Ontario Special Diet Allowance to be Reviewed for Human Rights Violations

    TORONTO, March 6 /CNW/ - The human rights case against Ontario's Special
Diet Allowance program has taken a decisive step forward, announced advocates
and a complainant at a press conference at Queen's Park today.
    The Ontario Human Rights Commission has found sufficient grounds to refer
77 cases alleging discrimination on the basis of disability to the Human
Rights Tribunal of Ontario. The Tribunal will now determine whether or not the
provincial government's Special Diet regulation violates the Ontario Human
Rights Code.
    "We're one step closer to a declaration that the provincial government is
violating the human rights of persons with disabilities," said Lesli Bisgould,
member of the litigation team. "The government's regulatory changes restricted
the Special Diet allowance to a rigid and arbitrary 'meat chart'. This has
caused preventable suffering to people whose medical conditions necessitate
extra dietary support."
    In 2005, the Ontario government changed a long-standing program which
gave Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) and Ontario Works (OW)
recipients extra financial support for special diets prescribed by their
health care professionals. The changes left hundreds of people with
disabilities unable to afford the diets they relied on to maintain or improve
their health. Numerous complaints were filed with the Ontario Human Rights
Commission alleging the program changes are discriminatory.
    "I could keep my health stable when I was getting the allowance," said
Julie Sauvé, who has multiple sclerosis and receives ODSP benefits. "But since
it was cut off, my health has gotten worse. I have trouble with balance and
walking straight, my vision is affected, and I struggle to keep my weight up.
And I have to fight my own government for the support my doctor says I need to
be healthy."
    Ms Sauvé no longer qualifies for the Special Diet allowance because the
new regulation provides benefits for only 43 medical conditions, and multiple
sclerosis is not on the list.
    "These changes were hasty and ill thought out," said Nancy Vander Plaats,
Chair of the ODSP Action Coalition. "A committee of medical experts was
appointed in early 2006 to review the changes, but after 18 months we still
haven't seen their report. And meanwhile, people are forced to go through the
ordeal of making a human rights claim to get this essential benefit."

    Backgrounder available

For further information:

For further information: Cindy Wilkey, ISAC, (416) 597-5820 ext. 5152
(Toll free in Ontario: 1-866-245-4072 ext. 5152)

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