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Court Certifies Class Action Lawsuit Brought On By Four Lindsay Residents Who Were Part Of The Ontario Basic Income Pilot Project

KAWARTHA LAKES-The Government of Ontario is facing a class action lawsuit brought on by four Lindsay residents on behalf of 4,000 people who had participated in the Ontario Basic Income Pilot.

The Pilot, which was meant to last for three years, was cancelled after only one year. On March 4, 2024 the Ontario Superior Court of Justice released a decision certifying the lawsuit as a class proceeding. The class action claims damages for the sudden cancellation of the Basic Income Pilot Project in July 2018 by the Progressive Conservative government. The underlying Statement of Claim, as reported previously, seeks damages of up to $200 million.

The suit was brought forward by Lindsay residents Dana Bowman, Grace Hillion, Susan Lindsay, and Tracey Mechefske, who were participants in the program.

 “I was angry, I was anxious, and I wasn’t sleeping,” says Mechefske.

 Mechefske started her own natural skincare products business with the income she received through the program. The cancellation eliminated her ability to fund the business and pay down the debt she’d accumulated to purchase materials.

To make matters worse, Mechefske says she was actively involved in recruiting others in her community to sign up for the program.

 “I convinced a lot of people that this would better their lives, that’s one of the reasons I’m so passionate about fighting this. It wasn’t just me who got hurt, everybody I encouraged to sign up got hurt too.”

“Basic income gave me dignity, it gave me hope, it gave me financial stability,” says Bowman.

Before being selected to participate in the pilot program, Bowman received Ontario Disability Support Program (“ODSP”) benefits. She has since returned to ODSP and receives about $700 per month, half of what she was receiving under the pilot.

 “The Basic Income Pilot allowed me to help care for my grandchildren. I could travel to my daughter’s home to spend the weekend, bring groceries, and have a family meal. I was able to contribute to her dinner table, I wasn’t taking from my grandchildren. Now I feel like I’m a burden.” 

The Basic Income Pilot Project was introduced in 2017 to study the impacts of a basic income. Approximately 4,000 Ontarians living in Lindsay, Hamilton, and Thunder Bay enrolled in the Pilot, and agreed to receive monthly payments for three years. In exchange for the monthly payments, Class Members opened their lives to the researchers.

Despite assurances that the Pilot would last for three years, the government ended the Pilot after approximately one year. Basic income payments ceased in March 2019.

The lawsuit alleges that the Province of Ontario breached the terms and conditions of the contract it entered with the 4,000 Class Members by ending the three-year program early. Organizations that advocate on behalf of Canadians living with poverty and income insecurity are pleased that the plaintiffs are taking this next step in the legal process and hope the end result is nationwide progress towards a level of financial security for everyone. 

“There is an incredible amount of evidence which shows the benefits of a basic income program,” says Sheila Regehr, Chairperson of Basic Income Network Canada. “If everyone has enough money to put food on the table, a roof over their heads, maintain their dignity, and be a part of the economy, we are all better able to manage the other challenges that arise in our lives.”

Subject to any appeals, the class action will now move onto the second stage, which is the common issue trial.

“This is where we ask the Court to decide the legal issues that were certified. In this case, that means the court will determine, amongst other things, whether or not there was a binding contract between the government and all class members, such that the government owes damages for breaching the contract,” says Stephen Moreau, a partner at Cavalluzzo LLP and lead counsel for the plaintiffs. “This is a group of very vulnerable people who deserve the right to have their voices heard.”

 

 

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Pamela Vanmeer
Pamela Vanmeerhttps://www.kawartha411.ca/
Pamela VanMeer is a two time winner of the prestigious Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) Award. Her investigative reports on abuse in Long Term Care Homes garnered international attention for the issue and won the Ron Laidlaw Award. She is a former reporter and anchor at CHEX News, now Global Peterborough and helped launch the New CHEX Daily, a daily half hour talk show. While at CHCH News in Hamilton she covered some of the biggest news stories of the day.

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