Manitobans with disabilities can’t be forced to take early pension, says court ruling

The Manitoba Law Courts Complex.
The Manitoba Law Courts Complex. Manitoba Courts

A Manitoba Court of Appeal ruling announced on Tuesday means that people with disabilities can’t be forced to apply for early pensions if they’re on social assistance.

The court ruled in favour of Martin Stadler, finding that his charter right to equality was violated when a caseworker told him after he turned 60 that he had to collect his Canada Pension Plan (CPP) early, rather than waiting until he turned 65.

Stadler, who is unable to work due to a physical condition and had been collecting social assistance, would have seen his CPP payments reduced by 36 per cent for the rest of his life.

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Kate Kehler of the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg. The Social Planning Council of Winnipeg

“For far too many people, hanging on until 65 to access CPP is their last chance to lift themselves out of poverty,” said Kate Kehler, executive director of the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg, which played an intervener role in the appeal on Stadler’s behalf.

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“For people with disabilities, it is even more crucial that they wait as with age their needs can change and increase. The added income is essential to allow for the dignity and security we all should have a right to.”

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“This is a win for substantive equality that focused on the actual needs of persons with disabilities. It recognizes that even a law that is neutral on its face can have a profoundly adverse effect on historically disadvantaged groups,” said the Public Interest Law Centre’s Byron Williams.

Williams told 680 CJOB the case was a win for Manitobans, but it has garnered attention from other provinces and the decision has the potential to reverberate across the country.

“It’s a very important decision for persons with disabilities on income assistance in Manitoba … but our friends from Nova Scotia through Ontario to British Columbia are telling us it’s an important decision for the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, especially as it affects social benefits,” Williams said.

“The case was being watched with interest across Canada, and certainly in Manitoba, it sends a very important message of equality.

“We think that folks who care about equality before the law in social benefits will be looking to this case across Canada.”

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