The Supreme Court of Canada has agreed to hear an appeal filed by the former partner of a deceased Carleton University professor who is fighting the university’s attempt to reclaim nearly half a million dollars in pension benefits it paid in the years between when the professor went missing and when his body was found.
In September 2007, George Roseme, a longtime and retired professor of political science at the Ottawa university, disappeared from his farm north of Gatineau after taking his dog for a walk.
A police search failed to locate the 77-year-old man, who was reportedly living with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease.
Carleton was not informed of Roseme’s disappearance and only learned of it after a newspaper article about the missing professor was published in early 2009.
The school then advised Lynne Threlfall – Roseme’s heir, property administrator and former partner – that it would cease sending his monthly pension cheques. The late professor had chosen a pension that would end when he died, rather than one that would pass on to his heirs or estate.
Threlfall pointed out that under Quebec law, Roseme was presumed to be alive for seven years after his disappearance or until there was proof of death – and so Carleton continued to make the payments.
Roseme’s remains were found in the woods near his La Pêche home in July 2013.
Carleton launched a lawsuit again Threlfall to recoup the roughly $500,000 in pension benefits it paid to Roseme since his death, which a coroner concluded occurred in 2007. Threlfall fought back, arguing the university is not entitled to that money because her late partner’s death had only recently been confirmed.
The Quebec Superior Court rejected Threlfall’s arguments. When she appealed, the province’s highest court sided again with Carleton.
In a October 2017 decision, the Quebec Court of Appeal said Roseme’s right to the payments ended when he died, not on the date his body was discovered or on the date his death was certified.
The Supreme Court will now decide whether Carleton should be repaid.
As is usual, the high court did not give any reasons for agreeing to hear Threlfall’s appeal.
– With files from The Canadian Press