TCHC unfairly evicting seniors: Ombudsman

Toronto’s waterfront

A new report by the city’s ombudsman says vulnerable seniors are being unfairly evicted from Toronto Community Housing facilities.

The report was released Thursday by ombudsman Fiona Crean following an investigation that examined 79 evictions over a two-year period from 2011 to 2012. “There’s been a pattern of callous and unfair treatment of many seniors, including at least one case in which a tenant died shortly after eviction,” Crean said in a statement released with the report Thursday.

Crean said Toronto Community Housing has not changed its practices since a report by Justice Patrick LeSage into the 2009 death of Al Gosling, an 81-year-old former tenant who died five months after being evicted for non-payment of arrears. Gosling was just a month shy of his 82nd birthday and had been a tenant of TCHC for 21 years.“My investigation has found TCHC staff did not change their practices,” Crean said.

The ombudsman listed a number of specific examples, including the eviction of a 30-year tenant with developmental disabilities after her subsidy was removed because of unverified reports her boyfriend was living with her. Crean said eviction proceedings were started in that case as a way to coerce the woman to change her behaviour after noise complaints were filed about her.

In another case, a man was offered a bus ticket and directions to a shelter after being evicted for missing a rent payment, despite paying some of the $404 he owed prior to his hearing.

“Some of Justice LeSage’s recommendations that have not been implemented are simple and straightforward,” Crean said “with no obvious excuse for three years of delay. As for the policies Toronto Community Housing has adopted, staff don’t always follow them.”

The report identified a number of problems with regards to how TCHC staff approach seniors, including “excessive bureaucratic letters” that are poorly written and confusing instead of personal contact, and use of eviction as a first resort to deal with problems instead of early intervention measures.

In a May 28 response to a draft report of the investigation, TCHC president Eugene Jones accepted all 30 of its recommendations and said Toronto Community Housing will work to implement them within the timelines set out by Crean. “Preventing evictions is a complex issue with shared responsibilities between the landlord, the resident and support agencies,” Jones wrote.

He said the task is especially difficult in cases involving issues of cognitive decline or mental health. “Although we are not a supportive housing provider, we do acknowledge our responsibility to consider the unique needs of vulnerable residents,” Jones added.

He said TCHC has faced “significant challenges and organizational changes over the past three years” that have hindered Its efforts to address seniors’ problems adequately. But he vowed to work toward, and surpass Crean’s recommendations.

The ombudsman welcomed his comments in her statement Thursday. “I am glad Toronto Community Housing has acknowledged its failures and committed yet again to improvements” Crean said in her statement. However she said the findings point to a larger problem.

“It is clear the people who are paying the price are the most vulnerable in our society, seniors who are poor, many of whom are vulnerable with failing health and mental health challenges,” Crean said. “They are the ones that are being hurt and I am worried not enough people care.” (CP24)

Ontario cracking down on strategic lawsuits

TORONTO – Ontario is introducing legislation today to crack down on strategic lawsuits that are used to silence critics who are speaking out on matters of public interest.

Environmentalists say such lawsuits, which can entail significant legal costs, have been used to limit their criticism of development projects.

Under the proposed law, courts could fast-track the review process for lawsuits that are alleged to be strategic. It would include a legal test that a judge could use to quickly decide whether or not the case should be dismissed.

The request to dismiss the case would have to be heard by the court within 60 days.

Ontario’s attorney general says Quebec is currently the only other province with a similar law. The minority Liberals would need the support of at least one of the opposition parties to pass the legislation. (CP24 Toronto)

UNESCO bid to recognize Ontario forest hits snag

WINNIPEG — An attempt backed by millions of dollars in public funds to get UNESCO recognition for an extensive stretch of boreal forest along the Manitoba-Ontario boundary appears to be at a stalemate.

An advisory group to the United Nations agency has raised questions about whether the area, known as Pimachiowin Aki, is more special than other areas in terms of the cultural traditions of its inhabitants. But the First Nations who live in the region don’t want to put themselves above other aboriginal groups and resent the question.

“We have a world view that everybody’s equal and we’re not superior to any indigenous groups or communities, so, yeah, I found that to be insulting,” Sophia Rabliauskas, spokeswoman for the non-profit Pimachiowin Aki Corp., said from Darwin, Australia, where she was discussing the issue at the international conference of indigenous peoples.

“I don’t think that’s going to change. I think … we’re going to stand by our beliefs about we’re not better than anybody else, so I’m not sure how we’re going to further discuss that.”

Rabliauskas and other delegates from Canada have set up a petition denouncing UNESCO’s demand for any aboriginal region to prove superiority over another.

UNESCO currently recognizes more than 900 places around the globe as world heritage sites — everything from the Great Barrier Reef in Australia to an old deciduous forest in Belarus.

The Manitoba government has committed $10 million toward a trust fund for Pimachiowin Aki and has spent another $4.5 million over the last decade. The Ontario government has contributed smaller amounts, and the federal government officially submitted the bid for UNESCO designation.

Manitoba says world heritage status for Pimachiowin Aki, an Ojibwa phrase that translates as “the land that gives life,” would attract tourists to the remote, fly-in region and would help ensure it remains protected. The 33,400-square-kilometre area is almost half the size of New Brunswick and home to five Ojibwa communities of between 500 and 2,000 people each.

Much of the bids’ cost comes from mapping the area and developing land-use plans to convince UNESCO that the area will be protected from development. The area deserves recognition because it’s the largest intact northern boreal forest in the world and because the First Nations in the region maintain a strong connection to the land, according to the submission.

The bid is to be considered by UNESCO’s world heritage committee at its annual meeting June 16 in Cambodia, although two of the committee’s advisory groups have recommended the decision be deferred for at least another year.

Among their concerns is whether the region is truly unique, because there are other large areas of pristine boreal forest in the world as well as other areas with similar aboriginal land use. One advisory group is expected to return to the region this fall to do more research.

Manitoba’s Opposition leader has questioned whether the money behind the UNESCO bid is well-spent.

“We’re concerned that the government has spent money on this project for some years, has yet to demonstrate any results for the people of Manitoba, and they’re doing it all with borrowed money,” Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister said, referring to the government’s ongoing deficits.

“That’s what the people of those communities and that region are telling me, frankly. They’re saying, ‘OK, fine. We get a UNESCO site. What next? Are we really going to benefit from this project?”‘

A study done for the project has estimated that it might attract fewer than 1,000 tourists a year. But the report by Marr Consulting Services also said small tourism numbers would be likely to be in keeping with the desire to protect the area’s environment.

Rabliauskas said she hopes UNESCO backs down on its demand that the First Nations prove some superior connection to the land over other aboriginals. In the meantime, she and others involved in the project will meet to plan their next steps.

“We’re still in the process of deciding what needs to happen next.” (CP24 Toronto)

Ontario Court of Appeal refuses to dismiss $50B tobacco lawsuit

TORONTO — Several big foreign tobacco companies have lost a bid to have a $50 billion lawsuit by the Ontario government thrown out of court. Ontario’s Court of Appeal has refused their request.

The three-judge panel unanimously said it sees no legal reason to overturn a lower court ruling that the case should proceed. Ontario launched a lawsuit against 14 tobacco companies in September 2009 to try to recoup past and present health-care costs related to smoking.

The province claims the corporations should be on the hook for billions of dollars because they misrepresented the risks of smoking, did not take steps to reduce the effects and marketed cigarettes toward children and teens.

The tobacco companies argued that the Ontario Superior Court of Justice didn’t have jurisdiction to hear the case. They also claim the lawsuit is based on a false theory that the companies conspired in the 1950s to withhold information from Ontario smokers about the harmful and addictive ingredients in cigarettes.

None of the allegations have been proven in court. The Ontario government says smoking is the leading cause of premature deaths and illness in the province and costs the health-care system $1.6 billion a year.

Every province except Nova Scotia has filed similar lawsuits. (CP24)

Floating research station in need of evacuation

The floating research station North Pole-40

The scientific research station was placed on the ice floe in October 2012 and was planned to stay there until September. Now the floe has already started to break apart and the crew has to be evacuated as soon as possible.

Russia’s Minister of Nature Resources and Ecology Sergey Donskoy has ordered that a plan for evacuation should be ready within three days, the Ministry’s web site reads.

“A collapse of the station’s ice floe poses a threat to its continued work, the lives of the crew, the environment close to the Canadian Economic Zone and to equipment and supplies”, a note from the minister reads.

Donskoy suggests that the nuclear-powered icebreaker “Yamal” could evacuate the station from the floe and move it to Severnaya Zemlya.

With ice levels in the Arctic reaching record lows, finding a suitable floe for the station proved to be a difficult task last autumn. The icebreaker carrying the station’s crew had to sail all around the North Pole before finding an ice floe solid enough to hold the station. None of the three floes that had been pre-evaluated from land as possible objects were considered safe enough.

Also the previous shift of Russian scientists experienced problems with the ice situation in the Arctic. In late April the members of North Pole-39 had to move the whole research station to another ice floe because the first one was breaking up.

Only three times has a station had to be evacuated before schedule. The last time was in 2010, when the icebreaker “Rossiya” had to go out and rescue the people on the floating station “North Pole-37” already in May.

Russia earlier this year allocated 1,7 billion rubles (app €42 million) to developing a self-propelled, ice- strengthened floating platform to replace the natural ice floes for future research stations.

Russia has had floating research stations in the Arctic since 1937, when the first scientific drifting ice station in the world – “North Pole-1”, was established. From 1954 Soviet “North Pole” stations worked continuously, with one to three such stations operating simultaneously every year. In the post-Soviet era, Russian exploration of the Arctic by drifting ice stations was suspended for twelve years, and was resumed in 2003. (Barents Observer)