REALITY CHECK: B.C. Liberals Concede Law Could Deny Income Assistance To Those Charged With Minor Offences

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When Minister Rich Coleman first introduced Bill 14, the Housing and Social Development Statutes Amendment Act, he dismissed concerns that the B.C. Liberal law could bar people charged with minor offences from receiving income assistance.

Instead, the minister refused to listen to concerns that the term “indictable offence” captures a wide range of minor charges, and is not limited to serious or violent offences such as murder, sexual assault, drug trafficking or assault with a weapon.

However, when pressed in debate yesterday by New Democrat social development critic Shane Simpson and finance critic Bruce Ralston, the Minister was forced to admit that people charged with less serious crimes could be denied social assistance.

For the record, here is what was said on Oct. 29, 2009:

Shane Simpson: “Essentially, what we have here is not a case of a piece of legislation that, as the minister would like us to believe, deals with a narrow group of very serious offences. Rather, it is a much broader brush that captures a large, large number of people.”

Rich Coleman: “Indictable offences are the most serious types of offences, including crimes such as assault, breaking and entering, drug trafficking, murder, assault with a weapon and causing bodily harm, and sexual assault. These are defined in the Criminal Code of Canada. Our intention is to ensure that those charged with indictable offences take personal responsibility and resolve serious charges against them before they can be provided assistance in this province.”

Here is what Minister Coleman admitted on Nov. 17, 2009:

Bruce Ralston: “So does the minister accept that the result of choosing this language is that virtually every offence in the Criminal Code, be it common assault, impaired driving, wilful damage to property, making threats, theft — that all of those fall under the category of offences that may be prosecuted by indictment, and therefore, given that choice of the section are indictable offences, will lead to the consequences that the minister seeks for those charged with indictable offences?”

Rich Coleman: “That's correct.”

Bruce Ralston: “Given, then, that the minister concedes that the effect of the legislation will be to bring this mechanism into place for virtually every criminal offence, can the minister explain his comments at second reading where he spoke of focusing on the most serious types of offences? Clearly, there is a gap between what the minister said at second reading and what he's now conceded — that this is very sweeping.”  

And Minister Coleman again conceded on Nov. 17, 2009:

Shane Simpson: “Could the minister confirm for me, then, that if we had a circumstance…We have the single mom from Calgary who is charged with shoplifting in Calgary in the supermarket, leaves Calgary with her kids, comes to Vancouver, does not respond to the warrant that is issued for the charge, comes to Vancouver. She, then, is not eligible under the terms of this to collect income assistance in British Columbia.” 

Rich Coleman: “As long as it is an indictable offence — that includes an offence that is deemed under section 34(1) of the Interpretation Act of Canada to be an indictable offence — the member is correct.”

In addition to all new applicants, Minister Coleman has indicated that there will be a requirement for all current recipients of social assistance to open themselves up to criminal record checks.

Carole James and the New Democrats have been holding the B.C. Liberals accountable for breaking their word on the HST, and for backtracking on their election promises to protect health care, education, and other vital services.‪‪