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Ontario plans mandatory drug tests for people on welfare

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This story was published on Nov. 15, 2000. 

The plan to test welfare recipients for drugs was scaled back the following year. 

The government realized widespread testing would violate the Ontario Human Rights Code. 

The Progressive Conservative Ontario government is going to require people receiving welfare to take tests to see if they're on drugs, something no other government in Canada does.

The government says if welfare recipients refuse to take the tests, they won't get welfare.

If they do take the tests and are found to be using drugs, the Ontario government will force them to enter treatment programs or they too will be cut off.

Some groups are already saying they'll oppose the legislation because it violates basic human rights.

Liberal critic Michelle Gravelle called the mandatory tests a grotesque abuse of power and a farce.

"We could be talking about some serious invasion of people's fundamental freedoms," said Alan Borovoy of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

The province's own Human Rights Commission sent a letter to the government last year warning that denying welfare benefits to drug addicts is illegal.

Human Rights Commissioner Keith Norton says drug addiction is "a handicap" and people can't be kicked off welfare because of it.

But Social Services Minister John Baird says the government's plan is not meant to punish people.

"It's tough to get a job and hold a job if you're addicted to drugs. These people are in desperate need of help and if we can turn just one life around, we've met with success," Baird says.

Baird says the government will talk with the public, doctors, experts in addiction and social service agencies over the next month. He says the plan is to introduce the legislation in the new year.

There are 460,000 people on welfare in Ontario.

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