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Ex-lover not his spouse

Man says he was denied benefits because ministry doesn't get gay friendship

The BC Human Rights Tribunal has agreed to hear a complaint from a gay man who says he was wrongly denied disability benefits because of his relationship with his ex-lover.

According to tribunal documents, Ronald Deneault alleges the Ministry of Social Development discriminated against him with respect to the provision of services customarily available to the public, on the basis of his marital and family status, his physical and mental disability and his sexual orientation.

Deneault had been accepted for benefits until the ministry investigated his living situation and discovered his roommate is a former lover.

Deneault alleges the ministry based its determination, at least in part, on a heteronormative assumption not applicable to the gay community.

In the gay community, he says, it is common for ex-lovers to remain close friends.

Deneault, 46, has suffered chronic back pain due to a degenerative disc for about 20 years. In 2000 he received a spinal fusion. Unfortunately, the pain did not subside and became much worse.

He and his now-roommate moved in together as spouses in 1999 and received income assistance until 2000 as spouses. The relationship ended in 2000 but they continued to live together.

In 2008, Deneault applied for income assistance and told the ministry of his living situation. He says the request was approved in 2009.

But according to tribunal documents, Deneault says the ministry subsequently investigated his relationship and denied the claim, saying he was in a spousal relationship and ineligible. That decision was upheld on appeal.

Deneault then began to receive repayable benefits for four months in early 2010. In order to receive the benefits, he says, he had to make two trips to a ministry office for each cheque and endure long waits and repetitive questioning.

“He states that this process had a significant detrimental impact on his mental and physical health. Mr Deneault said that he became overwhelmed with a state of helplessness, hopelessness and frustration, which culminated in a suicidal attempt and hospitalization,” tribunal member Marlene Tyshynski writes in her decision to hear the case.

In May 2010, Deneault says he was again denied benefits and was told to reapply with his spouse.

Deneault alleges he was discriminated against because the ministry assumed that he and his roommate, being former lovers, “were really still in a spousal relationship.”

The ministry had sought to have the case dismissed. “I find that it is in the public interest to accept Mr Deneault’s complaint in order to provide the tribunal with an opportunity to determine whether his novel allegations constitute discrimination,” Tyshynski ruled.

The tribunal does not release hearing dates until 90 days before a case is set to be heard. The date for the Deneault case has yet to be posted.