Court opens door to immigrant debt relief
By Nicholas Keung
The Toronto Star (Canada), November 12, 2009
People who found themselves with huge debts after sponsoring immigrants have won a landmark decision in Ontario's Court of Appeal.
The court Thursday told the Ontario government to revisit its social assistance collection policies to recover debts owed by residents who sponsored immigrants to Canada.
The court chided both the federal and provincial governments for disregarding the changing circumstances of the sponsors and the people they sponsored with their cut-and-dried collection policies.
'Canada and Ontario have a case-by-case discretion whether to enforce sponsorship debt, taking into account a sponsor's submissions concerning the sponsor's circumstances and those of their sponsored relatives,' said the 115-page decision by Justices Janet Simmons, S.E. Lang and John Laskin. 'Canada and Ontario owe sponsors a duty of procedural fairness when enforcing sponsorship debt.'
This decision, in response to legal challenges by eight Canadian sponsors, could affect thousands of sponsored immigrants who have received government benefits worth millions of dollars.
In some of those cases, the sponsors lost their jobs and could not support the loved ones they brought into the country. In others, a sponsored spouse left a marriage and lived off government welfare without the sponsor's knowledge.
The court said the province, in collecting the debts, must provide sponsors a chance to explain their own and their sponsored relative's relevant personal and financial situations, and apply discretion in light of the circumstances.
The federal and provincial governments had argued that sponsorship was a contract the sponsor should be fully aware of and there was no discretion to forgive the debt, regardless of marriage breakdown, unemployment or illness.
Before 2004, when Ontario created the Overpayment Recovery Unit, repaying sponsorship debt was voluntary. The unit has never written off a sponsorship debt. The court heard that there were 7,500 sponsored immigrants on social assistance in September 2004 owing $70 million.
Sponsors not automatically responsible for family debts: court
By Kirk Makin
The Globe and Mail (Canada), November 12, 2009