The Carlington Summit
by Laurie Joe.
Staff Lawyer.
West End Legal Services.

Disabled persons face complex rules and confusion, especially around the different types of pensions or benefits available to them.

Did you know that there are both provincial benefits and federal disability benefits? Were you aware that the rules to receive these benefits are quite different? Provincial benefits are only available to persons who live in a particular province and who meet all the qualifications for disability benefits. Federal disability benefits are available to all persons who live in Canada if they qualify for those benefits. In this article, we will call them provincial and federal benefits.

Under Canadian law, a person may apply for federal disability benefits under the Canada Pension Plan (CPP),. To be eligible for a CPP disability pension, one must have a “severe” and “prolonged” disability and has made contributions to qualify. A severe disability is one which keeps a person from being able to work in any type of job, even part-time.

A judge once told me that these federal benefits are widely considered to be the most difficult pension to obtain. The definition of a “severe” and “prolonged” disability is quite restrictive. The CPP program is administered by federal employees. To be eligible for the federal disability benefits, there are rules about previous contributions into the CPP plan.

In Ontario, there are different disability benefits available for persons with disabilities or persons who have children with disabilities. For persons living in Ottawa, these benefits are administered by the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services with some input from staff who work for the Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton. The law is called the Ontario Disability Support Program Act (ODSPA). There are both medical and financial tests to be met in order to get provincial disability benefits.

To add to the confusion of having different types of programmes, various levels of government involved, and separate legal definitions of “disability”, there are special obstacles in front of persons with disabilities. Persons who live with disabilities or who care for children with disabilities often have greater challenges in mobility and dealing with their communities or government officials who administer disability programs. One often hears about people who “fall through the cracks” because they are not aware of different programs or are unable, because of their disabilities, to negotiate the difficult maze of applying for benefits.

I work for a community legal clinic and we have seen an increase in requests for help with disability benefits over the past few years. Often, we represent disabled persons in appealing a decision to deny disability benefits at both the provincial and federal level. I have met and worked with many community, medical and government workers who provide terrific support for disabled persons and who sincerely care about their clients. However, most people who are disabled or who work with disabled persons are continually dealing with both provincial and federal disability programs, their different rules and qualifications and the different legal definitions.

History and the constitutional law framework has determined that there will always be different rules, different levels of bureaucracy, and different procedures in pursuing legal appeals when disability benefits are denied. It is unfortunate that this is the reality for persons who already face quite significant challenges in our society. Our clinic has access for disabled persons, both physical and psychological, but I wonder how many other people who are out there who become discouraged by the confusing language and steps involved and by the surprisingly wide range of rules regarding pensions and benefits.

If you know someone who may be eligible for disability benefits, contact your nearest community legal clinic or disability agency for more information. For residents west of Holland and Fisher Avenues, please contact West End Legal Services at 596-1641.