Refugees and income assistance - rebutting the chain email ("pensioners' myth")

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Responding to chain email with false information

Have you heard rumours that refugees in Canada receive greater assistance from the government than pensioners?

For many years, a persistent chain email has been circulating claiming that refugees receive significantly more money in income assistance than Canadians collecting a pension.  The information, which is based on a letter published in the Toronto Star, is false. The record has been set straight by the federal government and the Canadian Council for Refugees.

To read the Toronto Star's explanation on the history of this urban myth, you can click here.

Refugees come to Canada in different ways, but no matter the category, refugees receive very limited income assistance from the government.

The true picture is that:

  • Refugee claimants and refugees recognized by the Immigration and Refugee Board receive no special income assistance.  They may, depending on provincial regulations, be entitled, like other residents, to social assistance.
  • Privately sponsored refugees are not entitled to any government income assistance (whether from the federal or the provincial government) during the period of their sponsorship (usually for one year after arrival in Canada).  Their income support must be provided by their sponsors.
  • Government assisted refugees have access to financial assistance from the federal government through the Resettlement Assistance Program (RAP).  This financial assistance is generally for one year maximum and is received only if they do not have their own financial resources or income. The exact rate depends on the size of the family and is tied to social assistance rates.  In Ontario in July 2013, for example, a single person receives $781 per month.  In addition, government-assisted refugees are entitled to a one-time set up allowance, to cover such things as clothes, basic household effects and staples, and telephone installation.  For a single person there is a maximum one-time allowance of $905, plus a $564 loan for house rental and telephone line deposits.

Most resettled refugees arrive in Canada with a significant debt burden, since they are expected to repay the Canadian government for their transportation to Canada as well as the cost of their medical examination undertaken as part of their processing to come to Canada.  Refugee families therefore often begin life in Canada with a debt running to thousands of dollars.  Interest is charged on this loan at a rate set by the Department of Finance each year.

For more information on transportation loans for resettled refugees and the devastating impacts they have, see: and

Have you received a chain email or read a letter to the editor spreading this false information?

  • ‘Don’t believe everything you read in the paper…’ The same applies to the Internet! 
  • Think before you click –Sending on this email can have devastating impacts.  It spreads false rumours, hurting people who have already suffered in their home countries. Let’s offer them a better welcome to Canada than unfounded stigmas and prejudices.

Only in Canada: The truth about government support for refugee claimants

Please share!: Dr. Silvia D'Addario and York University students have set the facts straight on government support for refugee claimants

How can you set the record straight?

  • Share this infographic that sets the record straight on government support for refugee claimants:
  • Respond to the email with correct information and facts to the person who sent you this false information.  Give them the facts.  Ask them to send this information on to everyone that they sent the message to.  Here is a sample email message that you can use:

The information in this email is FALSE. 

Passing it on can have devastating impacts.  It spreads false rumours, hurting people who have already suffered in their home countries. Let’s show them a better welcome to Canada than unfounded stigmas and prejudices.

Put yourself in the shoes of a refugee in Canada - the TRUE picture is that some refugees who come to Canada receive no financial assistance from the government, and others at most extremely limited income assistance.

  • On top of a limited income, refugees resettled to Canada also arrive with a huge debt because they have to repay Canada for their travel costs.  Imagine arriving in Canada owing a debt greater than what you earned in your entire working life.  Many government-assisted refugees do just that and they must pay back the costs of their transportation to Canada, with interest.  For some families this can be as much as $10,000.  This is a huge burden for a refugee family that is starting fresh in a new country, with a new language to learn and few connections.  For more information, see:

Please send this information back to anyone who has received this false information to set the record straight. For more information see the websites of the department of Citizenship and Immigration Canada ( and the Canadian Council for Refugees (

  • Post a response to this chain email on your website or in your blog, with the correct information.
  • If the rumour is circulating widely in your community, talk to journalists at your local radio station or community newspaper to produce a piece with the correct information.  Take the opportunity to raise the realities and challenges faced by refugees in your community.

Looking for more information?

Explanation of the origins of the email by Toronto Star ombudsperson (below)

You Asked For It, article published by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, Sept.-Oct. 2005, responding to the chain email

Citizenship and Immigration Canada: Do government-assisted refugees get more income support and benefits than Canadian pensioners do?.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada: Financial support for Government-Assisted Refugees

For a rebuttal of a US version of the myth, see (a site dedicated to getting the facts on urban legends)

A version of the myth also made an appearance in Australia: ABC, MediaWatch

The Toronto Star ombudsperson published the following explanation of the origins of the email:

"Today's rather sad and twisted tale began last March when the Star published a feature about plans to settle hundreds of African refugees in smaller Canadian cities. It was a simple story: Canada and the United Nations were flying asylum-seekers from a Somali refugee camp to new lives in centres such as Hamilton. As immigration/diversity reporter Nicholas Keung wrote, immigration officials hope to encourage (but not force) refugees to make new lives outside the magnet cities of Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. "We hope by relocating them all together and resettling them as a whole to the same community, we can create a positive environment to help them integrate into the Canadian society successfully," an immigration official explained.

Fine and dandy. But halfway through the 1,500-word article, unforeseen trouble was lurking. In paragraph 16, the story said single refugees are eligible for $1,890 from Ottawa as a "start-up allowance, along with a $580 monthly social assistance, depending on how soon the person is able to find employment." In addition, they get "a night lamp, a table, a chair and a single bed from the government," the story said. In painful hindsight, those details could have been clearer. Actually, the $1,890 "start-up allowance" - including a $580 monthly social assistance cheque from Ottawa - was a one-time payment for basic household needs such as furnishings, pots and linens. The furniture is used. In quick order, two things happened after the article ran. First, a reader sent a nasty e-mail to the reporter. Among other things, it said charity begins at home and Canada should not "roll out the welcome mat" for refugees. The e-mailer assumed - erroneously - that the refugees would collect $2,470 a month. They'd be better off than Canadian pensioners.

More worrisome, the polemicist sent his rant to 100 recipients, some of whom likely spread the word to wider audiences. Ah, the wonders of the Internet! Alarmed by the e-mail, reporter Keung tried to contact the sender. It was too late. Having spread the misinformation, the e-mailer already had changed his address. At the same time, a second development occurred. The Star ran a letter to the editor that said the $2,470 "compares very well to a single pensioner who after contributing to the growth and development of Canada for 40 years can only receive a monthly maximum of $1,012 in old age pension and Guaranteed Income Supplement. "Maybe our pensioners should apply as refugees?" reasoned the writer.

Readers may not realize that fact checking of letters to the editor is nearly impossible at most daily papers, given limited staff resources and unforgiving deadlines. Although many mistakes are caught, the occasional doozer gets through. That was definitely the case here. Over the next several months, it became increasingly clear a disturbing urban myth had been born. Various offices at the Star have been getting e-mails from around the world, usually one or two a week. Many quote from the erroneous letter to the editor, expressing varying degrees of curiosity, dismay, envy or anger. "Let's send this to all Canadians," one e-mail roared, "so we can all be p----- off and maybe we can get the refugees cut back to $1,012 and the pensioners up to $2,470 and enjoy some of the money we were forced to submit to the government over the last 40 or 50 years." In hindsight, the ombud now wishes he'd issued a speedy clarification to help set the record straight. But with information (and misinformation) moving at warp speed on the Internet, I doubt there was a silver bullet for the problem. Maybe this column can help dispel a damaging misperception about refugees and pensioners. Please tell your friends."  (Toronto Star, Nov. 27, 2004.  Reproduced with permission - Torstar Syndication Services).

One version of the email reads as follows:

Only in Canada.

Do not apply for your old age pension. Apply to be a refugee. It is interesting that the federal government provides a single refugee with a monthly allowance of $1,890.00 and each can get an additional $580.00 in social assistance for a total of $2,470.00.

This compares very well to a single pensioner who, after contributing to the growth and development of Canada for 40 or 50 years, can only receive a monthly maximum of $1,012.00 in old age pension and Guaranteed Income Supplement.

Maybe our pensioners should apply as refugees!

Let's send this thought to as many Canadians as we can and maybe we can get the refugees cut back to $1,012.00 and the pensioners up to $2,470.00, so they can enjoy the money they were forced to submit to the Canadian government for those 40 to 50 years.

Please forward this to every Canadian you know.

Updated July 2013