In 2015 the Couillard government modified regulations around the receipt of social assistance. One of those modifications was to implement what is referred to as the “7/15” rule. This rule states that social assistance will be suspended for any recipient who is out of the province for either 7 days in a row, or 15 days over one month. Recipients who lose their assistance in this way also lose medication coverage, will be required to reapply for welfare, and will have to pay back any funds dispersed while they were considered ineligible.
Most provinces have residency requirements connected to social assistance. Newfoundland and Labrador sits on one end of the spectrum, not suspending assistance until the recipient has been absent for 60 days, and permitting longer absences with authorization. Many provinces suspend after 30 days. Ontario has particularly stringent requirements, suspending assistance after 7 days of absence. However, they permit longer absences with authorization. Quebec’s regulations, then, stand out as particularly severe: while the 7 day rule matches Ontario’s, Quebec does not authorize longer absences.
The Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de a jeunesse has expressed concern about the discriminatory nature of these provisions, noting the disproportionate impact they have on those who have families abroad, and the risk they pose in further stigmatizing marginalized communities.
This was the focus of a protest held outside of the Administrative Tribunal of Quebec this Wednesday. Pauvre + Captif, a campaign organized by a number of Quebec community organizations in response to the 2015 changes, attended along with individuals impacted by these regulations in the hope of bringing attention to the reality of the impact of these regulations. Many welfare recipients do not live in the same province or country as loved ones, and find themselves in a difficult position, particularly in cases where family health is concerned. Pauvre + Captif has shared testimonials from welfare recipients who have been impacted by these regulations. One woman explained that she lost her assistance when she went to help her daughter, who lived outside of the country, with a difficult pregnancy. Another contributor explains how, unaware that there were new restrictions on social assistance, he lost his assistance twice when going to help his sick mother in the United States.
While Canada’s Charter protects individual’s mobility rights, s.6(3) b) provides limitations on these rights based on “reasonable residency requirements as a qualification for the receipt of publicly provided social services.” The ability for provinces to place restrictions on movement for the receipt of welfare was clearly provided for – the question that remains, then, is whether the restrictions placed in Quebec are “reasonable.” Considering the drastic way in which they distinguish themselves from other provincial regulations, it appears that they may not be.
This blog post was written by a CCLA-PBSC RightsWatch student. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the view of the CCLA or PBSC.