In a landmark case at the Human Rights Tribunal, Sheryl Abbey was successful in proving that the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) discriminated against her. But the Tribunal refused to award her compensation for the injury that she experienced as a result. She has asked the Divisional Court to review that decision.
A coalition made up of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, the Income Security Advocacy Centre and the ODSP Action Coalition is intervening to defend the right of persons with disabilities to a full remedy when government programs discriminate against them. ARCH Disability Law Centre and the Income Security Advocacy Centre are representing the coalition.
Background on the Case
The Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) is meant to provide benefits to ensure recipients can live as independently as possible. This includes supports for those who operate their own businesses, with the goal of breaking down barriers to employment.
However, when Sheryl Abbey started her own business while on ODSP, she was told that any wages she paid out to employees or sub-contractors would be treated as though it was her own income. This unfair treatment of her business income would result in a drastic reduction in her ODSP benefits, and so she ended the business.
Ms Abbey then went to the Human Rights Tribunal to argue that the ODSP policy directive that treated business income in this way was discriminatory. The Tribunal agreed. The Tribunal found that the policy was based on the discriminatory assumption that most ODSP recipients are “incapable of engaging in forms of self-employment which have even a modicum of complexity to them.”
The Tribunal ordered ODSP to stop applying the policy, but refused to give Ms Abbey any remedy for the injury the discrimination caused to her “dignity, feelings and self-respect.” Instead, the Tribunal said that damages cannot be awarded when a government policy is found discriminatory unless the government acted in bad faith.
Ms. Abbey has asked the Ontario Divisional Court to review the decision.
Why we’re intervening
Our coalition’s position is that recipients who are injured by discriminatory ODSP laws and policies are entitled to compensation for those injuries. Government must take the actual needs of persons with disabilities into account when they design social programs. And when it fails to do so, government needs to know that it risks being held responsible.
To read our full legal argument, click here.
Attend the Hearing this Wednesday!
Please join us on February 28th, at 10:00am to support this cause and show the court that people care about this issue.
Ontario Superior Court of Justice
361 University Avenue
Please note that there is on-going construction in the area. To access the courtroom, go to the 2nd floor of the courthouse and follow the signs to the elevator located by the Toronto Lawyers Association area. An elevator there goes to the 3rd floor – follow the signs on the 3rd floor to courtroom 3-2.