Third reading of Bill C-20, An Act respecting further COVID-19 measures – Sen. Munson

By: The Hon. Jim Munson

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Hon. Jim Munson: Meanwhile, back to Bill C-20.

Honourable senators, I do support the bill, but I have serious reservations about the disability portion of this bill. It’s a long and winding road when it comes to people living with disabilities in this country and getting what is due to them during this unusual and uncertain time.

Speaking of time, honourable senators, it’s taken a long time for this important bill to get here — too long. Politics has a habit of getting in the way of people’s lives. I want to echo the sentiments of Senator Petitclerc when it comes to the issues we are talking about here today. Eighteen weeks after we debated and passed the CERB, we are here to debate the additional emergency relief measures in Bill C-20; and 18 weeks later, Canadians with disabilities are still waiting for relief.

According to Statistics Canada, it used to be one in five, but now it’s one in four Canadians living with a disability. Those in the disability community are in crisis. They are feeling forgotten and that their concerns and challenges are being trivialized.

The reality of the situation is that their needs are being ignored. This bill will help to pay the bills but, in my view, doesn’t go far enough. Costs continue to increase and disproportionately affect those with disabilities. I’m talking about additional expenses related to hiring personal support workers; the cost of personal protective equipment, or PPE; the increased cost of taking multiple trips for medical supplies or medication; the increased use of taxis; extreme isolation and loneliness; interruptions in services; and having to use home delivery services to obtain groceries or prescriptions.

Honourable senators, let’s also remember that systemic racism intersects with the disproportionality of those affected. When it comes time to roll out this program — or any other wage subsidy, for that matter — racialized persons face additional barriers. These barriers are especially compounded for racialized persons with disabilities.

Bill C-20 is a step, but it’s only one step in the right direction toward providing emergency relief support for all persons with disabilities.

Minister Qualtrough consulted her COVID-19 Disability Advisory Committee, or DAC, in the reworking of the relief measures in Bill C-20: an updated eligibility for the funds to also include recipients of the Canada Pension Plan Disability benefit and the Quebec Pension Plan disability benefit, as well as those receiving disability supports provided by Veteran Affairs Canada. This represents a big improvement in eligibility, from 1.2 million Canadians before to 1.7 million now.

Bill C-20 addresses the increased costs of living for persons with disabilities and provides for additional mechanisms to include, in my view, the forgotten many — those who are excluded from this one-time payment without approval into the disability tax credit program. If you’re not part of the disability tax credit program, you had better not apply.

However, Bill C-20 has an opportunity to finally get it right. By updating the DTC eligibility requirements in the bill to include a 60-day window, where a DTC-eligible person who is not yet receiving the disability tax credit may apply, I am urging Ministers Qualtrough and Lebouthillier to work together and approve applications previously denied this tax credit, especially because this is the only delivery mechanism in this legislation.

For years, the autism community has been fighting for disability tax credit fairness. Last month, when Bill C-17 was introduced, CASDA, the Canadian Autism Spectrum Disorder Alliance, reiterated their call for a complete overhaul of the DTC. CASDA board member and autism self-advocate Rebekah Kintzinger describes the deficiencies with using the DTC to roll out this program.

“The language in the documentation and forms process of the disability tax credit makes it extremely difficult for autistic people to claim the DTC. Many who have previously qualified for it are denied the renewal of the DTC when the time comes. This causes a lengthy process of appeals involving medical professionals that the disabled person may no longer have access to.”

It just takes so much time and a lot of paperwork.

While the DTC remains a deficient delivery mechanism for this program, with the 60-day supplementary application window, this legislation finally opens a door — a little door — to getting it right and approving those who have been fighting for the disability tax credit long before COVID.

I’ve previously noted in the chamber that the COVID-19 Disability Advisory Committee does not include a representative from the autism community. That, honourable senators, is just not right. A person with autism should have the same rights as others with a disability.

Had the minister accepted the submission from CASDA to add Rebekah to the COVID-19 Disability Advisory Committee after she appeared before us during Committee of the Whole on May 1, Bill C-20 might have better reflected the needs of the autism community as an emergency relief measure. At that time, the minister welcomed the idea of an autism advocate on the committee. I would urge her again to update the membership of the committee to include a representative from the autism community.

It’s not too late. It’s never too late to get it right. These are human rights and this is Canada.

There is a common theme to the issues I have outlined, and that is the failure of governments and service providers to recognize and address the unique needs of persons with disabilities. Too often, recommendations or policies are made without taking into consideration how these will impact people with disabilities. In many situations, governments and service providers have not appropriately balanced the need to prevent the spread of COVID-19 with the rights of persons with disabilities to have equal access to health care services, education and accessible information.

Recently, senators had a conference call with the parliamentary secretary, and also with bureaucrats, about money that is going to folks who need it. I asked the question, and I didn’t get a real answer to it: Who came up with the $600? What analysis was made to say, yes, those in the disability community each deserve a one-time payment of $600? With the CERB, they’re getting $2,000 monthly. How far does $600 go in a small town in Canada in comparison to $600 in a big city? I’m curious about that. I would like to get an answer someday, from somebody: Who sits down and says, “Okay, it’s $600”? It’s $600, but it’s not enough. The argument can always be that it’s never enough, but this seems an absurdly small amount.

I’m also tempted at this point, because I’m so disappointed, to throw in an amendment to this. I won’t do that because I just looked at Senator Moncion, and she just about fainted. But if I did, what would happen? It would not be fair to the millions of others who have a disability. Why? Because it will go back to the house with an amendment, and then what happens there. Then it comes back here. We could play political ping-pong. Once again, that’s politics getting in the way of people’s lives.

I’m extremely upset about it. I have less than a year in this chamber, and I want to continue to keep fighting over the next 12 months for the rights of those with disabilities. We seem to think of it as we’re doing something special for you because you’re in a chair or you have autism. It’s nothing about being special. It’s about human rights. It’s one in four Canadians. It’s as simple as that. As we age, mark my words, we’ll be looking at this in a very personal way, maybe for some of us. It’s something that we really have to pay attention to.

In closing, ARCH Disability Law Centre adds that these rights are legally protected by the Charter and provincial and federal human rights laws. They are a core value of Canadian society and should not be forgotten, especially during emergencies and pandemics.

We started these debates on emergency legislation in March. It is now well into the summer, and the disability community has been left to fend for themselves.

This legislation will pass — I’m happy about that — and provide relief for some. I’m looking forward to the need to evaluate how we allocate resources to individuals with disabilities so that they do not have to live in poverty.

As I said at the beginning, this legislation should have been passed months ago. It should have been in the forefront. Here we are, in the middle of summer, finally getting approval of something which should have been approved on day one.

An Hon. Senator: Hear, hear.

Senator Munson: At the end of the day — listen to the facts — one in four Canadians live with a disability, and we treat them as an afterthought. That’s not right. Thank you.

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