Calgary Herald

Ties that bind

Sponsors responsibl­e for costs of immigrant family members

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Sponsors who renege on their financial responsibi­lity under family-class immigratio­n have been sent a stern message from the Supreme Court of Canada. Even if the relationsh­ip breaks down, they must bear the financial burden of family members who fail to gain economic independen­ce.

In a precedent-setting ruling, the judges unanimousl­y agreed that federal and provincial government­s have the right to collect from sponsors any improperly collected social assistance, paid to new immigrants. According to immigratio­n law, it’s illegal for sponsored immigrants to get social assistance. Thussponso­rsagreetos­upport their partners for three years, even if the couple breaks up and the sponsored party ends up on social assistance.

It’s how the government ensures marriages are genuine and not simply for immigratio­n purposes. The ruling reaffirms the sponsors’ legal obligation­s for repayment, and holds them accountabl­e for the promises they made.

“The risk of a rogue relative properly lies on the sponsor, not the taxpayer,” said the ruling.

Canada’s family reunificat­ion program is already ahead of the U.S., where you have to be a citizen before you can sponsor a foreign family member. Canada extends that right to permanent residents, recognizin­g the social benefit of reuniting families. But not at the cost of taxpayers.

“Parliament has become increasing­ly concerned about the shift to the public treasury of a significan­t portion of the cost of supporting sponsored relatives,” wrote Justice Ian Binnie, on behalf of the court.

“Familyreun­ificationi­sbased 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. Sponsors undertake these obligation­s in writing. They understand or ought to understand from the outset that default may have serious financial consequenc­es for them.”

The case was brought forward by eight sponsors in Ontario, who argued, in some cases, the benefits were paid without their knowledge.

Some of the appellants argued the relationsh­ip was abusive or that they were abandoned shortly after bringing over their partner. The court rejected their argument, saying that while government­s have some discretion in considerin­g the specific hardships of an individual sponsor, the fairness standard was met in each of the eight cases.

In Ontario alone, there were 7,500 fiscally abandoned immigrants on welfare rolls, according to a 2005 Fraser Institute report, which accounted for “about $70 million a year in social assistance.”

No one should be forced to stay in an abusive relationsh­ip, or brought to financial ruin over a debt they didn’t know was accumulati­ng. Thankfully, the ruling allows for that discretion, and reminds the government of its obligation to inform sponsors immediatel­y when they are in default.

Canada’s sponsorshi­p program is an important aspect of our immigratio­n system that recognizes the benefits of close family ties and the role that plays in the successful integratio­n of new immigrants. If things go wrong, however, it’s the sponsors who must pay the price. Thus, they should not enter into that contract lightly.

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