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Possible class-action lawsuit filed in Alberta over child special allowance payments

The Alberta and federal governments are facing a potential class action lawsuit over how the province handled payments that were supposed to be made to children in care. Alberta's provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, Tuesday June 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

EDMONTON — The Alberta and federal governments are facing a potential class-action lawsuit over how the province handled payments for children in care. 

A statement of claim filed Friday alleges Alberta took payments received from Ottawa that were meant to provide benefits for children in care and folded them into general revenue to offset the amount it spent on maintenance of such children. 

"If a child comes into care, the child shouldn't be deprived of that benefit," lawyer Kris Saxberg, who's handling the case, said Monday.

Similar to cases already filed in other provinces, the statement of claim singles out the federal Children's Special Allowance, a payment meant to ensure children in foster care receive equal treatment to those receiving the Canada Child Benefit.

The money, said Saxberg, is intended for extras that would benefit the child but that might not be covered otherwise, such as music lessons, sports coaching or cosmetic dental work. 

"(It's) for those children, so they're treated just the same as children in other houses," Saxberg said. 

Those payments were calculated at $620 per month for a child under six and $520 for a child between six and 18. However, the statement of claim alleges that for many children, the province of Alberta applied that money against what it was spending on regular foster care maintenance payments. 

The children missing out were mostly Indigenous and were being cared for off-reserve, the document says. 

The lawsuit, which hasn't yet been certified as a class action, could apply to thousands of Albertans, Saxberg added. 

"We expect it could be as many as 30,000 people that could be affected."

Saxberg said the federal government is also named in the suit because it had the responsibility to ensure its funds were being used appropriately.  

The federal government did not respond to a request for comment. The Alberta government declined to comment as the case is before the courts. 

Similar lawsuits have been launched in Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

The Manitoba government agreed to $334 million in damages, although it is still negotiating over how many people are eligible for a share. The case against Saskatchewan was filed in June. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 27, 2023.

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

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