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“The concept of female presumption might not reflect today’s reality”: Auditor General

On February 25, 2021, the Auditor General released a report into the Canada Child Benefit program, which highlighted a serious problem with its “female presumption” framework.

To date, the government has presumed that any adult female in a household is the primary caregiver. The Report concluded that “the concept of female presumption might not reflect today’s reality.” The CRA has accepted the Auditor General’s conclusions and is considering ways to ensure that all families have equal access to government support.

In response, a coalition of groups is asking the Canadian federal government to amend the Income Tax Act.

The Income Tax Act (ITA), Section 122.6(f), provides that any female in the residence of the child is presumed to be the primary parent and the recipient of the Canada Child Benefit (CCB).

income tax act 122.6(f)
definition of eligible individual
(f) where the qualified dependant resides with the dependant’s female parent, the parent who primarily fulfils the responsibility for the care and upbringing of the qualified dependant is presumed to be the female parent,

The Canada Revenue Agency further clarifies eligibility as follows:

When both a female and male parent live in the same home as the child, the female parent is usually considered to be primarily responsible for the care and upbringing of the child. She should be the one applying for the CCB. However, if the male parent is primarily responsible, he should apply and attach a signed letter from the female parent stating that he is the parent who is primarily responsible for all the children in the home. [1]

In instances where there is an unrelated female adult living in the child’s residence, the CCB will by default be provided to this female individual, even though she may have no biological or custodial connection to the child. [2]

Fathers who are primary caregivers must receive written permission from their female partner and/or jump through a variety of additional hoops in order to be eligible for the benefit.

The Auditor’s Report states that “today, families in Canada come in many different forms not envisaged only a short time ago. Laws, procedures, and systems have not always followed course with the changing reality of what constitutes a family.”

The current policy, which excludes people from family-related benefits based on outdated, sexist presumptions, conflicts with government policies on diversity, inclusion and equality. In 2005, Canada legislated marriage equality for same sex couples. Families are not, and have never been, restricted to one man and one woman. The presumption of a sole female primary parent is out of step with family diversity. Canadian families take many forms, including families with two dads, two moms, and parents who identify in non-traditional gender terms.

The female primary parent presumption affects women’s equality too. The continued incentivizing for women to remain primary caregiver enshrines an unhelpful gender binary. Women’s equality in the workplace is directly linked to men’s equality in parenting.

Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees “equal protection and benefit of the law for male and female persons” (Section 28). The Income Tax Act is in violation of the Charter.

Most egregiously, the current policy has the effect of denying children with a father as primary parent with direct and unhindered access to critical financial support to which they should be entitled.

We propose that the ITA be amended such that 122.6(f) be struck in its entirety and the rest of 122.6 be amended to follow the same eligibility framework as is already provided for in shared custody arrangements, namely that each parent receive 50% of the available CCB.

The Coalition calls upon all Canadians who believe in equality, fairness and the best interest of children, to support this timely change. In 2021, policy and law must catch up with the evolving family landscape of our nation.

[1] https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/child-family-benefits/canada-child-benefit-overview/canada-child-benefit-before-you-apply.html

[2] for example,
https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/revenue-canada-rule-on-child-benefits-upsets-dad-1.1048992