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A Constitutional Defence of the Benefit Time Limit on Eligibility for Income Assistance Under the British Columbia Employment and Assistance Act

Canadian Student Law Review

Abstract

Pressing back against the juggernaut of Canadian constitutional academic scholarship wedded to the “progressive” vision of an ever-expanding state, this paper presents a constitutional defence of the benefit time limit on eligibility for social assistance under the British Columbia Employment and Assistance Act. The constitutional defence set out shows that BC’s benefit time limit does not render social assistance recipients incapable of exercising their right to security of the person without government intervention under section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, nor does it violate their equality rights under section 15 of the Charter. Read Article

[1] The British Columbia (BC) Employment and Assistance Act1 is a first for Canadian social assistance policy as it imposes a benefit time limit on eligibility for income assistance. As of April 1, 2002, each month that an income assistance recipient deemed employable receives financial assistance counts toward a 24-month time limit. Employable recipients are limited to a cumulative 24 months of income assistance out of every 60 months. By “making a significant strategic shift to income assistance that…emphasizes self-reliance and participation,” the BC government’s aim is to reduce long-term dependency and assist individuals and families on income assistance to achieve their social and economic potential.2

[2] Various anti-poverty organizations in BC have raised opposition against the benefit time limit. Indeed, it appears that constitutional litigation aiming to strike down the benefit time limit is likely, especially since the re-election of the incumbent provincial government that continues to support the provision.3 This paper presents a constitutional defence of the BC benefit time limit. It begins by outlining the income assistance program in BC, followed by an analysis of the impacts of this program and benefit time limits in the United States. From here, plausible challenges to the BC benefit time limit and defences against such challenges under sections 7 and 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms4 are presented.

1 Implemented through Order in Council 243, this initiative amended the Income Assistance, Youth Works, and Disability Benefit Program Regulations that accompanied the BC Benefits (Income Assistance), BC Benefits (Youth Works), and Disability Benefits Program Acts.

2 British Columbia, Ministry of Human Resources, Service Plan: 2002/2003- 2004/2005 (Victoria: Government of British Columbia, 2002) at 1.
3 The British Columbia Public Interest Advocacy Centre (BC PIAC) is representing several organizations currently preparing a constitutional challenge to the benefit time limit. See BC PIAC, “Community Groups Prepare Constitutional Challenge to Welfare Cut-off” (20 October 2003) online: BC PIAC <http://www.bcpiac.com/pub/newsReleases/newsRel_archives/newsRel_octo ber2003.html>.