OTTAWA — The opposition New Democrats say some women who are fleeing domestic abuse are being told they need to get a form signed by their abuser in order to collect the Liberal government's vaunted child benefit.
The NDP says constituents have been coming to their offices with letters from the Canada Revenue Agency, which oversees benefit payments, asking them to verify that they are eligible for the monthly allowance.
The agency has multiple ways to determine which parent should receive the benefit in cases of separation or divorce, including having a parent provide documents from a doctor, dentist, social worker or religious leader to identify the primary caregiver.
NDP MP Wayne Stetski says asking abuse victims to face their abusers in order to be eligible for the child benefit is "absolutely wrong on principle." (Photo: Wayne Stetski, MP/Facebook)
The agency's website says that "a female parent who lives with the child" is usually considered to be the primary caregiver.
One New Democrat from B.C., however, says none of those avenues was open to one of his constituents.
"When there's an abusive relationship, which led to this split, this puts the woman in a position of having to go to her abusive partner and get him to formally sign off on piece of paper," said Wayne Stetski, who represents the riding of Kootenay-Columbia.
"That's potentially dangerous physically for that woman. But it's just absolutely wrong on principle."
Feds looking into issue
Stetski said the situation in his riding has been repeated in others, including the NDP-held riding of Saskatoon West, where two different women have come forward with similar stories.
When Stetski's staff checked with CRA officials, the answer that came back was that the agency needed the signature from the other parent. "They wanted to see that signature on a piece of paper."
The government is promising to look into the issue as quickly as possible after being caught off-guard by Stetski's concerns during Friday's question period.
The Liberals brought in the child benefit last year, rolling three benefits into one income-tested benefit that costs the government $23 billion a year.
The benefit provides on average an additional $2,300 a year in payments to families, compared to the system it replaced. Finance Department calculations of tax data from 2014 estimated that 87 per cent of families with children were better off under the new benefit than the previous child benefit system — about the nine of out 10 figure the government publicly touts.
We know more can be done for families: Trudeau
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau talked about the child benefit during a stop Friday in Vancouver where he was pressed about the extent to which it helps middle-class Canadians, particularly where housing prices and other costs were rising.
The benefit is not indexed to inflation, which means it does not increase with the cost of living. Indexation, as it's known, is set to happen after 2019, the year the next federal election is scheduled to take place.
Trudeau said the government is trying to give families the tools they need to succeed, but acknowledged that the Liberals know there is more that can be done.