Saturday, June 11, 2011


I was quoted extensively in today's National Post newspaper story discussing the Supreme Court of Canada decision to support the province's right to recoup the costs of social assistance incurred by sponsored relatives who fail to be supported by their sponsors.

Canada right to recoup social assistance: Court

Canada right to recoup social assistance: Court

"The risk of a rogue relative properly lies on the sponsor, not the taxpayer," the Supreme Court of Canada ruled Friday.

Adrian Humphreys, National Post · Jun. 11, 2011

The government is right to recoup social assistance money paid to new immigrants from sponsoring family members, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled, declaring: "The risk of a rogue relative properly lies on the sponsor, not the taxpayer."

The unanimous decision in a case setting precedent for the federal and provincial governments could involve millions of dollars in public money given to immigrants who fail to economically establish themselves after arriving in Canada. More than a quarter of all new immigrants arrive under a family sponsorship agreement.

"Parliament has become increasingly concerned about the shift to the public treasury of a significant portion of the cost of supporting sponsored relatives," Justice Ian Binnie wrote on behalf of the court.

"Family reunification is based on the essential condition that in exchange for admission to this country the needs of the immigrant will be looked after by the sponsor, not by the public purse. Sponsors undertake these obligations in writing. They understand or ought to understand from the outset that default may have serious financial consequences for them."

Canadian citizens and permanent residents have been able to sponsor foreign family members to join them in Canada since 1978. The sponsors vouch for their relatives and agree to support them. The agreement states that if the newcomer obtains social assistance within a set period of time, the government is allowed to recoup its payments from the sponsor.

The case before Canada's highest court came from eight sponsors who objected for various reasons to paying the government money to cover the costs of relatives who received social assistance.

The sponsors fought the government's demands, supported by several immigration and refugee support organizations and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. The Ontario Court of Appeal earlier agreed with them, but the Supreme Court unanimously overturned its decision Friday.

The Supreme Court said the provincial and federal government were justified in recouping its losses, demanding payment from the sponsors for what was paid out in social assistance to their relatives.

"Ontario's policy seeks to balance the interests of promoting immigration and family reunification on the one hand, and preventing abuse of the sponsorship scheme on the other," the ruling says.

The eight sponsors owe between $10,510 and $94,242; collectively nearly $300,000. Three of the eight cases involve a foreign bride or groom who left their Canadian spouse after obtaining residency here, with the sponsor now jilted and in debt.

The ruling, declared by the court to be a test case of public importance, is significant since family reunification immigrants are handled differently from regular immigration applications. Because they are sponsored by signed undertakings by a family member already established here, they are not required to meet the financial requirements imposed on other types of immigrants.

Sergio R. Karas, a Toronto immigration lawyer and commentator, said the case should ring alarm bells for would-be family sponsors.

"In addition to the recent rash of sponsors who have been duped by runaway spouses, this decision should encourage people to think long and hard before they sponsor a relative, as the financial penalties may be severe and their impact longlasting," Mr. Karas said.

"The court is sending an unequivocal, clear and loud message that it will not allow the taxpayers to shoulder the burden of those who have acted carelessly or obliviously to the responsibility of fulfilling the terms of a sponsorship for a relative."

The court cautioned the government to be reasonable in its collections.

"Excessively harsh treatment of defaulting sponsors may risk discouraging others from bringing their relatives to Canada, which would undermine the policy of promoting family reunification," Judge Binnie wrote.

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