Why some say Canada's 'gold-digger' legislation needs to go

Despite the fact they've been married for more than a decade, Beverly Duffney won't be eligible for Ed's military pension if he passes away before she does. But a private member's bill aims to do away with the federal government's so-called gold-digger legislation.

Surviving spouses of military veterans can't collect government pension if married after age 60

Beverly and Ed Duffney married almost 15 years ago. Because the two were in their sixties, Beverly won't be eligible for Ed's military pension if he passes away. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC News)

Beverly Duffney says she used to be "marriage shy," until a girlfriend convinced her to go on a date with Ed, who is now her husband.

"As we dated and went out here, there and everywhere, I found out for myself that Edward was indeed a very, very upstanding and honourable man," she said. 

Their marriage has been full of joy and challenges.

Ed Duffney has bone cancer and rheumatoid arthritis, and his memory is starting to go. Beverly spent several years caring for him full time before he moved into the Parkwood Institute, part of St. Joseph's Health Care in London, Ont.

Another challenge is the uncertainty of their future.

Despite the fact they've been married for 15 years, Beverly, 77, won't be eligible for Ed's military pension if the 83-year-old passes away.

That's because of Canada's so-called gold-digger legislation, which prevents the surviving spouses of military veterans — and some other public servants — from collecting pensions if the retiree got married after age 60.

Legislation called 'archaic'

London-Fanshawe NDP MP Irene Mathyssen has introduced a private member's bill in an attempt to eliminate the so-called gold-digger legislation. (Submitted)

The initial idea of the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act, which was enacted at the turn of the 20th century, was to prevent women from marrying veterans on their deathbeds in order to collect their pensions, said London-Fanshawe NDP MP Irene Mathyssen, who called the legislation "archaic."

Mathyssen's new private member's bill, An Act to amend certain Acts in relation to survivor pension benefits, would do away with the after-60 clawback for spouses of military veterans and other public servants — something she said is long overdue. 

"In light of the fact that people live longer and have all kinds of positive relationships after age 60, it just makes sense," she said. "These spouses care with such gentleness, such love, such devotion. To think of them being abandoned and left to penury is just not acceptable."

Ministry response

Beverly Duffney says she's concerned about the legislation, but is mostly grateful she's married to Ed. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC News)

Eliminating the after-60 clause is also a part of Veterans Affairs Minister Seamus O'Regan's mandate.

A spokesperson for the minister said his office is committed to ending the clause, but couldn't comment on the timeline or whether the legislation would be retroactive.

For the Duffneys, the idea of Beverly as a "gold-digger" is laughable. When the two got married, Beverly said Ed commented on how lucky he was to marry a woman who was so independent.

"He said, 'Wasn't it wonderful I married a woman with a house and a car?' And thought that was very very humorous," she said.

Regardless, the legislation still affects the pair.

But Beverly said she's more concerned about enjoying whatever time the two have left. 

"We still love each other as much as much as the day we got married, so that's a bonus."