Ontario Government Taking Child Support

Toronto Star

Child support clawback is a disgrace: Cole

Ontario is wrong to claw back child support payments for those who receive social assistance.

The Toronto Star, Dec. 24, 2015, by Desmond Cole

The year-round challenge of surviving poverty is especially rough for those who celebrate Christmas. We seem to intuitively get this, and many of us donate more food, clothing, toys and money during the holiday season. A Toronto woman whom I'll call Sarah got the equivalent of a lump of coal in her stocking this week - her welfare worker called to say she owes the government money because her ex-husband has fallen behind on his child support payments.

Like all Ontarians on social assistance, Sarah doesn't see a dime of the child support payments her ex owes her. The province claws the money back, and ensures that Sarah and her 8-year-old daughter only receive what a single woman on welfare is entitled to under its punitive system. Since welfare learned that Sarah's husband was paying less support than he owes, the government will now deduct the difference in her future payments. Merry Christmas.

"The holidays are a tough enough time of the year for people, for so many different reasons," Sarah tells me as we sit at her circular kitchen table in a Toronto Community Housing apartment. She shows me her bills for rent, hydro, an overdue student loan. "It's already so humiliating to be on Ontario Works," Sarah says of the provincial welfare program, "but when they told me I basically owed them because my ex is behind on child support, I wanted to scream and cry at the same time."

Sarah is already on a razor-thin budget. The news, a few days before Christmas, that she'll receive even less in the coming months is devastating. The anxiety would threaten anyone's health, but Sarah is particularly vulnerable right now because she is five months pregnant. "Nobody wants to lose their job and not be able to get work," says Sarah, who used to hold well-paying public sector employment. "You minimize your lifestyle to try to make ends meet with what's available. Especially around the holiday time, to feel so defeated is hard."

The child-support clawback Sarah faces is so common and so cruel that it is being challenged in provincial legislatures and courtrooms across the country. British Columbia recently ended its clawback of child-support payments for welfare recipients - they now get to keep every dollar they receive for their kids. An Alberta mom has launched a human rights complaint against that province's government for deducting the child-support payments her ex-partner makes every month.

Here in Ontario, Ottawa lawyer Eric Letts has filed a $1.9-billion class-action lawsuit against the Ministry of Community and Social Services for its clawbacks of child support to welfare recipients. Premier Kathleen Wynne's Liberal government claims it will review the issue as part of a broader plan to reform the welfare system. For now, children like Sarah's daughter continue to be denied the money their parents pay out for their well-being.

The philosophy behind clawbacks seems to suggest welfare recipients deserve to live in poverty, that allowing them to keep child support payments would amount to cheating the system. Since last year, Sarah's ex-husband has been ordered to pay her $89 every month. She and her daughter would still live in poverty if they were allowed to keep this money - Sarah receives $1,347 a month from the province. But that small sum could ensure a little more food, a chance to take her daughter to the movies or, in the coming months, diapers for her unborn child.

Premier Kathleen Wynne has long been hinting that welfare reform is coming. When she took over from Dalton McGuinty in January of 2013, Wynne assured the public that fixing social assistance was "a priority" for her administration. The province did announce some very modest improvements to the system in October of 2014, including a paltry 1-per-cent hike in assistance rates, but it did nothing to end the clawback of child support.

The class action lawsuit says the welfare clawback discriminates against parents who are simply trying to support their children. The province has responded by saying it will "look at the way that an individual's income is calculated, including child support payments." For a public official who aspires to be known as the "social justice premier," Wynne should be ashamed of moving so slowly on such a simple yet critical issue for Ontario's most vulnerable families.

Desmond Cole is a Toronto-based journalist. His column appears every Thursday.

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Laws on Corporal Punishment of Children from around the World

Other countries don't allow assaults on children

Like Britain, countries such as Sweden, Finland, Norway, and Austria had a defence to assaults on children similar to our s. 43. These defences were removed between 1957 and 1977. The criminal law of these countries therefore gives children the same protection from assault as it gives adults. Beginning with Sweden in 1979, these countries also amended their civil child welfare laws to expressly prohibit corporal punishment so that the public fully understood it was illegal.

Repeal 43 logo

Committee to Repeal Section 43 of the Criminal Code of Canada Which Allows Hitting Children to "Correct" Them

The Repeal 43 Committee is a national, voluntary committee of lawyers, paediatricians, social workers and educators formed in 1994 to advocate repeal of section 43 of the Criminal Code of Canada.

It is an offence under our Criminal Code to use force against anyone without their consent. This right to personal security is the most fundamental of all human rights. It is a protection against assault that all adults take for granted.

Children do not have the full benefit of this protection because section 43 of the Criminal Code justifies hitting children for disciplinary or "correction" reasons. This violates a child's right to the equal protection and benefit of the law guaranteed by our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

It contravenes the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. It violates a child's dignity and shows a lack of respect. It can lead to serious physical and emotional harm.

Over 400 organizations from across Canada that deal with children are against corporal punishment  www.Repeal43.org