Ontario's minister of community and social services said she is "perturbed" to hear about a claim that husbands with multiple wives are "taking advantage" of welfare and social benefits in the province.
According to a published report, an official from the Canadian Society of Muslims estimated that "several hundred" Greater Toronto Area husbands in polygamous marriages are receiving benefits for their many wives.
Mumtaz Ali referred to a passage in the Ontario Family Law Act, which recognizes multiple spouses provided the marriage was celebrated in a country that recognizes it as valid.
The Family Law Act was designed to create equality among spouses, but polygamy is illegal in Canada, officials said.
"Not knowing the law is not an excuse," said Madeleine Meilleur, minister of community and social services, which funds the social assistance program Ontario Works.
It is unclear from Ali's comments whether the Muslim men are illegally claiming benefits for more than one wife, either as a spouse or a dependent, or the additional wives are claiming as individuals, which is permissible.
John Tory, leader of the Ontario opposition, said the government needs to clarify how the Ontario Works Act and the Family Law Act work.
Both city and provincial officials insist that in Ontario, social benefits can be claimed for only one spouse.
"Nothing is stopping the other people who live in the same dwelling applying as individuals and if they meet the requirements they may be eligible for social assistance.but you definitely cannot tick off that you have more than one spouse because it's not recognized, it's not legal in Ontario," said Julia Sakas, communications assistant to Meilleur.