Canada: Genetic-Testing Bill Will Soon Become Law

Update: see previous related posts – May 22, 2011 Genetic Discrimination Continues, June 11, 2009 Insurance Companies exercise discrimination due to “perceived genetic risks”.

Parliment Hill. Canada is the only G7 country without any form of protection for people based on their genetic makeup. This new law would prohibit that practice.
Parliment Hill. Canada is the only G7 country without any form of protection for people based on their genetic makeup. This new law would prohibit that practice. photo by fightyourtickets.ca

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Proposed law would bar insurance companies, employers from requesting genetic testing or asking for results

http://www.nature.com/ncomms/2015/150904/ncomms9032/images_article/ncomms9032-f2.jpg

Brynne Stainsby knows what it’s like to be discriminated against based on her genes.

That’s why she’s keeping a close eye on a Senate bill up for final debate this week.

Bill S-201 — also known as the Genetic Non-Discrimination Act — would make it illegal for insurance companies or employers to request genetic testing or ask for test results.

Insurer asks for Genetic Test

Canada is the only G7 country without any form of protection for people based on their genetic makeup.

Stainsby’s father has the genetic mutation that causes Huntington’s disease, a degenerative brain disorder, giving her a 50/50 chance of having it too.

At 25, on the verge of starting her chiropractic career, Stainsby didn’t give much thought to her possible diagnosis until she tried to get insurance.

‘What they were saying was, until I tested myself I was sort of guilty until proven innocent.’ –Brynne Stainsby, whose father has Huntington’s disease

She was shocked to learn she’d be denied coverage unless she underwent genetic testing to prove she didn’t have the genetic mutation.

“It was really devastating and infuriating, actually,” said Stainsby.

“Basically, what they were saying was, until I tested myself I was sort of guilty until proven innocent.”

She’s never forgotten the sting of that rejection.

“I love that our citizens are protected on so many levels, but it’s devastating that this isn’t one of them yet,” said Stainsby. “This should be another of our basic human rights.

Nearly 35,000 genetic tests

The bill proposes amendments to the Canada Labour Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act to make it illegal to discriminate against people based on their genetic characteristics.

Liberal Senator James Cowan

Senator James Cowan first introduced Bill S-201in early 2013.

Right now, there are nearly 35,000 tests that can identify a person’s risk of developing thousands of conditions and diseases.

“There’s an increasing number of genetic tests for an increasing number of conditions, and as the tests become more precise, the issue becomes more important,” said Senator James Cowan, who has championed Bill S-201 since 2013.

With this kind of personalized medical information, people can make lifestyle changes, choose to be monitored more closely, participate in clinical trials and even opt for pre-emptive treatments for some conditions.

But many people forgo the tests for themselves or their children, worried they will be denied insurance coverage, face inflated premiums or risk losing their jobs.

Insurance premiums could rise

The bill will have its third and final reading this week in the Senate.

If it passes, it will be added to the list of proposed new laws to be considered by the House of Commons.

Rob Oliphant, MP

MP Rob Oliphant says a proposed law to prohibit discrimination based on genetic characteristics ‘should promote better health’ by encouraging people to get genetic testing. (CBC)

So far, the bill’s most outspoken critic is the Canadian insurance industry, which predicts premiums will go up for everyone if companies are denied access to genetic test results.

Rob Oliphant, the Liberal MP from Toronto who is sponsoring the bill if it moves into the House of Commons, said he’s heard the industry’s protests but doesn’t understand its reasoning.

“If anything, this should promote better health among people,” said Oliphant, who predicts lower insurance payouts if the bill becomes law.

“People will actually be able to be proactive about their health.”

Blacklisted for insurance

Without proof that she was free of the mutated gene for Huntington’s, Stainsby said she was blacklisted by the majority of insurance companies.

It didn’t matter to the insurance industry that she was a non-smoker, an active runner or yoga instructor.

It zeroed in on the one thing she didn’t have control of — her genes.

“That was the first time that I really realized the impact Huntington’s was having on me,” said Stainsby.

Stainsby’s father was in his 40s when he got tested for the gene. His test was positive, but Stainsby said he remains symptom-free almost 20 years later.

“My dad has been able to work. He’s already retired, he’s had this wonderful career,” said Stainsby. “So if we’re looking at genetics, I could be going down basically the same path.”

However, the insurance company wanted cold, hard proof.

She settled for less coverage than she wanted with a smaller insurance company that only asked about her personal health history.

A few years later, Stainsby finally went to get tested. The results came back negative for the Huntington’s mutation.

She was able to upgrade her insurance policy right away, but she resents having been discriminated against in the first place.

Stainsby said the federal government has recognized “just about every other major issue we’d hope to be protected from — our race, our religion, our skin colour, sexual identity.”

“Everything is protected, except genetics,” said Stainsby. “We have to have that protection.”

Canada: Enormous Court Legal Costs Force People to Self-Represent

Update: see previous post – April 11/16 Ontario: Justice Delayed is Justice Denied

Vector 3d icon of golden justice scales Stock Vector - 14181404
Gold Scales of Justice. The threshold for eligibility for Legal Aid financial assistance varies depending on household size and whether your case involves domestic violence, but the general qualification limit is an income of $12,000 to $14,000 for a one-person household and $31,000 to $40,000 for a family of five or more. Most people who need it, don’t qualify.

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Windsor law professor says more than half of family law litigants now in court without a lawyer

A few years after her divorce, Jana Saracevic owed her lawyers more than $100,000. She was still fighting her ex in court and had drained her savings and borrowed thousands to keep it up.

Tapped out, she found herself challenging her legal bill at a special hearing in Milton. Unable to afford counsel, Saracevic, like an increasing number of Canadians in her situation, chose to represent herself.

“I actually froze,” she recalled in an interview with the Star. “I was sweating, I was hyperventilating, I couldn’t speak … I had to fight against my whole body shutting down.”

The experience was part of a years-long nightmare dealing with immense legal bills and representing herself when she couldn’t afford them. Her divorce file finally closed last year, but she says she is still paying off that big fee she challenged (the matter was settled in mediation and she’s barred from discussing the result).

Saracevic is now an advocate for supporting people, like her, who must turn to self-representation in times of legal trouble. With legal fees on the rise—the most recent survey from Canadian Lawyer Magazine shows bills for civil and family cases have jumped markedly since the global recession — there’s an increasing number of people who can’t afford a lawyer, according to studies by Julie Macfarlane, a law professor and researcher at the University of Windsor.

“The number of people who are going to court without lawyers has gone up enormously,” Macfarlane said in an interview this week. “We know around half of the people that represent themselves begin with a lawyer. And they run out of money.”

Macfarlane added that, according to her research, more than 50 per cent of people going to family court this year will not have a lawyer.

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People who can’t afford to retain their own counsel for a family matter or a criminal matter can apply for legal aid; but most people will find that their application is rejected.

Cole Webber, with the Parkdale Legal Clinic, said there is a wide swath of people who can’t afford legal bills, but don’t qualify for Legal Aid assistance. The threshold for eligibility varies depending on household size and whether your case involves domestic violence, but the general qualification limit is an income of $12,000 to $14,000 for a one-person household and $31,000 to $40,000 for a family of five or more.

“You basically have to be on social assistance to even qualify,” Webber said.

Macfarlane agreed, and called it an impediment to universal access to justice.

“This isn’t any longer, ‘there’s a group we have to assist because they’re the poor and vulnerable.’ It’s most people, and it’s certainly the middle class,” she said.

Her ongoing study, called the National Self-Represented Litigants Project, consists of hundreds of interviews with Canadians who have chosen to forgo paying a lawyer so they can shepherd their own cases in court. She said she’s gathered that people seem to feel more entitled to challenge legal bills than in the past, based partially on what she believes is a cultural shift toward more willingness to challenge authority.

Self-represented litigants have also told her they get “seduced” by what appears to be widely available legal resources on the Internet and believe they might not need to fork out the cash for a lawyer.

The monument in square outside Law Society of Upper Canada proclaiming that we are all equal before the law. photo by fightyourtickets.ca
It is generally perceived that it is those with deep pockets that receive the best results in court. photo by fightyourtickets.ca

This may be a mistake, Macfarlane said. According to her research, between 2004 and 2014, 95 per cent of applications by a represented party to settle a court matter — called summary judgments — were successful against litigants without lawyers.

But the most common reason for self-representation is that people involved in lengthy court battles — whether it’s civil litigation or divorce drama — often don’t have enough money to foot their legal bills, Macfarlane said.

That probably won’t surprise you, given how average legal fees for a two-day civil trial in Canada jumped 43 per cent to $31,330, from 2014 to last year, according to Canadian Lawyer magazine’s most recent national survey. Hourly rates for lawyers with a decade of experience also jumped 12 per cent, the survey found.

This forces people to make difficult choices, Macfarlane said. People she’s interviewed frequently talk about how legal bills creep into the logic of their lives, sucking up resources and forcing them to contemplate cancelling vacations, taking out a second mortgage or closing the college fund for the kids.

“People start to make choices here. They just can’t go on paying,” she said.

Maia Bent, president of the Ontario Trial Lawyers’ Association, practises personal injury law in London, Ont. She said it’s not clear why legal fees change; many factors come into play, from inflation to office overhead. In her practice, she’s noticed that it’s costing more to hire medical and engineering experts to give opinions on aspects of her cases, spending that gets passed on to clients in the form of higher fees.

But regardless, she said, self-representation is an increasing problem in the legal system. “It’s unfortunate when people have to represent themselves,” she said, adding that schemes such as “contingency billing,” which involves withholding legal charges unless the lawyer wins the case, can help low-income people get legal representation. But that means the lawyer assumes the risk of losing the case and getting paid nothing.

“People who are shut out of the legal system because they can’t afford lawyers could enter into these arrangements,” Bent said.

Saracevic is hopeful things can get easier. Legal Aid recently started offering 10 free mediation sessions for divorcing couples — if one of them earns less than $50,000 per year — to avoid going to trial. And there are studies like Macfarlane’s to bring people together for support. Macfarlane added that better-trained court staff that can help people familiarize with the procedures of the system, including lawyers on hand who can help with “legal coaching,” could benefit people like Saracevic.

“We don’t know the procedures. The learning curve is steep. And it’s kicking our butt,” Saracevic said. “You need access to justice.”

Toronto council advised to let non-police personnel direct traffic

Update: see previous posts – Mar.29/16 Toronto Police No Longer Coming to Scene of Minor Collisions, but what’s Minor?, Mar.21/16 Toronto Police to Eliminate “21-Foot Rule.”, Dec.18/15 City Plans to Tinker With $100 Million Portion of Billion Dollar Police Budget,December 11, 2015 Toronto’s Mayor & Police Chief Not Interested in Saving Taxpayer’s Money, February 25, 2015 Toronto: Police Paid Duty Earnings Now Added to Sunshine List, May 16/14 Toronto: Police Performing “Paid Duty” Demand Free Street Parking As Well, May 16, 2014 Toronto: Toronto Police Union Has $26.1 Million Reasons to Defend “Paid Duty” and Attack Critics, May 15, 2014 Toronto: City Councillors Raise Issues Surrounding Toronto Police “Paid Duty”, November 13, 2012 Paid Duty: Toronto Police Cash Cow Continues Uninterrupted, September 26, 2011 Toronto Police Paid Duty for Construction Jobs To Discontinue,  September 21, 2010 CRA review Toronto Police’ “Paid Duty” and “Free Parking”

Toronto City Hall. Earlier this year, Tory and the seven-member police board signed off on a contract that gives officers wage increases of 2.75 per cent this year, 1.95 per cent next year, 1.9 per cent in 2017 and 1.75 per cent in 2018. That follows two previous contracts that bumped pay in excess of 20 per cent over seven years.
Toronto City Council will have an opportunity to review their own rules. photo by fightyourtickets.ca

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A new city staff report suggests properly trained civilians could do the job safely at less cost — if the province will allow it.

Lesser-paid special constables — not just police officers — should be permitted to direct traffic, and Toronto council should ask the province to make the legislative changes necessary to permit it, city staff say in a new report.

“City staff suggest that police powers should not be a prerequisite for directing traffic, and that other persons with appropriate training could fulfill the function safely and in a more cost-effective manner,” says the report.

That’s one of several recommendations in the report on the city’s cops-for-hire paid-duty program. It is on the agenda of next Monday’s executive committee meeting.

The province has already indicated “they see no legislative barriers” to the use of special constables,” the report states.

But reform in Toronto’s costly use of paid-duty officers is a long time coming.

Constables keeping their eyes on pylons at construction sites, or guarding equipment at construction sites receive $68.00 an hour (a minimum of $204.00) after the Toronto Police Union raised the rates on January 1, 2014. Now the Union has raised the rates by 4.6% bringing paid duty up to a minimum of $68.00 an hour (or one-and-a-half times a first-class officer’s yearly salary of $91,000.00). The Toronto Police Union made over 26 million off of paid duty in 2013.
The police union has always attacked critics of their paid duty. photo by fightyourtickets.ca

For years, along with calls to rein in the $1-billion-plus police budget, critics have questioned why highly paid and trained officers should receive extra money to guard construction sites, Blue Jays’ games, movie sets or special events when they’re off duty.

There is always pushback from the Toronto Police Association.

“The reason you have police officers is because they’re trained professionals, you have a police officer presence; risk, as far as insurance coverage, you have a professional out there,” TPA president Mike McCormack said Monday.

McCormack said the recommendations are a “smokescreen to get at on-duty policing and create two-tier policing.”

Indeed, for cash-strapped municipalities, there is a growing appetite for a two-tiered model. The Durham Regional Police Services Board recently wrote to the province asking it to allow more police work to be outsourced to civilians.

In 2011, Toronto police rejected then city auditor general Jeff Griffiths’ advice to consider creating a separate traffic authority, similar to what exists in Vancouver. There, cheaper special constables perform authorized duties, primarily directing traffic at special events.

Retired from city hall, Griffiths is now a member of the task force that is supposed to transform the Toronto Police Service — and cut its ballooning cost, driven upward mostly by salaries and benefits. Last year, Toronto Police added 500 more names to the provincial “sunshine list,” racking up 4,645 officers who earned more than $100,000 in 2015.

In the past, the police union, which sets paid-duty rates — $68 an hour for a minimum of three hours — has cited the Highway Traffic Act (“HTA”) as the reason only sworn officers can direct traffic.

But the new report says city staff have received a legal opinion that the HTA “may not be an impediment” and special constables could be appointed “with the authority to direct traffic in temporary situations under the HTA.”

Last year, a total of 3,132 officers received $25.5 million from paid-duty work, $1.49 million coming from the budgets of city divisions and agencies, such as Toronto Water, Transportation Services, Toronto Transit Commission and Economic Development and Culture.

However, the cost to taxpayers could also be higher, because “the TPS (Toronto Police Service) collects limited information about the paid-duty requestors,” some of whom might neglect to mention they are working for the city, the report says.

Ontario: Justice Delayed is Justice Denied

Update:

Superior Court of Justice on University Ave., Toronto. If after challenging your lawyer's fees, you are unsuccessful, you can challenge the Adjudicator's decision at Superior Court. photo by fightyourtickets.ca
Superior Court of Justice on University Ave., Toronto. If after challenging your lawyer’s fees, you are unsuccessful, you can challenge the Adjudicator’s decision at Superior Court. photo by fightyourtickets.ca

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There was a time, not that long ago, when George Argyropoulos was happy in his work. He’d turn up at the office before sunrise with a steaming cup of coffee to plug away in his obscure corner of the legal system.

Along with eight other provincial employees, Argyropoulos adjudicated disputes over legal bills between lawyers and their clients. They handled hundreds of cases per year in Toronto alone, some of them worth millions in contested fees. And he loved it.

Then his colleagues started disappearing. Three part-timers left and were not replaced. Two others moved on to different gigs in government. Another resigned. After Argyropoulos called it quits himself, in February, there were just two left.

Queen’s Park. The Povince has refused to maintain sufficient and adequate staffing levels to resolve these disputes, resulting in avoidable and unacceptable delays. photo by fightyourtickets.ca

And that, according to Argyropoulos and a slew of lawyers who spoke with the Star, is the crux of the problem. With a dearth of manpower devoted to the task, applications to fight legal bills in Toronto are languishing in a backlog of delayed cases — at a time, it’s worth noting, when surveys show lawyers’ fees ballooning to historic girth.

A recent Superior Court decision from Justice Sean Dunphy remarked on how Toronto’s legal profession is “frustrated” with the delays, which he said are “by all accounts, unacceptably long.”

Argyropoulos said it’s taking a year just to book a preliminary hearing when it used to take three months, and up to three years to get a final settlement. Beyond mere inconvenience (though certainly that), the former government worker argued, the delays are putting the whole principle of access to justice in jeopardy.

“It’s just a disaster,” Argyropoulos, 46, told the Star. “There are lawyers, believe it or not, that have called me and said: ‘George, I can die. I’ve got cancer. All I want is my money.’ I’ve heard this.

“And the public is not being serviced,” he added. “In essence they’re bringing the administration of justice into disrepute.”

The legal bill dispute system in Toronto is now run by two government workers called “hearings officers.” The branch of the province’s Ministry of the Attorney General handles about 750 disputes per year, Argyropoulos said. Anyone who gets a legal bill from a lawyer can apply for a bill “assessment” at the designated office near Osgoode Hall on University Ave.

A preliminary hearing is scheduled to review evidence that will be called and determine whether there will be witnesses; then a later hearing is held to decide whether the bill is fair or should be reduced.

Brendan Crawley, spokesperson for the Ministry of the Attorney General, said in an emailed statement that the government is committed to addressing the delays and is “actively exploring a number of options.” These include pulling in officers from other regions to help with the Toronto backlog, and recruiting new workers “in the near future.”

“We recognize that we have more work to do to address this important issue,” Crawley said.

Osgoode Hall. Anyone who gets a legal bill from a lawyer can apply for a bill “assessment” at the designated office near Osgoode Hall on University Ave. photo by fightyourtickets.ca

Robert Schipper is a lawyer in Toronto who frequently deals with the legal bill assessment process. A couple of weeks ago, he was at the assessment office to book a hearing. The earliest date they could give him, he said, was April 2018.

“Justice delayed is justice denied, and unfortunately we can’t accelerate the process because there aren’t enough hearing officers. There’s just two,” Schipper said.

Ramesh Mehta feels the same way. Last summer, he said he challenged a legal bill of more than $110,000 that he incurred trying to get money from a separate civil suit in Brampton. After filing his challenge, the assessment office in Toronto emailed him saying they had to adjourn his case because “we do not have any Assessment Officer available to hear your matter.” The next available date for a hearing, according to the email Mehta provided to the Star, was October 2016.

“Why don’t they have an officer?” Mehta asked. “It is too much of a long time.”

Low staffing also disrupts the opportunity to settle disputes by mediation, Schipper said. He explained that hearings officers can mediate and find collaborative solutions between parties and lawyers so that challenges are dealt with quicker. But if the officer tries this and fails, the same officer can’t be the adjudicator on the case when it goes to a full-blown assessment hearing. With only two officers left in Toronto, this can make delays longer or prevent possible mediations from taking place at all, Schipper said.

Mick Hassell sees the issue as a symptom of a court system beleaguered overall by short-staffing and delays. The lawyer suggested there may be too many procedural steps and not enough adjudicators or courtrooms, and that the justice system is stuck in the past, relying too heavily on paper instead of taking advantage of efficiencies of the digital era, such as email and electronic filing.

“Everything having to be served and filed; you’ve got to print it out, send it, swear an affidavit,” he said. “It’s very cumbersome just to send a document around. It’s as though the courts are oblivious to email.”

The monument in square outside Law Society of Upper Canada proclaiming that we are all equal before the law. photo by fightyourtickets.ca
The monument in square outside Law Society of Upper Canada proclaiming that we are all equal before the law. photo by fightyourtickets.ca

Lawyers also said that assessment cases are becoming more complex and convoluted, partially because legal bills have been rising for several years. James Morton, another lawyer who deals with assessments, said the average case used to be settled in an afternoon; now they can take several days or even weeks.

And the backlog could have consequences beyond delayed justice. Ben Hanuka, principal at the firm Law Works, said there’s a risk that lawyers who keep experiencing delayed payments because of a clogged assessment system could start demanding money upfront.

“The less credit a lawyer is prepared to extend to his client for the payment of bills, the more difficult it will be to access lawyers,” Hanuka said.

Argyropoulous, who worked in the assessment office for seven years, said that while the activity there may be little-known, the stakes are “incredibly high” for those involved.: lawyers owed large sums and clients who feel ripped off by potentially thousands of dollars.

“I really hope they fix it for the public’s sake. Because it’s only going to get worse,” he said.

“The public deserves better,” said Argyropoulous.

So, you want to challenge your legal bill…

You’ve just been walloped with a huge legal bill. You don’t like it, and it’s not fair.

What do you do?

Talk to your lawyer

This is the obvious first step, as proposed by the Law Society of Ontario and Pro Bono Law Ontario, a charity that helps low-income clients. If you don’t like your bill, tell your lawyer. Maybe they’ll trim some of the costs so that everyone’s happy.

Head down to 330 University Ave.

If that doesn’t work, it’s time to take measures into your own hands. Within one month of receiving your bill, you must bring four copies of it to the seventh-floor assessment office at 330 University Ave., the Canada Life Building. Pay the court filing fee, fill out a “requisition form” and then you’ll get a notice for a preliminary hearing date.

Serve your lawyer

To let your lawyer know this is going down, you must serve them the notice of assessment and the order, given to you by the assessment office, that the bill is being challenged. You can hire a personal service agent to deliver this, or just mail it yourself. Sidenote: Even if you’ve paid your bill, or if your lawyer claimed a portion of winnings in your legal case, you can still challenge your fees to get money back. You can also hire a lawyer to represent you in the assessment hearing process.

Preliminary hearing

Because of backlogs in the system, it’s likely you’ll have to wait up to a year to get to the next step. It’s possible that the hearings officer will mediate the disagreement between you and your lawyer, and try to arrive at a price that’s agreeable to both sides. If this can’t happen, then the officer will determine how much evidence will be presented by each side, and then book an assessment hearing at a later date. Again, because of the delays in the system, the hearing might not take place for up to two years.

The big show

Finally, at the assessment hearing, your lawyer must convince the presiding officer that your bill is “fair and reasonable,” according to the Solicitors Act. The officer considers a slew of factors, including: how much time the lawyer worked on your case; the amount of money at stake; your ability to pay the bill; the result of your case (if it’s over); and your lawyer’s skill and competence. The officer can deliver an oral decision at the hearing, or take time to think about it and deliver a written ruling. If you don’t like it, you can challenge the ruling by submitting a motion to the Superior Court of Ontario.

Fight for affordable internet to take centre stage at CRTC hearing today

Update: see previous post – February 25, 2016 Canada: Cable firms slow to share details about ‘skinny’ basic package and pick-and-pay TV

Alejandra Ruiz with the anti-poverty group ACORN says access to high-speed internet is a human right.

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Advocacy groups ready to lobby for cheaper internet at CRTC public hearing

Heidi Gatto browses a newspaper’s job ads. The classifieds were once the go-to section for people like her looking for work.

Not anymore. She counts just five advertised jobs, a sign of our digital times.

“All the job postings, all the important things we do is online,” says Gatto, a single mother living on social assistance in Toronto.

The problem for Gatto — she can’t afford home internet service.

Students require the internet to do their homework online.

And she’s not the only one in her family who suffers. Whenever Gatto’s 11-year-old son, Justin needs to do research for his school work, he must take the bus to his grandmother’s house where he can get online.

Gatto feels left out, not having access to a service she believes is now a necessity. “We all need it or we’re lost,” she says.

A large number of employers only accept online job applications, which forces applicants to go online to apply for a job.

National anti-poverty group, ACORN agrees. So it’s lobbying Canada’s telecommunications regulator, the CRTC to mandate that telecoms offer a subsidized $10-a-month high-speed internet option for low-income Canadians.

“It’s not a luxury anymore,” says ACORN spokeswoman Alejandra Ruiz. “It’s a human right.”

The organization will make its case during CRTC public hearings that start today in Gatineau, Que. The three-week event is part of a review looking at access to basic telecommunications services.

Affordable internet is certain to become a hot topic during the hearing.

Paying the price to connect

According to a new CRTC survey, only one to two per cent of respondents had no home internet service.

But many people who are connected still struggle with the cost.

The CRTC’s open survey of 29,000 Canadians found that 75 per cent said they were dissatisfied with the price of their home internet service.

More than half also reported they limited their access over the past year with one of the main reasons being cost.

The survey was conducted between Jan. 14 and Feb. 29 by polling firm EKOS.

ACORN says many of its low-income members who have high-speed internet pay for it by cutting back on other necessities, like groceries.

Amber Slegtenhorst from Ottawa says that’s her story.

“It’s difficult,” she admits to cover her $60 monthly bill for home phone and internet. But the single mother of five children says her family needs online access.

“It’s your connection to the world now,” says Slegtenhorst who works as a restaurant manager.

Many potential employers expect job applicants to send their resumes/CV’s to them online.

Son’s medical records online

Her two eldest children need internet for school work and Slegtenhorst requires it for everything from banking to accessing her 4-year-old son’s medical records. He has a severe medical condition and the hospital now makes everything available online.

“I need to have access to that information. That’s vital for him,” she says.

But there have been a couple of hiccups. Since she signed up 1.5 years ago, Slegtenhorst has lost her online access twice for about a month each time. That’s because she ran out of cash to pay her bill.

“It was rough,” she says.

Many employers send out employees’ T4’s online.

Are Canadians getting a bad deal?

Internet advocacy group Open Media will also testify at the CRTC hearings and plans to make affordability one if its top issues.

“When it comes to internet services, Canadians are really getting a bad deal,” argues Josh Tabish, the organization’s campaigns coordinator.

He points to a 2015 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development study showing, out of 34 countries, Canada had the 5th-highest entry level prices for fixed broadband internet subscriptions.

Tabish worries if internet providers are forced to subsidize the service for low-income Canadians, companies will make up the difference by raising prices for everyone else.

He argues the ultimate solution is to foster more competition which would drive down prices for high speed access for everybody.

“Until federal decision makers create more choice,” says Tabish, “Canadians can expect to continue paying some of the highest prices in the world.”

Rogers offers occasional internet to customers for $25 a month and an $8 modem rental a month ($447.48 a year – includes a 13% tax). They also offer a rate of $9.99 a month ($119.88 excluding taxes) if you reside in Ontario/New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador community housing. If not, you aren’t eligible for the $9.99 special.

A Rogers plan

Internet provider Rogers points out it offers service for as low as $25 a month. “We think that’s pretty reasonable,” says spokesperson Aaron Lazarus.

Rogers advertises its $25 deal as suitable for one person for “occasional, basic internet service.” The $8 modem rental is extra.

And for those who can’t afford it, the company has created a program where community housing residents living in Rogers service areas in Ontario, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador can apply for subsidized internet service for $9.99 a month.

The telecom says the project has the potential to provide subsidized service for up to 150,000 residents.

“We wanted to do this as our part,” says Lazarus.

ACORN applauds the project and Rogers challenges other providers to set up similar programs. But the company doesn’t believe telecoms should be forced to offer blanket subsidies to low-income Canadians.

“We think a competitive market is the best way to go,” says Lazarus.

Because Rogers just added the Ottawa arm of the program, Slegtenhorst doesn’t know yet if it would work for her.

Unfortunately, Gatto doesn’t live in Toronto community housing, which means she can’t apply.

So she’s hoping the CRTC will mandate a fixed price that she can afford, allowing her to get connected.

“It’s essential for everybody,” she says.