HALIFAX — The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission has for a second time rejected a discrimination claim by five social assistance recipients who say the province hasn't increased the special diet allowance for those with chronic medical problems since 1996.
The commission's board had been ordered to re-visit the issue in January by the Nova Scotia Supreme Court.
Justice James Chipman said the commission had been "unreasonable" in rejecting the initial claim and said it should reconsider in "accordance with the principles of fairness and transparency."
In a Feb. 24 letter sent to the recipients' lawyer, Vincent Calderhead, chair Eunice Harker says the commission is dismissing the complaint because no significant issues of discrimination were raised.
"Upon review, it is evident the special diet program needs to be reviewed by the province. This board expressed the view that the individual personal benefits as well as the special diet allowances are concerning."
Harker said that the decision is in accordance with the province's Human Rights Act.
"These decisions are very difficult for us to make as we recognize persons in receipt of social benefits are on a low fixed income. However, our decisions must be based on factual and legislative reasoning."
Harker's letter went on to urge the province to complete its review of the social assistance program "in a timely manner."
In an email, Calderhead expressed disappointment with the decision.
"This time, their letter is more lengthy and contains some criticisms of the province for its failure to increase rates," he wrote.
"Still, it is very frustrating the commission couldn't see its way to at least giving the complainants a hearing."
Nova Scotia Community Services Minister Joanne Bernard has said her department is considering what to do with special diet allowances as it examines its social assistance programs, but she has made no specific promise of change.
The department says it spends a significant portion of its overall benefits budget for special diets — at about $8.8 million in 2015-16.
About 9,000 Nova Scotians get special diet assistance each month.
The Canadian Press