Bill C-24: An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (additional regular benefits), the Canada Recovery Benefits Act (restriction on eligibility) and another Act in response to COVID-19

Tabled in the House of Commons, March 25, 2021

Explanatory Note

Section 4.2 of the Department of Justice Act requires the Minister of Justice to prepare a Charter Statement for every government bill to help inform public and Parliamentary debate on government bills. One of the Minister of Justice’s most important responsibilities is to examine legislation for inconsistency with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms [“the Charter”]. By tabling a Charter Statement, the Minister is sharing some of the key considerations that informed the review of a bill for inconsistency with the Charter. A Statement identifies Charter rights and freedoms that may potentially be engaged by a bill and provides a brief explanation of the nature of any engagement, in light of the measures being proposed.

A Charter Statement also identifies potential justifications for any limits a bill may impose on Charter rights and freedoms. Section 1 of the Charter provides that rights and freedoms may be subject to reasonable limits if those limits are prescribed by law and demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society. This means that Parliament may enact laws that limit Charter rights and freedoms. The Charter will be violated only where a limit is not demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society.

A Charter Statement is intended to provide legal information to the public and Parliament on a bill’s potential effects on rights and freedoms that are neither trivial nor too speculative. It is not intended to be a comprehensive overview of all conceivable Charter considerations. Additional considerations relevant to the constitutionality of a bill may also arise in the course of Parliamentary study and amendment of a bill. A Statement is not a legal opinion on the constitutionality of a bill.

Charter Considerations

The Minister of Justice has examined Bill C-24, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (additional regular benefits), the Canada Recovery Benefits Act (restriction on eligibility) and another Act in response to COVID-19, for any inconsistency with the Charter pursuant to his obligation under section 4.1 of the Department of Justice Act. This review involved consideration of the objectives and features of the Bill.

What follows is a non-exhaustive discussion of the ways in which Bill C-24 potentially engages the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Charter. It is presented to assist in informing the public and Parliamentary debate on the Bill.

Overview

Bill C-24 proposes to enact An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (additional regular benefits), the Canada Recovery Benefits Act (restriction on eligibility) and another Act in response to COVID-19. The Bill would add a new eligibility criterion for each of the three benefits available under the Canada Recovery Benefits Act and support the verification of individuals’ eligibility.

The proposed measures would specify that individuals are generally not eligible to receive benefits under the Canada Recovery Benefits Act for any period of time during which they were required to isolate or quarantine themselves under any order made under the Quarantine Act as a result of entering into Canada. Limited exceptions, including in relation to necessary medical treatments, would allow some individuals to remain eligible for benefits. The Bill would also amend the Canada Recovery Benefits Act and the Customs Act to support information sharing for the purpose of verifying compliance with these eligibility requirements.

Search and seizure (Section 8 of the Charter)

Section 8 of the Charter protects against unreasonable searches and seizures. The purpose of section 8 is to protect individuals from an unreasonable intrusion into a reasonable expectation of privacy, including in relation to their private information.

A search or a seizure that intrudes upon a reasonable expectation of privacy will be reasonable if it is authorized by a law, the law itself is reasonable (in the sense of striking an appropriate balance between privacy interests and the state interest being pursued), and it is carried out in a reasonable manner.  Provisions allowing government institutions to share information to verify an individual’s eligibility to receive benefits under the Canada Recovery Benefits Act could potentially engage section 8 of the Charter.

The following considerations support the consistency of the provisions with section 8 of the Charter. The information to be shared corresponds to new eligibility requirements in a self-reporting regime.  Information will be shared for the limited administrative purpose of verifying individuals’ eligibility for a benefit they have applied for under the Canada Recovery Benefits Act. In this context, privacy expectations are reduced. The proposed powers are comparable to powers that have been upheld by the courts in similar circumstances.

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