Mount Pearl Coun. Lucy Stoyles looks over paperwork for a friend who is fighting Service Canada over Canada Pension benefits. — Photo by Barb Sweet/The Telegram
Mount Pearl Coun. Lucy Stoyles is challenging the federal government in a fight over Canada Pension benefits for a friend.
Stoyles and the woman, who does not want to be named, are headed to a tribunal in February to try to overturn the decision by Service Canada not to award the woman Canada Pension splitting benefits.
The woman had been married for nearly three decades when her husband left her for another. They were separated when he died a few years later.
The woman, then in her 50s, went to a metro Service Canada office to apply for benefits and was told she could not make the application until she was 60.
So she waited, only to be told when she tried to apply again after age 60 that she had missed a deadline of three years after the man's death to apply.
"I did question (the federal employee's) information at the time, but she bluntly informed me that she was, indeed, correct and had worked at Service Canada for many years and did, indeed, know her job," the woman said.
"So, based on this information, I felt I had no alternative but to wait until my 60th birthday," the woman wrote Service Canada Minister Diane Finley about her plight.
The woman had been a stay-at-home mother until the separation, trusting her husband with the family finances.
Afterwards, she said, she discovered he'd signed her name on a bank document for a second mortgage without her knowledge, and she had to work a combination of minimum wage jobs to pay her bills. When she finally got him to court, the man died.
Canada Pension Plan's (CPP) credit splitting is intended to split the assets and entitlements built up during a legal marriage or common-law relationship.
Credits can be split even if one spouse or common-law partner did not pay into the Canada Pension Plan.
Generally, the credits of one person, the lower earner, are increased and the credits of the other, the higher earner, are reduced by the same amount, according to Service Canada.
In response to an inquiry from The Telegram, Service Canada said CPP legislation clearly requires that in the case of separated spouses, an application for a credit split must be made within three years of the death of one of the separated spouses.
The department said the woman can appeal the decision - which she is trying to do - and also apply for a survivor's pension.
The woman was sent a letter in November from Service Canada insisting that records indicate she visited an office in March 2000, was given an application form and did not return it.
And despite the mention of a tribunal, the woman was told the department's response is not positive.
"That decision cannot be reversed, as both the minister and the department are bound by legislation," the letter informed her.
"It's my word against theirs," the woman said in an interview.
"That's the sad part of it."
The woman admits they had a good lifestyle, the envy of friends, while together. But when her husband left, he had removed his name from holdings. They married in the late 1960s - still a time many women became homemakers.
Recalling the first time she went to see a lawyer, more than a decade ago, she had no answers to financial questions.
"(The lawyer) said, 'I have had many a person sit in that chair, but I have never met anyone so vulnerable as you are,'" the woman recalled.
"I said, 'You might call it vulnerability. But I call it trust and love.' I completely trusted my husband. But I realize now you don't trust.
"He was a person who loved country and western, and he went from country and western, your regular Joe, to Bon Jovi and tight jeans and leather jackets."
"Then this (employee) tells her she can't get her CPP, that she wasn't entitled to it. That's the stupid part of it all," Stoyles said of the woman's initial visit to the Service Canada office.
"No one ever told me I had this three-year window," said the woman. "Who in their right mind would go to Service Canada and apply for it and you got a three-year window and you're gonna say 'No, I don't want that'?"
So, why not Google the information? A decade ago, the woman did not have access to a computer - Google itself was only barely a year-and-a-half old at the time she walked into the federal office.
Attempts to work with her local MP's office have only confused the matter - at one point, the woman received a call from an official who was under the impression she wanted to drop the case.
"I am going through with this tribunal, myself and Lucy," she said. "I am more determined than ever to go to the tribunal."
"Why would she not take the money if she knew she was entitled to it?" Stoyles said.
"You feel like you are knocking up against a brick wall," said the woman, adding she's now had to track down legal files from her now-retired lawyer of more than a decade ago and obtain other documents.
"I don't think all that is necessary, to put a woman through that. If you are married and your husband dies, 'Here's the forms - you fill them out. Here's your money. Have a nice day.' When you are separated, good luck with all of that."