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Nova Scotia Court of Appeal says social assistance can’t be cut off for the ‘sins of the father’

A decision from the Nova Scotia appeal court has overturned a previous ruling by the Supreme Court. File/Global News

A Nova Scotia court has ruled that a mother and her three children should not have been disqualified from receiving social assistance because of the so-called “sins of the father.”

The decision from Nova Scotia Court of Appeal, which was released Wednesday, allows the family to appeal the decision and overturns a decision from the province’s Supreme Court which was deemed to have been unjustly punished for living in poverty.

According to the decision from Justice J. Michael MacDonald, Brenton Sparks, his wife Rosemary Sparks and their three daughters had been receiving income assistance from the Department of Community Services since the Fall of 2014.

Their assistance came in three forms; a personal allowance for Brenton, a personal allowance for Rosemary and a shelter allowance based upon the size of the family including children.

The problem was that it only came in the form of a single cheque, which was made out to Brenton.

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A group punishment for a single cheque

In 2015, Brenton was contacted by his case worker from the Department of Community Services and encouraged to participate in an employment program.

Instead, Brenton attempted to form a business. When that wasn’t deemed to be satisfactory by the case worker, his family’s benefits were suspended for a six-week time period.

“The Department’s decision to cut off our social assistance in December had a terrible effect on our children — we had no money for heat and eventually had to move,” said Rosemary in a statement released by her legal team.

“I could not afford to buy the food and other simple things children should have.”

He worked his way through the appeal process and then the Assistance Appeal Board, though his efforts were unsuccessful.

With legal counsel he even attempted to ask the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia to review the board’s decision, arguing that it was unreasonable for the board to find his job search efforts inadequate, for his benefits to be suspended for six weeks and the board to suspend the entire payment rather than the portion designated to him personally.

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That appeal was dismissed by the Supreme Court.

Brenton reportedly accepted that the suspension was reasonable — for his part of the cheque — but disagreed that the portion for his wife and his kids should’ve been suspended.

“In other words, should the innocent wife and children be penalized for the father’s misdeeds?” MacDonald wrote in his decision. “That is the sole issue in this appeal.”

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An unjust decision

The decision by the appeals court highlighted the unreasonable and unjust nature of the department’s decision.

“It would see innocent spouses and children, with little or no control over the situation, punished for the misdeeds of another,” wrote MacDonald.

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“In my respectful view, neither the Legislature (nor the Executive Council in passing the regulation) would want to see these consequences visited upon Ms. Sparks and her children.”

In addition to allowing an appeal, the court ordered the department of community services to pay the cost of his appeal, or $2000.

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