TORONTO, October 20, 2005 - The recent emphasis in welfare reforms on enforcement has resulted in more punitive and criminalizing practices, whereby people on welfare feel as though they are constantly under suspicion, is one of the major findings of a research report released by the Canadian Race Relations Foundation (CRRF). The authors go on to say that people of colour experience some of the sharpest casualties of governments' desires to roll back the welfare state.
The report which was released today: The Racialized Impact of Welfare Fraud Control in British Columbia and Ontario was prepared by Dr. Kiran Mirchandani of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto and Dr. Wendy Chan of the School of Criminology at Simon Fraser University. Based on interviews conducted with welfare recipients in British Columbia and Ontario, the report examines the impact of reforms in the welfare systems of both provinces with the aim of controlling fraud among recipients.
"The rules not only penalize and criminalize the poor for being poor, they are very harsh on racialized people, many of whom are new immigrants who have difficulties with the language," says Dr. Mirchandani. "The respondents tell stories of being given the runaround in search of records which may not be necessary and who are threatened with cut-off of benefits until they do."
The researchers interviewed 12 social assistance recipients in each province ranging from age 24 to 55. A quarter of the sample was Aboriginal, and others self-identified as Black, African, Chinese Somali, Sri Lankan, Caribbean and Mixed Race.
Among the other main findings of the research were: the inadequacy of the welfare payments which made it necessary to seek additional support from food banks and similar agencies; that case workers were quick to suspend or cut off benefits for "minor transgressions", that there were too many "bureaucratic rules", and that respondents faced many systemic racial barriers to employment and experienced racial slurs from case workers.
"We found that in addition to the feelings of depression and shame for having to be on welfare, the problem was compounded for many because of the racism they experienced," Dr. Chan notes. "We hope that this report will trigger some significant changes to the system to try to eliminate the racism and the other dehumanizing conditions."
"This research points out, once again, the very fundamental need for governments, at all levels, to take the issue of racism seriously,"observes Andrée Ménard, Acting Chair of the CRRF. "Governments have a responsibility to ensure that all persons are served with respect and dignity. That's why the Foundation must continue to point out the manifestations of racism, wherever they are."
Copies of the report are available from the CRRF by emailing requests to: or by telephone: 1 888 240-4936.