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Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission tells welfare recipients to scurry

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission has once again denied a group of welfare recipients with chronic medical problems a hearing.

The group of five, who require special diets to accommodate their disabilities, wanted a human rights tribunal. They believe that the department of Community Services discriminates because it has not increased their special diet allowances since 1996.

When the Human Rights Commission ignored the recommendation of its own investigator and rejected the claim, the group took the Commission to the Nova Scotia Supreme Court. The judge ordered the Human Rights Commission to reconsider.    

Been there, done that, and the answer is still no, says the Commission.

Photo Robert Devet

In a letter to Vince Calderhead, the senior Nova Scotia Legal Aid lawyer who acts on behalf of the group, chair Eunice Harker writes that the complaint raises no significant issues of discrimination, because “not all recipients have a disability in accordance with the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act.”

“Upon review, it’s evident the “special diet” program needs to be reviewed by the Province,” writes Harker in an admonishment to Community Services that rings hollow.

We asked the Human Rights Commission why it decided to ignore the recommendation of its own investigator.  Was this investigator not aware of the content of the Human Rights Act?

The Board decided to seek another opinion, writes Adria May, spokesperson for the Commission.

 All of the Human Rights Officers who work at the Commission are aware of the different sections in the Act. The officers function in completing an investigation is to provide a non-biased, factual report to the Commissioners, who then will determine where the file should go next. The Commissioners requested a detailed legal opinion to assist them with their review of this case,” May writes,

However, the Board could have decided to deal with uncertainties in law during the Board of Inquiry, as is often done. That at least would have given the welfare recipients a fighting chance.

Especially since this particular Human Rights approach was effective in Ontario where welfare recipients faced a situation similar to Nova Scotia.

In 2005 Ontario disqualified thousands of social assistance recipients from receiving special diet allowances. Lawyers filed a claim with the Ontario Human Rights Board, arguing that the changed program discriminated against people who had disabilities requiring special diets.

It turned out that the lawyers had to go to the Human Rights tribunal for each medical condition, one at the time. But they won these cases. 

It looks like the Nova Scotia group will never get that chance.  

Read more about the Ontario case here.  

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