Court approves EI sickness class-action settlement with new moms

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It is official. The Federal Court has approved a multimillion-dollar class-action settlement that will see Ottawa pay EI sickness benefits to as many as 2,000 new parents — mostly mothers — who were seriously ill during parental leave, but denied the additional money.

Justice Catherine Kane’s decision late Wednesday ends a six-year battle waged by Calgary mother Jennifer McCrea on behalf of about 2,000 others who will receive an average of almost $4,000 each.

McCrea, who was awarded an additional $10,000 as an honorarium for her efforts as class plaintiff, was “very relieved that it is over.”

“It has been quite a long journey,” she told the Star. “So many times I wanted to quit … But I am grateful that I had the strength to fight … many women didn’t have it in them to fight.”

Ottawa settled with McCrea last August and the deal was confirmed in September, subject to court approval.

The settlement, which covers parents who were denied the benefit between March 2002 and March 2013, is estimated to be worth between $8.5 million and $11 million, depending on the number of class members who apply for the money.

McCrea, 42, developed breast cancer in 2011 while on maternity leave with her youngest son, Logan, but was denied additional EI sickness benefits.

She is owed $7,515, the maximum 15-week benefit at the time.

Under the terms of the settlement, only parents who were sick during the parental leave portion of their combined maternity/parental leave period and were denied additional EI sickness benefits are eligible for compensation.

In her ruling, Kane said the settlement “is fair and reasonable” and that the honorarium for McCrea is warranted “given her significant contribution to this litigation and settlement.”

Kane noted the benefits would likely have been of more help to the women when they were ill. But she said the settlement was “nevertheless … a very good result.”

“They will receive their benefits, albeit years later, and they will have witnessed both a change in the legislation to benefit others like them and improvements in the manner that information is shared by Service Canada about such benefits,” she added.

McCrea’s lawyer Stephen Moreau was “thrilled” by the ruling.

“I’m glad to know this very long chapter has been closed,” he said.

Moreau, who has been battling Ottawa on the issue for almost nine years, was particularly pleased class members will receive 100 per cent of the EI benefit they are owed.

Moreau and his law firm, Cavalluzzo LLP were awarded about $2.5 million to cover legal costs.

The court action stems from a 2002 change to EI legislation that extended sickness benefits to working parents who become ill during pregnancy or while on maternity and parental leave.

It meant new mothers, such as McCrea, could take up to 15 weeks of sickness benefits to recuperate and then resume their parental benefits.

But EI officials didn’t interpret the changes that way; they argued that since an ill woman on parental leave wasn’t available for work, she wasn’t eligible for EI sickness benefits.

It wasn’t until Toronto mother Natalya Rougas successfully appealed her case in 2011 that the federal government took notice.

Moreau, who represented Rougas in her successful claim, launched the class action in 2012 on behalf of McCrea after the Calgary mother read about the case online in the Star.

Stephen Harper’s Conservative government eventually changed the law in 2013 to ensure new mothers with serious illnesses are not denied EI sickness benefits. And it quietly paid about 350 women who had their applications denied in 2012 and 2013.

But it refused to pay McCrea and others who were denied sickness benefits between 2002 and 2013.

McCrea said she was grateful to the Liberal government for living up to its 2015 election promise to settle the case, “albeit not as quickly as we had hoped.”

She also thanked the Star for keeping the case in the public eye.

“You were there when (others) couldn’t care less and that made all the difference.”

Laurie Monsebraaten is a Toronto-based reporter covering social justice. Follow her on Twitter: @lmonseb

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TTC board approves 10-cent fare increase

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The TTC board has unanimously approved a 10-cent fare increase for 2019, over the objections from transit users and advocates who urged members not to balance the transit agency’s budget on the backs of riders.

And while the price hike is expected to generate about $25.8 million for the TTC this year, Thursday’s board meeting was at times dominated by presentations from agency executives that warned the transit system is on shaky financial ground, both in the short and long term.

TTC Chair Jaye Robinson said she was “disappointed” about the fare hike, which was approved as part of the proposed 2019 operating budget that the agency first released last week.

Robinson, who council appointed TTC chair in December, told the Star earlier this month she wouldn’t back a fare hike this year. But after the vote she said she had concluded it was unavoidable because of increased costs, and because the city had made it clear it wouldn’t provide more money to eliminate the need for higher fares.

“The city has clearly stated there’s no additional funds,” she said. “That left us with no choice, because we don’t want to cut services. So today it came down to cutting services versus a 10-cent fare increase.”

“Many young people struggle to pay tuition, are straddled with student debt and precarious work or (are) unemployed. This is an additional cost that they simply cannot afford,” said Eli Aaron, a planning student at Ryerson University and a member of the Toronto Youth Cabinet.

Some saw irony in the fact that the debate about the fare hike came hours after a major subway delay that was caused by switch and signal problems left thousands of Line 1 riders packed on crowded platforms waiting for trains.

“The delays that people experienced this week really brought home the injustice of a fare hike,” Shelagh Pizey-Allen, executive director of advocacy group TTCriders, told the board.

Student and senior fares using tickets or the Presto fare card are set to rise from $2.05 to $2.15, while adult fares will go from $3 to $3.10. The cost of a student or senior monthly pass will rise $5.70 to $122.45, and an adult pass will increase $4.90 to $151.15. Adult cash fares will remain at $3.25.

The increase will be effective April 1. Although it will increase revenue, it’s also expected to drive away some 700,000 potential riders.

The proposed $2.1-billion gross operating budget the board approved for the conventional system and Wheel Trans represents a 3.1-per-cent increase over last year’s spending. The subsidy the TTC is requesting from the city, which is considered the key measure of municipal funding for the transit system, is $22 million higher than in 2018, at $763 million.

TTC chief financial officer Dan Wright told the board that represents “one of the lowest increases that the TTC has requested in recent memory.” It’s less than half the average annual subsidy increase over the previous four years.

Not all of the increased spending will go toward improved service, with new items, such as the transition to the Presto fare card system and a new collective bargaining agreement, putting pressure on the budget.

But the TTC plans to increase service hours by two per cent by deploying more buses and subways this year. There is also $14.4 million in incremental costs for the well-received two-hour transfer policy.

Wright repeatedly warned the board the budget is precariously balanced. In order to offset rising costs, it proposes relying on roughly $24 million in “undetermined corporate reductions” to balance the budget. The reductions are effectively savings the TTC thinks it can find in areas such as lower accident claims and electricity costs, but can’t guarantee it will achieve.

The budget report said the strategy “incorporates considerable risk into the budget and increases the risk that the TTC will incur a deficit in 2019.”

Wright said that although he believed the savings are possible, the agency would be relying on “luck” and had little margin for error.

“Do I think we will run a deficit? I don’t know,” he said.

“Bottom line, we have no flexibility to absorb bad news. We need to figure out how to properly fund the TTC with long term funding that we can count on.”

The board also received a report on $33.5 billion in capital costs the TTC says is required over the next 15 years to keep the system in good repair and cope with anticipated growth in the number of riders.

Some $23.7 billion of the work, which doesn’t include the cost of building new lines, is not funded.

Wright said it would be “doable” for the TTC to secure money for the unfunded projects, which include capacity improvements on Line 1 and Line 2, buying new streetcars, replacing the bus fleet, and expanding Bloor-Yonge station. But he framed the consequences of not doing so in dire terms.

“Less frequent service, a decrease in reliability, more breakdowns, more delays, poor customer service, more customers abandoning the system,” he said.

Robinson said she hoped the provincial and federal governments would come forward with more funding for TTC infrastructure.

The Ontario PC government has proposed contributing $160 million to subway maintenance if it follows through with its plan to take ownership of the TTC subway. It’s an amount that falls far short of what the agency says it requires.

The TTC capital and operating budgets will go to council in March for final approval.

Ben Spurr is a Toronto-based reporter covering transportation. Reach him by email at bspurr@thestar.ca or follow him on Twitter: @BenSpurr

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London council approves rezoning of 446 York St. to allow for supervised consumption facility – London

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London city council has approved the rezoning of 446 York St. to allow for a supervised consumption facility.

The nod came during council’s meeting at city hall on Tuesday, nearly nine months after a deal was struck with the landlord of the York Street location.


READ MORE:
Health unit strikes deal for supervised consumption at 241 Simcoe St. and 446 York St. in London

The week prior, London’s planning and environment committee hosted a public participation meeting that was marked by a lengthy debate among members of the public.

However, council’s Tuesday evening discussion on the matter was quite the opposite, in that it ran less than five minutes.

The only vocal opposition came from Ward 2 Coun. Shawn Lewis.

“I’m basing this decision on zoning, not on the value of an overdose [prevention] site,” said Lewis.

“We do need one, I’m just not convinced this is the location.”


READ MORE:
Drewlo Holdings voices opposition ahead of public meeting on supervised consumption site

A vote of 12-2 fell in favour of the rezoning, with Lewis and Ward 14 Coun. Steve Hillier voting no and Ward 11 Coun. Stephen Turner abstaining due to his employment with the Middlesex-London Health Unit.

It was during another reading of the rezoning motion that Lewis changed his mind to the tune of the majority of his political peers.

“Democracy has had its day, and I certainly support the fact that you all want to see this move forward,” said Lewis.


READ MORE:
London mayoral hopeful says he supports supervised consumption facilities

The nod from council was given praise by Mayor Ed Holder, who campaigned on a pro-supervised consumption facility platform during his election.

“It’s an important first step,” said Holder.

“We’ve got to get this right, and the other part of that is doing appropriate wraparound services. It was part of the discussion I had with the premier when I met with him last week… we’re looking for that additional support.”

Ward 5 Coun. Maureen Cassidy voiced similar praise for the approval, adding that London is “a medium-sized city with a big-city drug problem.”

As for residents living near the York Street location, the mayor said they will remain a top priority for council moving forward.

“One of the things we’ve been assured by the medical officer of health is the importance of putting security around the perimeter of the building and in that area,” Holder said. “I think that speaks to the safety concerns that certainly the Middlesex-London Health Unit believes is important, and we believe is important, too, in terms of safety of residents and the safety of all Londoners.”


READ MORE:
Health Canada approves two permanent consumption sites in London

While federal approval has been granted for the city’s applications for consumption and treatment service sites at 446 York St. and 241 Simcoe St., council has not yet been presented with a rezoning application for the latter location.

WATCH: Ontario to keep safe injection sites as part of new model





© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Lethbridge City Council approves zoning for new west-side cannabis store – Lethbridge

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Lethbridge resident Gurdeep Singh is wanting to open a pot shop on the city’s west side.

AGLC cleared me four months back to obtain a licence, and then they asked for a development permit,” Singh said. “When I came here [City Hall], they said the location is not suitable.”

Singh asked council on Tuesday to amend one Columbia Boulevard strip mall’s current land use bylaw, to allow the opening of a retail cannabis store.


READ MORE:
Fights over tight cannabis supplies prompt Alberta regulator to change rules

But some residents in the area had reservations.

“I was concerned about the location because it’s just entrenched in an area of lots of families and programs,” Lethbridge resident Donna Faulkner said at the meeting.

“We were very concerned because our only way out of our driveway is to go, back right onto Mcmaster Boulevard,” Lethbridge resident Elizabeth Pocock said.

“If that’s the only pot store in town on the west side, with all this increase in traffic, it’s going to be a major problem.”

City officials confirmed at the meeting that wouldn’t be the case, with around eight applications in the pipeline for the west Lethbridge area.

“That really mitigates the whole idea of it being the only one of two stores on the west side,” Pocock said. “So that was a huge relief to my husband and myself.”

City council voted seven to one to amend the current bylaw, and allow the retail mall to house a cannabis store.

“Unless there is a violation of a zoning issue, if it’s too close to a school, too close to a playground, those are things we can discriminate against,” Lethbridge Mayor Chris Spearman said. “But we believe that the concerns about impact on neighbourhoods, impact on traffic, will mitigate over time.”

“I’m feeling very good,” Singh said. “A new small business, I think they supported me, and I’m very thankful to them.”

Singh hopes to have his store up and running in January.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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