Human rights complaint filed after B.C. mom's maternity benefits clawed back

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VANCOUVER - A human rights complaint has been filed on behalf of a mother whose maternity and parental benefits were clawed back by the British Columbia government.

The Community Legal Assistance Society filed the complaint on behalf of Sooke resident Jess Alford, whose partner receives disability assistance.

Alford received Employment Insurance benefits after the birth of her child in 2014, but the complaint to the BC Human Rights Tribunal alleges all the money was deducted to offset disability assistance paid by the province to her partner.

According to the Community Legal Assistance Society, the B.C. government claws back maternity and parental benefits from primarily female claimants in about 150 families every year.

The society says that amounts to sex discrimination contrary to human rights law because the policy puts families with a female wage earner in a worse financial position than families with a male worker.

Lawyer Laura Johnston says although the complaint was filed after the permitted time frame, the tribunal has agreed to hear it because it is in the public interest.

"This complaint is about changing the policy so other families don't have to experience this," Johnston says.

"The B.C. government could step up and say, 'We are going to fix this human rights problem and we are going to change this policy,' and that would solve the complaint," she says. "But if the B.C. government chooses to fight this complaint and put this family through litigation, it could take many more months."

A hearing date has not yet been set by the tribunal but talks will begin with the province in hopes of avoiding a lengthy legal battle, Johnston says.


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