01/11/2017 14:18 EST | Updated 01/12/2018 00:12 EST

Human rights commission ordered to reconsider special diet case

A judge has ordered the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission to re-examine a discrimination complaint five social assistance recipients filed over the province's failure to increase a special diet allowance since 1996.

The special diet allowance is aimed at people who have chronic medical problems and require particular foods. During the same 20-year period, the province has increased the basic food allowance for people on income assistance 11 times.

Roxanne Barton, Deborah Wright, Bonnie Barrett, Pamela Chandler, Michele Cox and the North End Community Health Centre took the case to court in December.

In June 2016, the commission ruled the complaint should not be referred to a board of inquiry because it did not believe an investigation would turn up any evidence of discrimination. The complaint was filed in August 2015.

Melanie MacNaughton, one of the commission's human rights officers, had recommended the complaint be referred to a board of inquiry to determine whether discrimination occurred based on disability.

10,000 Nova Scotians get special diet allowance

In a decision released Wednesday, Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice James Chipman called the commission's decision to dismiss the complaint unreasonable.

He set aside the dismissal and referred the case back to the commission to be dealt with in "accordance with the principles of fairness and transparency." He said there should not be a new investigation.

About 10,000 Nova Scotians receive assistance to pay for their special diets. The Department of Community Services spends about $9 million per year on funding for special diets.