"So many dreams at first seem impossible. And then they seem improbable. And then when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable."
~ Christopher Reeve

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Upcoming Upcomings

1) Workshop on the Registered Disability Savings Plan
Monday, June 1, 1:30 to 3:30 p.m.
CNIB auditorium, 6136 Almon Street (at Gladstone Street), Halifax.

The RDSP is a savings plan intended to help persons with severe and prolonged disability save for their long-term financial security. Light refreshments. No charge.

Hosted by ILNS and co-sponsored by Partnership for Access Awareness Nova Scotia and RBC.
____________________________________________
2) Pre-Election Briefing on Issues of Concern for Persons with Disabilities
Wednesday, June 3, 7 – 8:30 p.m.
Bloomfield Centre, Multi-Purpose Room, 2786 Agricola Street, Halifax.

Candidates from Liberal, Conservative and New Democratic Parties in the provincial election. Come to ask the candidates questions about disability issues. Light refreshments.

We have some background information available. Contact Lois Miller at ILNS: Lois.Miller@ilns.ca or by phone: 902-453-0004

Co-hosted by NS LEO, NS Disability Rights Coalition, Canadian Paraplegic Association (NS), MS Society of Canada and ILNS.

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Law on Human Rights and Employment in Nova Scotia: Part II

It's only been six months since I promised a Part II to The Law on Human Rights and Employment post. But it's not like anyone is actually keeping track, right?

Anyway, let's dust off that old post and continue our discussion about human rights in the employment context.

Keeping in mind that we are discussing only the Nova Scotia process. Each province has it's own human rights legislation and there is also a Canadian Human Rights Act which would govern employers in those businesses which have been found to come under federal jurisdiction. And although the basics are the same, the legislation will differ a bit in each jurisdiction.

We already know that in order to claim discrimination under Nova Scotia's Human Rights Act, it is necessary to bring yourself within one of the enumerated grounds under the Act, which we looked at here.

"Discrimination" is defined in sec. 4 of the Act as
... [making] a distinction, whether intentional or not, based on a characteristic, or perceived characteristic ... that has the effect of imposing burdens, obligations or disadvantages on an individual or a class of individuals not imposed on others which withholds or limits access to opportunities, benefits and advantages available to other individuals or classes of individuals in society.
There is a duty on an employer not to discriminate against an employee or potential employee right from the beginning. Thus, for example, there is an onus on the employer to make sure that a job interview is held in an accessible place ie) wheelchair accessible, if necessary.

If a person can show that disability was even one factor that played a small role in the decision not to offer employment or to terminate a person's employment, that person (referred to as "the claimant") will have met the burden of what we legal types like to call a prima facie case .

READ MORE

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Legal Links Telephone Service

I just received word that Dalhousie Legal Aid launched a new Legal Links project in February. The service is intended to provide a brief consultation to persons in need of assistance with legal issues related to
  • Public/Metro Housing

  • Income Assistance

  • CPP Disability Appeals

  • Debt and Disability Issues

  • Human Rights

  • Police Complaints

  • NS Power Cut-offs
By calling (902) 423-8105, you can be connected to a "senior law student" for some advice, referrals or to schedule a meeting to discuss your circumstances further.

"Senior law students" are in their third and final year at Dalhousie Law School. They work closely with and are very carefully monitored by five staff lawyers.

And never fear, even if you reside outside of Halifax, provided you can make the logistics work, you still can access the services provides by Dalhousie Legal Aid Service.

It's a very good program, both from the point of the public (you) and the students. Trust me, I once was one. Of the students, that is. We just won't say how many years ago that was.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Discrimination By Any Other Name

Remains unacceptable.

And, in this case, the words obscene, disgusting and pathetic also come to mind.

That a funding skerfuffle, that the federal and provincial governments cannot agree on who, exactly, is responsible to provide the funding necessary for aboriginal children with special needs to stay at home, with their families, where they belong is sad but perhaps not surprising.

But that this bit of 'government infighting' as it is so colloquially called has resulted in families being told that they may be forced to give up their children because the First Nation can no longer pay for their care and federal and provincial governments can't agree on who should pay is beyond despicable.
For mother Crystal Hart, it means she may have to say good-bye to her daughter, Priscilla.

"I want her to get the services that she can get," she said while wiping tears from her eyes.

Priscilla Hart has Ritscher-Schinzel Syndrome. She can't speak or eat and needs to be fed through a tube. She requires constant care from a respite worker who looks after Priscilla when her parents go to work.

The Norway House Cree Nation has been paying for those services, which are required by 37 children on the reserve.

However, the band said the money has run out and the services will end May 31.
And this four years after another sick child, Jordan River Anderson, spent the entire five years of his young life in a Winnipeg hospital because when doctors were ready to release him to a medical foster home at age two, provincial and federal government officials argued over who should pay for it. Unable to decide who would even cover the cost of a special shower head he needed, let alone anything more substantial. Jordan never left that hospital and eventually died in February, 2005.

They would like us to think they learned their lesson.

In December, Members of Parliament vowed never to let such a thing happen again and unanimously voted in favour of a private members motion providing that children should come first when it comes to funding disputes and "should receive the same level of service … as children with similar needs living in similar geographic locations".

Aptly called 'Jordan's Principle', it apparently still isn't working so well.

Despite a letter penned by Minister of Health Tony Clement in 2007 professing that "Indian and Northern Affairs Canada is working closely with Health Canada as well as provincial and First Nations partners to ensure that jurisdictional issues do not impact a child's quality of care" and despite the Premier of Manitoba declaring that his province would be the first to implement Jordan's Principle, les enfants terrible rage on.
In an interview with CTV News, Manitoba Health Minister Keri Irvin Ross said the provincial government is not required to pay for the children's care. "These issues are a federal responsibility," she said. "We need to make sure the federal government is held accountable for it, but we are committed to supporting this community and these children."

But not with any funding. Irvin Ross said the provincial government is offering its support by working with the Norway House Cree Nation in its negotiations with Ottawa. Irvin Ross said the fact that the provincial government is at the negotiating table is "new ground", and is a signal of its support for Jordan's Principle. She said the federal government has yet to respond to numerous letters requesting its involvement in finding a solution.
Most, if not all, provinces have some sort of in home funding to assist families with the extraordinary costs associated with raising a child with special needs. In Nova Scotia, for example, it's known as the Direct Family Support Program. In Manitoba, it goes by the name of the Children's Special Services Program.

So why should Aboriginal children with special needs, whatever province they reside in, not have access to the same type of assistance as their non-aboriginal challenged peers? Can anyone say discrimination on the basis of race?

I'm not commenting on whether or not this should be a provincial or federal responsibility given that the federal government has responsibility for "Indians, and Lands reserved for the Indians" by virtue of sec. 90 of the Constitution Act, 1867.

What I am saying is that to deny aboriginal families with special needs children in any province access to the same type of financial assistance that other Canadian families with special needs enjoy sounds an awful like a violation of sec. 15 of the Charter. And of provincial human rights legislation.

Will it take litigation to force the two levels of government to finally get their acts together? And put an end, once and for all, to this needless suffering?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Making Your Vote Count

It's politics as usual in Nova Scotia.

Meaning it's time for another election.

One in five Nova Scotians lives with a disability. According to government figures, there are about 152,000 people aged 15+ who live with a disability in our province. Our votes could make all the difference in the coming election.

What will your MLA do to improve the lives of people who have disabilities in your area?

Check out this guide from the Disability Rights Coalition before the candidates come a'knocking.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Just A Reminder ~ "Adolescent Brain Development: Why Do They Do That?"

Do you ever wonder ... "Why in the world must they act that way? What has happened to my child? Will I ever get them back again?"

I know I have. Fortunately for us then, the next IWK Psychology for You Session will be held on Monday, May 11th.
“Adolescent Brain Development:
Why Do They Do That?”
But what I really wanted to remind you of, and what I often forget that, is that this session, like the others [see the sidebar under the heading "Places To Be -Upcoming Events"] is also available through the Nova Scotia Telehealth Network, a video conferencing communications network that connects health care focused facilities across Nova Scotia.

And can be viewed at the following NSTHN locations:

· South Shore Regional Hospital, Bridgewater
· Yarmouth Regional Hospital
· Valley Regional Hospital, Kentville
· Colchester Regional Hospital, Truro
· Cumberland Regional Health Care Centre, Amherst
· Aberdeen Hospital, New Glasgow
· St. Martha's Regional Hospital, Antigonish
· Cape Breton Regional Hospital, Sydney

Which means you don't have to travel to Halifax to attend. Just in case you would like to stay closer to home. Which is a good thing.

Instead, all you need to do is contact the Telehealth Coordinator via the main switchboard at the location nearest you for more information.

The speaker, by the way, will be Jason Chatman, Ph.D. a IWK Psychologist who has recently taken a position at the Adolescent Centre for Treatment and works with teenagers with behavioural and/or mental health issues who require 24/7 care and their families.

The session will includes a discussion on what happens to the human brain on the path from childhood into adolescence and adulthood and is to help parents understand why moodiness, quickness to anger, risk-taking, miscommunication, fatigue, and other familiar teenage behaviour problems are so common and how to understand, communicate with, and stay connected to their teens.

And previous Psychology for You sessions are now available online and can be viewed by visiting the “Healthy Families” section or the Psychology page within “Care Services” on the IWK website.

So now you know.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Interesting Questions

Update: Mulling over this idea of spending RESP funds only on educational expenses, I went back to Ken Pope to get further clarification.

His response was to suggest that a person would simply spend the funds for educational expenses over a longer period of time, as he believes the limits on how long one has to spend the funds has now been extended now to age 35. And because provincial benefits cover shelter and other costs that would normally be paid for from the RESP there is more to go around.

At the very worst, the RESP would be collapsed and the contributions and income given back to the parent, who would consider whether to roll some of into their RRSP or to receive it, pay tax, and then do things with what’s left.

To which I would add the caveats that I am unsure whether or not the age limits noted by Mr. Pope would vary between the different RESP products that can be purchased or whether this approach would work woth the Nova Scotia government. If anybody has more information on this issue, I would love to hear it.


I mentioned previously that some interesting questions had come out of the RDSP Information Session put on by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada.

The first question dealt with how the provinces would treat the RDSP (both from an asset and income point of view) in regards to such issues as home care and long term care (ie. nursing homes).

And the answer to that, frankly, is that we don't yet know.

Here's what we do know. We know that the Federal Government has exempted the RDSP for the purposes of receiving the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) and Old Age Security (OAS). This means you can still receive money from GIS, OAS and the RDSP without causing any clawbacks.

That's the story on the federal level. Provincially, we know that Nova Scotia has come in line and declared that it will fully exempt the Registered Disability Savings Plan contributions when calculating clients' eligibility for income assistance and that clients will be able to withdraw funds from the Plan without affecting their income assistance payments. But that's income assistance and makes no reference to other provincial government benefits.

So as I said, we still need to determine how the provincial gov't will treat the RDSP (both income and asset-wise) when it comes to benefits such as home care and long term care (ie. nursing homes). And although for many such services may not become issues for some for many years down the road, for others, issues like home care eligibility are relevant right now. And either way, it's still an interesting issue to consider. One that needs an answer.

The second question that came up at the Information Session was how the provincial government might treat a disabled person's income from a Registered Educational Saving Plan (RESP).

I previously posted a bit on the issue of the appropriateness and effectiveness of RESPs for our children with disabilities. At which time I linked to an article by Ken Pope which touches on this issue, at least from the Ontario perspective.
RESP funds should only be used to pay for education-related expenses such as tuition, books and tutors. If a residential or meal plan comprises a component of your child’s program, it is very important that the plan not be paid with RESP funds. Similarly, RESP money should not be used to pay for things that are covered by provincial disability benefits, such as shelter, clothes or food. Separate paperwork should be kept in order, otherwise there may be a deemed overpayment of provincial disability benefits and a surprise claw back of “overpayments” due to simple misapplication of funds for the wrong use.
And although I have not yet queried the Nova Scotia government on their position in this regard, the logic here does make some sense.

I would think, at a minimum, that if a person hoped not to have their provincial disability benefits affected by payments from a RESP, it would certainly help build the case to use the funds only for educational expenses as opposed to daily living expenses. And to keep clear separate paperwork documenting that distinction.


Whether that will, in fact, be good enough and whether we can go beyond that are just two more questions for our provincial government to answer.