Supreme Court To Decide Immigrant Sponsor Costs

Supreme Court to decide immigrant sponsor costs

By Janice Tibbetts
The Canwest News Service, April 22, 2010

Ottawa — The Supreme Court of Canada has agreed to settle a case involving eight immigrants who are on the hook for repayment of social assistance benefits collected by relatives they sponsored to come to Canada.

Without giving reasons, the court granted leave to appeal Thursday to the Ontario government, which argues that sponsorship debts must be repaid and that there is no leeway for forgiveness, regardless of the circumstances.

Millions of dollars are at stake in the case, which could affect thousands of sponsored immigrants who live off the state after their arrival in Canada, sometimes without the knowledge of their sponsors.

Sponsors are financially responsible for their family members for three years after they arrive in Canada, following eight-year-old changes to immigration laws. Before 2002, a sponsor was liable for 10 years.

Immigrants Pritpal Singh Mavi, Maria Cristina Jatuff De Altamirano, Nedzad Dzihic, Rania El Murr, Oleg Grankin, Raymond Hince, Homa Vossoughi and Hamid Zebaradami had won their case last year in the Ontario Court of Appeal.

They sought relief on grounds that there should be discretion when their marriages collapse and they loose track of the sponsored family member, or when the sponsors fall ill or lose their jobs and are unable to pay.

The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act states that the debt 'may be recovered' by the federal or provincial government.

At issue is whether the act should be interpreted to mean that there is discretion not to collect, and whether the government is required to take a sponsor's personal and financial circumstances into account.