Legal clinic aims to help people who don't officially exist

August 2, 2017

The government needs to do more to help people who are falling through the social safety net because they don't have personal identification, according to a clinic that specializes in poverty law in Thunder Bay, Ont.

Kinna-aweya Legal Clinic set up an ID bank in 2015 to provide vulnerable people with a safe place to store the personal documents but soon found a bigger problem was people who didn't have any identification to store, according to ID services coordinator Cheyanne DeGagne.

Since 2012, the clinic has helped about 800 people work through the cumbersome forms to receive birth certificates — the starting point for nearly all of the government's poverty reduction services.

"Clients will tell us that they've applied 4 or 5 times in the last year to get their ID and they still haven't been able to get it and in each of those cases, they've paid the fee and they're really frustrated," DeGagne told CBC in an interview on Tuesday.

Applying for a replacement birth certificate costs $35 in Ontario. Obtaining the documents needed for the application may cost even more.

Fee reduction

It's paperwork that often gets lost when people became estranged from their families through the child welfare system or marriage breakdown, DeGagne said.

"One of the things we'd like to see changed is a fee reduction for people who might be on social assistance because...that $35 dollars is a huge part of the monthly budget," she said.

People with brain injuries or limited literacy skills often struggle to fill out the online forms and sometimes the application is rejected for reasons that aren't clear to the applicant, DeGagne said.

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