2 min

Widowers still doomed to poverty

Lawyer hopes to force feds to pay pension benefits

DOUGLAS ELLIOT. Government won't go retroactive. Credit: Xtra files

Douglas Elliott believes that the federal government has been robbing queers on the backs of their dead lovers.

Ottawa’s proposed same-sex spousal rights legislation isn’t retroactive – but there are gay men and lesbians who have paid into the Canada Pension Plan for years. Their lovers are dead; they still can’t get the income supplement heterosexuals get automatically.

They’d have to go to court to do it.

“Not everyone has the courage… or is out as [an activist like] a Jim Egan or a Delwin Vriend,” says Elliott. “Some dyke in Elliott Lake is not going to feel like having her picture on the front page of the Toronto Sun as ‘Dyke of the Week’ if she loses her partner to breast cancer and wants to access survivor benefits.”

He and some fellow lawyers are developing a common front in the hopes of getting pension benefits for those who don’t fit under the new bill.

“I’m sure that if they excluded blacks, Jews or First Nations people from CPP they’d save money, but I certainly wouldn’t, nor would anyone else, ever suggest they should do that. And if they did there would be a huge outcry.”

“There are a number of cases which are challenging the government on an individual basis,” Elliott says. “The federal government will

fight these cases up to a point – and then settle them on a basis that

gives the individual relief, but sets no precedent for anyone else.”

These claims are an exercise in frustration, he says. But even this frustration is out of reach for many gay men and lesbians who lack the resources for a major court battle.

Some are fearful – worried about retroactive taxes and other costly problems that may crop up. Elliott dismisses this concern, suggesting that it’s the same argument used by governments which want to deny homos full rights.

“It seems to me that discrimination is discrimination. If the government can’t retroactively go back and undo the benefits they’ve given us, I’m not going to cry for them. I would have paid the price gladly had they changed the law 15 years ago.”

In fact, Elliott believes that the government owes everyone who’s paid into the Canada Pension Plan since 1982, the year the Canadian Charter Of Rights And Freedoms was brought in.

But he’s not holding his breath on seeing money anytime soon.

“If you look at the government record, they have a policy of not honouring retroactive claims,” Elliott says. “Part of this surplus is ill-gotten gains, but I don’t see [Finance Minister Paul] Martin reaching for his chequebook in the upcoming budget.”

But Elliott remains hopeful. Since posting a message to a computerized gay listserve last week, he has already been contacted by individuals and lawyers.

“I did say to people at the Ministry Of Justice that we hoped that those who had claims pending wouldn’t be forgotten, because they are the ones who suffered most on behalf of everyone else.

“Frankly, I think their strategy so far has been motivated more by a desire to save money than by any deeper policy considerations. There are some politicians who are in favour of equality so long as it doesn’t cost any money.”

Doug Elliott may be reached at (416) 362-1989.