The Impact of Regionally Differentiated Entitlement to EI on Charter-Protected Canadians, 33 Mowat Centre EI Task Force (2011)
Under Canada’s Employment Insurance (EI) program, access to unemployment benefits varies according to the regional unemployment rate. Previous studies have shown that this regime works to the disadvantage of certain provinces and urban areas. In this paper we measure the impact of the variable regional entrance requirements on specific minority workers, including visible minorities, linguistic minorities, recent immigrants, and naturalized citizens. We find that over the period 2000-2010, the regional variation in access to EI results in certain minority workers being required to work modestly more hours to qualify for EI than the average worker. Though the findings with regard to minority workers are modest, the differential treatment of workers by region remains problematic as a matter of both fairness and policy design. Because there are political barriers blocking the elimination or modification of the regional entrance requirements in Parliament, it may be fruitful to turn to the courts in pursuing reform. We provide a legal analysis under s. 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to investigate whether the impact of the regional entrance requirements could be considered unconstitutional adverse effects discrimination. We conclude that while the data does not support a constitutional claim today, if the differential, negative impact on minority workers increases in the future the chances of an equality rights challenge succeeding would also grow.