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List of issues to be taken up in connection with the consideration of the third periodic report of Canada :

 United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights - Implementation of the International
                  Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (June 10, 1998) 
Page 1

1. What is the status of the Covenant in cases of conflict with federal, provincial and territorial legislation? Please provide information on the implementation of the Covenant by the Courts in Canada.

International treaties in Canada are not self-executing and therefore, an international treaty cannot alone form the basis of an action in domestic courts. However, where domestic laws are passed subsequent to and expressly in light of a ratified international treaty, jurisprudence states that courts must strive to interpret such laws in accordance with the relevant international obligations. However, if the express provisions of a domestic statute are contrary to or inconsistent with Canada’s international obligations, the former prevail.

Where international treaty obligations are assumed on the basis that existing domestic laws, policies and practices already conform to the international provisions, the Supreme Court of Canada has yet to identify the appropriate analytical framework. Nevertheless, a review of Canadian jurisprudence demonstrates that courts often refer to human rights treaties to underscore the importance of a provision of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, or in the context of non-constitutional litigation, the validity of existing legislation.

Often cited is the statement by the former head of the Supreme Court of Canada, Chief Justice Dickson in Reference Re Public Service Employee Relations Act (Alta.):

The general principles of constitutional interpretation require that these international obligations be a relevant and persuasive factor in Charter interpretation. ... I believe that the Charter should generally be presumed to provide protection at least as great as that afforded by similar provisions in international human rights documents which Canada has ratified. (at p. 349)

In short, though I do not believe the judiciary is bound by the norms of international law in interpreting the Charter, these norms provide a relevant and persuasive source for interpretation of the provisions of the Charter, especially when they arise out of Canada’s international obligations under human rights conventions.» (pages 349-50)

 The approach developed by Canadian courts reflects the balancing of a number of constitutional constraints and legal principles. Firstly, as indicated above, international law is not self-executing in Canada. Additionally, according to case law, authority to make international commitments falls solely within the federal domain. However, constitutionally, neither the federal government nor the ratified treaty, can compel the provinces to legislate to implement the treaty in areas that otherwise fall within provincial jurisdiction. Finally, treaty-making in Canada is an executive act, derived from the Royal Prerogative. Hence, Parliamentary approval is not required for Canada to enter into an international agreement. In light of these factors - particularly the fact that ratification does not go through the debates and scrutiny typically inherent in the Parliamentary process - the courts have concluded that in the event of a conflict between an international treaty and domestic law, the Parliamentary process should prevail over Executive action.

As a final point, it should be noted that regardless of a court decision, Canada continues to be bound to fulfil its treaty obligations.

2. With respect to paragraph 10 of its Report, are governments in Canada able to plead cases under the Charter in a manner that is consistent with Canada’s obligations under the Covenant?

It is both possible and important for governments in Canada to consider treaty obligations in the development of arguments before the courts. As mentioned above, the Supreme Court of Canada has indicated that the principles of constitutional interpretation require that international obligations be a relevant and persuasive factor in Charter interpretation.

3. What is the opinion of the federal, provincial and municipal governments as to the effect of current and proposed trade and investment agreements such as NAFTA, FTAA and the MAI on their ability to fulfill obligations under the Covenant and what processes have been put in place to review these questions?

Whenever Canada undertakes to enter into an international trade or investment agreement, the terms of such agreement are reviewed for their consistency with Canada's domestic legislation. This is true, too, in respect of Canada’s participation in other international agreements. Canada recognizes and seeks to promote the complementarity between economic growth through trade liberalization and the protection and promotion of human rights, good governance and other social values of Canadians. For example, Canada recently played a leading role in the recent successful adoption of the ILO Declaration on fundamental principles and rights at work.

4. Please provide details as to how the government responded in cases where plaintiffs invoked their rights under the Covenant to interpret Charter rights and provide any information about cases in which the government or the Court interpreted the Charter in light of the Covenant.

Refer to Disk #1 and 2, attached, for the text of cases in which the Covenant was raised.

Disk 1


  1. public.wpd - Re Public Service Employee Relations Act, [1987] 1 S.C.R. 313.
  2. animal1.wpd - International Fund for Animal Welfare Inc. v. Canada (Ministry of Fisheries and Oceans), [1989] 1 F.C. 335.
  3. PSAC.wpd - Public Service Alliance of Canada v. Canada (Treasury Board), [1984] 2 F.C. 562.
  4. dolphin.wpd - Dolphin Delivery Ltd. v. R.W.D.S.U., local 580 (1984), 10 D.L.R. (4th) 198 (B.C. C.A.).
  5. service.wpd - Re Service Employees’ International Union, local 204 v. Broadway Manor Nursing Home (1983), 4 D.L.R. (4th) 231.
  6. slaight.wpd - Slaight Communications v. Davidson, [1989] 1 S.C.R. 1038.
  7. bellcan.wpd - Bell Canada v. Quebec (C.S.S.T.), [1988] 1 S.C.R. 749.
  8. gaumond.wpd - Gaumond et Commission des droits de la personne du Québec c. Société de transport de la communauté urbaine de Montréal, [1996] R.J.Q. 2036.
  9. latsay.wpd - Latsay v. Canada, [1997] 2 C.T.C. 2125.
  10. animal2.wpd - International Fund for Animal Welfare Inc. v. Canada (A.-G.) (1998), 157 D.L.R. (4th) 561.
  11. evering.wpd - Everingham v. Ontario (1993), 100 D.L.R. (4th) 199.
  12. clark.wpd - Re Clark et al. and Peterborough Utilities Commission et al. (1995), 24 O.R. (3d) 7.
Disk 2
  1. ramirez.wpd - Ramirez v. Canada (Solicitor General) (1994), 88 F.T.R. 208.
  2. educatn.wpd - Reference Re Education Act (Ontario) (1984), 10 D.L.R. (4th) 491.
  3. chiasson.wpd - Chiasson et Commission des droits de la personne du Québec c. centre d’accueil Villa-Plaisance (1995), [1996] R.J.Q. 511.
  4. theriau.wp - R. c. Thériault, [1998] A.Q. no. 722 (QL).
  5. maksteel.wp - Commission des droits de la personne du Québec et droits de la jeunesse c. Maksteel Québec Inc., [1997] R.J.Q. 2891.
  6. lambert.wp - Lambert c. Québec (Ministère de Tourisme) (1996), [1997] R.J.Q. 726.
  7. varchol.wp - Varchol et Commission des droits de la personne du Québec c. Brzozowski, [1994] R.J.Q. 1447.
  8. leroux.wp - Leroux et Commission des droits de la personne du Québec c. J.M.Brouillette Inc. (1994), [1995] 25 C.H.R.R. D/495; J.T.D.P.Q. no.16 (QL).
  9. stjean.wp - Commission des droits de la personne du Québec c. St.Jean-sur-Richelieu (commission scolaire), [1994] R.J.Q. 1227.
  10. kafe.wp - Kafé et Commission des droits de la personne du Québec c. Commission scolaire Deux-Montagnes, [1993] R.J.Q. 1297.
  11. dufour.wp - Dufour c. Centre hospitalier St-Joseph de la Malbaie, [1992] R.J.Q. 825.
  12. gilbert.wp - Gilbert et Commission des droits de la personne du Québec c. Ianiro, [1996] J.T.D.P.Q. no.13 (QL).
  13. jeunes.wp - M.L. et Commission des droits de la personne du Québec et droits de la jeunesse du Québec c. Maison des jeunes, [1998] J.T.D.P.Q. no.22 (Q.L.).
QUESTION 4 (continued)
Please include information about: Masse v. Attorney General of Ontario, Clark v. Peterborough Utilities Commission, Falkiner v. Attorney General of Ontario, and Gosselin c. Québec.

Refer to Disk #3, attached, for the text of the cases mentioned above.

Disk 3
  1. Masse v. Ontario (Ministry of Community, Family and Children's Services) (1996), 134 D.L.R. (4th) 20.
  2. Clark v. Peterborough Utilities Commission (1995), 24 O.R. (3d) 7
  3. Falkiner v. Ontario (Attorney General), [1996] 87 O.A.C. 374.
  4. Gosselin c. Quebec (sous-ministre du revenu), [1997] A.Q. no. 1736 (QL).
5. Does the government agree that repealing protective legislation without replacing it would be inconsistent with article 2 of the Covenant? Provide details as to how governments have dealt with this issue under the Charter, and explain what the government’s position was in Ferrel v. Attorney General of Ontario and Dunmore v. Ontario.

Canada interprets article 2 (based on the wording of the article itself and General Comment 3) as obliging it to take steps «with a view to achieving progressively the full realization of the rights recognized» in the Covenant. Retrogressive measures are only justified after careful consideration of the totality of the rights provided for in the Covenant and in the context of the full use of the maximum available resources.

It is difficult to discern what is implied by «protective legislation» in this question. Various non-governmental organisations have criticised changes to the method by which federal and provincial governments now share the costs of various social welfare programs. It is the government’s position that the Committee’s focus should be on whether the substantive entitlements under the Covenant are being met by governments in Canada, and not on the internal means by which such entitlements are being funded when those means fall within an appropriate range of government responses.

6. Explain the position of the federal and provincial governments in Eldridge v. Attorney General of British Columbia with respect to the Charter’s protection of the rights of people with disabilities, referring specially to General Comment No.5.

The Government of Canada was an Intervenor in the case of Eldridge v. Attorney General of British Columbia. [1997] 3 S.C.R. 624. The position of the Government of Canada was the following: while the failure of the Respondent province to include medical interpreting services for deaf patients as a benefit under the Medicare Protection Act was prima facie contrary to section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the infringement was demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society pursuant to s.1 of the Charter.

The objective of the Medicare Protection Act was to ensure reasonable access to medical care by maintaining a fiscally sustainable health care system. This important objective was jeopardized by shrinking fiscal resources and therefore an infringement of a Charter right was justifiable. Limiting coverage for services under the Medicare Protection Act did not detract from the overall objective of the legislation, and rather ensured that available funds were used in a manner which government had determined to be a reasonable balancing of competing social demands.

The Supreme Court of Canada reached a contrary conclusion on the appropriate balance of cost and other factors in this case. Finding the Charter infringement not justified under section 1, the Court did state that «while financial consideration alone may not justify Charter infringements, governments must be afforded wide latitude to determine the proper distribution of resources in society.»

The Government of Canada supports the Committee’s General Comment No. 5. Under section 15 of the Charter and section 3 of the Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA), the Government of Canada has ensured that persons with disabilities are guaranteed protection against discrimination. Public and private sector employers also have a duty to accommodate persons with disabilities. The Employment Equity Act further provides that private and public sector employers shall prepare employment equity plans to identify and eliminate employment barriers against persons with disabilities and institute such positive policies and practices and make such reasonable accommodations as will ensure that persons with disabilities achieve a degree of representation in each occupational group in the employer’s workforce that reflects their representation in the Canadian workforce.

In 1998, the Government of Canada amended the Criminal Code, the Canada Evidence Act and Canadian Human Rights Act to strengthen the human rights protections for persons with disabilities and to improve their access to the justice system. For example, the CHRA was amended to add an explicit duty to accommodate. Amendments to the Canada Evidence Act provided for communications assistance for persons who have special communications needs. In addition, alternative methods of identifying the accused, such as auditory and tactile recognition have been made available. Amendments to the Criminal Code ensure that persons with disabilities are not excluded from jury service because of disability if they are capable of serving with assistance. Also, persons with physical or mental disabilities can now provide testimony through videotape. Finally, a new offence of sexual exploitation against persons with disabilities was established.

On March 10, 1998, Cabinet endorsed a proposal to develop a federal government disability strategy in support of the general policy framework contained in In Unison: a Canadian Approach to Disability Issues. As a result, an Interdepartmental Committee on Disability Issues, under the leadership of Human Resources and Development Canada, is working on the development of this strategy. (Please refer to the response to Question 27 for more information on the In Unison strategy)

8. Will the Government of Canada be acting on the recommendations of the Canadian Human Rights Commission that the ambit of human rights protections in Canada be expanded to include social and economic rights?

The Government of Canada will consider this recommendation as part of its comprehensive review of the Canadian Human Rights Act, which is scheduled to commence shortly. It is inappropriate to make any commitment to amend the legislation without such analysis as well as without consulting with other organizations and interested citizens.

9. Please provide the Committee with information from each Human Rights Commission in Canada about cases in which the Covenant has been used in interpreting or applying human rights legislation.

In Canada, Human Rights Commissions are independent of government. Questions pertaining to federal, provincial and territorial human rights commissions have been forwarded to these for separate response to the Committee.

10. Please provide an estimate of the percentage of human rights complaints filed with each Human Rights Commission in Canada which are adjudicated and explain how this is consistent with the Commission’s General Comment No. 3, para. 5.
See attached documents.

12. What is the Federal Government’s and each provincial government’s position with respect to whether «workfare» programs discriminate against welfare recipients and are contrary to article 2 of the Covenant? Please explain the Government of Quebec's position in the Lambert case.

As any «work for welfare» schemes fall within provincial and territorial jurisdictions, this question will be left to provinces and territories for response. See also Question 24.

14. What is the position of each Human Rights Commission (with the exception of Quebec’s) on whether «social condition» should be added as a prohibited ground of discrimination in the light of article 2 of the Covenant, and what is the position of the provincial and federal governments on this question?
The federal government believes that persons in poverty should receive legislative protection but that the precise wording of the ground could have unforeseen consequences and warrants further analysis and consultations. It, too, warrants consideration as part of the comprehensive review of the Canadian Human Rights Act which is to commence shortly.

15. Please state whether children of non-nationals of Canada seeking to stay in Canada are denied access to social services and benefits, education or medical care which children of Canadians have access to.

Children of landed immigrants have the same rights of access to social services and benefits, education and medical care as children of Canadians. For children of refugee claimants, although eligibility for these services normally depends on the status of their claim and the right to lawfully remain in Canada, provinces have usually made these services available.

16. Please indicate whether as a result of the repeal of the Canada Assistance Plan Act (CAP) by Bill C-76, people deprived of basic necessities under provincial or territorial social assistance schemes no longer have any legal recourse in federal law under the Canada Health and Social Transfer (CHST).

Under the Canada Assistance Plan (from 1966 to 1996, followed by a phase-out period), provinces and territories were required, as a condition of federal cost sharing, to establish an appeal system in their social assistance legislation for people who feel deprived of basic necessities under social assistance programs. The CAP cost-sharing condition reflected the rule of natural justice, i.e., that Canadians are guaranteed an inherent right to a fair hearing.

As of the Summer of 1998, every provincial and territorial government still has an appeal system in place. Principles of natural justice, as reflected in the common law and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, would prevail even in the absence of any formal appeals process. This Charter guarantees certain sets of rights with respect to life, liberty and security of the person (Section 7) and equality (Section 15). In accordance with Section 24 of the Charter, anyone whose rights or freedoms have been infringed or denied may apply to a court of competent jurisdiction on those grounds.

The CHST took effect on April 1, 1996. It encompassed the transfers provided under the block funded Established Programs Financing for health and post-secondary education, and the cost-shared transfer for social assistance and services previously provided under the Canada Assistance Plan. Under cost-sharing, CAP had become cumbersome to administer and failed to provide provincial governments with the flexibility to tailor provincial programs to meet the needs of their own residents, reflecting their unique circumstances. The CHST does require that provincial governments respect the principles of the Canada Health Act and prohibits the imposition of residency requirements for social assistance eligibility purposes. It should be kept in mind that under the Canadian Constitution social assistance programs fall under provincial jurisdiction.

17. Why were the standards and entitlements maintained in health care but not in social assistance?

Both the Canada Assistance Plan (CAP) and the Canada Health Act (CHA) contain essential criteria governing eligibility for federal funding, which are in fact not ‘standards and entitlements’ as the question suggests, but rather administrative requirements to be met. More complex administrative and accounting practices were required under CAP - where funding was 50:50 cost sharing - compared to the administrative principles, such as portability, in health care where federal funding is via a block fund.

Under the CHST, social programs were included in the block funding mechanisms of federal contributions, and hence, the complex administration and accounting practices of CAP were no longer necessary. This was done so that provinces and territories would have greater flexibility in the design and delivery of these programs which under the Canadian Constitution fall under provincial jurisdiction..

The federal government is working together with the provincial governments to develop, through mutual consent, a set of shared principles and objectives to underlie social programs in Canada. Federal, provincial and territorial governments are currently working towards the conclusion of a framework agreement.

Although the CHST block fund applies to both the health and social programs designed and delivered by the provinces, those programs are distinctly different: health benefits are provided to 100% of a province’s residents - including emergency services to those residents while outside the province – whereas social assistance goes to a small group of persons in the province who are found to be in need.

Notwithstanding these differences, whether under CAP or the CHST, certain basic elements of health and social programs have always been in the domain of provinces. For example, provinces have always determined who is a person in need, the rate of social assistance, and what welfare services they will make available. Similar determinations are made in the health care area by provinces deciding, with their doctors, what qualifies as an insured service.

The commitment to assist people in need throughout Canada is still the same, however, even though the administrative situation has changed. This is demonstrated by the high priority assigned, for example, to initiatives for persons with disabilities by the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Ministers responsible for Social Services. Similarly, the federal and provincial governments have joined their efforts to reduce the incidence and depth of poverty among Canadian children, and succeeded in establishing the National Child Benefit.

18. Have provinces responded by cutting social assistance rates or entitlements? Please provide information from each province about changes which have occurred from April 1995 to the present day, and any effect on the extent or depth of poverty.

Please refer to individual provincial sections.

19. To what extent does the revoking of CAP represent a retreat from the idea of financial assistance when in need as a universal entitlement, as described in previous reports to the Committee?

In Canada, social assistance is still defined under the Canada Health and Social Transfer (CHST) as «aid in any form to or in respect of a person in need».

Under the CHST, the provinces have increased flexibility to innovate and improve their social programs so that they can better address the needs of people in their jurisdictions.

The block-funding transfer now allows them to introduce preventive or holistic (health, social and education) approaches which better respond on a continuous basis to the changing needs of their communities. The needs test applied by each of the provinces to determine eligibility for assistance is still essentially the same. Benefits are still provided to all permanent residents found to be in need and therefore meet the same universality criteria.

20. With respect to the negotiations by the Ministerial Council on Social Policy Reform and Renewal mentioned in paragraph 86 of the Report, are the federal and provincial governments committed to restoring legal enforceability of the right to adequate financial assistance?

The federal government is working together with the provincial governments to develop, through mutual consent, the set of shared principles and objectives to underlie social programs in Canada. Federal, provincial and territorial governments are currently working towards the conclusion of a framework agreement. During these negotiations, all Canadian governments remain committed to the social well-being of their citizens.

As was the Canada Assistance Program (CAP), the CHST is a fiscal transfer mechanism and not a legislative vehicle to ensure the right to adequate financial assistance.

21. Describe any monitoring procedures established by governments as well as non-governmental agencies to measure the effect of the 40% ($6 billion) cut in the amount of cash transferred by the Federal Government for social assistance, health and post-secondary education between April 1995 and the end of fiscal year 1999-2000. What common effects have become evident throughout Canada?

Provincial-territorial economic and fiscal situations are continuously monitored throughout the year. Meetings of federal and provincial finance officials are held on a regular basis to share financial and economic data and to review respective programs and policies. Provincial data is incorporated into the structure of the federal-provincial fiscal transfer programs.

The Canadian government provides financial assistance to provincial governments for their health, post-secondary education and social assistance programs. This assistance is provided by way of fiscal transfer payments under the Canada Health and Social Transfer (CHST). The CHST is provided in the form of a cash transfer and a tax point transfer. In determining the total amount of the CHST entitlement, the tax point transfer is sometimes overlooked, but it is an integral part of the CHST; to focus only on the cash component is misleading and inaccurate.

The CHST, which equalled almost $29 billion in 1993-94 was reduced to $26 billion in 1998-99 – a reduction of $3 billion. This time period is usually chosen for comparison purposes as it encompasses the period just before expenditure restraint measures took effect and just after. While these reductions are substantial, they are half the $6 billion figure sometimes quoted – the $6 billion figure does not include the CHST tax point transfer. In addition, the CHST provided stable and predictable funding for provincial governments through a legislative five-year arrangement (1998-99 to 2002-03).

Program expenditure reduction measures were critical in order to regain control over the finances of the Canadian government and to ensure the future financial viability of Canada’s social programs. Failure to do so would have put these very programs in jeopardy. For example, in 1993-94 total federal spending reached $158 billion while total revenue was only $116 billion. Furthermore, about $40 billion was being spent just for interest on the federal debt -- money that could have been available to finance social programs for Canadians. As cash transfers to provinces alone made up over 20 per cent of the federal governments total program expenditures, they could not be spared from expenditure restraint. However, transfers to provinces were reduced by less than other program spending. Between 1993-94 and 1998-99 major transfers to provinces declined by 7.4 per cent while direct program spending declined by 10.8 per cent. (The 7.4 per cent figure includes unconditional transfer payments provided to provinces under the Equalization program which provinces can use for their social programs and transfers to territories under Territorial Formula Financing.)

Once federal fiscal stability was re-established the first major spending initiative undertaken by the Canadian government was to increase transfers to provinces in support of health, post-secondary education and social assistance programs. Legislation was passed in the summer of 1998 raising the cash floor placed under the CHST to ensure that the CHST cash transfer component does not fall below $12.5 billion in any year. This one measure translates into an additional $7 billion for provinces for social programs over six years (1998-99 to 2002-03). The CHST is scheduled to grow by 2.5 per cent annually, climbing from $26 billion in 1998-99 to $28.5 billion in 2002-03.

22. Did the previous cost-sharing of all social assistance costs and specific social programmes for vulnerable groups mean that in times of greater need or in regions of greater needs the Federal Government contributed more? Please provide information on the types of services which are no longer cost-shared equally, report on any reductions in those services since 1995 and provide information about the effects of any changes on vulnerable groups.

Under the Canada Assistance Plan (CAP), federal contributions were tied to provincial and territorial expenditures on social assistance programs and social services, from 1966 until 1996. Where a provincial or territorial government's social program costs increased - either because of economic downturns or program enhancements - federal contributions increased to cover 50% of new approved costs. However, due to the inherent nature of cost sharing, federal support for social programs was unequal across provinces; richer provinces could finance enhanced programs for their own residents and therefore could receive a greater share of federal funding.

In April 1996, the Canada Health and Social Transfer (CHST) incorporated the block-funding that previously had existed for health and post-secondary education with a new block fund that incorporated the funding that had been through CAP. Because the CHST is a block fund, there are in fact no specific services that are cost-shared equally. Rather, each province and territory decides according to its own priorities how it will spend its CHST allocation.

Most jurisdictions have undergone program reviews in the mid-1990s in an effort to streamline and rationalize their operations. Reductions in federal transfers resulting from the implementation of the CHST were only one of the factors affecting provincial and territorial spending on social services during this period. Other factors that contributed to service restructuring were the nation-wide push to (or towards) balanced budgets, the economic downturn of the early- to mid-1990s and governments' efforts to reduce or eliminate overlap and duplication of efforts in the delivery of social programs.

Does the Government intend to implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples with respect to self-determination, self-governance, and control of lands and resources and the establishment of lands and treaties tribunal?
The federal government has had policies in place for many years that are congruent with, or accommodate, many of the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP). The comprehensive claims policy addresses the use and management of renewable resources and provides for negotiating economic benefits. Canada and Aboriginal groups are working together to address policy issues such as options to achieve certainty without extinguishment of Aboriginal Right under the Canadian Constitution. Also before the RCAP final report, Canada made a statement at the United Nations indicating its willingness to accept a right of self-determination for indigenous peoples witch respects the political, constitutional and territorial integrity of democratic states.

In January 1998, the federal government released Gathering Strength: Canada’s Aboriginal Action Plan. The Action Plan responds to the Royal Commission and sets directions for a new course based on: recognizing past mistakes and injustices; reconciliation, healing and renewal; and building a joint plan for the future. At its heart is a commitment to address the needs of communities by building a real partnership with Aboriginal people, including the development of mechanisms to recognize sustainable and accountable Aboriginal governments and institutions. It has four objectives:

  • renewing the partnerships to bring about meaningful and lasting change in our relationships with Aboriginal people;
  • strengthening Aboriginal governance is about supporting Aboriginal people in their efforts to create effective and accountable governments, affirming treaty relationships and negotiating fair solutions to land claims;
  • developing a new fiscal relationship means arriving at financial arrangements with Aboriginal governments and organizations which are stable, predictable, and accountable and help foster self-reliance;
  • supporting strong communities, people and economies focusses on improving health and public safety, investing in people, and strengthening Aboriginal economic development.
The federal government is prepared to consider other recommendations of RCAP, such as enacting companion treaty legislation and the establishment of an independent claims body for specific claims. This is being worked on by government and First Nations. Other recommendations, such as the establishment of a Crown treaty office and treaty commission, will require developments and assessment of their feasibility over the next years.

24. Please provide information on any provinces that require participation in "workfare" or similar programmes and describe the appeal procedures in place with respect to any disentitlement from basic necessities on this ground. Are these programmes applied to single parents and, if so, what exceptions apply? Is the Committee correct to assume that these programmes would have been illegal under CAP?

The term "workfare" is often used inappropriately as a synonym for traditional short-term job creation. Strictly speaking, classic workfare is defined by two conditions: (1) participation must be mandatory rather than voluntary, and (2) work or other approved activity must be done in exchange for the basic welfare payment, rather than for a supplement to that basic payment.

As of the summer of 1998, with the exception of one province, there is no formal workfare program in Canada. See provincial and territorial sections for further details.

The Canada Assistance Plan (CAP) prohibited provinces from imposing a mandatory work requirement in exchange for basic assistance. However, provinces could set reasonable requirements respecting "work availability" (job search, acceptance of suitable work) and "employment preparation" (participation in employability enhancement programs) as a condition of eligibility for employable applicants and clients.

The same flexibility exists under programs that are block-funded under the Canada Health and Social Transfer (CHST). When clients fail to fulfil their employability requirements, all provincial and territorial governments can terminate, suspend or reduce a client's benefits or refuse an applicant's request for assistance; these requirements are sometimes waived because of poor labour market conditions or significant barriers to employment.

 26. Will the Government implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples to address the unacceptable levels of unemployment both on and off reserves?

The Government agrees with the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP) that unemployment levels on and off-reserve are unacceptably high, and shares the RCAP focus on building economic self-reliance and community well-being through capacity building, and Aboriginal peoples’ increased access to land, resources and opportunity.

Two federal departments are working with Aboriginal peoples to improve employment levels. Human Resources Development Canada (HRDC) works with all Aboriginal peoples -- First Nations, Inuit and Metis -- on and off-reserve. The Department of Indian and Northern Affairs (DIAND) works with First Nations people on-reserve and Inuit.

In response to the RCAP call for a long-term employment strategy for Aboriginal peoples, HRDC will launch the Aboriginal Human Resource Development Strategy on April 1, 1999. This five-year initiative, a key employment component of Gathering Strength, the government response to RCAP, responds to the need for skill development and employment initiatives for Aboriginal peoples, and for integrated delivery of initiatives.

The Strategy builds on current HRDC policy, which transfers control over design and delivery of employment programming, along with accountability for results, to local Aboriginal authorities. The results of increased local responsibility and resources are clear. About 27,000 Aboriginal people have completed labour market interventions and half of those persons are working. The other half are in further training, have returned to school or are looking for work. Successful local control of employment initiatives also supports Aboriginal peoples' aspirations for self-government, and their desire for full labour market participation.

In April, the Strategy will expand local responsibility to include programming for Aboriginal people with disabilities, urban Aboriginal peoples and youth as well as to include child care for working parents or those in training or school. This will improve client access to services. HRDC will also support efforts to expand the capacity of Aboriginal partners to design and deliver programming, and achieve results.

The Federal Government is committed to working with First Nations on implementing the National Child Benefit (NCB) in ways compatible with their unique needs. As noted under Q. 48 and Q.50, the NCB is designed to promote attachment to the workforce.

Also part of the Government's response to RCAP is DIAND's An Agenda for Action with First Nations, which outlines specific Government initiatives reflecting the mutual commitment to a renewed relationship.

One of the four main themes in the Agenda for Action is the commitment to support stronger First Nations communities, enhance economic development, and increase individual and community self-reliance within a strategic and planned approach, developed in partnership and addressing the issues of standards, comparability and performance indicators.

In addition to An Agenda for Action with First Nations, initiatives were developed for the Inuit people of the North in Gathering Strength. The challenge for the North was to develop new governance institutions which are sensitive to Aboriginal interests, and to the shared interests of all people in Canada, while working to strengthen the North’s economic base. In less than a year, Canada will have a new, third territory in the North, called Nunavut, governed by the Inuit of the eastern Arctic through a public government structure. Training and staffing efforts are underway to ensure that 85% of the Nunavut civil service are Inuit, reflecting their proportionate representation within the broader population of the region and providing significant employment opportunities.

27. According to Statistics Canada, in 1991 over 40% of people with disabilities received no employment income compared to 18.5% for people without disabilities and the unemployment statistics for people with disabilities are among the highest of all minority groups. What are the steps taken by the federal, provincial and territorial governments to remedy this situation?

The Government of Canada has employment equity legislation in force that requires employees in regulated industries and contractors to the government to work towards a representative labour force, which includes disabled persons. In addition there are support programs at the federal, provincial and territorial levels to assist disabled participation in the labour force through active job matching services, placement programs and financial assistance for workplace modifications and specialized on-the-job equipment.

Since the UN International Year of Disabled Persons in 1981, Canada has made important progress in its treatment of disability issues. Work has been done at all levels of government and with the disability community to identify areas that should be targeted for improvement. Early in the process, it was recognized that major issue areas such as education, training, disability supports and employment are inter-related and that progress will be achieved only if the linkages are appropriately made. In March 1998, Canada received the UN Franklin Delano Roosevelt Award in recognition of its achievement over the years at integrating persons with disabilities in the social and economic life of the country. In receiving the award, the Prime Minister recognized that in spite of our achievements, a lot remains to be done for Canadians with disabilities.

At their June 1996 First Ministers' Meeting, the Prime Minister, Premiers and Territorial Government Leaders identified persons with disabilities as a collective priority in the pursuit of social policy renewal. The social policy renewal exercise is an effort at modernizing Canada's social policies and the establishment of a new partnership among governments (federal, provincial and territorial). This commitment to persons with disabilities was reaffirmed by First Ministers at their meeting in December 1997.

Consistent with this mandate, federal, provincial and territorial Ministers Responsible for Social Services have been focussing on reform of the broader system of benefits and services for persons with disabilities. Their efforts have resulted in the development of a common vision and policy framework. The document In Unison: A Canadian Approach to Disability Issues was endorsed in March 1998 by the Federal Cabinet and approved by the provincial and territorial Ministers Responsible for Social Services. Discussions with the disability community regarding this document took place in July 1998. In Unison provides objectives and policy directions for future reform in four key areas: citizenship, disability supports, employment and income.

In Unison recognizes that governments, private and voluntary sectors, and citizens all have a key role to play in the achievement of the full participation of persons with disabilities in Canadian society. In Unison promotes policies and programs that support persons with disabilities to overcome the barriers they face in the labour force so that they have the same opportunity as other Canadians to lead economically independent lives.

Recently, the federal, provincial and territorial governments have worked together to replace the old Vocational Rehabilitation for Disabled Persons program (VRDP) with the new Employability Assistance for People with Disabilities program (EAPD). EAPD has a strong employability focus and results-based accountability. It responds to the need identified by the disability community for appropriate programs and services that support people with disabilities to overcome the barriers they face in the labour force. The disability community was consulted in the development of EAPD.

In addition, the federal government created the Opportunities Fund to work in partnership with organizations of persons with disabilities and other sectors to support innovative approaches to integrating persons with disabilities into employment. Clients are persons with disabilities who require assistance to prepare for, find and keep work, and who are more 'job ready' than those who will benefit from the assistance of EAPD. The disability community was involved in the development of the Opportunities Fund.

Furthermore, the federal government is working with the provinces and territories as well as interested stakeholders, including Aboriginal groups, on the development of a Federal Disability Strategy which is intended to address a range of issues concerning disability supports, employment and income support.

With respect to Aboriginal people in particular, the federal government is proceeding with demonstration projects under a special initiative which encourages greater participation in the labour force by residents of First Nations now on social assistance. Disabled people are expected to benefit from this initiative.

The Aboriginal Human Resources Development Strategy described under Q.26 will also address employment and training issues of concern to disabled Aboriginal people.

28. Please provide information as to the minimum wage rate in various provinces and territories and any changes in its real value over the last few years. Please indicate how the income from a full time job at a minimum wage compares with the poverty line. What do the federal and provincial governments intend to do to ensure that minimum wages are adequate?

As of August 20, 1998, minimum wage rates for experienced adult workers in Canada’s provinces and territories ranged from a low of $5.00 per hour in Alberta to a high of $7.15 per hour in British Columbia.


Minimum Hourly Wage Rates for Experienced Adult Workers in Canada as August 20, 1998


Wage Rate




Same as the general adult minimum wage rate in each provincial and territorial jurisdiction

Prince Edward Island
Nova Scotia
New Brunswick
British Columbia
Northwest Territories
Yukon Territory

On June 19, 1998, the Alberta government announced that the minimum wage would be increased to $5.90 by April 1, 1999 in three stages. See Alberta section.


Minimum Wages – 1992 $ per hour
Prince Edward Island
Nova Scotia
New Brunswick
British Columbia

Canada does not have an official poverty line against which to compare the income from a full-time minimum wage job. Wages alone are an insufficient measure of the income of minimum wage earners since Canada relies heavily on income-tested supplement programs to increase the earnings of low-wage workers.

To ensure that minimum wages are adequate, each province and territory periodically reviews its minimum wage taking into account the cost of living, economic conditions and other relevant factors.

Some provinces and territories use minimum wage boards to set the rates. These boards are usually composed of representatives of employers and employees, with the chairperson being frequently an officer of the department of labour. They hold public hearings and make extensive inquiries before minimum wage orders are put into effect.

In the five provinces that do not use a minimum wage board, the review of the minimum wage is incumbent upon the Lieutenant-Governor in Council.


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