For immediate publication
The Ontario Court of Appeal has upheld a lower court ruling that two alcoholics are entitled to disability benefits. The case is important because it looks at what constitutes discrimination in human rights law.
Robert Tranchemontagne and Norman Werbeski were denied disability benefits because of their dependence on alcohol. The Director of the Ontario Disability Support Program said they should not get the benefits because their addiction was their “sole impairment.” But the Social Benefits Tribunal said that was discriminatory, under Ontario’s Human Rights Code, and the Divisional Court agreed. Both the Tribunal and the Court rejected the government’s argument that denying disability benefits was in the best interests of individuals with a substance abuse problem.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission intervened at the Court of Appeal on the issue of the proper “test” for discrimination – an issue that has had attention in many tribunals and courts. The OHRC argued that the test for discrimination is different for Human Rights Code and Charter of Rights and Freedoms cases.
The Court of Appeal agreed that there are fundamental differences between the Charter and the Code – and that those differences affect the kind of evidence that should be brought forward.
“This is an important decision for people who are disabled by their addiction,” said OHRC Chief Commissioner Barbara Hall. “We hope this latest ruling will help shed light on the nature of discrimination and help other courts and tribunals deal with these cases which have a direct impact on the quality of life for many people in Ontario.”
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