VANDERHOOF, B.C. - A man accused of stealing $50,000 in welfare money may have been living as "buddies with benefits" with another man, but a B.C. judge has ruled there was no proof the two men were living in a common-law relationship.
The finding was key to provincial court Judge Darrell O'Byrne's decision to throw out a fraud charge against Gordon Street of Vanderhoof, B.C.
Street was charged over accusations he received too much social assistance money, with the Crown arguing he failed to disclose he was in a common-law relationship with another man.
Street collected $50,000 over a period of five years beginning in 2001.
In September 2001, Street said he was single and never married on his assistance review, although he claimed to be living with someone at least twice while making claims for financial help.
Street's lawyer argued the claim was accurate, because a gay man could not legally have been married to another man at the time.
The government was tipped off to the fraud allegations because Street went to the provincial Ministry of Social Development in 2007 asking for help to make a claim of spousal maintenance against his partner Don Lewis.
Street told government workers he had been in a common-law relationship with Lewis for 23 years that ended in June 2006.
The court heard spousal support was never obtained, because Lewis was on a pension and his income was too low to pay support.
Lewis later sent a letter to an ministry investigator looking into the welfare fraud allegation saying that the two men were just "buddies."
In a written decision issued last week, O'Byrne said the evidence didn't support the prosecution's claims.
"The Crown submits that Mr. Street represented that he was single — living alone to the ministry in his eligibility review. However, this is not what the evidence discloses," O'Byrne said in his ruling.
O'Byrne said the fact that Street decided to proceed with an application for spousal support doesn't establish that he was in a common-law relationship.
"At best, Mr. Street and Mr. Lewis may have been more than roommates, and may have been 'buddies with benefits.' but I do not find beyond a reasonable doubt that they were in a same sex, common-law relationship."
The judge said he found Street did disclose that he was living in the same residence as Lewis.
"The ministry representatives did not make any inquiries about this living arrangement that I have any evidence about," the judge ruled.
"I find him not guilty."