Pension plan discriminatory, female Mounties tell court
Three retired female Mounties head to Federal Court today to argue that elements of the RCMP’s pension plan are outdated and sexist. If they’re successful, it could mean big changes for other public service pensions, their lawyer says.
Joanne Fraser, Allison Pilgrim and Colleen Fox decided to work part time temporarily for the national police force after having children, in order to accommodate child-care arrangements while doing shift work.
Yet when they returned to work full time they learned their part-time stints were not considered pensionable service for which they could “buy back” the time they didn’t work by making doubled-up contributions on behalf of themselves and the RCMP.
What really annoyed the women, though, was that RCMP employees who were suspended with or without pay, or who chose to take as much as five years off work without pay, were allowed to buy back their pension contributions.
Any decision to permit RCMP members to buy back pension benefits should be left to Parliament, lawyers for Canada’s attorney general argue. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)
“It doesn’t make sense that someone can be off for a total of five years without contributing to the RCMP at all, yet buy back that full five years of pension,” said Fraser, who retired a sergeant in 2015 after 27 years of service.
Documents filed on the women’s behalf by Ottawa labour lawyer Paul Champ say the RCMP pension plan discriminates on the grounds of sex and family status.
“The plan perpetuates the stereotype that it is acceptable for women to fill one of two roles in society — that of caregiver or member of the labour force, but not both at the same time.”
The RCMP first allowed people to work in job-share agreements in 1997. According to the RCMP’s 2012 gender-based assessment, the aim was to accommodate women and others who need “maternity/parental leave.”
The same year, a draft employment equity plan said the force would promote part-time work “to support women and others achieve a better balance in coping with work and family responsibilities.”
Fraser was one of the first people to try out the new scheme. Like many women in Canada in the 1990s, she returned to work six months after having her first child. It was tough.
“I’m married to a member as well. We were working shift work. We had no family in Alberta, all of our family is in Quebec and Ontario,” she told CBC News.
When Fraser had her second child, she decided to take a leave without pay. After three years, Fraser said, she was encouraged to try job-sharing. She worked part time for three years before resuming her full-time job.
It was then she learned that while her three years of unpaid leave were fully deemed pensionable service, she could not buy back the hours she didn’t work while part-time.
Fox also described in court documents the challenge of balancing police work and life with an infant.
She had to meet her husband, who is also a Mountie, “at coffee shops and on lunch breaks while she was on patrol so she could breastfeed her son.”
After having her second child in a rural community with limited child-care options before part-time work was introduced in 1997, Fox felt she had no option but to retire.
In 2000 she re-enrolled because she could job-share. “I felt as though I was excelling as a mother and as a member of the RCMP.”
“The applicants all face lower pension benefits on retirement because they chose to job-share and balance their police duties with their family obligations while their children were young,” Champ argues, citing statistics that show everyone who shared jobs between 2010 and 2014 was a woman.
The women hope the Federal Court will find the pension plan discriminatory and grant all Mounties who’ve worked reduced, job-share hours the right to buy back pensionable service.
Big changes possible
In their documents, lawyers for Canada’s attorney general dispute that most of the RCMP’s part-time employees are women with young children. They say any decision to permit members to buy back pension benefits “would be making a significant policy choice that is best left to Parliament.”
“The aim of the RCMP pension plan is to provide retirement income and benefits for members. It is not to offset the costs associated with child care, to provide ‘universal welfare benefits,’ or to meet all of the needs of its beneficiaries.” What the government is likely more concerned with though, is a ripple effect, Champ said. “If they change the RCMP pension plan to allow people to get pensionable service while working part time, they would have to do it for other public service workers because the federal Public Service Superannuation Act also has this discriminating element to it, and I think they might be concerned about costs,” said Champ.
“I can not thank the Legal Fund enough and can not endorse it enough for the help they gave me. I have a number of years of service in the Force but a couple of years ago I suffered in my workplace and responsibly I exhausted all of the means before me within the RCMP. The RCMP denied and delayed any response. Recently, I was forced to seek legal action and applied to the Legal Fund. The staff at the Legal Fund contacted me immediately, were very supportive and advised me of all my rights.
They reviewed my complaints and had in house legal counsel review my complaints. They concluded that my complaints were strong and had merit and on these grounds approved my funding to seek legal redress for the wrong doing I was subject to. This was done within a week. Once my complaints were filed, the RCMP requested mediation and I agreed to participate.
The Legal Fund approved the funding for an expert lawyer of my choice to represent me in this process. Without this I would not have stood a chance within Mediation. The predetermined cost of the mediation was exceeded as the mediation process was extended and delayed by the RCMP. The Legal Fund stuck with me and further funded me. The expertise funded by the Legal Fund allowed me to navigate the mediation process and I was successful in every aspect of the mediation. All wrongs were corrected. I got everything I wanted – where I was originally wrongfully denied. After the process was completed, my lawyer submitted a second invoice for the extra time and process and the Legal Fund further supported me as the process was a success and the added unanticipated costs were reasonable.
We currently do not have any support and are bullied constantly by our employer. Once we stand up and are represented, our employer is forced to the table. My issues were resolved in the best way possible for me.
None of this was possible without the Legal Fund. I can not recommend this Fund enough to any member that has a legitimate claim. The Fund was even willing to fund me further if mediation had failed. I am so grateful that I paid into the Legal Fund. That small amount of $4 came through for me in a big way. These people administering the Legal Fund only desire to support you and ensure that you are properly represented. They are professional, accountable and know what they are doing. We need this service in today’s climate.”
We have learned that recently mailed Legal Fund Calendars have some holidays incorrect. We apologize and suggest you check Google computer listing.
To be transparent and dispel rumours on the question of whether or not the Mounted Police Members’ Legal Fund (LF) has made any contributions to any organization seeking to be the bargaining agent for members of the Force, we post the following background and information.
The Mounted Police Members’ Legal Fund (Legal Fund) is a non-profit corporation promoting the improvement of member conditions of employment or work by providing funds to take:
a. action to bring a resolution of issues between members of The Mounted Police Members’ Legal Fund and the Government of Canada;
b. actions taken collectively or individually with respect to matters which affect the dignity or welfare of a member or members of the Legal Fund which are not funded under benefit programs, including any Treasury Board policies and directives or any RCMP policies and directives, in effect by the RCMP or the Government of Canada for the benefit of members of the RCMP; and,
c. researching, investigating, exploring, analyzing, examining, collecting of information or data and hiring outside counsel or organizations to do any of the foregoing in respect of issues described in (a) or (b) above.
The LF has not made any contribution of monies to any organization seeking to become the bargaining agent for members of the Force.
Since the Supreme Court decision in MPAO, the LF was asked by members of the LF, and by some who were not members of the LF, if the LF would be open to a request for a loan for various purposes.
Because of the uniqueness of the inquiries, it was decided to seek a legal opinion from expert counsel in such matters. Counsel was also quite familiar with the Objects and By Laws of the LF.
The LF asked, given the situation of representation of members in the future, if it would fall within the purposes of the Mounted Police Members’ Legal Fund/Fonds De Recours Juridique Des Membres De La Gendarmerie (the “Legal Fund”) for the directors of the LF to authorize and direct the LF to provide financial assistance, in the form of a loan, to an organization which has applied to be certified under the PSLR Act as the bargaining agent for the members of the RCMP as one of its purposes.
The legal opinion response was that the provision of financial support by the LF by way of a loan or loans to an employee organization, as defined, which meets the criteria established by the Federal Court, as set out, organized for the purpose of applying to be certified as bargaining agent under the PSLR Act for the members of the RCMP, would fall within the purposes of the Legal Fund.
An application was made to the LF by the National Police Federation seeking a loan with interest. The application was processed and approval given as per the By Laws.
Documents were drawn up by respective counsel and an interest bearing Loan Agreement signed by the Directors of the National Police Federation and the Mounted Police Members’ Legal Fund Executive Committee and a Promissory Note duly signed, was entered into effective May 1, 2016. The amount of that interest bearing loan is not being posted, no different than the hundreds of other applications where members have made applications for funding since 1998.
None of the Directors of the National Police Federation are on the Executive or are Directors of the LF.
No other organization desiring to be the bargaining agent for members of the Force has made application to the LF seeking a loan.
Unfortunately, all avenues to appeal the Commissioner’s unilateral decision were unsuccessful. The MPMLF (Mounted Police Members Legal Fund) has been forced to seek out other options for dues payments. We ask that while we update our website with an ecommerce solution, our members remain patient.
If you were, and presently are, enrolled in the fund prior to the cessation of payroll deductions, you are still a member of the fund and can apply for funding. Once the ecommerce solution is up and running a communication will follow, asking that members re-enroll.
We want to employ the most user friendly and secure process possible for our current members and those new members wishing to join. We thank you for your understanding and patience during this restructuring and confusing time.
Trevor Dinwoodie – Chair, MPMLF
April 11, 2016
Message from the Chairperson
As the recently elected Chair of the Mounted Police Members’ Legal Fund (MPMLF), and on behalf of the Executive and Directors, I welcome you to our website. It is an honour and privilege to serve as one of your MPMLF Executives and I hope that you will find this site to be informative and helpful. I will post a more detailed statement in the future, but due to the urgency, I wish to post the following:
On February 18th, 2016, the Commissioner of the RCMP announced that your voluntary payroll Legal Fund dues deductions will stop effective March 30, 2016. We received notification of his decision about three hours before his email broadcast.
The Legal Fund Executive, Directors and Members are extremely disappointed that the Commissioner has decided to terminate members voluntary Legal Fund deductions at the end of March 2016. The Legal Fund had a long standing agreement with the Force, starting with Commissioner Philip Murray in 1996 and renewed with Commissioner William Elliott in 2008, regarding members voluntary payroll deductions. Members of the Legal Fund, approx. 16,500 at present, have relied on the Legal Fund to advance their interests and to be there for them when they have been disadvantaged, falsely accused and in some cases, treated with a lack of respect as a human being. Vulnerable and nowhere else to turn for assistance has been the testimony of many of the clients who have reached out for assistance because they enjoyed the benefits as a member of the Legal Fund.
Although the LF Executive had thought this was a possibility, we did not believe the Commissioner would act so quickly, nor did we believe he would do so without any consultation with the Executive of the LF.
That being said, we have been looking at other dues payment options and we have responded to the Commissioner, requesting he engage in some meaningful consultation on this matter with us before the March 30th deadline. As further developments arise, we will keep you informed.
Rest assured that no matter how this evolves, the LF is in good financial shape and does not plan on any deviation from our 18 year track record of assisting members. In early February, we confirmed our new Board of Directors and although the labour relations environment in the RCMP continues to evolve, the LF will continue to operate. Now is not the time to cancel your membership, in fact now is the time to add to our 16,500 members to afford all members of the RCMP the added benefits the LF has provided since 1998.
We are currently working with our Webmaster to allow our members the ability to log in and provide their personal email information so we can freely communicate.
So, stay tuned as we await a response from the Commissioner regarding his unilateral decision to stop voluntary payroll deductions as well as other options we are exploring such as online payment portals and direct deposit.
Trevor Dinwoodie – Chair, MPMLF
February 19, 2016