On Monday, September 9, 2019, LEAF filed a motion seeking leave to intervene at the Supreme Court of Canada in the appeal of the Federal Court of Appeal’s decision in Fraser v. Attorney General of Canada, a case involving unequal access to pension benefits by female RCMP officers.
Under the RCMP pension plan, employees who participated in the RCMP’s job-sharing program (whereby two employees split the hours of one full-time position) are not able to “buy back” pension contributions for the hours they did not work. In contrast, employees who took an unpaid leave of absence were entitled to “buy back” contributions for their time off. Employees who took the job-sharing option were overwhelmingly women with childcare obligations, resulting in their unequal access to fulsome pension benefits.
This case raises important issues regarding the substantive equality of women in the pension context. The gendered compensation gap persists today, despite policy and legislative-based initiatives being in place. A component of this gap, particularly for older women, is unequal access to pension income. Due to the historical design of Canada’s pension system, pension benefits reward “male pattern employment,” which is predominantly full-time, high-paying and permanent. Despite women’s increased participation in post-secondary education and employment, women still carry the burden of caregiving work. Today, pension inequity in Canada persists because of the devaluation of women’s work contributions that implicitly characterizes and reinforces their work as inferior and secondary.
LEAF is seeking to advocate for a robust interpretation of s. 15 equality rights in this case to ensure that the SCC does not revert back to a formalistic and decontextualized equality analysis, which will have a particularly negative effect on women with multiple demands of caregiving responsibilities, and women who face reduced pension income as a result of such responsibilities.
Read the Federal Court of Appeal’s judgment here.
LEAF thanks Kate Hughes, Jan Borowy and Danielle Bisnar of Cavalluzzo LLP for their pro bono work on this leave application. Should the SCC grant LEAF leave to intervene, they will also represent LEAF in this important intervention.
About Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF)
The Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) works to advance the substantive equality rights of women and girls through litigation, law reform, and public education. Since 1985, we have intervened in landmark cases that have advanced equality in Canada—helping to prevent violence, eliminate discrimination in the workplace, provide better maternity benefits, ensure a right to pay equity, and allow access to reproductive freedoms. For more information, please visit www.leaf.ca