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Ontario retreats from appealing spouse-in-the-house decision.

TORONTO -- After nine years single women on welfare can breathe a sigh of relief! The Ontario government decided not to appeal an Ontario Court of Appeal ruling on the Falkiner case, eliminating the so-called "spouse in the house" rule whereby single women immediately lost their social assistance benefits if there were any signs of cohabitation with another person, including shopping or celebrating birthdays together.

But Raj Arnand, the lawyer who represented the four, cautioned that single women may still lose their benefits within three months of living with someone else because when the Court of Appeal struck down the ruling, the province responded by introducing a new rule, which allowed welfare recipients to cohabit with someone for three months before having their benefits reassessed.

The rule, which was introduced by the Conservative government in 1995 as part of a crack down on welfare abuse, resulted in some 10,000 welfare recipients losing some or all of their benefits after moving in with another person.

The Tory rule changed an existing rule whereby couples were able to live together for up to three years before they were considered spouses. It also required the partner, who was not on social assistance, to contribute financially to the household and the recipient's welfare benefits were reduced by that amount.

As a result of a challenge by four women who lost benefits, the Ontario Court of Appeal in 2002 struck down the rule saying it stripped women of their dignity, subjected them to highly intrusive questioning by the state and forced them to choose between financial independence and their relationship. That ruling, which was appealed by the province, was to have been heard by the Supreme Court of Canada this fall with five attorneys-general from other provinces intervening in the case.

Ontario Attorney-General, Michael Bryant said that the Liberal provincial government would not follow through on the appeal because it was "punitive" and "an attempt to punish people unfairly."
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Title Annotation:Child & Family
Publication:Community Action
Geographic Code:1CONT
Date:Sep 20, 2004
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