Dear Members of the Senate
Please accept this as our follow up to the discussions we had with so many of you in individual meetings in the last few months. We very much appreciated the opportunity to discuss Bill C-22 given our individual lived experiences of disabilities and our professional and academic expertise.
At this time, we ask that while you give Bill C-22 your full attention, you also ensure that it moves to Royal Assent with all haste.
Bill C22 is a lifeline for many people with disabilities who feel abandoned, who think our government just doesn’t value their lives. There is no more grace time beyond this year to give them hope that there is help coming. In good faith, this bill needs to become law, putting trust in the hands of people with disabilities and disability organizations who have been and will continue to be working hard to ensure that people with disabilities get what they need. We have been talking to and are bringing forward the voices of thousands of people with disabilities, their families and allies across Canada who are dedicated to advocating for those whose voices are not heard or don’t reach the system.
We feel the need to emphasize why the Canada Disability Benefit is needed by working aged Canadians, as they face poverty hardships that are insurmountable without additional assistance:
- Pre-pandemic, the rates of poverty for working aged disabled Canadians1 far surpass those of non-disabled people and disabled seniors, with 28.3% of severely disabled working-aged people living in poverty, in comparison to 10% of people with no disability and 10% of severely disabled seniors. No one should live in poverty in Canada in 2022.
- During the pandemic, disabled people found themselves excluded from CERB, because the previous income and numbers of hours worked requirements created barriers for them. They only received a one-off $600 payment if they were already signed up for federal benefits like CPP-D/QPP-D, DTC or Veteran’s Disability Benefits.
- There is a housing crisis felt particularly by disabled people. Affordable accessible housing is simply not available, particularly given that the shelter allowance in those provinces that have one as part of their package of disability assistance are incredibly low. For example, in British Columbia, the Disability Assistance payment is $1358.50. $375 of that allowance is considered the shelter allowance, far below the rental market in BC.
- Inflation continues to rise and yet most provincial benefits are not index linked. Food inflation, the one that affects disabled people living in poverty most keenly, is at 11.6%.
This is a national crisis and must be addressed as one.
We recognize that the framework nature of Bill C22 causes concern amongst legislators and the disability community. It requires a leap of faith that the disability community will be treated with respect, and that promises made about the involvement of disabled people in the cocreation of regulations will be kept. We assure you that there is a general consensus among the disability community about Bill C-22 and its quick passage. There is a degree of trust and faith in the system to “do right” by disabled people living in poverty.
The preamble of Bill C-22 speaks to the values that will underpin this legislation, from the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, to the Accessible Canada Act, to including the disability mantra of “nothing about us without us”. We believe that the introduction of these values bound by charter, convention and legislation truly means something to all of us.
The Canada Disability Benefit is a test of our values as a country. We believe that the passage and implementation of Bill C-22 will show these values can be put into action to eradicate disability poverty.
Recommendations from HUMA
We feel strongly that the amendments recommended by HUMA address many of the concerns that some individuals and groups have expressed and we support their adoption. We would like to draw particular attention to these amendments within Clause 11:
That Bill C-22, in Clause 11, be amended by replacing lines 8 and 9 on page 4 with the following:
“(d) requiring a benefit to be indexed to inflation and respecting the manner in which it is to be indexed;”
Few provincial disability assistance payments are currently linked to inflation. We believe that including that the Canada Disability Benefit is linked to inflation from its inception is the right thing to do. It demonstrates that the Canada Disability Benefit will receive the automatic increases each year that other federal programs like Canada Pension Plan – Disability (CPP-D) already receive. Furthermore, this respects the dignity of disabled people, meaning that they do not have to approach the government “cap in hand” for the inflation linked increase that other benefits already have.
That Bill C-22, in Clause 11, be amended by adding after line 39 on page 5 the following:
“(1.1) In making regulations under paragraph (1)(c) respecting the amount of a benefit, the Governor in Council must take into consideration the Official Poverty Line as defined in section 2 of the Poverty Reduction Act.”
The Official Poverty Line is an important consideration for this benefit, as without including it, disabled people run the risk of still living in poverty from an inadequate benefit. However, beyond this, we hope that in the future, the government will invest in research to measure the disability poverty line in Canada – the amount that it costs disabled people to live beyond those who do not have a disability. No such research has been done in Canada, but comparable countries put this amount at roughly 40% higher.
New Clause 11.1
That Bill C-22 be amended by adding after line 3 on page 6 the following new clause:
“11.1 The Minister must provide persons with disabilities from a range of backgrounds with meaningful and barrier-free opportunities to collaborate in the development and design of the regulations, including regulations that provide for the application process, eligibility criteria, the amount of a benefit and the appeal process.”
We have been strongly advocating that the process of design be one of collaboration and co-creation with the disability community. Anything less would be to break rationale for this framework legislation and cause irreparable harm of relationships with the disability community. We feel that this concern has been addressed with the amendment requiring the Minister to ensure the participation of diverse people with disabilities and we look forward to being part of the solution as this amendment is actualized.
It is our recommendation to you that given that disability poverty, particularly amongst working aged disabled people, is a national crisis, Bill C22 must move speedily through all legislative steps to Royal Assent.