Demand by province for woman to name child's father 'sexist,' says David Coon

Green Party Leader David Coon says one of his constituents faces homelessness because of a 'ludicrous and sexist' law.

The Fredericton South MLA said the woman is required by law to name her children's father in order to receive social assistance payments. Because she refused to do so, her payments were denied by the Department of Social Assistance.

"When people are in dire straits our social safety net is meant to be there to support them," Coon told the New Brunswick Legislative Assembly during question period on Tuesday. "Mr. Speaker, I find this ludicrous and frankly sexist."

Coon said there are countless reasons why a woman may choose to not disclose the name of her children's father.

He called it an abuse of the social assistance system to "hold her assistance ransom" for such a private piece of information and asked Minister of Families and Children Stephen Horsman to strike the policy.

"Almost half of single-parent led families live in poverty in our province. In Saint John, one in four families are led by single mothers," he said. "This is not just an issue for my constituent, this is an issue that stands to impact many women and families across this province."

'This is about parental responsibility'

Horsman said he could not talk about an individual case for privacy reasons.

He said there are always different sides to a story and the department had rules and regulations that it had to follow. But he invited Coon to visit his office and, with permission of the woman, "we will certainly discuss that," he said.

"We will certainly be glad to help them out as best as we can with what the rules and regulations of this time," he said, adding that he is not opposed to changing policies "to make them better for the people of this province, maybe to modernize them."

A spokesperson for the Department of Social Development said Wednesday that staff ask questions to assess a client's financial need and work with clients to ensure they are provided "all the assistance to which they are entitled."

"Each client has his or her own set of circumstances and the department does all it can to work with our clients to help them in any way we can," the e-mailed statement said.

The e-mail added that staff would ask a single father if the mother of his children is able to help support the family. If neither parent is able to contribute financially, the department is there to assist.

Staff also takes into consideration if a parent is concerned about potential violence or any form of retribution from the other parent, and if there's an emergency or an urgent need for assistance, "We would provide immediate assistance before we establish eligibility to one of our programs," the statement read.

"This is not a question of sexism," it said. "This is about parental responsibility."