Ontario Court Rules Federal Same-Sex Benefits Policy Unconstitutional

November 29, 2004 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A Canadian provincial appeals court has ruled that the federal government was wrong in limiting same-sex couples' retroactive pension benefits.

>The Ontario Court of Appeals ruled that the government’s policy of denying pension benefits to those whose partners died before 1998, as well as paying benefits only for the period after July, 2000, was unconstitutional and arbitrary.

“The impairment of the rights of same-sex survivors cannot be said to be minimal,” a 3-0 majority ruled, according to the Globe and Mail. “The denial of equal access to such a fundamental social institution constituted a complete non-recognition of these same-sex survivors as full members of Canadian society.”

>Justice Minister Irwin Cotler stated that the government will want to study the ruling before deciding whether to appeal to the country’s highest court, according to the Globe. The reason for this was not to deny same-sex couples their rights, but to clarify policy on “the whole question of federal benefits programs and policy,” Cotler said, according to the Globe.

>The class-action lawsuit covers around 1,500 Canadian gays and lesbians seeking survivor benefits.

>With its ruling, the Appeals Courtsided with a lower court decision that should be worth around $80 million in retroactive Canada Pension Plan payments, according to the Globe (See Canadian Court Orders Retroactive Same-Sex Benefits ). In 2000, the federal government extended equality rights to same-sex couples, but limited the amount of benefit payments allowed retroactively. Both courts ruled that the date of 1998 was arbitrary and did not align with the country’s constitution, The Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Many same-sex couples are pushing for benefits dating back to when the Charter came into effect- April 15, 1985.

Same-sex unions have been a contentious topic that has permeated the courts since courts in Ontario and British Columbia allowed gays to marry in June, 2003, by declaring traditional marriage laws unconstitutional (see  Border Line? ).