Bill C-31: An Act respecting cost of living relief measures related to dental care and rental housing

Tabled in the House of Commons, October 6, 2022

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-31, An Act respecting cost of living relief measures related to dental care and rental housing, 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-31 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. It does not include an exhaustive description of the entire bill, but rather focuses on those elements relevant for the purposes of a Charter statement.

Overview

Part 1 of Bill C-31 would enact the Dental Benefit Act to provide financial support to eligible parents with an adjusted income of less than $90,000, for dental care services received by their children under 12 years of age, where those children do not have access to private dental insurance and where the parent has out of pocket expenses. An eligible parent could apply for the dental benefit in each of the two benefit periods, and the amount of the dental benefit would depend on the adjusted family net income of the applicant.

Part 2 of Bill C-31 would enact the Rental Housing Benefit Act to provide for a one-time rental housing benefit of $500 for eligible persons who have paid rent in 2022 for their principal residence. A person would need to apply for the benefit, and eligibility would depend in part on their 2021 adjusted income. The benefit would be limited to applicants whose 2021 adjusted income falls below a specified threshold and whose total amount of rent paid in 2022 is at least 30% of their 2021 adjusted income.

Limited eligibility based on age

Part 1 of the Bill enacting the Dental Benefit Act would limit eligibility for financial support to eligible parents of children under 12 years of age. Subsection 15(1) provides that every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination on various grounds, including the ground of age. This limited eligibility criteria could potentially engage section 15 as it creates a distinction based on age.

In seeking to address barriers and improve access to dental care for children, Part 1 of the Bill is in keeping with the purpose of section 15 to promote substantive equality and prevent discrimination against disadvantaged groups. Subsection 15(2) of the Charter clarifies that subsection 15(1) does not preclude laws, programs, or activities that have as their object the amelioration of conditions of disadvantaged individuals or group, including those that are disadvantaged because of age.

Offence provisions

Parts 1 and 2 of the Bill would establish offences including to knowingly use false identity information or another person’s identity information to obtain a benefit, or to counsel another person to apply for a benefit with an intent to steal all or a substantial part of that person’s benefit. Part 1 of the Bill would also create an offence to knowingly make three or more representations on one or more applications that are false or misleading if the total amount of the benefits that were or would have been paid as a result of the applications is at least $5,000.

Section 7 of the Charter protects against the deprivation of an individual’s life, liberty and security of the person unless done in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice. Because the offences carry the possibility of imprisonment, they have the potential to deprive liberty and so must accord with the principles of fundamental justice.

In reviewing the relevant measures, the Minister of Justice has not identified any potential inconsistencies of the offence provisions with the principles of fundamental justice under section 7. The scope of the offences is tailored to their objective, and upon conviction, a judge will have discretion to impose a fit and appropriate sentence.

Administrative Penalties

Parts 1 and 2 of the Bill would provide for administrative monetary penalties that may be imposed for knowingly making a false or misleading representation in an application, or for making an application and receiving a benefit for which the applicant knows they are not eligible. No penalty may be imposed if an applicant mistakenly believes that a representation is true or that they were eligible to receive the benefit. A monetary penalty cannot be imposed if more than three years have passed since the day when the violation occurred. The purpose of a penalty is to promote compliance rather than to impose punishment.

Section 11 of the Charter guarantees certain rights to persons who have been charged with an offence. Its protections apply only to proceedings that are “penal in nature” or that result in “true penal consequences”. True penal consequences include imprisonment and fines with a punitive purpose or effect, as may be the case where the fine or penalty is out of proportion to the amount required to achieve regulatory purposes.

The following considerations support the consistency of the above provisions with the Charter. The proceedings leading to the imposition of a monetary penalty would be administrative in nature. The purpose of these penalties would be to promote compliance with the respective Acts, and not to “punish”. Further, the penalties would not be subject to any prescribed minimums. In this context, the provisions would not authorize the imposition of a penalty that could give rise to “true penal consequences” for the purpose of s. 11.

Collection and use of personal information

Parts 1 and 2 of the Bill would authorize the collection and use of certain personal information, including Social Insurance Numbers, in the administration and enforcement of the proposed Dental Benefit Act and the proposed Rental Housing Benefit Act. Part 1 of the Bill would authorize the Minister of Health to require that any person provide any information for the purpose of verifying compliance or preventing non-compliance with the proposed Dental Benefit Act. Part 2 of the Bill would provide a similar authority to the Minister designated for the purposes of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Act with respect to the proposed Rental Housing Benefit Act. Part 2 of the Bill would also add authorities to allow information obtained under the Act to be made available to the Canada Revenue Agency for the administration and enforcement of the Income Tax Act. Part 3 of the Bill would enact related amendments to the relevant provisions of the Income Tax Act, the Excise Tax Act, and the Excise Act, 2001. Authorizing the collection and use of personal information about individuals who apply for a benefit has the potential to engage 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.

The following considerations support the consistency of the provisions with section 8. The authority to collect and use personal information such as Social Insurance Numbers would only be for the administration and enforcement of the Acts that would be enacted by the Bill. Further, the collection, use, and disclosure authorities would be for a purpose that is closely related to the purposes for which the information about the individual applying for a benefit is already collected and used. As such, the proposed powers are similar to existing powers that have been upheld by the courts in the administrative and tax contexts.