In 2013, ISAC noticed that there was a sharp increase in the number of Ontario Works recipients who were being cut off because of their immigration status. ISAC was concerned that many of these recipients were entitled to Ontario Works and were improperly being denied income supports that they needed.
ISAC worked closely with a number of community and specialty clinics to develop a response, including gathering evidence to support appeals and advocacy. As a result of our advocacy, Ontario Works clarified its policy about eligibility for social assistance for people without permanent residence or Canadian citizenship.
In addition, ISAC was involved with two appeals at the Social Benefits Tribunal. The first case was settled without a hearing. In the second case, ISAC co-counselled with Neighbourhood Legal Services to represent M.N., a refugee claimant. His refugee claim was on hold while Citizenship and Immigration Canada were considering the legal impact of a criminal conviction abroad.
Without social assistance, M.N. had no means to support himself as he was not legally entitled to work in Canada. Ontario Works took the position that he was not a “resident” of Ontario and therefore not entitled to social assistance. We took the position that he was legally entitled to reside in Ontario while his claim for protection was being considered. The Ontario Works legislation only denies social assistance to visitors and people subject to a removal order that is “in effect” (and even then there are broad exceptions). We argued that, since he does not fall within any of these categories, he was eligible for Ontario Works.
The Social Benefits Tribunal granted M.N.’s appeal, and clarified the circumstances under which those without permanent residence or Canadian citizenship can access social assistance. Those, like M.N., who are awaiting the determination of their refugee claim or who cannot leave Canada for reasons wholly beyond their control are entitled to Ontario Works.