Thursday, April 20, 2006

Hunger Strike Over, Struggle Continues

Sara Anderson, the Ojibwe woman and Sudbury resident on hunger strike to demand higher welfare rates in Ontario, has ended her hunger strike after reflection and discussion with an Elder. The following media release was put out by the Hunger Clinic Organizing Committee yesterday or the day before. More detailed and personal communication from Sara will likely be forthcoming in a little while -- right now she is spending some time recovering from her ordeal and, I believe, engaged in further spiritual reflection under the guidance of an Elder.

Here's the release:

Sara Anderson started her hunger strike two and a half weeks ago. She was demanding a significant raise in social assistance rates; the reinstatement of the previous Special Diet Policy; making it easier for people with disabilities to get onto the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP); and making sure that everyone on social assistance who moves is offered a Community Start-Up Fund.

Today Sara decided to end her hunger strike after the advice of a First Nations elder that it was not her time to die. Sara accomplished a great deal in her brave and determined struggle. She brought a great deal of awareness to the desperate circumstances tens of thousands of people on social assistance live every day in this province due to the Ontario government’s social assistance policies, especially regarding the low level of social assistance rates and the slashing of the previous Special Diet policy. People and organizations across the province came to Sara’s support and she received many letters of support from across the province. She was invited by the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty to speak at their anti-poverty March into Rosedale on April 8th and spoke at a media support conference at Queen’s Park on April 13th. She appeared in the legislature on April 13th when NPP MPP Micheal Prue asked a question on her behalf. Although Premier Dalton McGuinty refused to meet with her when he was in Sudbury eventually she did get a meeting with Liberal MPP and cabinet minister Rick Bartolucci.

Last week Sara got the first indication of how taking action can get results. When her OW worker and her supervisor came to visit where she lives she was handed a cheque for an extra $55. This was an interesting amount since it is exactly the difference between what she used to get on the Special Diet and what she is getting now. What took place is that with pressure placed on them because of Sara’s struggle OW was able to restore her Special Diet to its previous level. We were told this was only temporary, lasting only for a month or two. If it is possible for OW to do this in Sara’s case they should do this for everyone who has had their Special Diet cut who has not yet reached the end of the time period for their old form. We already know that there are a number of people in Sudbury who have been cut back from $250 a month on their Special Diet to $10 or $20 a month, and a number of appeals have been launched. Being restored to this higher amount even for a few months would make an important difference in these people’s lives.

In today’s Northern Life (p. 6) we read about Raymond Boucher who has had his special diet slashed by $51 a month. We demand that Raymond Boucher’s Special Diet be restored to its previous rate of $147 a month.

Even more significantly, yesterday, Sara was informed of another instance of how struggle gets results. She was informed that despite the previous rejections of her ODSP application and the appeal hearing set for May 9th that she was now going to be granted ODSP. This will mean that she and her daughter will be able to enjoy a higher rate of support (unfortunately this will still not be enough to live on and meet human needs). All that had been submitted to ODSP since the hunger strike began was a small and not that substantial piece of medical information. With the pressure provided by her hunger strike this technical detail was used to justify not following the usual bureaucratic regulations and to grant her ODSP status before the appeal hearing. If this can happen in Sara’s case it should be happening in all the cases of people with disabilities who apply for ODSP who are routinely rejected from ODSP and often have to wait years to be transfered from OW to ODSP.

Sara’s struggle has been an inspiration to anti-poverty activists across the province. It shows once again that taking action, speaking out, and putting pressure on the government can bring concrete results. Sara’s hunger strike is now over but she has done a great service to the anti-poverty struggle more generally. The struggle to raise the social assistance rates by 40% * which is only back to where they were in 1994 * will continue as will the struggle for the reinstatement of the previous Special Diet policy.

Hunger Clinic Organizing Committee

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