CUPE President Paul Moist congratulated the Supreme of Canada today for their decision in support of same-sex spousal Canada Pension Plan (CPP) benefits. “However,” says Moist, “the court’s decision to deny retroactive pay to those who have been denied the benefit is a real disappointment.”
CUPE has been an important player in the battle for same-sex spousal benefits. In fact, same-sex spousal benefit entitlements stem from the CUPE charter challenge, the very first charter challenge on the matter. The CUPE case successfully challenged the Income Tax Act definition of spouse for the purpose of paying pension benefits under workplace pension plans.
“Of significance,” says Claude Généreux, CUPE national Secretary-Treasurer “is that CUPE used the Court Challenges Program to help fight and win our case.”
An amendment to the CPP to allow same-sex spousal benefits came after the Supreme court ruling in 1999 (M v H) However, the government limited the benefit to partners whose spouse died on or after Jan 1, 1998, rather than allowing benefit payments back to 1985, when the Charter became effective. Then in 2000 a further amendment was made precluding payment to same-sex survivors before July 2000. This amendment came to an end in July 2001 when the CPP was further amended to say that all survivors, and estates, are entitled to benefits retroactive to 12 months prior to the date of application for the benefit.
A class action was filed challenging the constitutionality of the four amendments. The suit was seeking that same-sex spousal benefits be required under the CPP and fully retroactive to the date of the charter in 1985.
“While it’s good that the Canada Pension Plan must pay same-sex spousal benefits, it is worrisome that the court would find that the government does not need to live up to the Charter retroactively,” says the CUPE president, “a government should never trump the rights of a minority group.”