Healing Gaia

Class Action Suit Will Raise Children Out Of Poverty

On September 4, 2015, human rights lawyer Eric Letts filed a class proceeding against the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services to ensure lone custody parents on social assistance will receive their child support payments.

By Doreen Nicoll
Published September 18, 2015

In November 1989 all federal parties unanimously supported a resolution to end child poverty in Canada by the year 2000. That goal not only remains unrealized, but a quarter century later, child poverty has actually worsened. According to Campaign 2000, over 1.3 million children live in poverty in Canada today. This is, without a doubt, an issue that needs to be addressed by all parties during the federal election. However, today I'm drawing attention to the province that I reside in, Ontario.

Campaign 2000 is a non-partisan, cross-Canada coalition of more than 120 national, provincial and community organizations committed to working together to end child and family poverty in Canada. Over 70 of their member organizations are located in Ontario where 550,000 children live in poverty.

Ontario Campaign 2000 partners with low income families; women; people with disabilities; newcomers; Indigenous and racialized communities; food banks; service providers in health, childcare and affordable housing; faith communities; teachers; social workers; and unions. This diverse base gives credence and credibility to their research and publications.

In November 2014, Ontario Campaign 2000 published a report on child and family poverty in Ontario called Child Poverty, 25 Years Later: WE CAN FIX THIS. The Ontario Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS) introduced in December 2008 planned to reduce child poverty by 25% within five years. The initiative did not reach its mandate, but it did prove that targeted social policies and sustained investments are effective means of raising children out of poverty.

Campaign 2000 highlighted crucial areas where designated changes could immediately improve the lives of children living in poverty. Included in the recommendations is ending the practice of deducting child support payments from lone parents’ receiving Ontario Works (OW) and Ontario Disability Support Payments (ODSP), also known as social assistance. Until now, this easily implemented change has fallen on deaf ears.

On September 4, 2015, Human Rights lawyer, Eric Letts, filed a class proceeding against the Ministry of Community and Social Services. The class action was filed on behalf of all Ontarians subject to a court order assigning child support payments to the Ministry.

The plaintiff in the lawsuit is Ottawa parent Anupam Kakkar. Kakkar's child support was assigned to the Ministry because the mother of his children is on long term social assistance.

Kakkar has made the required payments to the Ministry while at the same time continuing to financially support his children. The extra payments to the Ministry are financially unbearable and have forced Kakkar to seek human rights remedies.

Kakkar wants child support payments from payors, like himself, to go directly to lone custodial parents receiving social assistance. Since parents living on social assistance live 29 per cent below the poverty line, this would help raise the children of parents on OW and ODSP out of poverty.

"Raising children is costly for all parents," stated Kakkar. "As a result of the assignment of child support payments, children who are already ‘at-risk’ suffer more because parents have less money to pay for their children's food, clothes, daycare, sports and other normal expenses."

Allegations in the class action include that the human rights of thousands of Ontarians were violated by the diversion of child support from parents and children to the Ministry. There is no direct benefit to children when child support payments go to the Ministry. Instead the dignity, equality and security of families and children are trampled.

As of September 1, 2015 British Columbia ended a similar practice. Children in that province now receive 100 per cent of the child support payments collected by the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program. In Ontario, it would be as simple as the Wynne government instructing the Family Responsibility Office to redirect the child support payments it collects to lone custodial parents rather than the provincial coffers.

According to Letts, "Ontario's family law has a patchwork history with roots in old Church law, Victorian Poor laws, ancient common law and equitable principles. It is a poor set of rules and processes to deal with 21st century families and modern Canadian values."

Letts also observed that, "The policy being challenged does more than financial harm, it forces a child's parents into conflict and litigation solely for the benefit of the Provincial government."

There is optimism that this court challenge will be the catalyst for Ontario to move quickly to update outmoded laws in order to help one of the most vulnerable groups in our community -- children living in poverty. Because after all, it’s better late than never.

Parents or adult children who are the subject of an assigned Ontario Child Support Order can contact Eric Letts at http://www.lettslaw.ca/contact/.

You can also access general information about the issue on the same website.

Doreen Nicoll is a feminist and a member of several community organizations working diligently to end poverty, hunger and gendered violence.


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