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View Emmanuel Dubourg Profile
Lib. (QC)
I call this meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting number 14 of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs. Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted by the committee on February 8, 2022, the committee is meeting to continue its study on survivor pension benefits in cases involving marriage after 60.
Today's meeting is taking place in a hybrid format. Members are attending in person in the room and remotely using the Zoom application. The proceedings will be made available via the House of Commons website. The webcast will always show the person speaking, rather than the entirety of the committee.
I would like to take this opportunity to remind all participants in this meeting that screenshots and taking photos of one's screen are not permitted.
Before speaking, please wait until I recognize you by name. If you are on the video conference, please click on the microphone icon to unmute yourself. To those in the room, your microphone will be controlled, as it normally is, by the proceedings and verification officer. When speaking, please speak slowly and clearly. When you are not speaking, your mike should be on mute.
I remind you that all comments by members and witnesses should be addressed through the chair.
With respect to the list of speakers, the clerk and I will do our best to maintain the speaking order for all members, whether they're attending the meeting in person or remotely.
On behalf of the committee, I would like to welcome the witnesses. Many of them are appearing before our committee for the first time, and I want to welcome them.
Patrick Boudreau, Kelly Vankoughnett, Tracy Lee Evanshen and Corporal Kevin Sewell are appearing as individuals. We also have Maurice Gill, Co-Chair of the Surviving Spouses Pension Fairness Coalition.
All witnesses will be provided with five minutes for their opening remarks, and then we will go into rounds of questioning.
I will let you know when you have one minute left and when your speaking time is up.
We will now begin with Patrick Boudreau.
Mr. Boudreau, you have five minutes for your opening remarks. Please go ahead.
Patrick Boudreau
View Patrick Boudreau Profile
Patrick Boudreau
2022-05-13 13:12
Good afternoon, and thank you for letting me speak to the committee.
My name is Pat Boudreau. I started my career as a correctional officer in 1977. I retired on January 30, 2015, after 37.5 years of service. My career was good, but not without challenges. At times, my job was life-threatening. I'm happy to say I reached retirement without a drug or alcohol problem, and my sense of humour intact.
On April 1, the year I retired, I was shocked to find out that my wife was having an ongoing affair and left me. I met my now common-law wife, Kelly, in July 2015. She was a widow who had lost her husband in September 2014. During our time together, I was required to support my ex-spouse as she was not working at the time of our separation. We are now divorced, so she will not be entitled to a survivor pension. However, had we not divorced, the woman who betrayed me would be entitled to a survivor benefit. There's something very wrong about the changing world we live in. The pension clauses have not kept current with the family changes that happen. I did not create this situation.
I contacted my pension provider to ask if Kelly could be added as a survivor to my pension. I was told that I could contribute to the plan if I wanted Kelly to receive a benefit. It is not affordable for us at this time. After 37 years of paying into a pension, I was hurt, upset and angry that the woman who would be there during my senior years would not be cared for if I died.
It's wrong that if I survive Kelly, she leaves me with an OMERS survivor pension and a home that she fought so hard to keep. If she survives me, I leave her nothing from my pension after 37.5 years, because officials think she's a gold digger.
It's just not the case. We have supported each other through difficult times, both emotionally and financially. We are still trying to find a solution to the financial shortfall if Kelly survives me. Kelly will be forced to face the loss of a second husband and have to sell the home she worked so hard to hold onto when her first husband passed. It's just not fair.
Everyone deserves to wake up to someone that they love. We were lucky to both have a second chance. I'm devastated that I financially cannot care for Kelly beyond our time together.
Thank you very much for your time.
View Emmanuel Dubourg Profile
Lib. (QC)
Thank you so much, Mr. Boudreau.
I would now like to invite Mrs. Kelly Vankoughnett for five minutes, please.
Kelly Vankoughnett
View Kelly Vankoughnett Profile
Kelly Vankoughnett
2022-05-13 13:15
Good afternoon. My name is Kelly Vankoughnett. Pat and I are happy to have the opportunity to speak today.
I am a retired school custodian. I made the choice to retire in September of last year. Planning for retirement and choosing the right time is a difficult task. There are the considerations of the physical demands of my job, which were taking their toll on my aging body, and there were the huge concerns of financial insecurity and hardship, should I live a long life. There was the real fear of not having any quality time with Pat, who is eight years my senior.
I am a widow, as Pat has mentioned. My husband died the day before my 50th birthday. It was a painful time that changed how I would think forever. It was a pivotal moment in my life that made me very aware that time is our most precious commodity.
Like most Canadian families, we were working hard. We were not taking time to enjoy vacations. We were trying to pay off our home and get set for retirement. Cancer cheated me and Ken of those retirement years. This was my reasoning behind retiring a little early, taking a much lower pension and having time with Pat. No matter what that retirement looked like, it was the right decision.
The only problem was the shortfall in my income and finding out that Pat would not have a survivor benefit for me, should I survive him. For me and Pat, it was illogical to think that after 37 and a half years of work, the woman that he loves, who has been working since she was 16 and who offered him a new shared home after he lost his through divorce, would be called a gold digger. It's ironic that my being the gold digger will leave Pat a mortgage-free home that he can afford to stay in, and an OMERS survivor pension that he won't even need to live a comfortable life.
Pat's pension plan, as written, doesn't make sense or keep pace with today's definition of working families. If I survive Pat, I will have to immediately sell our home, which I love and worked so hard to keep after Ken's passing. I am not sure at this point where I will go. I do not have children to offer any kind of support.
Pat and I are very happy to have found each other in our later years. Not everyone gets that chance in their late fifties and early sixties. For that, we feel blessed. Things have been tough financially. I have paid off the mortgage and Pat has paid the financial agreements of his separation and divorce. We are not in any position to pay for a survivor benefit.
The sole purpose of retirement planning is to try to have some security if you should live a long time, while still enjoying some fruits of your labour. I'm not sure how many couples are affected by the ancient paragraphs of the pension plan. My guess would be a small handful, but they will pay dearly.
The definition of “family” has changed many times. Both parties work and contribute to household income and few have the luxury to live off of one income. Those of us who are affected are going to have hardship that no amount of retirement planning could prevent. At the end of the day, we are forced to roll the dice when it comes to retirement planning. The facts still remain that Pat paid the price in many ways in his career, and he paid for a long time into a pension plan that will not support his surviving spouse. It's unfair, but we made the decision to choose time over money.
Thank you for the opportunity to be heard. We pray for changes for those who are affected.
View Emmanuel Dubourg Profile
Lib. (QC)
Thank you so much, Mrs. Vankoughnett.
Right now, I would like to invite Ms. Tracy Lee Evanshen to speak for five minutes.
Tracy Lee Evanshen
View Tracy Lee Evanshen Profile
Tracy Lee Evanshen
2022-05-13 13:19
Good afternoon. My name is Tracy Lee Evanshen. I would like to thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today.
I had the pleasure of speaking before this committee before and recognize some familiar faces. Hello. To the new faces, it's a pleasure to meet you.
Last time, I gave a brief outline of what a weekend looks like for us when my children are visiting and of the minefields we must navigate to do so. I will not go through that again, but will give you some other insights into our lives.
Having met Kevin at a program for veterans and active military members suffering from PTSD, I knew that there would be some hurdles in our lives. I truly didn't know there would be this many. I sometimes ask what I have gotten myself into. Honestly, that thought lasts less than a heartbeat. This man has given me and my children everything he possibly can. Being his wife is amazing, frustrating, angering and full of love, and I would not want anything else. Would I like to see it be different? Absolutely, but we are dealing with the crappy hand we have been dealt. It's a hand we did not ask for, nor do we deserve it.
He willingly joined the military to fight for his country and to fight for those who couldn't fight for themselves. He did that not once, but twice. He gave of himself only to have the country he fought for turn its back on him, give him grief and make things so difficult that he often thought of ending it.
Why? It's because the government decided to. They would say that they were looking into those claims and that they would create a study and spend millions on it. How about giving the millions to the veterans, spouses and their families?
This ridiculous clause was written in 1901. Are you serious? Twice, Prime Minister Trudeau said they'd get rid of it, yet it's still here.
The majority of veterans and/or spouses are living just above the poverty level, if not below it. We are not asking for much, just what we deserve and were promised. We don't want to struggle with how to pay the phone bill or the mortgage this month, or whether we'll eat hotdogs or peanut butter sandwiches.
You may think I'm joking, but this is a serious dilemma for some veterans. At the end of the veteran's days, when he or she gave it all for his or her country, his or her spouse will be destitute because they are not entitled to his or her benefits if they found love after the age of 60. I ask you, if any of you are over 60 and have a significant other, how would you feel if you wouldn't be able to care for them after you're gone?
I can tell you that my husband cried over the fact that he will be unable to financially provide for me once he's gone. He feels like less than a man, useless, less than dirt and worthless. How dare this government make him and others feel that way?
For example, when Kevin turned 65, his take-home monies were cut by 20%. I guess life ends for a veteran at 65. When they need help the most, they get thrown out with the bathwater. He was unceremoniously released from the military because he was considered old. Sixty is not old.
We are on the phone daily to VAC, the ombudsman's office and human rights to try to get straightforward answers. Those answers are rarely given. We receive responses that go in circles. We are not uneducated people, but feel that way each time we get such asinine responses. Yes, I said “responses”, as they are never answers to the questions. The responses seem to change like the weatherman's predictions.
We need things to be easier. Things are made so much harder. Nobody seems to want to be accountable. Someone has to be. Someone must initiate the change. Please be that someone.
When I was his common-law partner, we figured out that I was entitled to his VAC benefits but not his military benefits. How does that make sense? We found out that if a veteran is not married by 60, any partnership after 60 will not be recognized. He never knew this clause existed. Once married, we had a year to submit the paperwork in order for me to be able to get his military benefits, i.e., pension, but we had to pay into it from what little money we now have coming in.
Veterans Affairs returns upwards of $150 million a year to the government. This money could be used to support veterans and their families, no matter what the family unit looks like.
Please know that I am new to this life and I would not change it. Veterans have to chase people for help, but it isn't help. It's more trouble. They give up. They are tired of being marginalized, cast aside and forgotten.
If he wants to ensure that I, as his wife, have some of his pension, we must pay back into a pension he is already paying back into because he re-enlisted for Afghanistan at the age of 53. If we do that, we will have next to nothing to live on. Let that sink in, please.
Please help us. Help change this archaic clause and give veterans and their families the help they deserve.
Thank you.
View Emmanuel Dubourg Profile
Lib. (QC)
Thank you so much, Mr. Evanshen, for your opening remarks.
Now I'd like to invite Corporal Kevin Sewell to add something.
Please go ahead.
Kevin Sewell
View Kevin Sewell Profile
Kevin Sewell
2022-05-13 13:25
Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for letting me talk to you.
After that, there really isn't much to say. I can give you a history of the situations from this clause and tell you about who I am.
I served in the Canadian Forces two different times. I enlisted in the early 1980s and was released in 1987. I then proceeded to become a paramedic in Ontario and was one for 22 years. Afghanistan came along, and I felt it was a situation in which I could take my skills and my knowledge to the forefront. I joined the military at that time.
I served until age 60. At that age I was released for a couple of reasons. I had PTSD. Basically I was broken. There was also the clause that says that, when you are 60, the military releases you. It's an age category.
Since then, I've been fighting PTSD and fighting other injuries. Veterans Affairs have helped but not totally. Then I met this young lady. We lived in a common-law situation for a number of years. We were planning on getting married and COVID came along. That deferred us. Finally we got married in October last year, so we are now considered married.
Under Veterans Affairs, she already was the beneficiary to all of what I could give her from Veterans Affairs, but the superannuation clause for the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act and this gold digger clause would restrict her dramatically and totally from receiving my pension if I passed away.
When I found this out, it was like a kick in the gut. It just totally deflated me. I wouldn't be able to give her what I had planned to give her, and I did not feel like a total human or a total man.
It's contradictory. Common law is recognized by the government in most things. The tax man recognizes it. VAC recognizes it. The military recognizes it to the age of 60. Then all of a sudden, the military doesn't. It's kind of interesting.
Our previous prime minister by the name of Pierre Elliott Trudeau said that the government should stay out of the bedrooms of Canada. With this, to me, we're still in the bedrooms of Canada when we're telling someone that they can or cannot receive things because of their marital status.
As you all know, the gold digger clause started in 1901 because of the Civil War in the United States. We jumped on the bandwagon and felt that there would be individuals following through with this. However, the U.S. military got rid of this clause, and we're still playing with it, more than ever, 10 years later. There's also the situation that the Canadian Forces do not inform members that this clause exists, so when they do get out, they are surprised about this situation. It's not appropriate, and it's actually a poor way of treating veterans and soldiers at the same time.
Basically, you got most of it from Tracy, and I totally agree with what she said. I can't really say much more on that. If you have any questions, which you will probably have during the question time, I'll be more than willing to answer your questions.
Thank you for letting me spend time with you.
View Emmanuel Dubourg Profile
Lib. (QC)
Thank you so much, Mr. Sewell. For sure, we're going to ask you some questions.
I would like to invite Mr. Gill, a researcher with the Surviving Spouses Pension Fairness Coalition.
Mr. Gill, please unmute your mic.
Maurice Gill
View Maurice Gill Profile
Maurice Gill
2022-05-13 13:28
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.
We have filed a brief in which we attempt to provide an overview of the subject under study. Now I would like to provide some additional information and comments. I was unable to submit my statement earlier as I didn't finish it until yesterday.
I will begin with a word about our coalition.
The Surviving Spouses Pension Fairness Coalition came together in 2013 and 2014, when it recruited a large number of partners wishing to support its objective, which is to help change federal pension statutes. Those partners are associations of retirees including, of course, the Armed Forces Pensioners'/Annuitants' Association of Canada, the National Association of Federal Retirees, which appeared before you on April 29, unions and other organizations. You can access a list of our partners on our website.
The coalition came to public notice as a result of our efforts during the 2015 election campaign. In 2016, we took action to increase awareness among many ministers directly or indirectly responsible for the various pension statutes.
In 2018, we supported the New Democratic Party's bill to amend those acts, and we publicized the petition that supported it.
After a very long pandemic that disrupted political life in this country and considerably reduced our opportunities for action, here we are before your committee.
The part of our brief concerning federal legislation addresses at length the 1901 act, which, among other things, included an exclusionary provision that I want to discuss today. Under that legislation, a widow already receiving a pension who remarried, perhaps as a way to improve her financial position, would lose that pension, which would subsequently be restored if her new husband then died. A similar provision was included in several pension plans over a long period of time, particularly in the Canada pension plan, in which it was in force from 1965 to 1987.
We believe that the "marriage after 60 years" clause is completely arbitrary, and we clearly understand why many people consider it discriminatory, even though the Supreme Court dismissed a complaint to that effect in a judgment in 1994. However, reality changes over time, and the court's opinion could change as well, as we've seen with regard to assisted suicide and medical assistance in dying.
In our brief, we provide a line of reasoning that could be used to justify the "marriage after retirement" provision. Since most marriages after 60 years occur after retirement, we could easily delete the words "after 60 years" and have only one provision for all legislation. Why not?
Now I want to discuss the veterans survivor fund.
In one piece of research, from which I cited some results in the brief, we surveyed 4,490 widows who were alive in 2020. Assuming, for example, that they became widows between 2005 and 2020, and considering that, during that 15-year period, other widows not receiving pensions unfortunately died, several hundreds would be added to the total for that period.
Here are some more figures from that research that may surely be of interest to you.
The incomes of 19% of those widows were below the low income measure.
View Emmanuel Dubourg Profile
Lib. (QC)
Pardon me, Mr. Gill.
We allow witnesses only five minutes for their opening statement. Would you please conclude in a few seconds?
Then we will ask you some questions.
Maurice Gill
View Maurice Gill Profile
Maurice Gill
2022-05-13 13:34
All right. I'll just give you my last few figures.
Some 27% of those widows received the guaranteed income supplement.
Unfortunately, I have to conclude quickly by stating the conclusion to our brief.
It is absolutely unfair and utterly unacceptable to deprive surviving spouses of a pension.
A pension, even reduced to 20% or 30%, is far better than no pension at all.
View Emmanuel Dubourg Profile
Lib. (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Gill.
We will now go to the first round of questions.
I invite the members to say to whom they are directing their questions. We have with us Mr. Boudreau, Ms. Vankoughnett, Ms. Evanshen, Corporal Sewell and Mr. Gill.
Now for the witnesses, if the question is directed to you, I don't need to announce you; you may respond immediately.
Incidentally, I would also like to say hello to one of our colleagues, Sameer Zuberi, who is participating in today's meeting.
Then we will begin with Frank Caputo, who is the first vice-chair of the committee.
Mr. Caputo, you have the floor for the next six minutes.
View Frank Caputo Profile
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
It is obviously a pleasure and an honour to be here with everybody on the committee. I want to thank everybody here for their service. Those who may not have served in an official government or military role, I want to thank for the service of their partners and for their support. I know that I am nothing without the support of my wife and partner, so I thank you for that.
I must say that this issue really resonated a lot with me since it came to the forefront a few months ago for me, maybe a couple of months after my election. At that time, it was generally something I thought was fairly confined to the military.
Mr. Boudreau, you said something that struck me right from the get-go. Obviously you probably don't know this, but my first career was in federal corrections as well. I only served for about one-tenth of how much time you served for, 37 and a half years, which is an accomplishment in any career but especially in the federal correctional system in the institution where you worked. That's quite an accomplishment, and I thank you for your service for that.
I thank everybody for their service, Corporal Sewell, and to all the partners as well. Thank you so much for everything you do, and for being here.
All that being said, we've heard how this impacts you. I'm wondering though, are there any hidden impacts? I believe it was Ms. Evanshen who talked about being labelled a gold digger and how offensive that was—and is. Are there any hidden impacts here that people may not have really appreciated that you want to share?
That goes to all four of you. This is your time to tell us exactly how this has impacted you.
View Emmanuel Dubourg Profile
Lib. (QC)
Maybe we could start with Mr. Boudreau.
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