“We won!” exclaims lawyer Ken Smith, still jubilant about a Dec 19 Ontario court decision on who counts as a spouse under the Canada Pension Plan (CPP). The decision stems from a class action suit launched by a group of queer widows and widowers seeking CPP back payments from the federal government. The widows say they were left out in the cold when the government changed its CPP definition of spouse a few years ago. Though the government agreed to count same-sex partners as spouses in 2000-and pay them CPP survivor benefits after their partners die-they only backdated the decision to 1998. That means anyone whose partner died before 1998 didn’t get a cent. And that’s not fair, the class action group told the court in September. The government should have made its CPP survivor benefits retroactive to 1985-the year it passed the Charter of Rights guaranteeing protection from discrimination. Last week, an Ontario judge agreed.
The government violated the Charter when it refused to backdate its amended CPP spousal benefits to 1985, the judge ruled. Smith, who helped represent the BC members of the group, is extremely pleased with the decision. “It’s a really big win because it tells the senior citizens in our community that they were worthy of equal treatment way back in 1985,” he says. Several members of the class action suit are now seniors in their 70s and lost their partners in the 1980s. They should see some substantial cheques from the government soon, Smith says, adding up monthly back payments plus interest. But lead complainant George Hislop, 76, says it’s about more than just the money. This ruling puts “me on equal with every other Canadian who has lost a spouse,” he says. The ruling will also benefit suit members who lost partners to HIV/AIDS, Smith points out. “It’s a fabulous win!” No word yet on whether the government will appeal.
LEGIT WINS AWARD
Vancouver’s lesbian and gay immigration task force (LEGIT) and its offshoot, the Rainbow Refugee Committee, won a prestigious human rights award Dec 10. Every year, the BC Human Rights Coalition, in conjunction with the United Nations Association, commemorates the signing of the universal declaration of human rights by recognizing local and international groups for their efforts. This year, LEGIT and the Rainbow Refugee Committee shared the nod “for their outstanding contribution in the field of human rights.” Since its inception more than a decade ago, LEGIT has not only supported many queer couples trying to immigrate to Canada-it’s also helped change the definition of family in federal immigration policies to stop discriminating against same-sex couples. “It’s quite an honour to actually be acknowledged,” says LEGIT founder Chris Morrissey.
LEGIT meets every last Thu of the month at 7:30 pm at The Centre on Bute St (except for Christmas). The Rainbow Refugee Coalition meets every second Thu of the month at 7:30 pm at The Centre to support people seeking refugee status on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity or HIV status.
CHILD PUNISHED FOR SAYING ‘GAY’
A Louisiana school punished a seven-year-old boy last month for telling a classmate his mom is gay. Marcus McLaurin was waiting in line to go to recess at Ernest Gallet Elementary School when a classmate asked him about his mother and father. McLaurin replied that he doesn’t have a mother and father; he has two moms. When the other child asked why, McLaurin explained that his mom is gay. When the other child then asked what that means, McLaurin explained that, “Gay is when a girl likes another girl.” His teacher immediately scolded him in front of his classmates and informed him that gay is a bad word. Then she sent him to the principal’s office. The next morning McLaurin had to write the line, “I will never use the word ‘gay’ in school again,” over and over again.
“We often deal with schools that mistreat treat gay children and children who have gay parents, but this is beyond the pale,” says Ken Choe, of the American Civil Liberties Union, which is demanding the school reverse its position and stop restricting McLaurin’s free speech.
“I was concerned when the assistant principal called and told me my son had said a word so bad that he didn’t want to repeat it over the phone,” says Sharon Huff, one of McLaurin’s moms. “But that was nothing compared to the shock I felt when my little boy came home and told me that his teacher had told him his family is a dirty word. No child should ever hear that, especially not from a teacher he trusted and respected.”
MONEY FOR GSAs
The Gay and Lesbian Educators of BC (GALE-BC) recently awarded bursaries to four local gay-straight alliances (GSAs) to help them-and their school communities-grow. Benefiting from this financial support are: Burnaby North Secondary, Sir Winston Churchill Secondary, Kitsilano Secondary and the Langley Fine Arts School. All four schools are located in the Lower Mainland. GALE-BC says it wants to support GSAs across the province and encourages more groups to apply. The next deadline is Apr 1, 2004. Go to www.galebc.org for more information.
MARITIME MP BEATEN
New Brunswick MP Andy Scott was allegedly assaulted in his constituency office Nov 22, in part for his public support of same-sex marriages. Terry Curtis, 48, now faces charges of assault and uttering threats of death or bodily harm in connection with the case. Scott had to be treated in hospital and spent a week recuperating after the incident. Curtis’ wife, Corinne, linked the incident to the marriage issue. “He [Curtis] has Christian beliefs,” Corinne Curtis told reporters. “He doesn’t believe in homosexuality.” The accused has been ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation. He’ll be back in court Dec 29.
CIRQUE FIRES HIV+ MAN
Facing public outrage, Montreal’s Cirque du Soleil recently released its first public statement about the firing of HIV-positive performer Matthew Cusick.
The circus fired Cusick on the eve of his Las Vegas debut earlier this summer. The US-based Lambda Legal Defense Fund promptly sued the circus for discrimination, saying it fired Cusick simply because he is HIV-positive.
Now, Cirque officials say they did, in fact, fire Cusick because of his HIV status-but they maintain that their action was justified.
“Contrary to the allegations, Cirque du Soleil has not discriminated against this particular acrobat,” their statement says. “Our decision was premised upon our concern for the safety and well-being of our artists, employees and patrons.”
That argument doesn’t wash for the doctors, athletes and performers now denouncing the circus. “Unless the Cirque act that Mr Cusick was involved in consisted of unprotected sexual intercourse, or direct exchange of blood through needles with other performers or the audience, he essentially posed no risk whatsoever,” says Dr Bradley Hare, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of California in San Francisco.
Cusick, who has been a gymnast since Kindergarten and HIV-positive for 10 years, completed the circus’ rigourous four-month training program with flying colours last year, and says he was cleared to perform by Cirque trainers. “I thought society had gotten beyond thinking that people with HIV can only do desk jobs and never come into contact with people,” he told US gay media after Cirque fired him.
* If you want to sign Lambda’s petition, go to: www.lambdalegal.org/cgi-bin/iowa/cds.html