Our Canada

March 25th - Earlier today the opposition in Parliament defeated the governing Conservative Government, forcing a spring election.  Over the next 6 to 8 weeks Canadian are going to have hard choices to make about the kind of Canada we want.

I remember when the Government of Canada still thought affordable housing, poverty and consumer protections were priorities that mattered. Sadly, the last 5 years have not delivered that kind of leadership.

This election is going to give Canadians a chance to vote for the issues that matter to folks like us.  Can you help spread the word about ‘Our Canada’?

Just click here to share with your friends on Facebook

We know this election won’t solve every problem the country faces, but if we don’t demand better from all the parties in Ottawa we’ve solved nothing.

Thanks for everything you do,
Marva Burnett, Chair of the Board

Ottawa EMC: ACORN gets help from OPSEU

EMC News - For the third year in a row, Ottawa's branch of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, Canada (ACORN Canada) was given a helping hand from the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU).

OPSEU gave a donation of $5,000 for ACORN, a collection of community-based organizations that fights for the rights of the impoverished in cities across Canada.

Most recently, ACORN [Canada] provided free tax-return services and has been fighting for living wages and special diet allowances in government-based assistance programs.

" OPSEU's members provide a lot of services that ACORNs members rely on," said David Lundy, regional vice president for OPSEU. "We look at ACORN and see a group of like-minded community people who believe, as we do, people should come before profits and communities should come before corporations.

"We definitely put our support 100 per cent behind ACORN's drive to have a living wage in the City of Ottawa."
ACORN, on their behalf, was very appreciative of the donation.

"The donation was presented to us by OPSEU, which was deeply appreciated," said Wayne Mahoney, a volunteer with Ottawa ACORN.

Now Magazine: The True TCHC Scandal

It’s a windy Tuesday (March 15) afternoon at the corner of Eglinton Ave. and Markham Rd. in Scarborough. It feels much colder than the forecasted six degrees – but you’d never know by the energetic group that has gathered here.

People chant and wave handmade signs: “Cockroaches don’t pay rent!”, “Revitalize don’t privatize,” and “TCHC: Show us the money!” while others urge passersby to “Honk for better housing.”

As the media frenzy surrounding the TCHC spending scandal continues, tenants at 3171 and 3181 Eglinton Ave. E. want to turn attention away from chocolates and spa dates. What’s happening here gets to the guts of TCHC’s problems — poor service to the tenant’s it’s serving.

This collection of tenants, some of whom are members of ACORN Canada, a community organization dedicated to justice for low and moderate-income families, have invited mayor Rob Ford and city councillor Gary Crawford today to see their living conditions – and to ask when real improvements will be made under new management. Neither show

Toronto Sun: Boy shivers because of broken window at TCHC building

Ryan Elsherif has to wear three layers of clothing and triple up on the blankets to get to sleep because the bedroom window at his Toronto Community Housing Corp. apartment has been broken for two months.

“It is just so cold at night. Sometimes I come out and sleep on the couch but I hate that because it is so hard,” said Ryan, 11, who lives at 3171 Eglinton Ave. E.

“I think they are lazy. They aren’t doing anything else even though they have a whole lot to do around here,” he said Wednesday.

Ryan’s mother, Leslie Schofield, said she has been to the TCHC offices numerous times to get the window repaired. It broke while there was a flood in the building.

“The property manager has seen it and just keeps saying we will get back to you and they don’t. It makes me feel terrible that my son has had to put up with this,” said Schofield, who works six hours a week as a lunchroom supervisor at her son’s school. “I wish I could stop paying my rent, but it gets paid directly through Ontario Works.”

Jeffrey Ferrier, a spokesman for TCHC said they dispatched staff to meet with Schofield Wednesday afternoon and discovered the inside pane is intact and the outside pane is broken but will be fixed “shortly” buy the property management company Fengate.

“We have also met with representatives of the private company that manages the building on our behalf to make sure that they understand the need to act quickly to fix problems like this,” Ferrier said in an e-mail.

But it is outrageous that these kinds of conditions exist in Toronto, said Natalie Hundt with the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now [Canada].

“The level of neglect for livable, affordable housing in this city is unacceptable and shameful,” Hundt said. “Mayor Ford has been talking a lot about restoring public confidence in TCHC and ACORN [Canada] is using this opportunity to draw attention to the deplorable conditions in the buildings with the hope that something might now change.”

Ferrier said the window was one of several issues raised by the buildings tenants and TCHC staff will be at the building next Wednesday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. to hear those concerns.

You can read the original article at:

Inside Toronto: TCH residents share stories of poor living conditions, safety problems

For about two months now, Ryan Elsherif, 11, has had to look at the world outside his Scarborough bedroom through a shattered window.

"We had to go out and buy a heater and it's still pretty cold at night," the boy said Tuesday as tenants of two public housing highrises invited reporters to see conditions there.

In Ryan's case, his bedroom carpet was a casualty of a flood that drove him out of the ground floor unit at 3171 Eglinton Ave. E. he shares with his mother, Lesley Schofield, for a week.

When the boy returned, he saw the window was broken.

Schofield said she's made five trips to the management office for the building but the window is still broken, parquet tiles near the apartment's kitchen are loose or missing, and radiator covers Schofield said must be replaced lie on the floor.

Management employees who visit, the part-time lunchroom supervisor charged, "just jot things in a book, and forget about it."

Ottawa ACORN thanks OPSEU for continued support

March 14th, 2011 - Today, members of Ottawa ACORN are extending their warmest gratitude to the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) for their continued support.

Dave Lundy, a regional Vice-President at OPSEU joined members Wayne Mahoney and Anthony Dipoce at the Ottawa ACORN office and presented a cheque for $5000.00 to support continue organizing in the city.

Ottawa ACORN members are looking forward to working with OPSEU throughout 2011 as their Living Wage Campaign comes before City Council and other initiatives continue to progress.  Labour-Community alliances like the one between OPSEU and Ottawa ACORN allow working families in and out of unions to collaborate on issues and campaigns of mutual concern.

Actions nationwide to regulate remittance transfers

March 3, 2011 - Yesterday ACORN Canada members from 20 chapters nationwide called on the Provincial Governments and the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC) to take immediate steps to regulate the remittance industry in Canada.  Remittance providers have been shown to charge as much as $50 in fees for a simple $100 remittance from Canada to a country in the developing world.

In Metro Vancouver ACORN Canada members marched to the headquarters of the Financial Institutions Commission (FICOM) in Surrey and held a rally.  Leader Pascal Apuwa delivered a letter and a copy of of the report Past Time for Remittance Justice to the CEO Carolyn Rogers and secured a future meeting to discuss steps that FICOM could take to rein in this rogue industry.

In Ottawa 25 members were joined by member of SEIU Canada local 2 and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers for a rally at the FCAC.  Leader Michelle Walrond delivered a letter to the FCAC calling on them to bring in regulations that meet the World Bank’s recommended rate cap of 5% on all remittance fee’s.

In Toronto members held a press conference on the steps of the Ontario Ministry of Finance after being refused entry to deliver a letter to the Minister of Finance’s office.  Global TV and  other press outlets covered the event.


Fast Forward Weekly: Bank fees 'killing' migrant workers

An international community-based, low-income advocacy organization is calling on the Canadian government to regulate the “predatory” remittance industry.

The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, Canada (ACORN Canada) says the unregulated practise of charging up to 50 per cent for money transfers — a $400-billion industry according to the World Bank — is punishing migrant workers and immigrants, many of whom send money to their families back home.

“The remittance fee is killing us,” says Kay Bisnath, president of ACORN International. “Migrant workers’ and immigrants’ families depend on the money that their loved ones in Canada and around the world send to their homeland.”

Bisnath says banks and money transfer businesses can charge as much as 50 per cent in remittance fees. A migrant worker sending $100 to their family can be charged between $32 and $35 through the TD Bank, says Bisnath. “When you have to pay all these remittance fees, what are the loved ones left with?”

ACORN is calling for the Canadian government to limit the amount banks and financial institutions can charge to five per cent.
“We’re trying to end this predatory practise by the banks and financial agencies,” says Bisnath.

The original article is available at:

Toronto Sun: Ontario toughens welfare diet rules

Extra cash for chronically ill welfare recipients to eat healthy will be harder to get starting April 1 under new rules designed to combat fraud and comply with an Ontario Human Rights Tribunal ruling -- changes that are making some sick people nervous.

"We really do not want to disadvantage people who need the special diet allowance, people who are ill and who need that extra money to live with their illness or condition," Rebecca MacKenzie, a spokesman for Community and Social Services Minister Madeleine Meilleur said.

"At the same time, fraud is unacceptable," she said. "Fraud that happens hurts everyone else who is in the program for the correct reasons."

As of April, recipients of the special diet allowance will all have to reapply for the program, consent to have their relevant medical records checked and have their applications signed by a doctor or registered nurse practitioner, nutritionist or midwife.

As well, there are changes to the rates people with different conditions would be paid, with some afflictions getting less money or delisted altogether.

Those changes were the result of the human rights case in which patients with conditions such as diabetes or obesity that did not qualify for the program sued.

The tribunal ruled in their favour so the province set up a panel of medical experts to recommend which conditions would qualify.

MacKenzie said while people with some conditions may qualify for less money, many will qualify for more.

But Edward Lantz is nervous.

Georgia Straight: Surrey council should do the right thing and endorse living wage

The time has come for Surrey to follow the lead of New Westminster and endorse a living wage policy.

A “living wage” is meant to reflect the actual income required for a two-earner, two-child household to live above the poverty line. Adopted at the civic level, it would apply to anyone working for the city. As most city staff are all already above this level, the policy is aimed at independent contractors working for the city.

The living wage policy passed unanimously by New Westminster council last year will see workers paid at least $16.74 per hour. Last month, Esquimalt passed a similar policy, and the municipalities of Cowichan, Williams Lake, and Cranbrook are considering it.

Living wage policies are currently being advocated for by ACORN Canada, the B.C. Federation of Labour, and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the latter having recently calculated that a living wage for families is $18.17 an hour in Vancouver and $17.30 in Victoria.

If Surrey were to do the right thing and endorse such a policy, it would not be the first time.

In 1993, Surrey Civic Electors councillor Gary Robinson and then-mayor Bob Bose were successful in implementing a living wage for the city. At the time, Robinson explained that contractors providing flag services for the city were paying substandard wages to their employees, the majority of whom were women.


Ottawa EMC: Community group tells government to 'have a heart' on Valentine's Day

EMC News - Friends and volunteers of the Ottawa Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now took to the streets on Valentine's Day to convince the provincial government to improve social assistance.

The protest at 351 Preston St. is the start of ACORN's 10 week campaign to increase social assistance rates, maintain special diet allowances, improve medical coverage, stop clawbacks in support, and support housing benefits.

To get the message across, ACORN will be releasing a story per week of the hardships faced by those living off of the Ontario Works or Ontario Disability Support Program.

"We're taking ten people's stories of people receiving provincial assistance," said Kathleen Fortin, chair of Mechanicsville/Hintonburg ACORN and recipient of ODSP. "The amount that people are getting on assistance is not meeting their needs."

According to a release from ACORN, "many families spend most of their assistance benefits just to cover their rent and this is driving people into abject poverty. To bring the rates back up to pre-1995 levels adjusted for inflation would require a 50 per cent increase."

The protest had 26 members present. The group put together a Valentine's card to send to the McGuinty government, telling the provincial government to "have a heart."

"The thing we're complaining about, is when Mike Harris was in power, he significantly cut social programs," said Fortin.

Ottawa EMC: ACORN providing free tax returns for low income families

Low-income families throughout Ottawa won't have to worry about losing a portion of their tax return to processing fees this tax season.

The Ottawa chapter of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now [Canada] (ACORN Canada) is providing free tax return service for the less privileged in the community.

The program is made possible through the efforts of volunteers like Keisha Lim, a fourth-year economics student at the University of Ottawa who is also serving as the tax clinic coordinator.

"On average, we save people around $80 by doing their taxes here," said Lim. "This is the third year that ACORN has been running the tax service. We have done 1,266 tax returns the last two years, and 244 for back taxes. We've put back $1.6 million into the neighbourhood through those savings."

This is the third year the program has been serving the community, and has done roughly 600 returns per year.

"We're here to help people," said Lim. "Instead of putting money in the pockets of corporations, we're letting people keep that money themselves."

The program has helped people from all over the Ottawa area, from places as far away as North Grenville, Kanata, and Orleans.

The Link: Surrey Council Needs To Endorse New Westminister’s Living Wage Policy

The time has come for Surrey to follow the lead of New Westminster and endorse a living wage policy.

A ‘living wage’ is meant to reflect the actual income required for a two-earner, two-child household to live above the poverty line. Adopted at the civic level, it would apply to anyone working for the city. As most city staff are all already above this level, the policy is aimed at independent contractors working for the city.

The living wage policy passed unanimously by New Westminster Council last September will see workers paid at least $16.74 per hour. This month, Esquimalt passed a similar policy, and the municipalities of Cowichan, Williams Lake, and Cranbrook.

Living wage policies are currently being advocated for by ACORN Canada, the BC Federation of Labour, and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the latter having recently calculated that a living wage for families is $18.17 an hour in Vancouver and $17.30 in Victoria.

If Surrey were to do the right thing and endorse such a policy, it would not be the first time.

In 1993, Surrey Civic Electors Councillor Gary Robinson and Mayor Bob Bose were successful in implementing a living wage for the city. At the time, Robinson explained that contractors providing flag services for the city were paying sub-standard wages to their employees, the majority of whom were women.

SCC Councillor Bob Bose will table a motion in the next few weeks to Surrey Council to revive this idea.


Ottawa Citizen: Tax clinics bridge gap for low-income earners

ACORN [Canada] and other antipoverty organizations offer those in need affordable tax-filing alternatives to paying hefty fees for instant cash refunds, Don Butler writes.

Last year, Wayne Mahoney paid a company $130 to prepare his income-tax return and issue him an instant tax refund. The fee was painful, but he urgently needed the money to pay some bills. "It's a big hole in my pocket," says Mahoney, 55, who lives with his wife in subsidized housing in Ottawa's west end on a $1,500-a-month disability pension. "I basically came out on the short end of the stick." Mahoney needs help with his taxes because, he admits, "I don't understand the tax system. And if you can't understand the tax system, you can't win."

This year, though, he's getting his tax return done at no charge by volunteers at Ottawa ACORN, the local chapter of a national anti-poverty organization. It's the third year that Ottawa ACORN (the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) has offered the free tax-preparation service. In the past two years, it has filed 1,266 tax returns for low-and moderate-income Ottawans.

Time for a Standards and Maintenance Bylaw to protect Surrey tenants

Surrey ACORN member Sue Collard is leading a campaign a see the City of Surrey enact its first ever bylaw setting minimum requirements for apartment standards.

After learning of the absence of a municipal ordinance, Sue appealed to the Provincial Residential Tenancy Branch for help in getting her landlord Waterford Development Limited to make basic repairs in her building. When the Residential Tenancy Branch ruled that they were unable to compel a landlord to fix systemic problems in apartment building, Sue took her fight to the BC Supreme Court.

It was at the BC Supreme Court, that Sue started to see new progress with the court ruling that the Residential Tenancy Act includes a:

“mandatory obligation on the part of a landlord to maintain ‘residential property’ in a state of decoration and repair”.

This is an important win for tenants in Surrey and highlights the need for Surrey to adopt a local bylaw to protect tenants from negligent landlords like Sue’s.

This story was recently covered in the Georgia Straight, and the original article can be viewed at:


PERC: Red Tents or Affordable Housing?


Jan 16th - The article below is taken from the Peace and Environment Resource Centre in Ottawa, written by Denise Deby.

Dozens of red tents appeared on Parliament Hill last October 19. The tents marked Canada Day of Action for a Federal Housing Strategy, held to coincide with the third reading in Parliament of Bill C-304, "An Act to Ensure Secure, Adequate, Accessible and Affordable Housing for Canadians."

About 150 housing advocates from Ottawa, Toronto, London and Montreal, along with the public, attended a rally on Parliament Hill and at the Human Rights Monument. Related events took place in 10 other Canadian cities. Over 20 national and local housing groups organized the tent event. They include Pivot Legal Society, Canada Without Poverty (CWP) Advocacy Network, ACORN Canada, Impact on Communities Coalition, Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, Alliance to End Homelessness Ottawa, and le Front d'action populaire en réaménagement urbain (FRAPRU).

The idea of using red tents to draw attention to governments' responsibility for housing as a human right came from campaigns in France in 2006 and in Vancouver during the 2010 Olympics.

In Canada, an estimated 300,000 people are homeless, with millions more in substandard or unaffordable housing, reports the non-profit Wellesley Institute. In Ottawa, over 10,000 households are waitlisted for social housing. In 2009, 7,500 people in Ottawa stayed in emergency shelters, according to the Alliance to End Homelessness.

Read the full original article at: Organization fights against what it calls social injustice

Jan 21st - came out with a great piece looking at Ottawa ACORN's work to ensure that Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program recieve the funding they deserve, it's reproduced below:

The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now’s (ACORN Canada) latest campaign is getting set to launch. This year they want to make politicians sit up and notice there needs to be improvements to the social assistance system.

ACORN [Canada]’s purpose is to fight for social justice for low income families across Canada. There are 30,000 members in 20 neighbourhood chapters in six Canadian cities.

“We are focused on two points in this campaign – to increase the rates of Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program and ensure that the special diet allowance program remains in place,” ACORN board member Kathleen Fortin said.

The meeting will address member’s issues and work on building a strategy on how to get the attention of provincial candidates, MPPs and opposing parties as they get ready to start their 2011 election campaign across Ontario. Fortin said she hopes they will be able to make candidates take note of the needs of those living on an Ontario Works income.

The special diet allowance helps people on Ontario Works and on Ontario Disability Support program manage their health needs, such as diabetes. The McGuinty government announced in March 2010 that changes to the special diet will take place, meaning some who were once eligible for the extra $250 a month allowance will no longer be eligible. Fortin wants the special diet allowance to also be addressed because of concerns members have had about notices they received questioning their diet needs.

Ottawa Metro: Businesses asked to support living wage

Jan 13th - Ottawa's Metro newspaper feature an article last month on the growing efforts to engage businesses as supporters of that cityies living wage campaign.

Fair wages will be the topic of discussion at Cycle Logic Friday morning as members of Ottawa ACORN gather support for the Living Wage campaign.

Local businessman Ian Fraser will host the event in order to ask other businesses to follow him by making a living wage part of their policies.

“The current minimum wage is not a living wage,” he said.  Nadia Willard, a supporter of Living Wage, said Statistics Canada has proven that employees need to make at least $13.50 per hour in order to meet their basic needs.

“If we want to deal with poverty in a significant way, we must end up paying people who do an honest day’s living,” she said.

The original article can be found at:

PERC: A Living Wage Campaign in Ottawa

Jan 12th - Ottawa's Peace and Environment Resource Centre ( included an article written by Ottawa ACORN leader Michelle Walrond in their recent newsletter.  The article is reproduced below.

We at Ottawa ACORN came to know of the need for a living wage from conversations with our numerous low-to-moderate-income members. Thousands of working poor struggle with jobs that do not pay enough to meet basic needs, such as food, shelter and clothing. The numbers of businesses that pay "poverty wages" is staggering. Ottawa ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) is a non-profit organization focusing on social justice at the local level.

Ottawa ACORN has established the following goals:

  • 1. Raise public awareness that City government contractors have been underpaying workers, even though the City recently enacted the Ethical Procurement Policy banning the use of sweatshops and child labor.
  • 2. Push to have a bylaw enacted at the municipal level to ensure a minimum wage of $13-$15 per hour for all City government contractor employees.
  • 3. Get city council to pass The Poverty Reductions Strategy, which includes ACORN's living wage motion.

In May 2009, Ottawa ACORN kicked off our Living Wage campaign. The first job was to raise public awareness, a daunting task that involves both going door-to-door to speak directly to citizens, and having meetings with public officials and the media to inform them of the issues and solicit support.

Royal City Record: It was a year of 'firsts' in the Royal City

Dec 29th - New Westminster's Royal City Record gave ACORN Canada a mention in their year end piece on the biggest news stories of the year.  Check it out below:


In April, the City of New Westminster adopted a living wage policy.

Considered a first in Canada, the policy drew accolades from health and poverty groups from across the country. A living wage is often defined as being the minimum hourly wage that's necessary for a family of four, with two parents working full-time, to pay for food, shelter and other daily needs.

"New Westminster is the first city in Western Canada - why not be the first city in other things as well," said Coun. Jaimie McEvoy, who proposed the policy. "The pioneers would be proud."

While the details of the living wage rate were still being debated at year-end, council unanimously supported the policy.

The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN Canada), which lobbied council to adopt a living wage bylaw, said a living wage policy brings benefits, including workers spending more money locally and businesses having less turnover and more productivity.

Full article at:

Wrapping up another year

Payday loan regulations.  Living wage policies.  Apartment repairs.  These are the kind of bread and butter issues ACORN Canada has been winning real benefits for low and moderate income families for over 6 years now.

On issue after issue, ACORN Canada has shown we’re different - that we are uniquely able to deliver tangible social change on the issues that impact our members.

It’s time to take things to the next level.  We’re looking into 2011 and planning how to win a living wage policy in Ottawa, improved apartment inspections in Toronto, a raise in the minimum wage across BC and a National Affordable Housing Strategy.

2011 is going to be a big year - and we’re going to need folks like you to help make it happen.  Can you chip in $5 or more a month? Just click here:

  • Payday Loans: This was our first campaign, and has led the Governments of British Columbia and Ontario to bring in new regulations including capping the fees and interest that can be charged.
  • Living Wages: This spring we helped pass Canada’s first municipal living wage policy in New Westminster, and Ottawa ACORN continues to spearhead a similar campaign in Ottawa.
  • Apartment Repairs:  It is estimated that Toronto’s new apartment inspection regime has forced large institutional landlords to spend upwards of $100 million to bring their buildings up to municipal code.

These aren’t always the issues that are on the front pages of the newspapers, but they’re the issues that matter to our members - average low and moderate income Canadians.

If you can chip in $5 or more a month Iwe’ll send you a copy of the new book Global Grassroots: Perspectives of Global Community Organizing.  Chip in here:

Toronto Star: Immigrants gouged on money transfers

December 10th, 2010 by Carol Goar in the Toronto Star

They fought to get their landlords to clean up their cockroach-infested apartments and won. They fought to get payday lenders to lower their astronomical borrowing rates and won. Now ACORN Canada, a network of low-income Canadians, is embarking on its most ambitious project.

It has just launched a campaign to get North American banks to reduce the “predatory” fees they charge immigrants and migrant workers to transfer money to their families back home.

ACORN made its first move Monday. It released a report showing the rates charged by Canada’s chartered banks, their American counterparts and two money-transfer companies to send $100 to various destinations.

The figures were startling. Fees ranged from $3.70 to $66.25 (not including the pickup charges usually imposed at the receiving end).

Here is a sample, using a transfer of $100 from Toronto to Mexico:

• MoneyGram, which has the lowest fees, charges between $3 and $10 (depending on the service and destination) plus an exchange rate fee of 70 cents for a maximum total of $10.70.

New report on affordable housing

Dec. 1, 2010 - ACORN Canada was disappointed with the release Monday of Premier McGuinty’s long term affordable housing strategy.  After years of advocating for a provincial housing plan that will address the affordable housing crisis in substantial way, ACORN members, tenants, and low-income residents across Ontario expected much from the Province.

As the Toronto Star pointed out in their editorial response to the release of the housing plan, it "...[the housing plan] is little more than a series of regulatory changes” in the place of a comprehensive plan to address housing affordability.

Today, ACORN Canada along with the Wellesley Institute are releasing our own report on a key policy that was left out of the housing plan: Inclusionary Housing.

Inclusionary housing policies are powerful tools that Ontario municipalities can use to build new affordable housing.   They work by changing zoning practices to mandate affordable units in all new residential development, thus creating a permanent stock of affordable housing located in every new housing development, and thereby spread across the community.