Social assistance is inadequate in Ontario. People who depend on Ontario Works or Ontario Disability Support Program live in deep poverty, and many do not have enough to afford food, rent, medicine and winter boots. Many are forced to turn to panhandling to survive. Their need may stem from overlapping and compounding vulnerabilities: the inadequacy of social assistance; the challenges of living with mental health disabilities and addiction; and the hardship of no stable home to return to each night. As a result, their lives and everyday decisions are constrained by the burdens of deep poverty, with severe effects on their health and quality of life.
However, Ontario’s Safe Streets Act prohibits poor individuals from panhandling in certain circumstances. Anyone who violates the Safe Streets Act could be subject to fines they cannot afford to pay, or even jail time. As a result, the Fair Change Community Legal Clinic launched a Charter challenge at the Superior Court of Ontario that states that the Safe Streets Act is unconstitutional. ISAC was granted leave to intervene in the case in April 2021.
ISAC argues that the Safe Streets Act discriminates against individuals who receive social assistance, contrary to section 15 of the Charter, and that it hurts individuals’ ability to meet their basic needs, contrary to section 7 of the Charter. ISAC anticipates that the hearing will be scheduled in 2024.
Read our submissions here. Read our related Submission to the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) Consultation on Poverty and Systemic Discrimination in Housing and Mental Health and Addiction Disabilities here.