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Charter challenge filed against Sask. government's disability program

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The Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry filed a charter challenge against the provincial government for stipulations in its disability program that require seniors to take their Canada Pension Plan (CPP) money out early.

Peter Gilmer, an advocate with the anti-poverty ministry, said the Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability (SAID) program forces seniors to take out their CPP money at age 60, which he calls discriminatory.

“There’s no other group, besides folks on income assistance, who, for a voluntary pension program, have the requirements of having to take it out,” he said. “Also, it’s discriminatory because of situational poverty related to disability.”

Gilmer said those forced to take out their CPP at age 60 would have fewer benefits at 65.

“It could be as much as 48 per cent of your CPP pension lost when you need it,” he said. “What it means for the long term is that you have less income as a senior, so it’s taking people who are already living in deep poverty and meaning that poverty will be deeper for the rest of their life.”

Gilmer said the charter challenge was filed on Tuesday afternoon. The group is challenging the government policy as being discriminatory on the basis of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, specifically section 15.

“The argument is that this is an infringement of equality rights,” he said. “We’ve had many folks that we’ve worked with over the years been impacted negatively by this particular policy, and we felt that a charter challenge was necessary.”

Gilmer referenced a Manitoba court case from 2020, where the Court of Appeal ruled that a man with disabilities was discriminated against when he was forced to apply for his CPP when he turned 60.

“Being forced to apply early for CPP benefits rather than at the age of 65, permanently reduces the income of a person with physical disabilities. The resulting reduction in their CPP benefits leaves them more at risk of remaining in poverty with the possibility of lifetime dependence on income assistance. As well, the forced choice takes away recipients’ autonomy and affects their dignity,” read the Court of Appeal document.

Gilmer said apart from Saskatchewan, New Brunswick is the only other province that maintains this particular policy. He is hoping to get the policy changed.

“Ideally, the provincial government will take a look at this and decide that this makes sense to make the change,” he said.

Once the group hears back from the Government of Saskatchewan, Gilmer said the matter should be before the courts in the months to come.

In a statement from the Ministry of Social Services on Thursday afternoon, they said they are in the process of working with the Ministry of Justice to review the claim.

“As this matter is now before the courts, we are unable to comment further,” the statement read.

“We encourage any individual with questions about their SAID benefits to reach out and speak to their worker.”

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