A Gimli woman has initiated a class-action lawsuit against the province for forcing mothers on welfare to turn over child-support payments.
Chantel Miyai is suing on behalf of her three young children and the children of all single parents on social assistance in Manitoba.
In court documents, Miyai states child-support payments belong to the children, but the province's Family Services Department considers the money as income for the parent and deducts that amount from regular income-assistance cheques.
Miyai states that by taking the child-support money, the province is enriching itself at the expense of the children.
"Legally, that money belongs to my children," Miyai said in an interview with the Free Press. "What right does the government have to take that money and use it for bridges and streets and things?"
Lawyer Norman Rosenbaum said a Supreme Court of Canada case four years ago ruled child-support payments are the "entitlement of the child," adding Manitoba is taking that money away from them.
"I think this has been a historical wrong," Rosenbaum said. "The government is profiting at the expense of the children, keeping them in poverty."
In class-action suits, the case must first be certified by the court as a class action, Rosenbaum said, adding the court must conclude there is a systemic issue that affects a large number of individuals. He said he expects to bring a motion for certification in a couple of months.
Rosenbaum said he doesn't need any other single parents to join the legal fight to get the case certified but he added he hopes others will join.
Miyai said she also hopes other single moms will join her legal fight.
"Some people will be afraid because they're so intimidated by social assistance," Miyai said, adding the government staff are disrespectful and often resort to using bully tactics. "Many people will be afraid that they'll be cut off but this money belongs to their children."
Even if the court rejects this issue as a class-action case, Rosenbaum said Miyai could proceed though an individual action.
The allegations have not been proven in court. A statement of defence has not been filed.
A provincial government spokesman said because the lawsuit was just received, the government considers it inappropriate to comment now.
Miyai said she was left in a difficult situation when her boyfriend left her in July with two children aged five and 21 months and eight months pregnant with their third child.
Her ex-boyfriend started making monthly support payments of $750 and the province withheld that amount from her monthly income assistance budget of $1,279.19.
"The monthly budget is difficult to live on as it is but when they withheld my support payments, it made it really tough," Miyai said. "I'm behind on all my bills. I'm spending the money my parents set aside for university."
Miyai said her boyfriend stopped making support payments in January and the province provided her with her entire allotted budget for February but made her sign a document stating if her boyfriend ever resumes payments, she will turn over the overdue amounts to the province.
"It's not right," Miyai said.
Rosenbaum said he believes what Manitoba is doing now is common practice across the country and in the United States.
Rosenbaum said if he's successful, the province will stop treating child-support payments as the mother's income and the mother will receive the entire allotted amount of social assistance. He said he wants the court to rule child-support payments in future will be directed to the Public Trustee and held until the child turns 18; and, the province must refund Miyai's children, and all children affected by the government's practice of taking child-support payments, with interest and that money also be held by the Public Trustee.
In court documents, Miyai states the province's seizure of the child-support payments is a violation of the children's charter rights, and wants the court to rule it unlawful.