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Commission initiates complaints against the Ministry of Health and West Park Healthcare Centre over restrictive access to assistive devices

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March 29, 2001

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For immediate publication

Toronto - Following a promise made last week to be more proactive when it comes to issues faced by persons with disabilities, the Ontario Human Rights Commission today initiated complaints against the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care and its contractor, West Park Healthcare Centre. The complaints cite allegations that the Ministry of Health is acting in breach of the Human Rights Code by funding a program that uses discriminatory age-based eligibility criteria in providing assistive devices.

The complaints could have important implications for service providers, particularly for government, which cannot avoid its human rights obligations by downloading programs to other entities.

By way of background, this initiative was preceded by two earlier complaints launched by individuals about discriminatory criteria imposed by the Ministry of Health in a program which provided incontinence devices. The devices were only available to young persons but not to older persons. Following a settlement of these earlier complaints, the Ministry of Health agreed to end the program. In its place, however, it established new programs to deliver grants toward the purchase of these incontinence devices. One of these programs is now administered by the West Park Healthcare Centre.

"Last week, in releasing the new Policy and Guidelines on Disability and the Duty to Accommodate, I emphasized that it would not be merely an academic exercise. We need to see some improvement and are serious in our pledge to address the conditions faced by people with disabilities in the Province of Ontario," said Chief Commissioner Keith Norton. "In this case, older persons with certain kinds of disabilities are being denied access to needed services". Under the new program, West Park Healthcare Centre and the Ministry of Health agreed to restrict access to the incontinence devices to disabled persons aged 18 to 35. This means that the new program continues to use discriminatory criteria that exclude certain older persons, namely those born before July 1,1963.

Under subsection 32(2) of the Ontario Human Rights Code, the Commission can initiate complaints. The Commission will investigate complaints and then prepare a written report of its findings. If no settlement is reached, the Commission will then decide whether to refer the matter to an independent Board of Inquiry. No such decision has yet been made.