Rule barring Quebecers on welfare from leaving province for more than 7 days violates rights: activists

Activists say a Quebec rule that suspends welfare cheques to anyone who leaves the province for more than seven days violates their human rights.

“Human rights are for everyone, not for some, not for none,” they chanted Monday.

The demonstrators insist the province’s 7/15 regulation, which declares anyone who leaves the province for more than seven consecutive days, or 15 cumulative days loses their eligibility for social assistance.

The regulation, which came into effect in 2015, is currently being challenged in court by two plaintiffs who argue the rule violates their human rights.

“I have family outside of Canada and it makes it very difficult to visit them,” said Arié Moyal, one of the plaintiffs, who is on welfare after suffering a brain injury in 2012.

He says his doctor recommended he spend time with his family. He did, but was then cut off.

“Unfortunately, people are having to choose between being at someone’s death bed or being at the funeral,” he said. "They can't do both. These aren't things you can predict or fit into seven consecutive days in a calendar month."

According to organizers with the Poor+Captive campaign, more than 4,000 Quebecers have had their cheques cut and their medical, dental and vision coverage voided.

“People with loved ones outside the province are particularly penalized,” they argued, adding welfare recipients have had to avoid travelling for celebrations, illnesses or even death in order to not forfeit their cheques.

The problem is common according to Sheehal Pathak, who works for Project Genesis, a community organization that works with people on welfare.

"We see a lot of people who have ties overseas, who have loved ones overseas and they have to make choices: can I be there on my mother's death bed?" Pathak said.   

Anyone who loses their welfare coverage for more than one month has to reapply for the program and could wait up to two years for medical coverage.

“You are expected to report any exit from the province, however long, and if you do not, and they find out, there are severe consequences – even if it’s not beyond the restrictions,” Moyal stated.

In Canada, each province is in charge of setting up its own rules for social assistance.

Some provinces, such as Alberta, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan, state the person must simply physically be in the province at the time of the application to receive welfare.

Others, like British Columbia, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia, allow people to leave up to 30 days.

Ontario is the only other province that suspends assistance after seven days of absence. However, it is possible to apply for an authorization of leave, if needed.

Three days of hearings on Quebec’s 7/15 rule are being held before Quebec’s administrative tribunal from Monday through Thursday.