odspfireside, I have heard from persons living on ODSP who are forcibly single because if they as much enter into a relationship with somebody else, that other person is forcibly included on ODSP, without choice. The "spouse" ends up having to work enough to support both of them, even if it means they have to work two or three jobs to keep things afloat, until the benefit unit ends up with two disabled persons, instead of just one. ODSP recipients are put under scrutiny, and treated as non-citizens through various fraud prevention initiatives, which has only led to fear and loss of integrity on the part of those entangled with what was called the "800 rules". While the focus of the report is Ontario Works, ODSP is just as much part of the suspicious trap people are placed in.

In recent days we had a positive decision concerning special diets by the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, stating that the 2005 amendments to it were unfair and discriminatory in many cases. In the legislature, Minister Madeleine Meilleur, who has among her different portfolios, social assistance, persons with disabilities and AODA, had mused about how expensive the program is, and has not quelled any of the rumour that the government is about to scrap it so it can cut the deficit.

Because the case came through the Human Rights Code, it is likely that many of us may attempt to press the reprisal provisions of the Code if the government considers this tactic, but these things are barely scraping the surface of all the discrimination persons with disabilities encounter, simply because they have the same desires and interests everybody else has. I found myself, if I chose to sit at home and do nothing, I am left alone, but when I wanted something, whether that be an education, a job beyond Mickey D's, transportation, the right to participate fully in the community, etc., then it was like asking for a constitutional amendment just to get what others don't even have to beg for.

I also encounter persons with disabilities that actually believe they should just play the game, accept the 800 rules of abuse, and just let things go. They would rather not fight, as they fear losing what little they have. Unfortunately, this is they attitude that they want us to have. It is easier for those doing the discriminating to continue to do so without as much of a whimper from most of the people they are attacking. It only makes it easier to push for even more cuts, perhaps even a change in the definition of disability and cuts to other benefits, as those not fighting back are allowing this to happen.

How did the gays and lesbians do it? How did the blacks do it? How did the women do it when they wanted to have the right to vote? They organized and made it bloody hard for politicians and others to continue to do business as they always have, and they cannot not notice what people with disabilities are doing ... we have to move away from the charity model to the entitlement and rights-based model, where persons with disabilities have entitlements and rights, and are equal with respect to their right to citizenship ... hell, many of us don't even vote! I fail to see how that is helpful. It is time we wake up with a more definitive and radical strategy to build out rights to the point of not only recognition, but obligation on the part of others ... the same way others and the media will not print negative things about gays, Jews, blacks, and so forth ... we need to have this discussion. We need to move ahead.

Your thoughts?

Monday, March 15, 2010


Last weekend, I finally had the opportunity to pick up my own copy of Michael Moore's latest movie Capitalism: A Love Story. I watched it three times since, and others in my family enjoyed it too! My favourite part was when it showed Moore wrapping several buildings in New York's financial district with crime scene tape, and as people go by it, others crawl under it, others smile and wave at him, until finally, he takes his bullhorn and shouts out, "I'm making a citizen's arrest. Please come out of the building now. I hear federal prison is a nice place."

The movie is about how the stock market crashed in the U.S. and how the banking system collapsed, all as a result of deregulation and watchdogs becoming lapdogs. Many different items were covered ranging from the Dead Peasants insurance, which many people did not know about, probably until this was exposed. This is an insurance policy taken out by your employer and when you die, your employer gets paid off hundreds of thousands of dollars as its "beneficiary". Deregulation made it easy for banks to hike interest rates, then throw people out of their homes. Employers would close up shop, leaving their employees with nothing. It is an interesting watch - something people need to be aware of when we leave too much up to politicians who are beholden to large corporations. In the case of the executive branch under George Bush, several of the top people were from finance companies like Goldman Sachs; naturally, certain companies were favoured when the banks were bailed out over there.

What was good about this is that it also showed American citizens fighting back. When a couple dozen top staffers of AIG got million dollars bonuses after they were bailed out by taxpayers, thousands of people hit the streets and protested. When companies were going to close their doors and kick their workers out with nothing, workers instead occupied the plant and refused to leave until the company finally gave in and paid what was owed. When families were being evicted, hundreds of their neighbours would gather around as the evicted family literally refused to leave, and squatted in their own home. People camped out until the bankers and sheriff gave up trying to move the family. This was in the spirit of community, the spirit of "we the people" as found in the American constitution.

The American economy is starting to turn around some, but at a glacial pace. Our Canadian economy is very inter-twined with the American economy. However, we are still infected by politicians that remain smug about this recession thinking that as Canadians, we "are better off" than the Americans. They smugly tell people in the city of Welland, shortly after John Deere issued all of its workers pink slips, that the economy in that community is doing very well. As PM Harper traveled through that community, he commented that one of his election goals was to eliminate chocolate flavoured cigarettes because they were too tempting for young people. The city of Welland is even sadder than it was at that time, whereby two of my favourite restaurants I used to go to after court are now closed. There are many more boarded up businesses, and on the Main Street is the office of a psychiatrist that among his services, provides medical evaluations for people seeking to go on disability.

Friends of mine in Welland that are landlords are having trouble renting their properties at even the very low rates they were charging because nobody can afford to rent there. Another gentleman was afraid that he would not be able to find a tenant because he literally could not afford to rent his upstairs unit for less than he did, or he would not be paying the mortgage. He was on EI himself, and was very cognizant that the clock was ticking. Others live in Welland and have found low cost housing, but can't travel anywhere because of poor transit service - often relying on friends and family, which anybody that doesn't own a car knows, is not the most reliable way to get around. Another friend of mine has been trying to sell his building, but fears he will have to sell it at a loss. He is in business but cannot survive in Welland, so he is moving to Toronto where he believes he will have a greater chance of success. The last time I was in Welland attending court, I walked down the street and it was suddenly strange I could not even find a single place close by to purchase a newspaper. On my way to search for such a place, there were drug addled strangers making deals with other drug addled strangers, while others simply turned their heads and moved on.

My own community of St. Catharines, which is supposed to be the "capital" of Niagara Region, or in accordance to the Places to Grow Act, is the administrative center of the region. St. Catharines council is fighting with Niagara Falls City council over where to re-locate the police headquarters, while the Niagara Regional Police Service threatens a multi-million dollar trip to Ontario Civilian Commission on Policing Services (OCCOPS). Well, Niagara Falls got their conference center, their two casinos and other developments, and St. Catharines is promised the Performing Arts Center and the new parking garage ... both are fighting to see who is more "deserving" of the headquarters. My main concern with this is that those who do not drive will likely have to quit their job at the administrative office, if it moves to Niagara Falls. Transit service remains very poor or non-existent in most places of Niagara, unless you have all the time in the world or are on ODSP and only plan to see doctors as a way to spend your day.

While Niagara Region is not what I would call purist capitalist like the financial centers of New York that were accused by Michael Moore, there is a different kind of elitism that dominates its thinking. Parochialism is as much a sport in Niagara, as hockey is the national sport in Canada. Niagara Region will never get its act together on transit because many of its smaller communities don't want it; that is, they don't want to pay for it. Yet they don't mind doling out millions and millions of dollars on automobile infrastructure that essential subsidizes people who drive, while the only people who pay full freight are those that don't -- if they want to get around at all. Further, the municipalities of Niagara are suing one another and the region, and the province is apparently suing the region for disobeying its own official plan and over-estimating its own growth estimates. I always knew Niagara over-estimated its growth estimates, because I truly believe the population here will at best remain the same with an ever aging demographic, while younger people leave by the dozens and do their procreating in communities that offer more.

I met a man that walks from Niagara-on-the-Lake to try to find housing in this city, as there is no way for him to get to Niagara-on-the-Lake and back, as this town does not believe in public transit. This man has epilepsy so a driver's license is out of the question. I had another meeting a few weeks ago, where about thirty people of all ages were present, averaging at about forty to fifty years old. Among those present, six identified themselves as having a medical condition that restricted their right to drive. Why does it not surprise me that virtually none of these people are working? One has a master's degree, and another is a trained nurse. To me, employers couldn't be too serious about rectifying their so-called skills shortage if they continue to fail to tap into the talents of many people who are currently sidelined for various reasons from the labour force.

This reflects much of what goes on in Ontario as well. Our lovely Minister in charge of issues for persons with disabilities, or Madeleine Meilleur, is also the Minister of Community and Social Services. She, like many other politicians, particularly on the political right, actually try to delude themselves and delude the public that employers are eager to hire people with disabilities. One does have to credit Minister Meilleur for attempting to push for the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act; nevertheless, her staff is still reviewing the standards developed by the committees set up to deal with transportation, employment, information and communications, and built environment. Her challenge is to ensure that what comes out does not lower requirements for employers than what is required under the Human Rights Code. It would certainly look bad if employers can comply with the set standards, but still run afoul of the Code. This also applies to transportation and the other standards.

At the same time, there are too many instances where Madeleine Meilleur has sparked the rumour mill, or at least hasn't stopped it, by not denying that the government plans to make deep cuts to Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program benefits this coming budget. She has never been viewed as a fan of the special diet benefit, which is given to people who have medical conditions that require them to follow a more expensive eating regimen that cannot be met by simply following the Canada's Food Guide. This only assumes that anybody on OW or ODSP can afford a diet that even half way complies with the Canada Food Guide, but that's another story. After controversial changes were made in 2005, the provincial government was sued through the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, and recently a decision was made in favour of enhancing the special diet for many persons, where it can be proven that a disability warrants it.

The Minister has refused to dispel that the government plans to scrap it. Even worse, there are intolerant rednecks putting a huge amount of pressure on the government to scrap the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario altogether. This type of thinking is being found in terms of the government's hesitancy in re-appointing Andre Marin, an excellent and reputable Ombudsman that has forced the government to make many positive changes in its administration, and Gord Miller, the Environmental Commissioner. Our fear is that our government does not want critics and watchdogs; it wants "yes men" and lapdogs. Does this sound familiar?

As both the federal and provincial government continue to throw money at our banks, insurance companies and auto manufacturers, hoping for what former U.S. President Ronald Reagan's ultimate theory of a "trickle down" effect (which nobody ever seen happen), perhaps I can also foresee a form of workfare in the future for people on ODSP -- throw them in the low paying jobs that able-bodied will not take. Disregard their skills, education and achievements and aim low, as usual. If anybody complains, there won't be any more watchdogs to go to, given the desires and apparent direction this government wants to go. All I am right now is fed up with paying for it, and watching the inevitable disasters that will follow.

I would love to see good natured taxpayers to suddenly withhold the amount of money that we have paid to the banks, auto manufacturers, insurance companies, automobile infrastructure and so forth ... and tell the government to make these entities self-supporting, the same way the poor, the sick and unemployed are supposed to be self-supporting with less and less help from anybody. This will only happen when we act. Just as Michael Moore said at the end of his movie, he can no longer do this alone. All Canadians, regardless of political stripe or station in life, need to stop and listen. Reality here is when it happens to you. It is not a question of "if", but a question of "when", and I would expect reciprocal treatment likewise.

I just hope people will understand why I say I don't care about how GM fares; unfortunately, it never had to stand on its two feet like we expect our most vulnerable of our community to do.