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Tribunal should consider human rights issues before refusing appeal.

The Ontario Social Benefits Tribunal had the jurisdiction to consider human rights issues when two applicants appealed a rejection for disability support because of alcoholism, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled. "Where a vulnerable applicant is advancing arguments in defense of his human rights, it would be rare for this tribunal not to be the one most appropriate to hear the entire dispute." the court majority held.

The SBT had dismissed an appeal of an Ontario Disability Support director's decision that two people were ineligible for the program because of alcoholism. This does not come under the legislation. The appellants wanted the Tribunal to examine the rejection in light of the Ontario Human Rights Code. The SBT claimed it had no jurisdiction to consider the argument.

The Court of Appeal found that the SBT has the power to declare a provision of the ODSPA. discriminatory. It should not have declined to exercise that jurisdiction in favour of "a more appropriate forum."

The 4-3 majority ruled that "statutory tribunals empowered to decide questions of law are presumed to have the power to look beyond their enabling statutes in order to apply the whole law to a matter properly before them." The judges stated that "the SBT has not been granted the authority to decline jurisdiction and it cannot avoid considering the issues relating to the Code in these cases."

Peter Chapin, Resident Barrister at the Legal Aid Ontario Clinic Resource Office and a lawyer for the appellants said, "the ruling represents a clear victory for poor and disadvantaged people seeking to have their human rights heard in the most accessible forum.

Intervenors included: Canadian Human Rights Commission, Ontario Human Rights Commission, Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, African Canadian Legal Clinic, Empowerment Council--Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, and Social Benefits Tribunal. www.lexum.umontreal.ca/csc-scc
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Title Annotation:INCOME SECURITY
Publication:Community Action
Date:May 22, 2006
Words:305
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