Press Room

Canada’s Supreme Court Upholds Liability of Sponsors for Social Assistance Debt of Sponsored Family Class Immigrants

In an important ruling released June 10, 2011, the Supreme Court of Canada has unanimously upheld the right of the Canadian and Ontario governments to recoup social assistance payments made to family class immigrants from sponsors who gave undertakings to support them, even where the payments are allowed to accumulate over several years unbeknownst to the sponsor.

Under Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and its regulations, a sponsor is obliged to reimburse the government for the cost of every benefit provided as social assistance to the sponsored family member during the term of the undertaking.

The Court in this case rejected the sponsors’ arguments that the government was under a duty to inform them as soon as a sponsored relative obtained public assistance. While recognizing that “good debt management practice would suggest that demand be made as soon as the government payments to or on behalf of the sponsored relative commence”, the Court nevertheless held that “it is inherent in the sponsor’s support obligation that the sponsor is to keep track of the sponsored relative he or she has undertaken to support” and that it is the sponsor, not the government, who “is responsible for preventing the family member and any accompanying dependents from becoming dependent on public social assistance programs”.