An advocacy group in Quebec has submitted a complaint to the United Nations seeking an investigation into the Government of Quebec for violating the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The group says people who are forced to retire early due to a disability face unfair and discriminatory financial penalties once they reach the actual retirement age of 65 and receive their old age pension benefits.
Paul Lupien (64) is one of them. He says loved his job as an executive chef in Quebec’s Saint-Marc-sur-Richelieu.
He worked in kitchens in his youth and although he decided to try something different in another industry for a few years, he eventually made his way back to his first love: cooking.
“You never forget your first love,” Lupien said.
But on April 11, 2017, his world came crashing down.
“I will never forget that date,” Lupien said.
Lupien was diagnosed with myasthenia gravis, a chronic autoimmune disorder that causes extreme muscle weakness.
He continued working but shortly after his diagnosis, he collapsed on the floor of his restaurant and was unable to move.
“I was on the floor, two inches away from the hot oil fryer with my chef’s knife in hand,” Lupien explained. “I could’ve killed myself.”
Lupien says his doctor told him he couldn’t work anymore and filled out his application for disability benefits.
He says he took a forced early retirement at the age of 59 and started using a wheelchair. He couldn’t stand for more than four minutes at a time.
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Now that he’s about to turn 65 – official retirement age in Quebec – he’s concerned that he will receive less money through his pension.
“I will take a penalty,” Lupien said. “It’s as if a person with disabilities is no longer disabled at 65, when they become a senior citizen.”
In Quebec, 28,000 seniors living with disabilities have seen their pensions reduced by 18 to 24 per cent compared to regular pensions — a penalty for taking early retirement, although involuntary.
Lupien says it’s unfair that people living with disabilities in Quebec have to take a penalty, calling it a discriminatory clause.
As the president of the Confédération des organismes de personnes handicapées du Québec (COPHAN), the largest French-speaking organization defending the rights of people with disabilities in North America, Lupien is fighting for the government to change the clause.
COPHAN, which represents more than one million people, filed a complaint with the UN against the Government of Quebec for violating the rights of people living with disabilities.
“We want the United Nations to force the government to respect the convention that was signed for the rights of people with disabilities in Canada,” Lupien said. “By penalizing people with disabilties, you’re not respecting their rights.”
This follows a ruling by Quebec’s administrative tribunal in favour of COPHAN, deeming the situation “discriminatory.” Lupien says they wrote to the United Nations because the province has decided to appeal the tribunal ruling.
“It’s like David and Goliath,” Lupien said. “We don’t have the means to pay for all the lawyers, it’s expensive.”
Lupien says they tried to settle with the government out of court but they haven’t received a reply.
The cabinet of Quebec’s Finance Minister, Eric Girard wrote in a statement to Global News that the government is sensitive to the reality of people aged 60 or over who find themselves in a disability situation.
“However, the government chose to request an appeal for judicial review of the tribunal’s decision in particular to clarify the applicable law,” the statement read.
The statement said that since the Coalition Avenir Quebec’s (CAQ) first mandate, the government has increased Quebec Pension Plan (QPP) benefits by $90 million annually for disability pension recipients.
“These new, more flexible provisions were adopted taking into account the repercussions on the financial viability of the QPP and, consequently, respecting the ability of workers and employers to pay, and also, preserving fairness between generations,” the statement read. “These modifications notably made it possible to increase the retirement pension from January 2022 for more than 71,000 people already retired who had benefited from the disability pension between the ages of 60 and 65. The increase for a person who started receiving their disability pension before age 60 varied between 17% and 19%.”
According to the government, as of Jan. 1, 2024, the QPP provides for a new calculation for people aged 60 and over. The person living with a disability will be able to receive, between the ages of 60 and 65, a higher total amount in benefits than the current amount of the disability pension. The amount paid after age 65 is also higher. Also, other provisions will make it possible from January 2024 to increase accessibility to the disability pension for people aged between 60 and 65.
That is little comfort for Lupien who says by his 65th birthday in March, he will receive less money to live while his medical needs grow.
“The government response does not in any way correct the discriminatory aspect of the disability pension from the Quebec pension plan compared to Canadians outside Quebec,” Lupien told Global News. “The complaint addressed to the UN by COPHAN will therefore continue its course.”
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