Income Security (Legal Information for Indigenous People)

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Employment Insurance

The EI Application is online and takes about 40 minutes. As a general rule, apply within 4 weeks of stopping work

Eligibility considerations include:

  • Regular benefits
    • Eligible if you lose work through no fault of your own (shortage of work, laid off, etc.) and
    • You have the required amount of hours in the last 52 weeks (a minimum of 420 hours) but changes back to pre-Covid rules September 24, 2022
  • Sickness benefits
    • Eligible if unable to work for medical reasons
    • Have enough hours
    • Medical note
  • Maternity
    • Eligible when pregnant or caring for newborn
    • Have enough hours
  • Caregiver benefits
    • Providing care for critically ill or injured family member
    • Have enough hours
    • Medical note
  • Parental Benefits
    • Eligible when parents are away from work to care for their newborn or newly adopted child
    • Have enough hours
  • Fishing EI
    • Have made the required earnings $2500 from fishing
    • Apply within four weeks from end of fishing
  • Compassionate Care Benefits
    • Providing care for family member in need of end-of- life care
    • Have enough hours
    • Medical note

General tips:

  • Apply ASAP. You do not need to wait for your ROE. You will want to confirm that it has been sent. You will not get money from EI until the ROE is received.
  • If quit or fired or late applying call a Legal Advocate to assist. Do not assume you are not eligible.
  • If you return to work, even temporarily, report the income because you could owe money back if you double-dip and you may have a harder time getting EI in the future.
  • If fired, you will be ineligible for EI unless you can show that you did not lose your job due to your own misconduct.
  • If you quit, you will be ineligible unless you show that there was no reasonable alternative to quitting (e.g. hostile work environment) and that quitting was the only reasonable solution.
  • If denied, call a Legal Advocate: to assess and help with an appeal You must file within 30 days after the date the decision was communicated to you.

See People's Law School website for plain language publications about Employment Standards and E.I. and many more legal topics!

Disability benefits

There are different kinds of Disability Benefits that people may be eligible for. It is important that you check the requirements so you apply for the best one for you.

Canada Pension Plan Disability (CPP-D) benefits

To qualify for CPP-D, you must:

  • Be under 65 years of age
  • Have made the required amount of contributions from your paychecks
  • Not all Bands contribute to CPP, so check your pay stub to check or ask if unsure
  • Have made contributions to the program in four of six years before you became disabled, with minimum levels of earnings in each of these years, or in three of the prior six years for those with 25 or more years of contribution
  • Call Service Canada to check if you are unsure about contributions 1-800-277-9914.
  • Have not collected CPP Early Retirement for more than 15 months and
  • Have a “severe and prolonged” disability as defined in the CPP legislation: Severe is a condition that makes “a person incapable of regularly pursuing any substantially gainful occupation.” Prolonged is defined as “likely to be long continued and of indefinite duration or is likely to result in death…”
  • You can apply online or by mail. See:

Talk to your Doctor about filling in the forms. Call a Legal Advocate for help applying. If you are denied, call the Disability Alliance of BC or another Legal Advocate for help with an appeal 604-872-1278

Employment disability benefits

e.g. Sun Life, Canada Life, Municipal, I.W.A.

Employment Benefits such as Disability, Pension and Life Insurance are typically given to full-time employees as part of the employment contract and the employer/ee would pay into this benefit package during their employment. The benefit package would contain the qualifying Disability requirements.

Persons with Disabilities: on and off reserve applications

To apply for disability benefits on reserve, you need to request the disability application form from the Band Social Development Worker. Take the application to your doctor to complete. If you are denied a Disability claim, you have the right to appeal within 20 business days from the decision.

For help with disability applications and appeals: Contact a Legal Advocate near you and/or call the British Columbia Aboriginal Network on Disability Society (BCANDS) 1-888-815 -5511.

When living off reserve, people apply for the Persons with Disabilities (PWD) designation through the Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation. To start the application process:

  • apply online through
  • call 1-866-866-0800 to apply by phone; or
  • apply in person at a Ministry office

To qualify, you must meet the Ministry’s financial eligibility criteria and complete a PWD application with a doctor. For more support, call a Legal Advocate and/or contact the Disability Alliance of BC for help with applications and appeals for the PWD designation 1-800-663-1278

Both on and off reserve, in order to get the PWD designation you must:

  • be at least 18,
  • have a disability that is severe and expected to last at least two years,
  • have daily living activities that are directly and significantly restricted by your disability, and
  • to do daily living activities, you need an assistive device, or help or supervision from another person, or an assistance animal.

Employment standards: on and off reserve employment

If you have a Complaint: The Canada Labour Code sets federal labour standards for people employed in federal industries, which often includes First Nations Bands and other employment on reserve.

Call Canada Labour to confirm jurisdiction (Federal or Provincial) 1-800-641-4049 and to speak with a Labour Program Officer about your rights and the options you have if your rights have been violated.

Note time limits for filing complaints:

  • Monetary and Non-Monetary Complaints must be filed within 6 months
  • Unjust Dismissal Complaints must be filed within 90 days
  • The deadline starts running from the last day the employer was required to pay you or from when you were aware of the issue.

Special Note: Sometimes people are inaccurately defined as Contractors instead of as Employees. This misclassification can result in not getting proper employee benefits (like vacation pay, overtime, severance pay etc.) and not paying into unemployment benefits like EI.

"Having a contract" does not necessarily mean you are a contractor; it could simply mean you are an employee with a contract. The relationship is more likely that of an employer & employee if: You perform work for another for wages, the person who pays you controls the material and tools of the job, and directs the activities (sets the hours and the tasks). Canada Labour can help get you classified properly, especially because there can be other factors to consider. If you were misclassified the employer may owe you money retroactively.

If your work is off reserve and not for a federally regulated employer then your remedy is usually to go to BC Employment Standards 1-833-236-3700. You have 1 year to file your complaint.

Debt: issues on and off reserve

Debt can feel overwhelming, but the good news is that there are BC laws that specifically offer protections to debtors. The Business Practices and Consumer Protection Act offers many protections to consumers in its regulations of business practices.

Debt collectors harassing you with phone calls? You can stop debt collector’s calls with a simple letter asking for all communication to be in writing. You can find this letter on the Consumer Protection BC website To find it, go to the “consumer help” section, then click on “debt collection.” Save proof that you sent the letter. If they continue to call you, then you can report to Consumer Protection. Consumer Protection responds to consumer inquiries and investigates alleged violations of consumer protection laws. 1-888 -564-9963

Similarly, the Vehicle Sales Authority of BC can help you address car dealerships with bad sales practices. To make a complaint call 1-877-294-9889.

Do you need help figuring out how to manage your debt load? The Credit Counselling Society 1-888-951-8602 provides free and confidential help with debt, such as setting up repayment plans, debt consolidation, and other ways to reduce the interest you have to pay. “We understand debt happens to the best of us, and too much debt is something we never planned to have.”

Know your rights

Creditors cannot garnish your wages or put liens on any property located on a reserve. Section 89 (1) of the Indian Act provides that “the real and personal property of an Indian or a band situated on a reserve is not subject to charge, pledge, mortgage, attachment, levy, seizure, distress or execution in favour or at the instance of any person other than an Indian or a band.”

Two exceptions to note:

  • Conditional Sales Agreements: If you buy a truck on credit and don’t pay, then the dealer can come after you for payment or to repossess the vehicle.
  • If the “creditor” is Indigenous: This is how, for example, Family Maintenance can enforce (garnish wages on reserve) a child support order for unpaid child support - because the money is owed for the Indigenous child.

© Copyright 2022, Bella Coola Legal Advocacy Program (BCLAP).