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Joined: Oct/20/2008
Location: Canada
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Direct Link To This Post Topic: Sponsors Responsible for Debt
    Posted: Jun/13/2011 at 7:57am

Sponsors responsible for immigrants’ support, Supreme Court rules

Nicholas Keung

The Supreme Court of Canada handed down a landmark ruling Friday that delineates Canadians’ financial responsibility to any loved ones they sponsor to Canada.

In a unanimous judgment, Canada’s top court said immigrant sponsors can delay paying but not default on debts owed to governments if the family members they sponsor to Canada end up on social assistance.

“Family reunification is based on the essential condition that in exchange for admission to this country the needs of the immigrant will be looked after by the sponsor, not by the public purse,” the court said.

However, in allowing the appeal “in part” by the federal and Ontario governments, the court also stated that officials do have a limited discretion to delay collections of sponsorship debts.

“It would hardly promote ‘successful integration’ to require individuals to remain in abusive relationships. Nor would the attempted enforcement of a debt against individuals without any means to pay,” it ruled.

“Excessively harsh treatment of defaulting sponsors may risk discouraging others from bringing their relatives to Canada, which would undermine the policy of promoting family reunifications.”

Eight immigrant sponsors in Ontario had mounted a challenge of the system of sponsorship debts incurred after the individuals they sponsored to Canada — fiancées, parents and siblings — turned to social assistance. They owed the government between $10,000 and $94,000.

Canadians who sponsor relatives to immigrate to Canada agree to support them financially after they arrive, promising to repay any debts, including welfare, for three to 10 years.

In 2009, the Ontario Court of Appeal decided that governments had the discretion not just to delay enforcement of the rules, but to reduce or forgive debts.

The governments took the case to the Supreme Court and argued that they had no such discretion, regardless of the sponsor’s marriage breakdown, unemployment or illness.

“This is a very important decision,” said Lorne Waldman, the lawyer representing Nedzad Dzihic. Dzhihic’s fiancée left him upon arriving Canada and she went on welfare.

“This means that at least before the government collects debts, they have to give the person a chance to explain the circumstances before going after them,” Waldman said.

About 615,000 or 27 per cent of the 2 million permanent residents admitted to Canada between 1997 and 2007 were members of the family class. The lower courts had heard that some 7,500 sponsored immigrants were on social assistance in 2004.

The sponsors in this case claimed that circumstances beyond their control left them unable to honour their responsibility and had applied to be discharged of the obligations.

Lucas Lung, who represented five of the sponsors, said his clients were disappointed with the decision because they will continue to suffer from the debts for circumstances “beyond their control.”

“But the decision recognizes that fairness has a role in the process,” Lung said. “Its implication is that a process has to be created in order to consider a sponsor’s circumstances prior to making decision to enforcement.”

Reprinted with permission from the Toronto Star.

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