Pubdate: Wed, 12 Dec 2001
Source: Flamborough Post (CN ON)
Copyright: 2001, Flamborough Post
Author: Irene Gentle
Bookmark: (Drug Testing)
Bookmark: (Treatment)


City council has sent out a message that it doesn't approve of mandatory 
drug testing for Ontario Works recipients.

Councillors endorsed a series of resolutions passed by the City of Toronto 
objecting to a provincial plan which aims to help those with addiction 
problems interfering with their ability to work either kick the habit or 
lose their welfare benefits.

Hamilton's response was based partly on a staff report showing the new city 
doesn't likely have the resources to treat the addicted should the program 
take off.

"We've identified which agencies already have waiting lists," said one of 
the report's authors Jane Soldera, director of program planning and policy. 
"And they've indicated to us they have received no increase in base budget 
funding for five or 10 years."

That would make them likely unable to deal with an influx of residents in 
need of treatment should the provincial idea take root.

Currently, a pilot project testing the program's viability is preparing to 
roll out in five municipalities across the province.

Hamilton did not apply to be one of them.

Polled city agencies also told staff issues such as affordable housing for 
recovering addicts, methadone clinics, education and child care support for 
mothers kicking the habit and programs for those speaking other than 
English and French would have to be put in place before the plan could 
reasonably work, said Soldera.

And that's one reason why the new city didn't apply for the pilot program, 
she added.

"We thought the emphasis should be on health and well-being, not Ontario 
Works Eligibility," she said.

City staff also felt it would be better to wait for the government to 
assure it would pony up for extra treatment costs before volunteering as a 
pilot project site.

But the city will be keeping a close eye on the areas to monitor how the 
program is going, said Soldera.

Under the proposed mandatory addiction assessment and treatment initiative, 
the government aims to implement a screening test to determine if more 
assessment for addiction is necessary and provide a referral for mandatory 
treatment if the addiction is seen to be a barrier to employment. For those 
who refuse to comply with treatment, eligibility to Ontario Works benefits 
could be jeopardized.

But the City of Hamilton, in endorsing the Toronto council view, said 
addiction treatment should not be linked to the eligibility of benefits, 
and the proposed program could increase the homelessness levels in the area.

It also stated service levels would have to be boosted to deal with the 
demand if the program becomes law.

The council recommendation should send a message to the province that the 
proposed program is the wrong way to go, said Ward 15 Councillor Margaret 

"Toronto is right on. It's discriminatory. It's unenlightened," she said. 
"Any documentation will suggest you cripple a city by doing that. We'll 
fight this every inch of the way."

Ward 14 Councillor Dave Braden said he wouldn't consider mandatory 
drug-testing unless it started at the top - including provincial politicians.

"I don't want to witch hunt one particular income level. That's archaic," 
he said. "If Premier Mike Harris and his government would like to start, I 
may change my mind. You start with yourself."
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