Public Interest Law Centre (PILC)

Government Benefits

Children Cared for Under Guardianship Agreements

When provincial government denied Income Assistance to children being cared for by adults under conditions laid down in a guardianship agreement, the decision caused stress and suffering to the children and their caregivers.

The Public Interest Law Centre (PILC) and Legal Aid Manitoba lobbied for a change in this policy. In 2015, the Province agreed to provide supports to children receiving care from adults under the provisions of a guardianship agreement rather than forcing those adults to take the often costly and time-consuming step of seeking a guardianship order.

Income Assistance for Manitobans with Disabilities

For many years, residents of the Manitoba Developmental Centre, St. Amant Centre, Selkirk Mental Health Centre and Eden Mental Health Centre were denied the same level of provincial social assistance benefits as other persons with disabilities.

In 2015, Taylor McCaffrey LLP, pro bono partner of PILC, reached an agreement on behalf of the St. Amant Family Association with the Manitoba government to amend the Manitoba Assistance Regulations and end the discriminatory treatment. The enhanced monthly allowance for over 300 persons will enable home visits, better access to recreational activities and the purchase of new clothing.

Adults with Disabilities Under The Social Allowance Act

For many years, adult persons with disabilities who chose to board with a family member were provided a lower level of income assistance benefits than those who boarded with non-family members.

PILC represented a coalition of disability rights groups in support of a family who successfully challenged the unequal provision of income assistance shelter benefits to adult persons on disabilities living with their parents. These individuals now receive the same level of room-and-board benefit as individuals who do not choose to live with their families.

Maternity Leave and Employment Insurance Benefits

In 1996, the federal government adopted new rules that required an unemployed worker to have worked an average of 35 hours a week in order to qualify for Employment Insurance (EI) benefits.

In the past, an unemployed worker was required to have worked for a set number of weeks to qualify for benefits. Anyone who worked less than 15 hours a week was not eligible for benefits, a regulation that was seen as unfair to part-time workers.

While the change to an hourly, as opposed to weekly, rule had the potential to be helpful to part-time workers, the government set the number of hours so high that many part-time workers lost the right to qualify for EI benefits. The impact of this change fell heavily on women, who accounted for seven out of every ten part-time workers.

In 1998, a Manitoba nurse who had been working part-time applied for Employment Insurance when her family moved from Brandon to Winnipeg. Her application was denied because she had worked 667 hours in the previous year: 33 hours short of the number needed to qualify under the new rules. She was also told that she would not qualify for EI maternity or parental benefits.

The decision had a significant impact on her family’s finances as they were forced to cash in savings and to go into debt until she could return to work.

Working with the Community Unemployed Help Centre, PILC took her case. In 2001, an Employment Insurance Commission umpire ruled that the Employment Insurance rules made it harder for women than men to qualify for EI benefits.

While the courts eventually overturned this decision, the case focused political attention on gender inequities in the employment insurance system and was one of the factors that led the federal government to eventually lower the eligibility requirement for maternity benefits from 700 to 600 hours.

The Loophole Case

In 1996, the federal auditor general concluded that the federal government had improperly granted a tax break worth hundreds of millions of dollars to a wealthy Canadian family. A Winnipeg coalition for social justice known as CHO!CES decided to take the government to court to force it to collect the taxes.

The basic thrust of tax law in Canada to that point had been that third parties did not have the right to sue the government if they felt the law had been misapplied to someone else.

In 1998, a federal court judge accepted the arguments of PILC and ruled that the CHO!CES case could go ahead, agreeing with PILC that there was an issue of legitimate public interest at stake.

Following a trial in 2001, the court ruled that since there has been no bad faith exercised in making the decision, it was not possible to decide whether or not the decision was appropriate. The government could apply the law in error as long as it did not apply it in bad faith. The right of a citizen to challenge the application of tax law to third parties had, however, been established.