2 min

Gay widows demand pensions

"The gay and lesbian community is not going to settle for partial equality,"

It’s starting to look like the real test of a homo in this country is not what you do in bed, but how much time you spend in court.

First it was those gay couples wanting to be married, now it’s gay widowers who have a beef.

This week the law firm of Elliott And Kim launched a class action lawsuit against the federal government, which could be worth $400-million to 10,000 same-sex widowers.

“The gay and lesbian community is not going to settle for partial equality,” says lawyer Douglas Elliott, who is also involved in the Ontario marriage court cases. “If that means we have to keep suing the federal government or the provincial government, we’ll keep on doing it.”

Elliott is arguing that the federal government discriminates against same-sex couples by denying partners survivor pensions unless their partners died after Jan 1, 1998. Elliott wants the government to cough up money to people whose partners died between that cut-off date and 1985 – when Canada’s Charter Of Rights And Freedoms came into effect.

Well-known Toronto activist George Hislop is the representative plaintiff. He was with his partner Ronnie Shearer for 28 years when Shearer died in 1986.

When Hislop, 74, asked for Canadian Pension Plan benefits immediately after Shearer’s death, he was told he wasn’t eligible. After the passage of Bill C-23 – which changed many Canadian laws and statutes to treat gay and lesbian people more fairly – in 2000, Hislop asked again. And he was again told he was ineligible.

“As far as the government was concerned, Ronnie dies on the wrong date,” Hislop said at a news conference Tuesday.

Elliott estimates Hislop should have been paid $75,000 by now, based on a maximum monthly pension of $465.

Class action suits aren’t common in Canada (it will take about two months to see if this one is approved). As representative plaintiff, Hislop is the one in court and in the public eye. But if the case succeeds, everyone who is affected benefits, even if they did not participate.

“You can be a closeted lesbian living in Iqualuit and you’re included,” says Elliott. If they lose the case, the firm gets nothing. If they win, the court will approve a fee for their efforts.

Justice department spokesperson Patrick Charette said the government hasn’t seen the claim yet, but that the government was under no obligation to make C-23 retroactive at all.

“C-23 balanced the desire to be generous with the need to be fiscally responsible,” says Charette.

A separate class action lawsuit was also launched Tuesday in British Columbia. There is no action underway in Quebec, because it has its own pension plan.