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Disability advocates to rally for boosted federal benefit

Disability advocates are set to gather in downtown Toronto Thursday morning to not only mark the historic win of the Canada Disability Benefit, but to gather support in improving it for people with disabilities.

Brad Evoy, one of the organizers behind the rally, says they’ll kickstart the morning by making posters and listening to advocate speeches before rallying in front of federal Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s office. 

“While we definitely want to, you know, be proud, I think, of what our community has accomplished … at this time, I think that the broad hope is to move much further than we are right now,” said Evoy, executive director of the Disability Justice Network of Ontario.

“We need to build a society that is fundamentally different. And you know, I think that challenging this benefit is a small stepping stone to that.”

Amid the rising cost of living, advocates want to convince the federal government that the new disability benefit — which amounts to a maximum of $200 a month per person — falls short of meaningfully helping Ontarians with disabilities, let alone the eight million people with disabilities nationwide.

Ron Anicich, a member of the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) Action Coalition, says it’s not only considerably less than what Ottawa had promised, but the $6.1 billion budgeted over the span of six years pales in comparison to the government’s other investments, such as its recent billion dollar deals with automotive companies Stellantis-LG and Volkswagen.

“That’s where they’re actually spending money and not on Canadians who are, you know, disabled people living in poverty,” said Anicich. “This is where we need our tax dollars to be spent.”

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The benefit, while historic, is not the systemic change needed in Canada to lift people with disabilities out of poverty, says Rabia Khedr, national director of Disability without Poverty. Khedr also said that some are contemplating medical assistance in dying since they are living in poverty and not getting enough support from the government.

Benefit hard to access, could reduce provincial support

Anicich adds the benefit isn’t accessible enough since you need to receive the Disability Tax Credit to qualify — something that many Canadians with disabilities do not, in part due to the lack of access to medical professionals that will sign off on the program.

On top of the barriers to accessing the benefit, Anicich says he worries provinces such as Ontario might choose to claw back the amount provided to ODSP recipients if the benefit isn’t exempt from the program’s income regime.

“It really feels like the disability itself is not punishment enough,” said Anicich.

A person speaks at a demonstration. A sign next time to him reads "Canada Disability Benefit Now."
Ron Anicich, a member of the ODSP Action Coalition, says the federal disability benefit needs to be improved to help lift millions of people in Ontario and throughout the country out of poverty. He’s pictured at a rally advocating for a federal disability benefit in November 2022. (Submitted by Ron Anicich)

In response to the rally, the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services told CBC Toronto in an email that its awaiting further details on the benefit from the federal government to determine any impact on its social assistance rates.

“Ontario is committed to working with the federal government to ensure people in the province get the support they need,” a ministry spokesperson said.

Creating space to celebrate

Janet Rodriguez, a community organizer with Disability Without Poverty, says if the Canadian government wants to bring people with disabilities above the poverty line, it would need to provide about $1,000 month, citing the additional expenses people with disabilities often have for transportation, diet and other special needs.

But until they get there, Rodriguez says it’s important to celebrate how far the community has come in getting a federal disability benefit in the first place.

“We want to show up and celebrate and really recognize the effort that thousands of individuals with disabilities, their families, their friends and organizations led by people with disabilities have worked in order to achieve this historical benefit,” said Rodriguez.

The federal government has not responded to CBC Toronto’s request for comment.

Employment and Social Development Canada has recently started to solicit comments on the regulations of the benefit, giving Canadians a chance to weigh in until Sept. 23.

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