A decision made last week by a Superior Court of Justice judge to dismiss the Ontario basic income class action lawsuit will be appealed.
The lawsuit was initiated by four Lindsay residents — Dana Bowman, Grace Marie Doyle Hillion, Susan Lindsay, and Tracey Mechefske. They argued through their lawyers that the early termination of the Ontario Basic Income Pilot’s payments amounted to “a breach of contract, a breach of undertaking, negligence…and a breach of section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms — and that as a result they have suffered damages.
The Advocate has learned that the Toronto law firm that represents them, Cavalluzzo LLP Barristers & Solicitors, will appeal, after the firm discussed their options with the four plaintiffs.
In a letter the Advocate obtained from the law firm that was sent to all members participating in the class action lawsuit, they note what success might look like at first.
“If we are successful at the Court of Appeal, the result would be either that…we return to the Superior Court and argue the remaining issues regarding the certification motion (Justice Bale only ruled on 1 out of 5 of the certification issues); or…the Ontario Court of Appeal agrees to certify the class action. If unsuccessful, Justice Bale’s ruling will stand and the Action will not be certified,” the lawyers Stephen Moreau and Kaley Duff write.
As the lawyers note, certification is the first major step in a class action proceeding. “When the court certifies a class action, this means that the court agrees the issues in the plaintiffs’ Statement of Claim can be decided together, on a class-wide basis.”
If a lawsuit is certified, they note that the plaintiffs still must win on the merits by having the key questions (like, was there a contract?) answered in favour of the class. When a court does not certify a class action, then that means the class action cannot proceed at all.
The current Conservative government cancelled the Ontario Basic Income Pilot in one of the first policy decisions the government made when it came to office in 2018 — despite a campaign promise to let the three-year pilot play out.
“I personally think (Premier Doug) Ford cancelling basic income was inhumane,” said Lauretta Blackman, who was on basic income and is participating in the class action suit.
“We were an experiment for the betterment of the future and then got devastated emotionally, physically and financially when they stopped the pilot abruptly after promising to let it go it’s course,” she said.
Dana Bowman, one of the plaintiffs, said she feels gratitude for the appeal.
“The lawyers have given us hope and faith of a better tomorrow — which I really need right now.
Bowman says the “rug was pulled out from under us” when Ford cancelled the pilot, “and I will not forget that day, how it affected me and others around me.”
The pilot was initiated by the province in 2017 under the Liberal government of Kathleen Wynne. It was set up in three areas – Hamilton region, Thunder Bay area, and Lindsay. Almost 4,000 people were involved, with 1,840 participants from Lindsay. It was set to run for three years. Payments ended prematurely in March of 2019, leaving hundreds of people scrambling.
The appeal is expected to be filed by the end of the year, while written arguments will be submitted in late January or early February.
“We expect the appeal will be heard sometime in mid-2021,” they write, “as the Court continues to conduct hearings remotely during the pandemic.”
The Basic Income Canada Network released a survey report, Signposts to Success, in March of 2019, documenting the experiences of recipients in the pilot. It provided compelling indicators of lives remarkably changed for the better.
Responses from more than 400 recipients showed that the pilot was working — enabling women and men to get and keep jobs, start businesses, pursue education and training, overcome barriers and improve health and well-being for themselves and their families.
For instance, 58 per cent improved their housing situation, 34 per cent found the basic income supported employment by affording transportation to work, child care or ability to start or expand a business, and 32 per cent of respondents were able to go back to school or upgrade their skills.
— Full disclosure: Roderick Benns is a member of the Basic Income Canada Network and was a supporter of the Ontario Basic Income Pilot.