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April 20, 2022

Grey Highlands man calls municipal policies outdated, leading disabled residents into poverty

Eli Prociw

BY SOUTHGREY STAFF — Eli Prociw is a man on a mission. The 56-year-old retired home builder is in a literal fight for his life. Diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder, the Flesherton resident has spent the last 10 years battling with the disease, medical professionals, different levels of government and various legal authorities in an attempt to receive accommodation for his disability.

Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) is a disease that weakens the connective tissues of your body causing debilitating hypermobility. It can be responsible for an array of serious physical problems, ranging from joint pain to cardiovascular issues such as the weakening of blood vessels and organs. "It took years for a diagnosis," said Prociw, who went from one doctor to another treating his problems as though they were all in his head. In 2012, he was no longer able to work. That's when his troubles really began.

After years of misdiagnoses, he was finally tested and assessed by a Toronto clinic specializing in the disorder. Although Eli felt a sense of relief that the source of his problems were now known, time was catching up with him. Unable to keep up with bills, Eli had been selling his possessions — furniture, toys, collectables and records accumulated throughout his life, as well as his vintage car — just to make ends meet.

In 2016, he applied to Revenue Canada for CPP disability benefits. Originally denied because he had honestly declared income from the sale of his personal belongings, the decision to deny his application was eventually overturned on appeal. Delays in the process took their toll and it was four years of waiting before he received his first CPP disability cheque.

During the eight years between the loss of his job and the long-awaited delivery of financial aid from Revenue Canada, municipal property taxes were piling up, compounded by interest and late penalty charges. A homeowner in the Municipality of Grey Highlands, he was unable to access any accommodations for disabled residents, largely because an accommodation for his predicament doesn't exist in the Grey Highlands Municipal Policy. According to Prociw, many Ontario municipalities include accommodations for the disabled within their policies but such accommodations are the purview of each municipality with regard to managing the delivery of their own municipal services.

Repeated appeals to municipal staff to defer property tax payments until he had the resources to pay them and/or forgive late payment charges were met with rejection. In March, 2021, he wrote an official letter to the treasurer explaining his circumstance and requesting leniency. Prociw said that his request was passed on to Council and discussed in a closed-door meeting where Council members decided to take no action to alleviate his situation. He has since filed a Freedom of Information Request to uncover the minutes of that meeting.

Unhappy with the response from the municipal government, in May, 2021, Eli filed a claim with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal (OHRT) naming the Municipality of Grey Highlands as a respondent. In October, 2021, the claim was denied, surprisingly citing tax collection as a matter exempt from human rights violations. He has filed for reconsideration.

Although Prociw has since paid all of the property taxes accrued during this period, he has declined to pay penalty charges which now amount in the thousands of dollars. "After spending my life savings trying to survive, my family now faces losing our house, all because of outdated government policies and procedures," said Prociw.

When asked for comment, Lindsey Glazier, Communications Manager for the Municipality of Grey Highlands said, "All Tax Arrears are subject to penalties and interest in accordance with section 345 of the Municipal Act. Penalty and interest cannot be waived, however they may be reversed in a few select circumstances listed under Section 319(1) of the Municipal Act, 2001, including tax relief for low-income persons with disabilities. This tax relief is available through Grey County By-law No. 5112-21, but applications are received by lower tier municipalities. However, it does not apply to penalties and interest, it only speaks to increases in property taxes from one year to the next. While we sympathize with Mr. Prociw’s situation, unfortunately, it is not grounds for waiving penalty/interest. The Policy and Municipal Act have been adhered to and personal health and financial circumstances cannot influence how and when the Tax Collection Policy and charging of penalty/interest is applied."

Back in 2008, Ontario MPP Peter Shurman proposed Bill 78, which would have provided the relief for which Eli was asking. The proposed Act would have provided property tax deferrals to low-income seniors and low-income persons with disabilities up to a maximum of $10,000.

The proposed Act stated, "An owner of property in the residential property class who is an eligible owner with respect to the property is entitled to a deferral of property taxes on the property for which the owner would otherwise be liable for a taxation year."

An advocate for seniors during his tenure as a member of provincial parliament, Shurman resigned in 2013 but not before speaking out against the defeat of Bill 78 by the Liberal government of the time.

 


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