By Brittany Goodfellow, CNN • Updated 10th June 2018
Thursday is expected to be the last day of legal challenges to date over whether new Canadian employment and disability policies discriminate against people with disabilities.
The cases will ask judges to rule that the standard of proof used by the governments’ employment agencies to determine whether people have adequate job skills violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The Liberal government was the primary driving force behind the changes — First Citizen Justin Trudeau famously said shortly after his election that the Liberal party stood on the “glory of inclusion” — but Thursday will mark the last day for the challenges to be heard before the Supreme Court of Canada.
“The consequences are that a lot of people with disabilities would lose some very basic protections if the Supreme Court turns down these cases,” said Donald Vanstone, former CEO of Disability Partners, an organization that works with people with disabilities to place them in jobs.
The new policies were outlined as part of the federal Liberals’ 2016 budget and the Universal Child Care Benefit. A statement from the Finance Department at the time said that the policy was “designed to keep families in the workforce and increase employment.”
Statistics Canada reported at the time that the UCCB increased the number of employed families in low-income families by 3.6%.
The potential for benefits
Bobby Ekechukwu, a plaintiff who has cerebral palsy, will be among a group of disabled people taking the government to court over its new disability policy.
Ekechukwu, who works for Advantage Payroll Solutions in Toronto, has worked for the company since 2003 and has been a registered partner of Advantage Payroll for nine years. He filed a federal disability claim in 2017, during which he used a specially designed computer program to look up relevant skills online.
Ekechukwu is also training for a marathon and plans to run the $1,000 NYC Half Marathon, slated for Sept. 15, after which he will train for the 2018 Capital Challenge Walk in Washington, D.C.
While accessing information online has been an important part of Ekechukwu’s job, he still needs to sign up for jobs and resubmit applications, something that takes weeks. And the assistance is sometimes hard to get because it can be costly.
The previous disability benefits program, the Canada Employment Insurance Disability Benefits Program, allowed claimants to get help for a couple of weeks or even up to the tax year. That money disappeared entirely when the program ended in 2015.
In the new budget, the government said that new benefits would be provided based on time spent working in a job and the nature of the person’s disability.
Ekechukwu’s new case, which is being heard by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, claims the current screening methods for determining job skills violate the Charter.
“These constitutional challenges go directly to the quality of our lives as Canadians,” said Graeme Davidson, the Public Policy Director for Disability Rights Canada, a human rights organization that is representing Ekechukwu in the case.
Mabel Sogebe, a disability rights advocate who opposes the proposed changes, said that the measures could lead to job discrimination.
“As a disability advocate, I support persons with disabilities in having a fair opportunity to seek employment; as a taxpayer I support individuals to create work opportunities, not hinder their self-sufficiency and economic security,” she said.
After Thursday, the Supreme Court’s decision will lay out how the government will administer the new disability benefit plans, said Vanstone.
The winner of Thursday’s cases will have to prove that their disability didn’t excuse their pre-existing skills from being employed, and will also have to prove that they are being discriminated against.
“The government will then have to prove two things: First that the person should be working; second, that they have enough skills in the skilled trades to do the job,” Vanstone said.
While one of the cases will continue in the courts, the other challenges are unlikely to be successful, Vanstone said.