Saskatchewan Court of Appeal Rules Social Assistance is a Public Service

Saskatchewan (Human Rights Comm.) v. Saskatchewan (Dept. of Social Services) (1988), 9 C.H.R.R. D/5181 (Sask. C.A.)

The Saskatchewan Court of Appeal overturns the decisions of a Board of Inquiry and the Saskatchewan Court of Queen's Bench which found that social assistance is not a public service within the meaning of s. 12 of The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code.

At issue here is a complaint filed by Murray Chambers alleging that he was discriminated against by the Saskatchewan Department of Social Services because of his marital status because he, as a childless unmarried person, was paid $55 a month less in social assistance than a childless married person.

The Board of Inquiry which initially heard the case and the Saskatchewan Court of Queen's Bench ruled that social assistance was not a service offered to the public since it is only available to those who are eligible and not to the public at large.

The Court of Appeal finds that social assistance is a service offered to the public. Social assistance is a program of general application. The existence of eligibility criteria does not mean that it is not a public service or take it out of the ambit of the Code.

The Court of Appeal also finds that Murray Chambers was discriminated against in the provision of social assistance because of his marital status.

With respect to damages the Court finds that $55 per month in social assistance was wrongfully withheld from Chambers. In addition, the Court finds that all other members of the class, that is, childless unmarried persons were also discriminated against.

Since evidence was not heard on the matter of damages, the Court remits to the Board of Inquiry the issue of whether the Board has jurisdiction to order compensation for all members of the class and also the determination of the total compensation owing to Chambers and others.

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