Ontario city looks to scrap agebased discounts in favour of incomebased system

first_imgAn eastern Ontario city is mulling the idea of scrapping discounts on municipal programs and services for seniors and youth in order to boost supports for low-income residents of any age.The City of Kingston says that while it already has a Municipal Fee Assistance program for those in need, the approach it’s considering would raise the qualification threshold so more people could access the savings.Seniors and youth are currently offered age-based discounts at recreational and cultural facilities such as theatres and museums as well as city transit.The city has set up an online survey to seek input from residents on the idea.Kingston has had an income-based system, in addition to the age-based discounts, in effect for about seven years.Cheryl Hitchen, the city’s manager of social policy, says the proposed program has potential to help more people living in poverty regardless of age.“This is primarily about increasing access to our services to adults who are living in poverty, including those who may be working part time and in low-paying jobs,” she said in a statement posted on the city’s website. “The discounts would go to those in the greatest financial need regardless of age.”For example, Hitchen said in an interview that the current cutoff for a single person is about $17,000 and the proposal would raise that to about $22,000.“I don’t think anyone would argue that an individual earning $22,000 is probably not struggling,” she said.The proposed change would make about 6,000 more people from all age groups eligible for income-based discounts, Hitchen said, noting that the city’s numbers suggest the change would be revenue neutral.Currently, people seeking the means-based discounts must prove their income level and are issued a card they can use to get discounts on municipal services such as transit.The results of the survey and focus groups will be tabulated after the consultation period ends in the middle of December and a proposal is expected to go to city council early next year, Hitchen said.“Across all ages the feedback has been mixed,” she said.The idea of moving to an income-based system isn’t new and Hitchen said Kingston looked to other jurisdictions in its effort to have discounts reach those most in need.She cited London Transit which is dropping its seniors’ discount and implementing an income-related bus pass discount program for all ages on Jan. 1.Municipalities have been discussing the financial stresses of discounts for the baby boom generation for a few years, Hitchen said, noting that the discounts for seniors originated after the Second World War “when there were a significant number of seniors living in poverty.”“Now that we face the baby boomers … it’s time to take a look and say ‘does this make sense from a policy perspective any more,’” she said.“We have a significant number of seniors who are well above the overall median income and some would argue they can afford to pay the full price of a recreation program or to ride the bus and that that money should be used for those who can’t,” Hitchen said.“It’s a change and it’s hard to take things away from people who’ve had it for a while,” she acknowledged.— With files from Michelle McQuiggelast_img read more

Ontarios top court to hear case that deals with sentencing black offenders

first_imgTORONTO — Ontario’s top court is set to grapple this month with just how much weight should be given to systemic racism when it comes to sentencing black offenders.In a case that could change how judges punish black people, the Court of Appeal is scheduled to hear the Crown’s challenge to what it calls a manifestly unfit 15-month sentence handed to a black Toronto man for carrying a loaded firearm.Last year, Superior Court Justice Shaun Nakatsuru handed Kevin Morris, a 26-year-old first-time offender, a sentence of 15 months in custody — further reduced by three months for charter breaches related to his arrest — on account of the disadvantages and systemic anti-black racism he had faced growing up in Toronto.“Social structures and societal attitudes that were born of colonialism, slavery, and racism have a very long reach,” Nakatsuru wrote. “We must not forget this. Our memory of past injustices must be long enough to do justice in an individual case.”The prosecutor had asked for a four-year sentence, arguing illegal gun possession is an urban scourge resulting in the “often immeasurable” human cost of gun crimes. The defence wanted 12 months.Nakatsuru, after taking into account two expert reports commissioned by the defence, said he could not give into the community’s fear.“In our system, a sentence is not just about the crime,” Nakatsuru wrote. “It must be also about the offender.”Currently, the courts are required to take into account the backgrounds of Indigenous offenders before sentencing. A defence win in Morris’ appeal could lead to a similar requirement to assess the impact of race and culture on black offenders.Such assessments — written by qualified experts — attempt to explain an offender’s experience with systemic racism and how that should factor into sentencing. In Nova Scotia, such reports are called cultural assessments and can be requested by a judge or submitted by the defence counsel.Morris was raised by a single mother in a neighbourhood with high levels of violence and criminal activity, according to court documents. He was stabbed twice in his youth and never graduated high school. He said he felt unsafe to go to work, because he would have to travel through rivalling neighbourhoods. In 2013, he was diagnosed with PTSD and paranoia after being stabbed and critically wounded for a third time.“You clearly did not feel you got the help you needed,” Nakatsuru wrote in his sentencing judgment.The defence also submitted an expert report — accepted by the judge — on the impact of crime and criminal justice on black Canadians. The report details how they experience barriers to education, employment and discrimination in social services.According to a 2016 report by the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies, black people make up 8.5 per cent of the Toronto population but represent 40 per cent of children in care. The expert report also stated black students are twice as likely to be suspended or expelled from school compared to white students.“It’s clear to everyone in the Toronto area that there are disproportionate numbers of young black men that are prosecuted and sentenced by judges based on pretty rudimentary information on who they are, where they came from, and why they got to the point of committing the crime they are being sentenced for,” said defence lawyer Faisal Mirza.Still, the prosecution maintains there was no clear evidence of a link between systemic discrimination and Morris’s crime. The rise of gun violence in Toronto, the Crown argues in its factum, required the judge to have given an “exemplary sentence.”There are 14 interveners in the appeal, including civil rights activists and legal clinics that serve racialized communities.“Indisputably, for many black offenders, the coalescence of historical and systemic background factors have played a role in bringing them before the courts,” the Criminal Lawyers Association says in its factum. “This appeal provides this honourable court with an opportunity to craft a framework for admitting evidence during sentencing of these unique historical and systemic factors.”In a joint submission, several other interveners — the Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic among them — call for culture assessments to apply to all minority groups, not just black offenders.“The over-representation of racialized communities among those living in poverty is well established,” their factum states. “These communities are over-policed and, consequently, over-represented in the justice system.”Lidia Abraha, The Canadian Presslast_img read more