Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Court Won't Hear Right to Housing Challenge

Earlier this year I wrote about how social and economic rights are becoming increasingly important.  http://whenthemayorsmiles.blogspot.ca/2013/02/social-and-economic-rights.html

In that piece, I made reference to the “right to housing.”
Recently we had a case in Ontario where the idea of federal and provincial governments were challenged from that perspective.   Here is what happened.

(This story originally appeared on www.hamiltonjustice.ca)
Ontario Superior Court Judge Thomas R. Lederer ruled on Friday that the courtroom is not the proper place to resolve the issue of homelessness and inadequate housing in Canada.
The Judge’s comments came in a decision in, what has been called, the Right to Housing Challenge. Individuals and housing advocates were trying to make the case for a court order. That court order would require that the Federal and Provincial governments implement a national housing strategy.
Lawyers from the Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation (CERA) and filed a case three years ago. Their argument is that Canada and Ontario have violated individuals’ rights under section 7 and section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by creating and maintaining conditions that lead to and sustain homelessness.

Put simply, Canadians have the right to adequate, affordable housing.

Lawyers for the governments of Ontario and Canada argued that the case shouldn’t even be

Judge Lederer agreed with the government lawyers.

Peter Rosenthal, one of the lawyers for the applicants, offered this comment:

“The decision reflects a narrow view of the Charter that seems to be applied when the poor seek judicial relief.”

The judgment will be appealed.

You can read more about the Right to Housing Challenge on the website of the Advocacy Centre for Tenants of Ontario (ACTO) at http://righttohousing.wordpress.com/

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Physician Believes Poverty Reduction is Essential for Good Health

(This story originally appeared at www.hamiltonjustice.ca on August 19th.) 

Earlier this year I attended the annual Ontario Project for Inter Clinic Community Organizing (OPICCO) conference.

This gathering is put together for Community Legal Clinic staff who are involved in and want to learn more about community development work.

One of the really interesting speakers at this year’s conference was Dr. Gary Bloch.

Gary is a family physician who works out of St. Michaels Hospital in Toronto.

His presentation focused on the social determinants of health. The twenty-minute talk zeroed in on one particular social determinant of health – i.e., poverty. Gary told us “poverty accounts for 24% of person years of life lost in Canada.” That figure is second only to 30% of person years of life lost for cancers.

One significant resource Bloch made us aware of was a four pager called a Clinical Tool for Primary Care in Ontario. This is a resource for family docs that will help them in patient diagnosis. It will help physicians to keep in mind that poverty is a health condition that needs to be treated like other medical conditions. (http://www.ocfp.on.ca/docs/default-source/cme/poverty-a-clinical-tool-2013-(with-references).pdf?sfvrsn=0 )

Bloch has a unique approach to practicing medicine. In a Globe and Mail story, he wrote earlier this year emphasized the importance of tax filing. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/commentary/as-a-doctor-heres-why-im-prescribing-tax-returns-seriously/article9981613/

A patient named Rena told Bloch he could make her better by getting her more money. But Gary determined that Rena had not always filled out her tax return.
“Suggesting Rena fill out her tax return is prescribing income. And prescribing income can be just as powerful as prescribing medications for her blood pressure or her mood,” wrote Bloch.

Bloch wrote about another patient in a story in the Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/gary-bloch/income-inequality-and-health_b_2003259.html

Tom is a 46 years old skilled carpenter who hurt his back in a car accident 8 years ago. He has been forced to live on social assistance.
For him, social assistance has not been so much a safety net as it's been a fish net -- a trap of indignity from which he has been unable to wriggle free,” said Bloc.

Similar to the views of the Clinics, Bloch believes that there should be a level of social assistance support that allows for a dignified standard of living.

Forcing people to live in squalor and survive on less than a pittance only worsens the health impacts of their low income. While this may appear to save money up front, it likely ends up being spent elsewhere, through higher use of physical and mental health services down the road.”

While Gary Bloch views may stand out as unique for a physician, the ground is shifting in the Canadian medical world. The Canadian Medical Association has just completed a consultation. Their conclusion is that poverty is the main issue that must be addressed to improve the health of Canadians.