January 5th, 2022
Dr. Matthew S. Johnston's letter to Prime Minister Trudeau about the need for a federal disability benefit resonated widely with disabled Canadians.
Dr. Johnston talked with us about why a Canada Disability Benefit is so needed, the lack of progress in making it a reality, and how mental illness is overlooked as a disability.
Tell us about your background and interests
Matthew: I’m a sociologist. I completed my PhD in Sociology at Carleton University in 2019. My research explores the experiences of people in Canadian mental health systems.
Currently, I am completing a postdoctoral fellowship at Memorial University of Newfoundland and also teach courses in criminology, research methods, and the sociology of health at Carleton University and the University of Prince Edward Island.
But perhaps more pertinent to this conversation, I am a mental health survivor diagnosed with Schizophreniform Disorder, which is a form of schizophrenia.
I’ve encountered both positive and negative experiences in our mental health system, and I believe that survivor knowledge and advocacy are our best tools to convince others (namely, politicians) to reduce the hardships experienced by so many in our disability communities.
Why is a Canada Disability Benefit needed?
Matthew: I look at it this way: Are we satisfied with millions of people just scraping by, if at all, on whatever inadequate monies the provinces provide them? Or do we want Canada to provide a liveable income to those who are vulnerable and may not have the necessary resources and privileges to generate and sustain high incomes?
If we believe in doing the bare minimum, which will only prolong the problem and cost society more in the long run, then what I say next will probably have little effect.
But if we believe in real solutions to very real and urgent problems, then I urge everyone to get on board with pressuring the federal government to come through on their dated promise, now.
What would you want to see in such a benefit (eligibility, amount, etc.)?
Matthew: There are plenty of Parliamentarians and people working in federal public service who can find the appropriate and practical answer to such things, ideally answers that are based on research and input from the disability community.
In determining eligibility, I think any Canadian whose disability seriously inhibits their ability to work should be eligible. We call it a ‘safety net’ for a reason. Also, people with disabilities receiving much-needed assistance shouldn’t be deterred from contributing to the mainstream economy when or if they are able to.