Special Diet Program Contravenes Human Rights: Province Considers Scrapping
Program in Response

TORONTO, March 1 /CNW/ - The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal recently found that the provincial Special Diet Allowance (SDA) program violates the Human Rights Code in the way it provides benefits to three individuals. These three individuals are lead complainants in a Tribunal proceeding that involves complaints from nearly 200 other people.

But in a troubling move in response, the Ministry of Community and Social Services has circulated an internal memo that suggests it is considering scrapping the program entirely.

"In its decision, the Human Rights Tribunal recognized the role the SDA plays in supporting substantive equality for people with higher food costs due to treatment for medical disability," said Cindy Wilkey of the Income Security Advocacy Centre, co-counsel for two of the complainants. "Cancelling the program would put the health of thousands of people at risk, impairing their ability to meet dietary needs that are recognized components of medical treatment."

The Special Diet Allowance program is a long-standing part of Ontario's social assistance system. It is intended to relieve the disadvantage faced by people who have extra dietary costs related to therapeutic diets prescribed by their health care professionals.

The Tribunal has ordered the province to pay additional retroactive and ongoing benefits to the lead complainants and has given the government three months to make the same improvements for anyone in the SDA program with the same medical conditions.

In 2005, the Ontario government changed the SDA program, leaving hundreds of people unable to afford the diets they had relied on to treat or manage the complications of medical conditions. In April 2008, the government's own Special Diets Expert Review Committee recommended significant changes to ensure that the program included recognized therapeutic diets and provided appropriate allowance levels. The recommendations have not been implemented.

"The government has long known that the program posed a number of problems," said Lesli Bisgould of Legal Aid Ontario's Clinic Resource Office, also co-counsel. "The discrimination built into the program has now been recognized by the Tribunal. We call on government to preserve this important program and to move quickly to fix it, to serve the needs of all people with disabilities who have special nutritional requirements."

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For further information: For further information: Cindy Wilkey, ISAC, Office: (416) 597-5820 ext. 5152, (Toll free in Ontario: 1-866-245-4072 ext. 5152), Cell Phone: (416) 892-8941

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