Rabia Khedr and Nick Saul: Canadians with disabilities should not have to choose between poverty and death

By Rabia Khedr and Nick Saul

In March 2021, the federal government made it legal for Canadians living with disabilities to request medical assistance in dying, whether or not natural death is inevitable.

A year later, many people living with disabilities in Canada are considering this path. Not because they want to die, but because their income is too low to survive.

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

In Ontario, a single person receiving a disability pension 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 is a similar story in British Columbia, Quebec, Nova Scotia and other provinces and territories. No matter where you live, monthly disability income support benefits are woefully inadequate.

Through the eDemocracy platform, Ethelo, Canadians with disabilities shared their experiences. One person writes, “My rent is the amount I get. To get food, I have to borrow. It’s so stressful. It makes my MS worse.

We also heard of someone spending 30% of their monthly ODSP income just on drugs. “How am I supposed to live off this and feed my child and myself?” they ask.

However, there is a solution, and it is already in front of us.

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

The government has also committed to making this benefit permanent through a bill called the Canada Disability Benefits Act. But due to the 2021 federal election, the momentum has slowed. The Liberals showed continued commitment during the campaign and then, until recently, remained silent.

Another year has passed and every person living with a disability in this country is still waiting. The toxic combination of inadequate income support and soaring inflation means that people who depend on disability benefits can no longer afford to live. And some choose not to.

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

And the country accepts. A 2021 Angus Reid poll showed that 89% of Canadians support the creation of a federal disability benefit. Recently, in the House of Commons, all parties supported the urgent creation of a Canada Disability Benefit.

We are not surprised that Canadians care about this issue. But we are surprised how long it takes to realize this lifeline for 1.5 million people.

Parliament adjourns for the summer on June 23. Bill C22, An Act to reduce poverty and support the financial security of persons with disabilities through the creation of the Canada Disability Benefit, received first reading in the House of Commons on June 2. An encouraging step, but we have to keep the pressure on.

Join us in this urgent campaign by reaching out to your MP and speaking out about the indignities people with disabilities face every day. We cannot afford any further delays or a lengthy consultation process. Now is the time to act.

Let’s make sure Canadians with disabilities living in poverty don’t have to choose between paying the bills or asking for the right to die.

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