Montreal

Landlords might gain right to seize welfare cheques

The trial balloon may very well be a lead balloon.

The trial balloon may very well be a lead balloon.

Last Friday, the Liberals floated the idea of giving landlords the right to seize welfare cheques for overdue rent, but it is already creating a public outcry.

The idea was first introduced by the Parti Québécois government in 1997.

Then, the Quebec Human Rights Commission shot the idea down as a direct violation of the Charter of Rights, and Gisèle L'Heureux says the commission is prepared to challenge it again.

"Why are we targetting people on welfare and not those receiving [Employment Insurance] or [Workers' Compensation]? It discriminates against one segment of the population," L'Heureux says.

Not the right solution: critics

"[The minister] is creating a discrimination situation for people on welfare," says André Trépanier of the Quebec Coalition of Tenants Association.

"They will have different rights than other tenants in the province of Quebec. It is ridiculous, it is dangerous for democracy.

"The problem is the cheques are too low," says François Saillant, co-ordinator of the social housing group Front d'action populaire en réaménagement urbain, or FRAPRU.

"And if the government wants to fight against the fact that there's a part of the people that can't pay their rent, the only way is to increase [the amount of] the cheque and also to have more social housing."

Minister wants to debate

Employment and Family Minister Claude Béchard is defending the bill, saying he didn't kill the landlord seizure clause because he wants to debate the issue at parliamentary hearings this fall.

"To see if there's some other possibilities if we will keep it or not," Béchard says. "I don't really want to fight for this article if people say there's some other possibility and we are open to other suggestions."

Various groups are already lining up to appear at the hearings to voice their dismay.