By Louise Kinross
Your child has a disability and needs regular medical visits, but your boss threatens to fire you if you take the time off.
This is the kind of issue parents bring to Pro Bono Law Ontario at Holland Bloorview, a free legal service on non-medical issues that may compromise a family’s ability to care for their child with special needs. The service, led by our new onsite lawyer Hannah Lee, is offered to Holland Bloorview families with low to moderate incomes.
“How can a parent that’s being bullied by an employer or facing a hurdle in securing housing because their child’s medical needs are so great provide the best care for their child?” Hannah says. “I work with a network of lawyers and am here to give parents access to the information and resources they need. In most cases, we are able to advocate or find legal solutions. We try to shield parents from unnecessary stress so that they have the energy to care for their child.”
In addition to meeting one-on-one with parents, Hannah meets with lawyers working in several Ontario children’s hospitals on a systemic issues committee that “looks at bringing legal challenges to contest policy that discriminates against families with children with disabilities,” she says.
In Canada, “we tend to think equality means treating people in the same situation the same way,” Hannah says. “But sometimes equality requires treating people differently. This view of equality is called substantive equality. Because people have different needs and circumstances, we shouldn’t assume that just because they don’t follow what society normally requires of them that they are less capable or less deserving of respect and dignified treatment.”
Hannah has been onsite at the hospital two mornings a week since November, and has handled about 100 consultations with parents. She’s located on the main floor in the Family Resource Centre.
The service has had positive feedback, including resolving some cases where employers objected to a parent attending a child’s medical appointments. “When you have legal counsel involved, it tends to make employers accountable,” Hannah says. “They have a duty to accommodate to the point of undue hardship.”
Nadine Sunarich, social worker with Holland Bloorview’s child development program, has referred a number of parents to the service. “These clients have had issues related to immigration, Assistance for Children With Severe Disabilities funding appeals, family law, debts and unpaid taxes. They’re very grateful that this program exists and that it is onsite.”
In the past, Hannah worked as a defense litigator. She also volunteered in a legal-aid clinic for youth and in Pro Bono Law Ontario’s Child Advocacy Program, a free service that provides parents with lawyers to advocate for their child’s special education needs.
Since working with our families, “I’ve seen how resilient parents are in the face of adversity,” she says.
Holland Bloorview families who are struggling with a legal issue can e-mail Hannah at email@example.com.