Basic income class action lawsuit can proceed: Ontario Court of Appeal

Roderick Benns

In a turn-of-events basic income supporters were hoping for, the Ontario Court of Appeal has determined that the class action lawsuit launched by four Lindsay residents who were enrolled in the Ontario Basic Income Pilot can proceed against the province.

A lower court judge had earlier refused to certify the class in his ruling. However, in yesterday’s appeal ruling this decision was overturned.

If a lawsuit is certified, the plaintiffs still must win on the merits by having the key questions (like, was there a contract?) answered in favour of the class. When a court does not certify a class action, then that means the class action cannot proceed at all.

Kaley Duff, pictured, one of the lawyers with the Toronto law firm Cavalluzzo LLP Barristers & Solicitors that is arguing the case, told the Advocate that they “are very pleased with the result of the appeal.”

“The Ontario Court of Appeal agreed with us that our claim in contract disclosed a reasonable cause of action,” said Duff in an email exchange.

“The next step will be to return to the Superior Court, where we will argue the remaining issues on certification. If we are successful, then the action will be certified as a class action.”

The lawsuit was initiated by four Lindsay residents — Dana Bowman, Grace Marie Doyle Hillion, Susan Lindsay, and Tracey Mechefske.

Mike Perry, a local lawyer and social worker, initially took on the task of launching the class action lawsuit.

“This is some good news for (nearly) 2,000 people here in our area. It means there is still hope for this being made right for our local families, friends, and neighbours who got thrown back into poverty when the basic income was canceled mid-stream,” Perry says.

Later Cavalluzzo LLP took over. The plaintiffs argued through their lawyers that the early termination of the Ontario Basic Income Pilot’s payments amounted to “a breach of contract, a breach of undertaking, negligence…and a breach of section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms — and that as a result they have suffered damages.”

The re-elected Conservative government cancelled the Ontario Basic Income Pilot in one of the first policy decisions the government made when it came to office in 2018 — despite a campaign promise to let the three-year pilot play out.

In a previous interview with the Advocate, Bowman says the “rug was pulled out from under us” when Ford cancelled the pilot, “and I will not forget that day, how it affected me and others around me.”

The pilot was initiated by the province in 2017 under the Liberal government of Kathleen Wynne. It was set up in three areas – Hamilton region, Thunder Bay area, and Lindsay. Almost 4,000 people were involved, with 1,840 participants from Lindsay. It was set to run for three years. Payments ended prematurely in March of 2019, leaving hundreds of people scrambling.

Speaking on behalf of her law firm, Duff says “we look forward to continuing the fight on behalf of the class members across Ontario.”

–this article originally ran in The Lindsay Advocate.