Politics

Federal Court dismisses claims that RCMP pension plan discriminatory

Lawyer says claimants are disappointed and considering appeal to the Federal Court of Appeal

Retired RCMP Sgt. Joanne Fraser

Retired RCMP Sgt. Joanne Fraser, right, is one of three women who took the national police force to Federal Court to argue the RCMP pension plan discriminates against women who work part-time to care for young children. (Joanne Fraser)

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The Federal Court has dismissed claims from three retired female Mounties who argued that elements of the RCMP's pension plan are outdated and sexist.

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.

When they returned to their full-time jobs they learned their part-time work was not considered pensionable service and they would not be permitted to make doubled-up contributions to buy back the time they had not worked.

On Thursday, Justice Catherine Kane decided the women did not lose pension benefits because they were women or parents, but because they chose to work part-time.

"They worked part-time in a job-sharing arrangement to meet the competing demands of their child-care responsibilities and their career," Kane wrote.

The judge agreed that while the majority of Mounties who work part-time are women with young children, she said they also benefited from spending more time with their children and less stress in trying to find child care.

As for the overall impact on their pensions, Kane found it would be reduced, on average, by five per cent but that "it is difficult to conclude that the impact is necessarily adverse."

The women's lawyer, Paul Champ, said today's judgment is a big disappointment for his clients, who fought the issue inside the RCMP for 10 years before turning to the courts.

"The court recognized that care for children disproportionately falls to women in Canada, including women in dual-earner families, Champ wrote in an email to CBC News.

He said his clients are reviewing the judgment and considering an appeal. 

"Hopefully the federal government will take a close look at this decision and recognize that pension plans for RCMP and public service workers need to be reformed to be more equitable for parents who choose to temporarily work part-time to care for their children. This would be the right policy choice for a feminist prime minister," Champ said, in reference to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's own oft-stated description.

It is likely that Thursday's ruling, however, will be a relief to the federal government. If the Federal Court had changed the RCMP pension plan to allow people to accrue pensionable service while job sharing or working part-time, the government would likely have had to do it for all other public servants.

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