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New Brunswick First Nations Sue Federal Government over Welfare-Benefits Slash

Slashing welfare benefits alone will not spur First Nations citizens to go out and look for work if the work does not exist, say chiefs who are suing the federal government; it will only increase poverty.

First Nation chiefs of New Brunswick are suing the federal government for reducing welfare benefits.

"In many of our communities, unemployment is over 50 per cent," said Chief George Ginnish of the Eel Ground First Nation, according to the Times and Transcript. "We have been begging the government to work with us to move our people into jobs, but they've refused to even meet with us."

The suit was announced on October 19 and is being filed by several Assembly of First Nations regional chiefs.

“The federal government is behaving unconstitutionally,” said Kelly Lamrock, a former New Brunswick attorney general and part of the chiefs’ legal team. “By singling out certain provinces for deeper cuts, they are discriminating against New Brunswickers and discriminating against First Nations people."

The cuts are a byproduct of a new federal rule that detaches social assistance rates from rent and heat expenses. Instead, recipients will be paid the same rate province-wide, in an equation that will no longer include individual factors such as employment opportunities or the cost of food and shelter in the calculations determining need, the Times and Transcript said.

The underlying logic, Chief Jesse Simon of the Elsipogtog First Nation told the newspaper, is to get people back to work. But since the government is not replacing the welfare benefits with job training or other assistance in actually procuring work, he said, the measures are bound to fall flat.

"We want to help our people enjoy the dignity of work, but no one will get training or present well for work if they are wondering every day how to feed their children,” Simon told the Times and Transcript.