S.A. v. METRO VANCOUVER HOUSING CORP., 2019 SCC 4

Henson trust is not an “asset” and therefore does not cause any impediment in the application seeking the rental assistance program.

The case is before the Hon’ble Supreme Court of Canada. Ms. A is a person with disabilities who is a regular recipient of government social assistance benefits. Her father died in the year 2012, and some money was put “in trust” in her favor. The term “in trust” means that a person shall take care of it for someone else. Although there are different types of trusts, the case to which Ms. A is associated is the one called a “Henson trust”. Through this trust, certain amount of money is kept aside for the person with disabilities and such person can at the same time enjoy the government benefits. This trust does not call for the disclosure of income or assets as the power with regards to how much is to be paid lies with the trustee. Trustee cannot be forced for anything. In the instant case, both Ms. A and her sister were trustees and had to agree on all decisions together.

Ms. A’s accommodation was in a housing complex owned by the Metro Vancouver Housing Corporation. This housing complex required the people to apply for the affordable living by showing and proving low annual income. Metro Vancouver Housing also had a rental assistance program to lower monthly rent payments even more for tenants with less than $25,000 in assets. But the same benefits and assistance is certainly not for all and residents had to fill out their application after which the Metro Vancouver Housing shall decide who shall be the recipients of such benefits. Ms. A had also applied and got it every year. Particularly in the year 2015, she applied for the same benefits but this time her application was rejected on the ground that the trust in her name was counted as an asset. She was declared ineligible for rental assistance.

Both the B.C. Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal favoured Metro Vancouver Housing. However, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of Canada refused to agree. The Court threw light on the term “asset” and said that its definition is not mentioned in the rent agreement but in general parlance, asset is referred to some property that holds certain value (Ledcor Construction Ltd. v. Northbridge Indemnity Insurance Co. 2016 SCC 37: [2016] 2 S.C.R. 23). The Court said that the trust could have been considered as an “asset” if at all Ms. A had control over it but she doesn’t and because she has no control, she can never count on it whether she would be able to pay rent out of it or not. At the same time, the Court recognized the fact that it is the Metro Vancouver Housing’s decision as to which applications shall be given priority, however the action of refusing to consider Ms. A’s application is what caused the breach of Ms. A’s right. With regards to the quantum of compensation to be given to Ms. A, the case was reverted to the trial judge. Such compensation should place her in the same position as she was before the happening of such breach, the court ruled.