Disabled Ontario man launches Human Rights challenge citing ‘unreasonable and undignified access to cannabis’

Ken Harrower (CNW Group/Selwyn Pieters Law)

Exactly one month after cannabis retailers were instructed to open their doors in Ontario a wheelchair-bound Toronto man held a press conference regarding his Human Rights challenge against The Attorney General of Ontario, The Office of the Premier of Ontario and The Toronto Police Service.

In his challenge, Ken Harrower argues the current cannabis retail system launched by the Government of Ontario – the Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS) – is “arbitrary, flawed and discriminatory against people with disabilities and limited financial means.”

According to a May 1 release, Harrower suffers from Arthrogryposis Multiplex Congenita (AMC), a congenital joint contracture condition, as well as several other conditions including Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD) and Celiac Disease. In addition to his disabilities and illnesses, Harrower says he has limited funds, making the OCS system “unreasonable and flawed.”

Harrower says the current system requires him to access unlicensed retailers, chew raw cannabis or seek out gluten-free edibles.

“As a result of his COPD condition, Ken is unable to smoke cannabis and must either eat gluten-free cannabis in edible form or eat raw cannabis itself. Given his disabilities, he is unable to work full-time, making him reliant on the Ontario Disability Support Program where he receives very limited funds that do not adequately cover his day-to-day expenses. Ken often must panhandle on the streets of Toronto to make ends meet,” states a release issued by Selwyn Pieters Law.

Harrower says the OCS system “completely discriminates against people with disabilities and limited financial means like myself.”

“This is a matter of necessity, not preference for me. Given changes to Ontario’s system for accessing cannabis, I have had to resort to buying it from local unlicensed retailers,” Harrower added. “I am unable to access regulated products which would help me to alleviate my symptoms. I have been to the other newly-created retailers in Toronto and they turned me away. In addition, the OCS cannot provide me with urgent, on-demand access and it is far too expensive for me. I am here today to help others facing a similar situation.”

Representing Harrower is Toronto-based lawyer and civil rights activist, Selwyn Pieters.

“We are here today to help medical cannabis users like Ken, a disabled man from Toronto, get the attention he deserves while addressing the flaws created by the OCS retail system,” said Selwyn Pieters. “The poorly planned phased approach for the roll-out of retail cannabis outlets as outlined by the Ontario government has neglected to take into account the needs of all Canadians – especially those who are disabled and those with limited financial means – and we hope Ken’s Human Rights case helps bring much-needed change to this flawed and undignified system.”

Also participating in the legal action is cannabis legalization activist and prominent cannabis lawyer, Jack Lloyd.

“We have to be very cautious that the rights of medical cannabis patients are not forgotten in the midst of the emergent recreational cannabis industry,” said Lloyd. “People like Ken have a right to access their medicine in a dignified and reasonable manner. The current recreational and medical cannabis models do not provide many individuals like Mr. Harrower with sufficient access to their medicine. In effect, the legal regime creates a situation where Ken is prohibited from accessing cannabis.”

Asked for comment, Ontario’s Ministry of the Attorney General’s Office provided BotaniQ Magazine with this emailed statement:

“Ontario’s position, as found in the Response filed with the Tribunal in case number 2019-35565, is that Ontario has no role in the regulation of medical cannabis since it is governed by federal legislation. Accordingly, the Tribunal has no jurisdiction over the substance of the applicant’s claim,” the statement reads.

“In response to the federal government’s legalization of recreational cannabis, Ontario has implemented a cannabis model designed to protect young people, keep roads and communities safe, and combat the illegal market,” it continues. “As this matter is subject to litigation and before the Tribunal, it would be inappropriate to comment further.”

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