OTTAWA — Non-permanent resident families living in Canada, including irregular migrants, are prevented from receiving the Canada Child Benefit — a policy that poverty advocates say is discriminatory should be changed.
A new report published Friday, entitled Every Child Counts, is calling on the federal government to allow families who do not yet have permanent status in Canada to be able access to the child benefit.
"Canada treats children as expendable based on the status of their parents," the report states.
"If Canada is truly committed to fighting child poverty it must reverse this discriminatory approach and take steps to ensure that all children in Canada can thrive and succeed."
The report was authored by a coalition of poverty and immigration advocacy groups who say impoverished children and women living in precarious situations after arriving in Canada are being made more vulnerable by being denied access to this financial help.
"Children who are in families who have immigrated to Canada recently have various other barriers related to race and language ... and poverty rates are higher and disproportionate among immigrant families," said Anita Khanna, national co-ordinator of Campaign 2000, an advocacy organization dedicated to ending child poverty in Canada.
"To see this exclusion from this poverty-fighting benefit is a real equity issue and one we wanted to highlight in hopes of change in lowering child poverty rates for families."
Rough estimates based on preliminary data suggest about 3,000 families are excluded from the Canada Child Benefit based on their immigration status.
Expanding access to these families would cost government an additional $30 million a year in a program that pays out more than $20 billion annually, the coalition estimates.
The Canada Child Benefit is a tax-free monthly benefit to help with living and child care costs. But it excludes families whose parents do not have permanent status or who are still awaiting the outcome of their refugee claims, such as tens of thousands of individuals who have come across the border irregularly over the last 18 months.
Avvy Go, director of Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, said her clinic and others have been helping numerous immigrant families trying to access the Canada Child Benefit. Her clients are almost exclusively women, many of whom are in vulnerable and even dangerous situations, she said.
Women's shelters have contacted her clinic to report that some women say they have stayed in abusive relationships in order to continue to access the benefit because they would have lost their immigration status if they left their abusive partners, she said.
Most of the families Go has dealt with also have at least one child born in Canada, but they are still not eligible for the Canada Child Benefit because the parents don't have permanent resident status.
"Children should not be denied access to these benefits based on their immigration status, never mind the immigration status of their parents," Go said Friday.
This policy is not only unfair and discriminatory, it's also "glaringly inconsistent" with Canada's international obligations to protect human rights under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the coalition states in its report.
The advocacy groups are calling on the government to reverse this policy, which has been in place since before the Trudeau government took office in 2015 and is an issue they have raised with several cabinet ministers and senators.
In a statement to The Canadian Press, Valerie Glazer, press secretary for Families Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, did not address the groups' concerns, instead only highlighting the Trudeau government's initiatives that she says have lifted 300,000 children from poverty.
"The vast majority of families with children in Canada are eligible for the Canada Child Benefit. CCB eligibility lies with the legal status of the parent(s) in Canada," Glazer said.