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Court Rules Sponsors Not Automatically Accountable For Family Members Social Assistance Debt

by David Cohen

Earlier this month, the Ontario Court of Appeal ordered governments to stop automatically charging individuals, who have sponsored relatives to come to Canada as permanent residents, for social assistance debt sustained by those relatives.

Under the Family Class Sponsorship program, a Canadian citizen or permanent resident can sponsor close family members to become Canadian permanent residents, as long as both the sponsor and the sponsored persons fulfill certain requirements.

As part of the application process, the sponsor signs an agreement that he or she will provide for the basic requirements of the sponsored persons for a specified length of time, depending on the relationship between the sponsor and the family members. Should the sponsored persons require social assistance during this period, the sponsor must repay the federal and provincial governments for any benefits their family members received.

In the case before the Court, eight individuals, who had each sponsored a relative for Canadian permanent residency, claimed that extenuating circumstances beyond their control prevented them from honouring their sponsorship obligations, and applied to be discharged from those obligations.

The Court held that Canada and Ontario owe sponsors a duty of procedural fairness when enforcing sponsorship debt, and ordered the creation of a process that will allow sponsors to explain their personal and financial circumstances, which in some cases may allow them to avoid paying sponsorship debt.

This decision has caused considerable debate in Canada and it is uncertain, at this time, if the case will be appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada.

About The Author

David Cohen is senior partner at the Canadian immigration law firm of Campbell Cohen and has been practicing Canadian immigration law for almost 30 years. He graduated from Montreal's McGill University, Faculty of Law, and is a member of the Quebec and Canadian Bar Associations as well as the American Immigration Lawyers Association. Most recently, he was appointed a governor of the Fondation du Barreau du Qubec. David Cohen is managing editor of the Canadian Immigration Newsletter, a monthly publication with readership of more than 150,000 subscribers. He also moderates a web-based public discussion forum, which covers topics relating to Canadian migration and settlement.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.