Ontario denies dignity in death
TheStar.com – Opinion/Commentary – As Ottawa denies status to more and more people, municipalities and provinces must assume new responsibilities.
Feb 02 2014. By: Syed Hussan Harald Bauder, Macdonald Scott
Rogerio Marques De Souza had a tough life. Working in construction, denied immigration status for more than 25 years, he died a few days ago of colon cancer left untreated. But even in death, his troubles remained.
When his relative who was on Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) tried to get the available low-income subsidy to pay for his funeral, she was turned down. She was told the City of Toronto administered service (regulated under provincial social assistance legislation) is unavailable for non-status residents’ funerals. Denied status in life, Rogerio was denied dignity in death. The city’s offer was starkly inhumane: if the family gave up custody, then the city would burn the body without funeral or service. His children would not be able to say goodbye; his memory would not be marked.
However, a far bigger gap remains. As the federal government denies status to more and more people, municipalities and provinces must assume new responsibilities.
In February 2013, Toronto City Council stepped up to the plate and moved to make all city services accessible to non-status residents, effectively declaring Toronto a sanctuary city. Council also pledged to push the province to make similar legislative changes. As Rogerio’s case highlights, it is now time for the province to act.
Ontario laws continue to deny health care, social housing, medical services, post-secondary education, and other important services to people based on citizenship. This denial of services lies at the root of Rogerio’s tragic case and undermines the livelihood of many other non-status Ontarians.
Stephen Harper’s government halved refugee acceptance rates, turned away most parents and grandparents, doubled deportations, revoked the citizenships of more than 3,000 people, and made temporary work programs the only pathway for many low-income racialized immigrants. As a result, a growing number of people are deciding to stay without status and are consequently shut out of labour protections, health care, education, shelter and other benefits and services. This impacts all of us.
Under grassroots pressure, the City of Toronto demonstrated last February that change can be made despite the federal government’s ill-conceived policies. Now it is Ontario’s turn — and the City of Toronto must fulfil its pledge to push the province to implement corresponding policies.
When three years ago Rogerio started falling sick, losing weight and feeling pain in his body, he didn’t go see a doctor. Being without health care, and afraid that hospitals would report him to immigration, he looked up his symptoms online and decided he had diabetes. He changed his eating habits but didn’t get better.
When he collapsed in December 2012 and was taken to hospital, he was diagnosed with colon cancer and operated on the same day. By the time he walked out of the hospital he owed more than $100,000 and had to promise to pay $500 a month. He was laid off after his bosses discovered that he had a colostomy bag. Depressed and unable to pay his rent, he moved in with his children and got a job at a bakery. Soon, however, he was moved to palliative care and died quietly in the hospital a few weeks later, leaving behind a devastated family.
All along, Rogerio — like most non-status immigrants — paid municipal taxes (through rent), and provincial and federal taxes (through HST). Rogerio used other people’s social insurance numbers to work in construction for 25 years — and thus paid income taxes. In fact, his attempts to gain immigration status indicate that Rogerio wanted nothing more than to pay taxes in his own name.
Yet, Rogerio’s relatives — despite being Canadian and on social assistance — were denied a funeral subsidy for him. Provincial laws are discriminatory even in death. Ontario Works and ODSP are a social net for people in need. Non-status immigrants deserve this support like all Ontarians, especially since they often do the dirty, low-paying and dangerous jobs other Ontarians don’t want.
If Rob Ford can vote with the rest of council to make Toronto a sanctuary city, Kathleen Wynne should be able to do the same for Ontario.
Syed Hussan is a migrant justice organizer with No One Is Illegal — Toronto. Harald Bauder is Academic Director of the Ryerson Centre for Immigration and Settlement. Macdonald Scott works in immigration law with Carranza LLP and the Law Union of Ontario.
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