Judge rules RCMP pension doesn’t discriminate against parents

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police pension plan doesn’t discriminate against women, a federal judge has ruled.

Allison Pilgrim, Joanne Fraser and Colleen Fox all joined the RCMP in the 1980s. When job-sharing became available in 1997, they each took advantage of the program to care for their young children. But they didn’t realize that job-sharing officers couldn’t buy back their pension benefits for the time spent not working. If they had taken an extended unpaid leave, however, they could have bought back those benefits.

The officers sued the RCMP for discrimination based on sex and family status, arguing its rules perpetuate the idea women can either work full time or care for children, but can’t do both. 

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“. . . The impact on [Pilgrim, Fraser and Fox’s] pension benefits is not because they are women or because of their parental status,” Justice Catherine Kane wrote in her ruling, issued Thursday. “The impact on their pension benefits is because they worked part time. Their pension reflects their part-time status just as it would for anyone who worked part time at some point in their career.”

That is, the officers’ reduced pensions and associated adverse financial states are because of their personal circumstances and decisions they made, not because of their gender or family status.

“. . . The fact that the RCMP [Superannuation Act] does not perfectly correspond to the applicants’ needs does not mean that the RCMPSA is discriminatory,” Kane added.

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She went on to clarify that RCMP officers who job-share are working part time. She noted Pilgrim, Fraser and Fox had resisted this definition because they recognized part-time employees aren’t eligible to buy back pension benefits. At the same time, a year of either full- or part-time work counts as a year of pensionable service; it’s only the amount the employee and employer contributes that changes, since that’s a percentage of salary.

The fact job-sharing officers are ineligible for pension buybacks doesn’t discriminate on protected grounds, Kane noted. Furthermore, officers who chose to job-share were aware they couldn’t contribute to the plan at the same rate as full-time employees, and weren’t prevented from purchasing other savings vehicles to augment their retirement income.

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Kane also wrote that there’s limited evidence the applicants’ part-time work had a significant adverse impact on their retirement income. “. . . There may have been lower or no childcare costs and less stress [while working part-time], and there would have been continuing income, albeit part time, other benefits from employment and freedom to choose whether and how to save in other ways for retirement in order to augment their RCMP pension,” she noted.

Furthermore, Pilgrim, Fraser and Fox compared their pensions to those of their colleagues who had worked full time throughout their careers. “. . . This comparison assumes that these other members had exactly the same best five years’ salary. There is no evidence that this is the case; there could be wide variation based on positions and salary,” Kane noted.

Kane also took issue with the applicants’ suggesting officers on unpaid leave — who have the option to buy back pension benefits — are financially better off. Those officers would have no RCMP salary, and “there is no evidence about how long it takes to catch up financially for the period of [leave without pay], . . . nor is there any evidence about the challenges of reintegration,” she wrote.

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