Bill C-15: An Act respecting Canada emergency student benefits (coronavirus disease 2019)

Tabled in the House of Commons, April 29, 2020

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-15, An Act respecting Canada emergency student benefits (coronavirus disease 2019), 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-15 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

Clauses 1 to 16 of Bill C-15 propose to enact the Canada Emergency Student Benefit Act to create temporary emergency benefits for students who lost work and income opportunities due to COVID-19.

Clause 11 proposes to empower the Minister of Employment and Social Development to require individuals to provide any information or documents the Minister may require for any purpose related to verifying compliance and preventing non-compliance with the Act.

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.

Authorizing the collection of information about individuals who apply for this benefit potentially engages section 8 of the Charter. 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 of the Charter. Information will only be collected for the limited administrative purpose of verifying information received when individuals applied for the income support, as well as preventing non-compliance, in circumstances where privacy expectations are diminished. As such, the proposed powers are broadly analogous to powers that have been upheld by the courts in the administrative and tax contexts.

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