TORONTO – The Ontario Public Service Employees Union is in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice Wednesday fighting off a government move to shut down a charter challenge to its failed computer system for administering social assistance.
The union launched the challenge in December on behalf of the thousands of Ontarians on social assistance and disability support whose income was dramatically and erratically affected by the introduction of the Social Assistance Management System (SAMS).
In the months leading up to the first run of SAMS in November, 2014, the union warned that the program was so flawed, it posed a serious threat to the vulnerable citizens who depend on government funding to survive. It launched the court case in December when it became clear that the scope of the problem was far worse than anyone anticipated.
“Our point is that the government has run roughshod over people’s charter rights to security of the person by barging ahead with a system that was known to be demonstrably inadequate,” said OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas.
“This is not a labour relations issue for us. This is a question of fundamental justice that the union feels warrants a full hearing,” Thomas said. “The government is trying to shut down that hearing rather than explain before the courts why they prematurely unleashed a technical monster on some of the poorest citizens of this province.”
The SAMS system continues to malfunction and the complaints are piling in from municipalities and individuals, he said. “PricewaterhouseCoopers, hired by the government, just produced an interim report confirming everything we have been saying.”
“Community and Social Services Minister Helena Jaczek may think this is equivalent to being irritated by her Blackberry acting up, but how much hardship did her smart phone really give her?
“There are people who have been evicted from their apartments because the government rent cheque didn’t come through. People have had to borrow to get to medical appointments, and the government won’t cover the interest. I don’t think the minister understands the magnitude of this,” Thomas said. “If she does understand, her hard-heartedness is off the scale.”