The right to living with dignity

By Rabia Khedr and Nick Saul.

In March 2021, the federal government made it legal for Canadians living with a disability to apply for medical assistance in dying – regardless of whether natural death is inevitable. One year later, many people living with a disability in Canada are considering this route. Not because they want to die, but because their income is too low to survive on.

The message is clear: your government will help you die, but not live with dignity.

In Ontario, a single person on disability support receives a maximum of $1,169 per month. This is supposed to cover all basic needs. Pause and take a moment to add up your monthly expenses. Exactly. It’s not even close.

There’s a similar story in British Columbia, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and other provinces and territories. No matter where you live, monthly disability income supports are woefully inadequate.

Through the eDemocracy platform, Ethelo, Canadians with disabilities have been sharing their experiences. One person writes: “My rent is the amount that I receive. To have food, I must borrow. It is so stressful. It makes my MS worse.”

We also heard from someone who spends 30 per cent of their monthly ODSP income on medication alone. “How am I supposed to live on that and feed my child and myself?” they ask.

Yet, there is a solution – and it’s already in front of us.

In the 2020 Throne Speech, the federal government promised to introduce a new Canada Disability Benefit. The benefit would be a direct monthly payment for low-income Canadians ages 18-64 with disabilities. And these payments would be above and beyond existing provincial and territorial income supports.

The government also vowed to make the benefit permanent through a bill called the Canada Disability Benefit Act. But due to the 2021 federal election, momentum slowed. The Liberals showed continued commitment while campaigning, then, until recently, fell silent.

Another year has ticked by, and every person living with a disability in this country is still waiting. The toxic combination of inadequate income supports and skyrocketing inflation means that people who rely on disability benefits can no longer afford to live. And some are choosing not to.

We can do better. We must do better. And we need to act now.

And the country agrees. A 2021 Angus Reid survey showed that 89 per cent of Canadians are in favour of creating a federal disability benefit. Recently in the House of Commons, there was all-party support to establish a Canada Disability Benefit without delay.

We’re not surprised that Canadians care about this issue. But we are surprised by the length of time it’s taking to make this lifeline for 1.5 million people a reality.

Parliament breaks for the summer on June 23. Bill C22 – an Act to reduce poverty and support the financial security of persons with disabilities by establishing the Canada Disability Benefit – was given its first reading in the House of Commons on June 2. An encouraging step, but we need to keep the pressure on.

Join us in this urgent campaign by contacting your MP and speaking out about the indignities people with disabilities face daily. We can’t afford further delays or a lengthy consultation process. Now is the time to take action.

Let’s ensure that Canadians with disabilities living in poverty are not forced to choose between paying the bills or applying for the right to die.

Rabia Khedr is the National Director of Disability Without Poverty.
Nick Saul is the CEO of Community Food Centres Canada.