December 8, 2020
The Honourable Doug Downey Attorney General of Ontario McMurtry-Scott Building, 11th Floor 720 Bay St
Toronto, ON M7A 2S9
The Honourable Todd Smith
Minister of Children, Community & Social Services
7th Floor, 438 University Ave. Toronto, ON M5 G 2K8
Dear Attorney General Downey and Minister Smith,
RE: ALARMED FOR THE FUTURE OF THE SOCIAL BENEFITS TRIBUNAL AND APPEALS PROCESS
We are writing on behalf of the Steering Committee for Social Assistance, the community legal clinics’ working group made up of representatives from across the Province with the participation of specialty clinics including the Income Security Advocacy Centre (ISAC) and Community Legal Education Ontario (CLEO) as well as the Clinic Resource Office (CRO). The Steering Committee seeks opportunities to improve social assistance policies and procedures through ongoing communication with government, the community legal clinics, and other affected groups.
Governments, through the Ontario Disability Support Program and Ontario Works, have sought to support Ontarians with disabilities and others who would otherwise live in poverty. Understandably, the application and appeal process are constantly under scrutiny. However, we are concerned that the Social Benefits Tribunal is being severely curtailed, and we are alarmed by signals that it may be in the process of being eliminated.
Legal clinics are reporting that some of their clients will have to wait until 2022 to get their appeals heard. We believe that the delays are in part due to the shortage in the number of current adjudicators at the Tribunal. Having people who live in deep poverty wait for over a year to get benefits causes undue hardship, which is now felt even more given the Covid-19 Pandemic. We support a Social Benefits Tribunal that is resourced with an appropriate number of adjudicators, so that appeals can be heard in a timely way. We urge you to take action to address this important access to justice issue.
The right to an appeal process at the Tribunal is enshrined in legislation, and it is a vital one that needs to be preserved. Even in the best of application systems, it is only fair and reasonable to apply a check on the decision-making of Ministry staff. We call on the provincial government to publicly declare that it will preserve the important independent role of the Social Benefits Tribunal in ensuring that no one is wrongly denied the benefits they need for their survival.
Sincerely, Laura Hunter
Co-Chairs of the Steering Committee on Social Assistance
Cc. Sent via email to:
Gurratan Singh, Critic, Attorney General, New Democratic Party. GSingh-QP@ndp.on.ca Lisa Gretzky, Critic, Community and Social Services, New Democratic Party LGretzky- QP@ndp.on.ca Lucille Collard, Critic, Attorney General, Liberal Party. LCollard.firstname.lastname@example.org Michael Coteau, Critic, Community and Social Services, Liberal Party.Mcoteau.email@example.comMike Schreiner, Leader, Green Party. Mschreinerfirstname.lastname@example.org Sean Weir, Executive Chair, Tribunals Ontario. Sean.Weir@ontario.ca Stacey Ferguson, Associate Chair, SBT.Stacey.Ferguson@ontario.ca Sharon Buchanan, Counsel, Tribunals Ontario. Sharon.email@example.com