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Raise the Rates: Demonstrators

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Section: Ottawa Geography: Ontario ottawa Topics: social movements, poverty

July 21, 2004

Raise the Rates: Demonstrators

On June 11, a crowd of approximately 50 welfare recipients, disability pensioners, homeless people, and concerned citizens from all walks of life (some in wheel chairs) gathered underneath the Terry Fox bridge in Ottawa for the "Raise the Rates" protest. The demonstrators were there to demand a 40 percent increase in welfare and provincial disability rates. Music, food and camaraderie figured prominently in the protest, which was directed at the provincial assembly building at 10 Rideau St.

Ontario's Liberal Government recently announced a three percent increase in disability pension rates. Activists say that this falls well short of the 40 percent cuts that have accumulated over the past 20 years. Provincial disability pensions only increased by $2.50 in 1992. That left the maximum rate at $950, which must pay for a variety of disability needs. Subsequently, welfare rates were slashed by 21 percent, leaving the maximum rate at $520. Most homeless people do not receive any welfare money unless they are staying at a shelter, in which case they get $112 per month.

Organizer Dan Sawyer of Anti-capitalist Action (ACA ) said that the demonstration is the first of a series of protests planned for the coming months, including a regional planning event in Ottawa at the end of July.

Before a banner displaying the slogan "an injury to one is an injury to all", the protesters spoke in turn about the provincial government's record, and the need to take direct action to secure better treatment for the disadvantaged.

Among the speakers were Jane Scharf from the Homeless Action Strike, Sue Clark of the Canadian Advocates for Psychiatrized Persons, Homeless Action Strike activist Ryan Campbell, Bad Cops No Donut Campaign co-founder, and Lisa Freeman from the 7 year Squat. Michelle Levett spoke on behalf of disability pensioners. Other speakers included Witness Interview Support Program coordinator Bud Abraham and Paul Smith from the Ticket Defense Program.

Speakers cited examples of unfair policy, exacerbated poverty, and criminalization of homelessness and dissent, drawing cries of "shame, shame" from the crowd.

Ryan Campbell played one of the major roles in last year's two-month Homeless Action Strike protest of laws criminalizing homelessness. Ryan, who is also involved in the Ticket Defense Program and the Panhandlers Union, expressed relief that the Witness Group had attended the protest in case difficulties arose with police. "The Witnesses made a huge difference in the way the police treated us," said Campbell.

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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