Outstanding Warrants and Welfare

Script 204 gives information only, not legal advice. If you have a legal problem or need legal advice, you should speak to a lawyer. For the name of a lawyer to consult, call Lawyer Referral at 604.687.3221 in the lower mainland or 1.800.663.1919 elsewhere in British Columbia.

This script explains that, as of June 1, 2010, you cannot get welfare in BC if there is an outstanding warrant for your arrest. It describes when the rule applies and the exceptions to it.

What is a warrant?
A court document that allows the police to arrest a person.

What is an outstanding warrant?
A warrant that the police have not acted on – meaning the person has not been arrested.

What is “welfare”?
In this script, welfare means income assistance, hardship assistance, disability assistance, and other types of financial help under the BC Employment and Assistance Program.

How does an outstanding warrant affect welfare?
As of June 1, 2010, if there is an outstanding arrest warrant for you for an indictable or hybrid offence anywhere in Canada, you cannot get welfare in BC. You have to do something about the warrant before you can get welfare. This change is in section 15.2 of the Employment and Assistance Act and section 14.2 of the Employment and Assistance for Persons with Disabilities Act. These BC laws, and their regulations, are available at www.bclaws.ca.

Indictable offences are the more serious ones, usually under the Criminal Code or the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. They include assault with a weapon, aggravated assault, theft over $5000, drug trafficking, and murder. Less serious offences are called summary offences. Some offences, such as assault, assault causing bodily harm, theft under $5000, and breaking and entering can be either indictable or summary – they are called hybrid offences. The prosecutor can choose how to treat these offences in each case.

The new rule prohibiting welfare payments if there’s an outstanding arrest warrant also applies to warrants under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (Canada).

These 3 federal laws are available at http://laws.justice.gc.ca/en.

How does the government know if there is an outstanding warrant for your arrest?
You have to say if you have any outstanding warrants when you apply for welfare and when you report monthly as you receive welfare. If you don’t tell the truth, you can be penalized and lose payments. You also have to agree that the government can check the information you report.

But you may not know if you have an outstanding warrant. For example, even if there was a warrant for your arrest, it may have been canceled if the prosecutor “stayed” the charge (did not proceed with it). Or you may know there’s a warrant, but not know if it’s for an indictable or hybrid offence. So the most accurate answer may be that you don’t know if there’s an outstanding warrant for your arrest. The government can then check for any outstanding warrants for your arrest and what type of offence they are for.

Dealing with an outstanding warrant
How you deal with an outstanding warrant depends on the facts of the case and the offence you are charged with. You have various options. For example, you can call the prosecutor where the warrant was issued to ask if the warrant can be canceled. Or you can go back to that place to deal with it. Or you can talk to a prosecutor in BC about resolving the warrant.

It’s important to get legal advice before you decide what to do. For details, check the CLAS website listed at the end of this script.

If the government says you can’t get welfare or it cuts you off from welfare, you can appeal that decision. First, you ask for a reconsideration. If that doesn’t work, you can appeal to the Employment and Assistance Appeal Tribunal. Check script 288, “Income Assistance: Reconsiderations and Appeals”, for more information.

If you lose the reconsideration and the appeal, you may be able to get legal help from the Community Legal Assistance Society. Check its website at www.clasbc.net – click on “Publications”, then on “General Legal Publications”, and finally on “Welfare and Outstanding Warrants” factsheet.

The family of a person with an outstanding warrant is still eligible for welfare. And children, pregnant women, and people in the end stage of a terminal illness can still get welfare if there is an outstanding warrant for their arrest.

Financial help if you can’t get welfare because of an outstanding warrant
You may be able to get a repayable monthly supplement for up to 3 months to avoid undue hardship (or for up to 6 months in exceptional circumstances).

You may also be able to get a repayable transportation supplement so you can to go back to the place where the warrant is outstanding and deal with it.

More information
Check the following websites:

  • The BC Ministry of Social Development online resources page at www.gov.bc.ca/meia/online_resource – click on “Verification and Eligibility” and then on “Warrants”.
  • The Ministry’s main page at www.gov.bc.ca/hsd – click on “Employment and Income Assistance”.
  • Community Legal Assistance Society (CLAS) at www.clasbc.net – click on “Publications”, then on “General Legal Publications”, and finally on “Welfare and Outstanding Warrants” factsheet. It has detailed information.

Also check script 288, called “Income Assistance: Reconsiderations and Appeals” and script 289, called “Financial Help for People with Disabilities”.

[updated October 2012]

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