This case concerned equal access to pensions for female RCMP officers with caregiving responsibilities.
LEAF intervened before the Supreme Court of Canada.
Joanne Fraser, Allison Pilgrim and Colleen Fox (the Appellants) are former Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officers who participated in the RCMP’s job-sharing program. Under the job-sharing program, two employees would split the hours of one full-time position. Under the RCMP pension plan, however, employees who job-share are not able to “buy back” pension contributions for the hours they did not work. In contrast, employees who have taken an unpaid leave of absence are entitled to buy back contributions for their time off. Employees who took the job-sharing option were overwhelmingly women with childcare obligations.
The Appellants argued that their inability to “buy back” the pension contributions for the years when they job-shared violated their s. 15 equality rights under the Charter. Both the Federal Court and the Federal Court of Appeal held that there was no s. 15. The Appellants appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada.
LEAF argued that s. 15’s purposes of promoting substantive equality can only be realized if courts ground their analysis in the claimants’ perspective, including the social, political and legal context structuring their claims. In this case, however, the lower courts ignored the context surrounding the design of the RCMP pension plan. This context includes the fact that the RCMP remains a male-dominated workplace, and that the pension plan is based upon “male pattern employment” of a permanent, full-time worker with long and uninterrupted service.
Gendered child, elder and other family caregiving responsibilities have historically driven and continue to drive “female pattern employment”, creating the overrepresentation of women in part-time work, including job-sharing. The focus of the court’s analysis should not be on the “choice” of the women to work in temporary job-shares in order to meet family care responsibilities. Rather, the court must focus on the government’s design of the pension plan which, regardless of the government’s intent, effectively privileges “male pattern employment” and lowers the pensions of workers with family caregiving responsibilities.
The Supreme Court of Canada’s majority decision affirmed women’s right to equal pension benefits. The Court rejected the relevance of “choice” in assessments of work and childcare responsibilities, noting that these choices are often rooted in systemic inequality.
LEAF is grateful to Kate Hughes, Jan Borowy and Danielle Bisnar, counsel in this case, as well as Colleen Bauman, Ottawa agent for LEAF.
Download the factum here.
Read the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision here.
LEAF’s interventions are all guided, informed and supported by a case committee composed of academics and practitioners with expertise in the relevant issues. The case committee members for this intervention were Clio Godkewitsch, Jennifer Koshan, Kathleen Lahey, Nathalie Léger, Elizabeth Shilton, Susan Ursel, Jonnette Watson Hamilton, and Claire Young. LEAF gratefully acknowledges their contributions to the arguments in this factum.