It can be challenging to keep track of personal identification documents when you live on the street. PBSC runs 11 ID Clinics across Canada that assist homeless and marginally housed individuals apply for the identification they need to access medical care, apply for social assistance, secure housing, cash a cheque – or even to vote. As Carly Stanhope, the PBSC student who developed and launched our Vancouver ID Clinic notes: “Without ID, folks cannot access their basic human rights.”
According to The State of Homelessness in Canada 2016, over 235,000 Canadians experience homelessness in a given year. Homeless and marginally housed individuals are increasingly susceptible to having their ID stolen. According to one study, more than a third of homeless or precariously-housed people in Toronto are missing at least one piece of ID.
In 2016, recognizing that there was a need for services to support vulnerable individuals who require initial or replacement identification documents, PBSC, in collaboration with a number of partners, launched our first ID Project at Lawyers Feed the Hungry in Toronto.
As part of the project, PBSC law students help extremely marginalized people obtain their health cards, birth certificates, provincial photo cards and social assistance cards. Law students complete the forms required to obtain identification documents, while the pro bono lawyers provide summary advice on other legal issues clients may be facing. Where needed, volunteers make meaningful referrals to other legal services and providers.
Today, PBSC offers ID services through three clinics in Toronto, as well as clinics in Victoria, Vancouver, Saskatoon, London, Ottawa, Windsor, Kingston and Thunder Bay. (As an off-shoot of the project, PBSC launched a Trans ID Clinic, providing assistance with ID applications, name changes, gender marker changes and other related identification).
Replacing identification is costly, and PBSC’s clients are not in a position to pay the processing fees required. In Ontario, replacing a photo ID card is $35. In addition, having one kind of ID is often a prerequisite to obtaining another one. For example, to qualify for an Ontario photo ID card, a birth certificate needs to be produced, which requires an additional $35. In this way, securing ID is not only time-consuming, paper-intensive and often times confusing, for people living on the street, it is prohibitively expensive.
Last spring, PBSC was delighted to partner with our Queens PBSC chapter, Queen’s Law Clinics Executive Director Karla McGrath, and then-MPP Sophie Kiwala on Private Member’s Bill 26, the Fee Waivers Act. The Act would have established a fee waiver system to permit low-income Ontario residents to obtain birth certificates and Ontario Photo Cards at no cost. The development of Bill 26 reflects the potential PBSC’s work has to inspire law reform efforts, and have an even larger impact socially.
Despite the unanimous support for the legislation by the legislature, the Bill had only passed its second reading at the time of the Ontario election in June. The process of getting the Bill passed has paused, but under Karla McGrath’s leadership, we are hopeful that another MPP will step up to the plate to re-introduce the legislation. We also plan to work with our chapters in other provinces to initiate similar law reform efforts.
For updates on next steps and to support the next Fee Waiver Bill, email firstname.lastname@example.org. For coverage of the effort to pass Bill 26, click here.