POLITICS
03/29/2019 15:18 EDT | Updated 03/29/2019 15:19 EDT

Basic Income Participants Sue Ontario Government For $200 Million

The lawsuit accuses the PC government of breach of contract and causing panic attacks, depression and anxiety.

Tijana Martin/CANADIAN PRESS
Ontario Minister of Children, Community and Social Services Lisa MacLeod speaks to reporters at Queen's Park in Toronto on March 21, 2019. MacLeod cancelled research on basic income that had been started by the previous government.

TORONTO — Four people who had been receiving a basic guaranteed income under a pilot project have launched a proposed class action against the Progressive Conservative government for cancelling it.

The proposed lead plaintiffs argue that the cancellation amounts to a breach of contract and has caused panic attacks, anxiety and depression among participants, and has meant some people can't continue paying tuition, for medical expenses or investing in a business.

They are seeking $200 million in damages.

"It was foreseeable by the defendant that ceasing the (basic income) payments early would cause the class members to suffer damages and to suffer injury due to the frustration and emotional upset associated with being told that BI Payments were ceasing prematurely," lawyer Stephen Moreau writes in a statement of claim filed Thursday.

"Further, all class members were in a position of reliance upon the defendant ... that the defendant and the (ministry) would administer the BI Pilot with reasonable diligence, especially as all members of the class were persons in vulnerable positions as low income earners and as persons living with disabilities."

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The former Liberal government announced the project in April 2017 to provide a guaranteed annual income to participants in three Ontario cities — Hamilton, Thunder Bay and Lindsay — with the intent of making it a three-year study. Single participants received up to $16,989 a year while couples received up to $24,027, less 50 per cent of any earned income.

Though the Tories had promised to preserve the pilot project, they announced in July that they were cancelling it.

Children, Community and Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod has suggested the program discouraged participants from finding work.

Watch HuffPost Canada's series on basic income in Ontario:

The monthly payments were greater than what the participants had received from various sources, including from work, employment, disability payments and welfare, Moreau wrote in the statement of claim.

Dana Bowman, one of the proposed lead plaintiffs, could afford proper food, basic clothing and to travel so she could help care for her grandchildren, Moreau wrote. Her income increased by about $13,000 to $14,000 a year. When she learned the pilot was being cancelled, she experienced a manic episode from which she has not yet fully recovered, he wrote.

Grace Marie Doyle Hillion was able to enrol in a broadcasting program at Durham College due to the pilot, and when she learned it was cancelled she experienced increased anxiety and depression, Moreau wrote.

With a file from Emma Paling