+?+Thinking Positively++??+

With the recent passage of the Canada Disability Benefit Act, are disabled folks in Canada are closer to the goals of “Disability Without Poverty“? Should this victory be celebrated?

We know, from questions asked by politicians during hearings on MAiD expansion, that the government feels it will be “off the hook” by passing this important legislation that will lift some people with disabilities out of deep poverty. And in the long run, it may actually help. But while the basic enabling legislation has been passed, the hard work of defining and regulating a massive new federal system remains to be done. And the tricky and highly contentious business of preventing clawbacks from current provincial/territorial/municipal benefit programs has yet to be hammered out and guaranteed. Furthermore, no benefit will be felt by anyone for at least 18 months. (See the action item in the green box below!). The feet of politicians at every level of government need to be held to the fire to ensure that this important work begins immediately and results in meaningful, life-saving relief for people with disabilities. The dream of secure, stable support for people with disabilities to live and love in community, just like non-disabled people, remains a glimmer in the eyes of people with disabilities and their allies.

Disability inequality aside, according to data published by Statistics Canada earlier in July 2023, the gap between rich and poor Canadians is growing at the fastest rate on record. The wealthiest 20 per cent of Canadian households accounted for more than two-thirds (67.8%) of all net-worth in the first quarter of 2023, while the poorest 40 per cent accounted for less than three per cent (2.7%).  The report does not detail who are the poorest Canadians, but we know from other reports that disabled Canadians are disproportionately represented. The gap between the wealthiest and poorest Canadians increased by 1.1 per cent in the first quarter of 2023 relative to the same period last year. “This was the fastest increase on record for these estimates, which date back to 2010,” Stats Can explained.

While we do not want Economic Inequality for any Canadians, we are particularly concerned about those with disabilities, given that only they have been offered a uniquely Canadian exit strategy from poverty, i.e. death with medical assistance. (By the way, that misguided strategy has nothing to do with equality, no matter what the pro-euthanasia folks say.)

Making life optional for people with disabilities reveals an underlying judgement that disabled lives aren’t necessarily worth living. Making life optional betrays a fundamental failure to support people to WANT to live, and to be ABLE to live, regardless of physical, mental or emotional challenges that may keep them out of the paid workforce, temporarily or permanently. We want people with disabilities to be enabled to live without poverty; without brutal “austerity” measures; without bureaucratic assumptions that they are out to game the system and take more than they need; without bureaucratic restrictions on public transportation systems that they rely upon to move around in the world; without punitive limitations on where they can live and who they can live with and love.

Economic + Legal + Cultural Equality = A Better Canada

Economic equality. To achieve real economic equality, we should fix the laws that allow for accumulation of disproportionate wealth across generations for a few, while maintaining conditions of poverty and exclusion for the many. We need to work for laws that ensure that everyone, regardless of ability or willingness to contribute to the capitalist world order, is supported to live, be housed, eat and prosper without shaming or harassment. NOBODY should be pressured to die!

But economic equality alone is not enough.

Legal equality. We need to fight discrimination in all of its interpersonal and systemic forms: sexism, ableism, racism, ageism, heterosexism. Human rights laws at the federal and provincial levels are supposed to do this, but they are “complaint-driven”, so can only respond to infractions. Someone has to get hurt before the lengthy process of investigation, hearing and decision can kick in. Commissions have educational and investigatory powers, but the most revealing study can only result in recommendations to government for changes in law, regulation, policy and practice. It’s up to the government to respond. In a democracy, it’s up to the citizens to elect a government that will respond.

But that’s not enough either. What we need to aim for is Cultural equality.

This would involve making it uncool to discriminate, not just illegal if you get caught. Discriminatory behaviours that were “cool” in the past no longer have the social stamp of acceptability — things like racially segregated beaches, theatres and restaurants, for example; language and terminology that used to sound normal is now completely unacceptable. With great effort, cultural inequality can be reduced, although perhaps never eliminated, humans being what they are.

Equality takes time, to be sure, and it never just happens. It has to be fought for, and once won, to be protected against erosion over time. There is work to be done across each of these sites: economic; legal; and cultural.

Concerned Canadians, please sign this important petition: https://petitions.ourcommons.ca/en/Petition/Details?Petition=e-4514
A Disability Emergency Relief Benefit would provide immediate support for disabled Canadians, many who are trying to exist in legislated deep poverty, while awaiting the implementation of the Canada Disability Benefit.

Closed for signature September 10, 2023, at 8:40 a.m. (EDT)

We will continue to post opportunities for action as we learn about them.


  1. This is an excellent post, thank you Patricia. I have signed the petition and sincerely hope action will be taken soon.

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