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GOVERNMENT ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS - Social assistance - Entitlement - Disabled persons - Benefits - Suspension - Social assistance boards - Powers - Constitutional issues - Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Friday, December 08, 2017 @ 8:31 AM  

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Appeal by Stadler from a decision by the Social Services Appeal Board (Board), in which the Board held it lacked jurisdiction to determine Charter issues in relation to Stadler’s appeal of a decision made by the Director of the Employment and Income Assistance Program (Director). Stadler received income assistance as a result of a disability. He was advised by the Director that he had an obligation to make reasonable efforts to seek out all sources of income, including applying for pension benefits under the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) once he turned 60 years old. Stadler objected, arguing that if he did, his monthly entitlement to income assistance would be permanently reduced. The Director responded by suspending Stadler’s income assistance. Stadler appealed to the Board, arguing that the requirement for him to apply at an earlier age or have his income assistance suspended was discrimination based on age and disability. While not fully articulated before the Board or the appeal court, his argument appeared to be that the alleged discrimination was a breach of his section 15 Charter right to equality and his section 7 Charter right to life, liberty and security of the person. The Board interpreted section 12.1(2) of the Assistance Regulation as requiring income assistance recipients to apply for any federal benefits, including CPP, at the earliest date on which they were accessible. The Board went on to find that the Director had a discretion to continue to provide Stadler with a partial payment, deducting amounts he would have received had he applied for CPP at age 60. The Board also determined that it lacked jurisdiction to consider the Charter issues raised by the appellant.

HELD: Appeal allowed. There was nothing in the Manitoba Assistance Act that took away the Board’s jurisdiction to consider constitutional issues. The Board had been given tools to fashion remedies under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Its obligation to act with speed and efficiency was not determinative of the intention of the legislature. The composition of the Board did not limit its exercise of jurisdiction over constitutional issues, and it was not limited to the knowledge of its members, but could seek outside legal advice when necessary. Having constitutional issues determined by the Board was in the interests of access to justice. The appeal court’s decision in the Fernandes case was no longer good law. The Board had the jurisdiction and the obligation to consider Charter issues, if properly raised before it.

Stadler v. Manitoba (Social Services Appeal Board, Director, St. Boniface), [2017] M.J. No. 309, Manitoba Court of Appeal, R.J.F. Chartier C.J.M., F.M. Steel, A.D. MacInnes, M.M. Monnin and D.M.Cameron JJ.A. November 7, 2017. Digest No. TLD-December42017009