Friday, April 07, 2006

More On Welfare Hunger Strike

Today the Hunger Clinic Organizing Committee held a media conference in support of Sara Anderson's hunger strike, which is to demand an increase in social assistance rates, outside of an event attended by Premier Dalton McGuinty and Minister of Mines and Northern Development Rick Bartolucci, who is also our local MPP.

L and I attended part of it. It was a small event. A few local labour leaders spoke, as well as Sara herself. It was my first opportunity to meet Sara -- I didn't do much more than introduce myself, because I get the sense she has been harassed by strangers wanting to talk to her over the last week. Despite being a fairly low-key event, I did find myself fairly effected by it, emotionally speaking. I may write more about that later.

Here are a few items just circulated by one of the members of the Hunger Clinic Organizing Committee, which is doing what it can to support Sara in her choice of action.

A brief action report by GK:

We had a media conference and support rally for Sara Anderson today outside Science North where McGuinty and Bartolucci were appearing. We had a number of union and community supporters and a number of media outlets were present. We handed out 250 copies of the leaflet below. While Bartolucci and McGuinty refused to meet with Sara we do know this issue was raised by Rick Grylls the President of CAW/Mine Mill Local 598 with Rick Bartolucci and he delivered a letter from Sara to Bartolucci. We also know that a number of reporters asked McGuinty about this at the media conference after his announcement. He apparently said that rather than raise the social assistance rates they were trying to find other ways to support people on social assistance. We hope that Sara will feel up to going to Toronto tomorrow and will be able to deliver her message at the OCAP rally herself. Meanwhile we hope that all OCF groups can raise Sara's struggle in your communities.

The text of the flyer that was being handed out to the local luminaries going into the event:

Support Sara Anderson on Hunger Strike to Get Social Assistance Rates Raised

Sara Anderson, a 45 year old First Nations mother on Ontario Works (OW), is currently on a hunger strike to help people recognize the desperate conditions in which tens of thousands of people on social assistance are forced to live across Ontario. She is demanding:

* the raising of the social assistance rates by 40%. This would bring the social assistance rates back to where they were in 1995 before the Tory cuts. As Sara puts it with the recent tiny increase by the Liberal government "Welfare rates went up by two percent, but our rent went up by more than that."

* the re-instatement of the previous Special Diet policy which allowed people on social assistance to receive funding for nutrition for themselves and their families. Sara recently had her Special Diet plummet from $75 a month under the old policy to only $20 with the new policy, a $55 cut in her and her daughter's monthly income;

* making it easier for people living with disabilities to be able to get on the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) which provides people with more financial support. As it stands many are routinely rejected when they apply. Sara's application for ODSP was rejected and this rejection was upheld by an internal review. She has an appeal scheduled in early May.

* that all people on social assistance who move be offered community-start up funds to allow them to establish their new home. Sara was only given $90 for her move last fall when she should have been offered hundreds of dollars in start-up funds.

Today Premier Dalton McGuinty and Cabinet Minister and Sudbury MPP Rick Bartolucci are at Science North to make an announcement regarding funding for the Northern Ontario Medical School. They both have been directly involved in and are responsible for the government decisions that have led Sara to go on a hunger strike. While we welcome more funding for the Medical School we ask the following question: what is the point of having more doctors when the level of social assistance in Ontario is so low that it means that tens of thousands of people are being underfed and are suffering from health complications arising from lack of nutrition?

What you can do to support Sara Anderson:

* Sign the on-line petition at (at the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty website) to Premier McGuinty calling for a major raise in social assistance rates and for re-instatement of the previous Special Diet policy. This petition has already been signed by more than 1,400 people.

* Write letters to, or call, Premier McGuinty (fax 416-325-3745 or write Dalton McGuinty, Premier, Legislative Building, Queen's Park, Toronto, Ontario, M7A 1A1) and Sudbury MPP and Cabinet Minister Rick Bartolucci (at 705-675-1914) supporting Sara's demands.


I would add that on the issue of people being rejected when they apply to get on ODSP, I remember hearing from legal clinic staff a number of years ago when I lived in Hamilton that they had received unofficial word from official sources that, at that time, ODSP intake staff had been instructed to reject everything they received and make everyone go to appeal. Don't know if that's still happening, but I wouldn't be surprised to hear it.

And here is a recent article from a local newspaper called Northern Life:

Thursday, April 06, 2006
One week without food, protester's resolve strong

A few words of encouragement from a friend is keeping a Sudbury woman who is on a hunger strike in good spirits.

Sara Anderson plans to take her crusade to the premier when he visits city today. She hasn't eaten since Monday.

Sara R. Anderson, 45, has stopped eating to protest what she says is an inhumane social assistance system.

She hasn't had anything to eat and has stopped taking medication for severe arthritis since early Monday morning.

She plans to continue her hunger strike, "until I get in writing" the Liberal government is willing to make significant changes to the province's welfare rates.

While feeling serious hunger pangs for the first time since starting her protest, Anderson was in an extremely good mood Thursday, mainly because a friend phoned earlier in the day.

"I'm in very happy spirits because my friend Muriel just called and she's a dear, dear friend of mine," said Anderson. "I didn't want to worry her and told her I was doing OK, and she offered me many words of encouragement and that really makes me feel good."

Anderson plans on participating in a rally this morning organized by the Hunger Clinic Organizing Committee outside of Science North, where Premier Dalton McGuinty is visiting to make an announcement supporting the Northern Ontario School of Medicine's Bursary Program.

Anderson says she endured significant physical pain after stopping taking medication for arthritis, but she's developed a pain tolerance and hunger is now becoming more prevalent.

"The hardest part right now is continually smelling a bannock burger, which is a burger made using traditional native bread with a hamburger patty in the middle," she said. "Most natives love these burgers as it mixes today with the past and they taste so good."

Anderson says her protest is about forcing the government to increase welfare rates significantly, but she would also like to see more people with legitimate claims be accepted into the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP).

She was denied a disability pension more than once, even though she has a bullet hole in her hip. She was shot and hit while working as a truant officer about 25 years ago on the Grassy Narrows First Nations near Kenora.

She also has numerous pins in her left ankle after being pushed off a second-floor balcony during a domestic dispute in Winnipeg 15 years ago and hasn't been able to work since, she said.

"When I have applied for disability, I've been told repeatedly I don't have any substantial disability...I guess a bullet hole and ankle that has caused me severe pain for many years isn't enough."

Her teenage daughter Sheryl has shown remarkable support during the first few days of this hunger strike.

"She's my rock and always has been," Anderson said.

If she feels strong enough, Anderson plans on boarding a minivan with her daughter and members of the local Hunger Clinic Organizing Committee to participate in another rally through Toronto's Rosedale's swanky community Saturday evening.

When informed some people have voiced opposition to her hunger strike and insist they have managed to get by while collecting social assistance, Anderson said negativity from people she doesn't know will not discourage her.

"I'm determined to keep up my hunger strike," she said. "Until I'm given assurances from the government that things are going to change, then I will continue.

"I don't care if some people out there criticize me. This is something I have thought about for a long time and I do believe one person can force changes and I'm not about to give up."

"I haven't changed my daily routine too much," she said. "I'm trying to drink as much water as possible and I'm sleeping a little bit more, but I'm still spending time with friends and my daughter and I'm trying to get outside to get some fresh air when I feel good."

Anderson says she's excited about her brother, a retired band chief from a Northern Ontario First Nations reserve, coming to visit her some time next week.

"It will be great to see him," she said.

Please get involved in struggles to raise social assistance rates wherever you live, and spread word about Sara's action!


Ron Payne said...

This was sent to the Premier of Ontario Dalton McGuinty, the Minister of Community and Social Services Madeleine Meilleur, Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger and Hamilton city councilor Bernie Morelli, via e-mail on Feb 24 08.

My question to you and to myself is how do they get away with the callous and unjust manner that workers approach their clients with, at Ontario Works, ODSP and even the Social Benefits Tribunal?

The answer is very simple. BECAUSE THEY CAN

For the record I would like to state, I have seen many improvements to the SBT since a change of it’s Chair and I expect to see many more. I can’t say the same for Ontario Works and ODSP.

The research shows when clients have contact with workers the response is not always the same. You could ask three different workers the same question and receive three different answers.

If the worker doesn't especially like you, they will simply ignore you. This means things like no return phone calls, ignoring verbal requests for benefits, requesting more than usual documents be brought in to prove eligibility and so on.

If the worker really doesn't like you, they will often do everything in their power to harass, intimidate and frustrate you into giving up and going away. This means things like ignoring written requests for benefits, telling you that the benefit doesn’t exist, denying benefits when you are entitled and no decision letters and so on.

If the worker does like you, they will give you any of the benefits that you ask for if you entitled. This is only if the worker is aware of the benefits requested. Here is an interesting problem. The vast majority of the workers are not aware of benefits that are available. This even includes some of the excellent workers. Another problem is that the fast majority of clients don’t even know what the benefits are.

****All clients must document, tape record and video record everything, every time when dealing with any OW or ODSP staff.****

The governments must, as a gesture of good will, give all Ontario Works and ODSP clients a written copy of the benefits that they say clients are entitled.

This would be a first concrete step taken to start the process in eliminating poverty.

Ontario Works Directive # 31.0 found at or the:

Ontario Disability Support Program Directives #s 9.1 to 9.19 Found at

The only real remedy to this problem is for clients to sue their respective governments. For Ontario Works it would be their local municipal government and the Province of Ontario and for ODSP it would be the Province of Ontario.

In the Ontario Works Act it states No personal liability

77.(1)No action or other proceeding in damages shall be instituted against the Ministry, the Director, a delivery agent, an officer or employee of any of them or anyone acting under their authority for any act done in good faith in the execution or intended execution of a duty or authority under this Act or for any alleged neglect or default in the execution in good faith of any duty or authority under this Act.

In the Ontario Disability Support Program it states No personal liability

58. (1) No action or other proceeding in damages shall be instituted against the Ministry, the Director or a delivery agent, an officer, employee of any of them or anyone acting under their authority for any act done in good faith in the execution or intended execution of a duty or authority under this Act or for any alleged neglect or default in the execution in good faith of any duty or authority under this Act. 1997, c. 25, Sched. B, s. 58 (1).

This means that a client could sue for damages if bad faith could be proven.

It is called bad faith; a person who intentionally tries to deceive or mislead another in order to gain some advantage.

It is called willful blindness or willful deceit.

The government must get rid of the discretionary powers it allows workers in the OW and OSSP, Act, Regulations and Directives.

You’re either entitled to benefits or your not. It is extremely simple but the government will not do it until it gets sued for Bad Faith.

It’s so simple; all the government has to do is to look at how the federal government implements its Employment Insurance application process, and they are saving millions.

To receive benefits you must go online to apply, with exceptions for some disabled clients. You fill out a simple template and the next thing you experience is a cheque in the mail. If the federal government trusts us why can’t you?

Ron Payne
Welfare Legal
Hamilton, Ontario.

Ron Payne said...

Media Release

The Evidence Is In

Poverty’s Smoke and Mirrors, Part 2

To see part 1

The article above went out to the main media and approximately 65 other print news media starting September 21 2008. It was also put on the World Wide Web.

To my knowledge it was only printed in 3 Ontario news papers in the Letters to the Editor section.
1) Hamilton’s, Mountain News
2) Hamilton’s, Stoney Creek News
3) London’s, The London Free Press

Thank you to these three papers for caring enough about people that live in poverty to print this article.

As of today November 06 2008 the Ontario government has only posted old outdated directives dated Sept 2001.

Obviously these directives are of no use to anyone simply because of the fact they are outdated and the ministry is now using the July 2008 up to date directives but has not shared them with the public.

You may remember Welfare Legal was so offended by this abuse we offered $100.00 to anyone that could produce a copy of the latest Ontario Works directive 7.4.

As of this date no one has collected the $100.00. Welfare Legal now has a copy of the new directives that the government has not shared.

We take the position that this is the most serious kind of abuse by our government to implement new policies but not allow those most in need to have access to them. The only reason the government has given for this abuse is that the Ontario Government has not prepared a French version of these directives.

This is a Human Rights violation, among others, to implement a secrete version of the directives and not share them with the public and not to have a French version available.

As we have stated before the Ontario government has in fact been cutting the benefits of Ontario Works, (OW) and the Ontario Disability Support Program, (ODSP) recipients without letting the general public aware of these cuts.

The latest cuts that have become public are the cuts to benefits to grandparents that are caring for their own grandchildren, who many had, have been apprehended by the Children’s Aid Society (CAS). The grand parent’s complaints were heard loud and clear the government seems to have withdrawn these policy changes.

The new directive 7.4 and others shows more cuts that the public is not aware of yet.

One of these cuts shows that the Ontario government no longer supports volunteering here in Ontario. In the old outdated directives dated September 2001, the government used to give a small benefit to those recipients that had to do volunteer work as a condition of eligibility for OW. These cuts also affect those who wish to do volunteer work and are disabled on ODSP as well.
Are volunteers no longer needed here in Ontario?

These cuts which are ongoing, have been made to help pay for the meager increases to OW and ODSP of 2%. They are also part of the government’s bigger plan, to upload the cost of OW and ODSP from the municipality to the province and to pay for its poverty reduction strategy.

At the end of the day the government will save millions of dollars in benefits that the former Mike Harris Tories said people on OW and ODSP were entitled to. Does this make sense to anyone?

This story gets much, much worse. It turns out that the aboriginal community in Ontario had the foresight not to allow its members to be subjected to the policies and procedures put in place by the Mike Harris government, when they bought the draconian computer program from Anderson Consulting now Accenture. The cost of that program was $400,000.00 and rising. This program was designed to cut people off of benefits automatically, with no human contact. There seems to be 2 classes of people being governed differently here, and what are the costs?

It would seem they were allowed to have their own computer program made up by a private company called AD Morrison.

A private professional researcher contacted Welfare Legal in an attempt to collect the $100.00 offered for the latest Ontario Works directive 7.4 and alerted us to a Pandora’s Box. You will see on the home page of AD Morrison’s site there is a link to “Latest Directives”. This link contained a third set of OW directives that was not available to the general public.

After Welfare Legal contacted the ministry to see if this in fact was the latest and new directive 7.4, the ministry contacted us with a reply that had nothing to do with our request. Then out of the blue this link was taken of the site.

After gathering all the evidence we soon learned that the Ontario government had not been keeping these new directive from the public since July 2008, they had in fact been hiding them starting in December 2005 and no one new about it. At least no one that has come forward so far.

There has been no response from any legal clinic or private paralegal in Ontario showing that they new about this breach of the Human Rights Code by our provincial government. If anyone was aware of this why didn’t they take it to the media? Does nobody care about this abuse? Does nobody care about eliminating poverty?

It is interesting to note that the government has even changed the directive numbers to confuse us even more once we were allowed to become aware of them.

September 2001 shows directive 31.0, the out dated benefits that we all are aware of.

December 2005 shows

July 2008 shows

For a copy of these directives

How can the Ontario government say it is attempting to alleviate poverty when it is secretly cutting the benefits of those most in need? (Reverse Robin Hood)

Ron Payne
Welfare Legal
Hamilton, Ontario
Phone 905-253-0205