Two cases allege survivor benefits discriminate against single people – Benefits Canada

Jana Steele

Jan. 11, 2018

Under current provincial legislation, defined benefit plans are usually required to provide plan members’ spouses with survivor benefits valued at a minimum of 60% of the member’s benefit. According to an article by Sara Tatelman in Benefits Canada, the fact that this requirement applies only to members’ spouses and common law partners is beginning to rankle single people since they are prohibited from naming a non-spouse as a beneficiary of a survivor pension. In two recent cases, Canadian courts have heard arguments from unmarried plan members who argue that the inequity between their benefits and those of married plan members infringes their rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The author turns to Jana Steele, a partner in Osler’s Pensions & Benefits Group, to explain the legal basis of the claims.

Provincial legislation allows plans to differentiate on the basis of marital status as long as it’s a bona fide pension plan and, as Jana says, “[t]he question is, ultimately, will there be a route to challenge that legislation for an infringement [under section 15] of the Charter.

“If you look at a [defined benefit] plan, there are, by nature, lots of instances where there are differentiations, such as age and sex,” she continues, pointing out that women live longer than men, making them more expensive retirees.

“Should that be taken into account?” Jana speculates. “[Or] is marital status going to be treated differently? And I don’t have a prediction on that.”

To find out more about the details of these claims, read Sara Tatelman’s full article “Two cases allege survivor benefits discriminate against single people” in the January 11, 2018 edition of Benefits Canada.