"...The first two decades of Charter litigation testify to a certain timidity – both on the part of litigants and the courts – to tackle head on the claims emerging from the right to be free from want." (Louise Arbour)

Challenging the Clawback of the National Child Benefit Supplement from Social Assistance Recipients:

Chokomolin, Lance & Prine v. Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, et al.

Notice of Application (PDF)

This case involved a Charter challenge to the deduction of the National Child Benefit Supplement (NCBS) from the social assistance benefits received by families with children. The challenge was directed at both the governments of Canada and Ontario.

In 1997, the federal government introduced a new program to assist Canadian families with children: the Canada Child Tax Benefit (CCTB), a basic benefit received by 80% of Canadian families with children and a supplement, the NCBS, a benefit received by 40% of Canadian families with children where the family is deemed to be low income. The negotiations between the federal and provincial governments around implementation of the NCBS resulted in an informal agreement that most provinces, including Ontario, would deduct the NCBS amount from the benefits received by families on social assistance – depriving many of the most impoverished families of any benefit of the supplement. This is commonly known as the “NCBS Clawback”. The agreement stated that the amount received from the clawback by each province would be reinvested into programs that are supposed to benefit low-income children.
The applicants in this case were sole support parents who were subject to the NCBS Clawback. They argued that the clawback discriminated against them because of their status as social assistance recipients. The clawback violated the dignity of families on social assistance, as it was based on and perpetuated negative stereotypes of those who must rely on social assistance.

The applicants also argued that the Clawback unfairly affected women, sole support mothers, people with disabilities, Aboriginal people and people belonging to a racial minority, as members of these groups are more likely than others to have low-incomes and therefore need to rely on income support through social assistance.

The legal challenge against both the Ontario and federal government was abandoned after Ontario moved to eliminate the NCBS Clawback in a staged implementation.  While the claimants were not particularly satisfied with the way in which the changes were put into place, leaving social assistance recipients only slightly better off, it was felt that pursuing the Charter challenge was no longer a viable legal strategy.