Child benefit rules failing to keep pace with changing families, think-tank says

The head of the Vanier Institute of the Family, a Canadian think-tank based in Ottawa, says the federal government needs to update its policies when it comes to the way it awards family benefits.

'We need to rethink our assumptions,' says head of Vanier Institute of the Family

Nora Spinks is CEO of the Vanier Institute of the Family in Ottawa. (CBC)

The head of the Vanier Institute of the Family, a Canadian think-tank based in Ottawa, says the federal government needs to update its policies when it comes to the way it awards family benefits.

Nora Spinks's comments come after an Ottawa father complained to CBC News that he had to get permission from his spouse in order to collect the Canada child benefit payments for his biological children.

Jason Beaudoin accused the Canada Revenue Agency of being sexist and jumping to outdated conclusions when it automatically decided his common-law wife should receive the child benefits for his children from a previous relationship.

When Beaudoin, who has full custody of his two sons, initially applied for the child benefit, he was told he'd need permission from his spouse to collect the money, even though she is not the mother of his children.

The system treats the man like he has no interest in his children, like he's a deadbeat.- Khrys Timmerman

"Sometimes it takes a while for policies to catch up to the new reality," said Spinks, the Vanier Institute's chief executive officer. "Things like the child care benefit going directly to mothers hasn't taken into account necessarily that there may be a father as the primary parent.

"So we really need to rethink the way in which we administer benefits, because we're now talking about benefits as being family benefits or parent benefits, not mother benefits or father benefits."

Ottawa father Jason Beaudoin says CRA's policy to automatically award the Canada child benefit to the woman of the household is 'sexist.' (Julie Ireton/CBC)

Story touched a nerve

The CBC story sparked calls and emails from fathers across Canada who have had similar problems trying to claim the Canada child benefit for their children, as well as difficulties claiming tax deductions for other benefits including daycare and fitness credits.
Dan Fannon, who works in the auto industry in London, Ont., took the federal government to court over what he calls discriminatory tax policies. (Submitted by Dan Fannon)

One father in London, Ont., decided to take the federal government to court over its tax policies. Dan Fannon is opposed to the idea that a non-custodial parent like himself can pay for daycare or sports activities, but cannot claim those costs as tax deductions because he doesn't live with his children full time.

"The law is discriminatory," said Fannon, who lost his case in tax court and filed a complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Commission. "I think the law should be changed to allow the parent who's paying for the expense to claim for the deduction," said Fannon.

System treats men like 'deadbeats'

Khrys Timmerman, a stepmother of two children in Owen Sound, Ont., also reached out to CBC about what she called a flawed child benefit system that she said "treats the man like he has no interest in his children."
Stepmother Khrys Timmerman says federal child benefit policies assume men are deadbeat dads. (Submitted by Khrys Timmerman)

Timmerman said the Canada Revenue Agency doesn't address the current complexity of families like hers, and said the agency's policies need to recognize that men are also good parents.

"I actually work for a women's shelter. I know it all comes from times when women were very disadvantaged, but in their process of fixing that they're actually harming people," said Timmerman. "The system treats the man like he has no interest in his children, like he's a deadbeat."

Rethinking assumptions

Spinks said as the role of women in the paid labour force has evolved and dads have begun taking on more responsibility at home, they're now much more likely to receive full custody or joint custody when families split up.

But she said tax policy isn't reflecting that.

"We need to rethink our assumptions and our default and have the policies and programs catch up to the reality of modern families today," said Spinks.

"It doesn't mean that there's going to be a massive change overnight, but for those dads who are now fulfilling that lead role, we need to acknowledge, respect and recognize that new reality for some families across the country."

Have a story to share? Contact Julie Ireton at julie.ireton@cbc.ca