N.S. launches review after court says family wrongly cut off from welfare
THE CANADIAN PRESS
Published Thursday, November 9, 2017 9:04PM AST
HALIFAX -- The Nova Scotia government has launched a review of its welfare caseload following a court ruling that found the province was wrong to cut off social assistance benefits to a family of four because the father didn't try hard enough to find a job.
The province's Appeal Court, in a decision released Wednesday, said the mother and her three children should not have been disqualified for six weeks because the father skipped an appointment with an employment counsellor.
The court said the province's move amounted to punishing people who live in poverty. As well, it concluded the province acted unjustly by cutting off the entire family, saying the father alone should have lost his payments.
"Simply put, denying innocent people, living in poverty, the funds they need for financial survival cannot be sustained by any reasonable interpretation of the governing legislation," said the appeal ruling, which overturned a Supreme Court of Nova Scotia decision.
The mother in the case, Rosemary Sparks, came forward to say her family was forced to move because they had no money to pay for food or home heating.
"The department's decision to cut off our social assistance in December (2014) had a terrible effect on our children," Sparks said in a statement. "I could not afford to buy the food and other simple things children should have, and this hurt my health and my children's well-being."
On Thursday, the department released a statement saying that of 25,800 cases it handled between April and September 2017, the province imposed similar suspensions in 53 cases.
Brandon Grant, executive director of employment support and income assistance, said he couldn't comment on the case in question. However, he said the department has rules that encourage those receiving social assistance to find a job if they are able.
He said qualifying clients have an obligation to take part in employment training, education or seeking employment.
"When clients are unable to meet those obligations, there's a consequence in place," he said. "These decisions aren't taken lightly by the department. Our case workers always look at the individual circumstances that may be affecting clients."
Grant said the province is not considering an appeal, and is undertaking a review of welfare cases.
"We are continuing to review the ruling and will be working with staff and legal counsel to determine how it may affect similar cases going forward," said Heather Fairbairn, spokesperson for the Community Services Department.
NDP Leader Gary Burrill said the Liberal government must make sure nobody in the province is getting "caught in the same net."
"We know there are a large number of people on the caseload who are affected, from time to time, by these ineligibility periods," Burrill said. "The court has said this is unfair, it's unjust and it may not continue."
The Dalhousie Legal Aid Service in Halifax issued a statement saying the decision marked a victory for women's rights.
"It is highly significant that the Court of Appeal adopted an interpretation that respects the equality rights of women under the Charter, especially in light of their economic disadvantage based on what is known as the 'feminization of poverty' in Canada," said Kim Stanton, legal director for the Women's Legal Education and Action Fund.