TORONTO - Gays and lesbians in Ontario are entitled to survivor's benefits under the Canada Pension Plan dating back to 1985, Ontario's Court of Appeal ruled on Friday.
The court upheld a December 2003 decision by a lower court that extended the pensions to hundreds of gays and lesbians.
"It is a victory. We are absolutely delighted and may I say relieved, since we first thought we had lost," said lawyer Doug Elliott, referring to the initial confusion surrounding the decision.
Elliott, who represents five of the plaintiffs, said at a news conference that Friday's decision struck down the two key restrictions that prevented same-sex couples from receiving the same survivor's pension benefits as heterosexuals.
But the court sided with Ottawa in part of its decision, ruling that the government does not have to pay survivor benefits to the estates of about 200 claimants who have since died themselves.
Justice Minister Irwin Cotler said he wants to study the ruling before deciding whether to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.
"This is not a case about same sex nor is it a case about gay and lesbian rights," Cotler said.
"The implications of this case have to do with the whole question of federal benefits programs and policy."
The initial lower court decision was based on a class-action lawsuit filed for gays and lesbians whose partners died before Jan. 1, 1998.
In 2000, the federal government passed Bill C-23, which cut off the retroactive benefits at Jan. 1, 1998.
The lawsuit challenged that cut-off date, saying the government should pay benefits retroactive to April 1985, when equality was guaranteed in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Last December, Ontario's Superior Court of Justice ruled the cut-off date was discriminatory and said eligibility should be extended to 1985.
The federal and provincial governments appealed the decision, concerned about the potential payouts of millions of dollars.
They were also worried that giving retroactive benefits to the estimated 1,500 people affected by the lawsuit would open the door to other groups seeking similar settlements.
Read more info on: CBC.ca
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