Case: Stadler v St Boniface/St Vital (Director), 2022 MBCA 56 (CanLII)
Keywords: pension benefits; Stadler v Director, St Boniface/ St Vital, 2020 MBCA 46 leave to appeal to SCC dismissed, 39269 (26 November 2020)
The Appellant and the Respondent Director of St. Boniface/St. Vital are engaged in a dispute regarding when a disabled individual receiving provincial income assistance must apply for a federal retirement or old age benefit. (See para. 1). The Court describes this as “the latest chapter”.
The Director takes the position that the Appellant is required to apply for the old age security (“OAS”) pension and guaranteed income supplement (“GIS”) under the Old Age Security Act, RSC 1985, c O-9. The Appellant refuses to apply because doing so would decrease his OAS pension by 36% of what it would be if he applied at age 70. (See paras. 8-9).
The Director suspends the Appellant’s income assistance under The Manitoba Assistance Act, CCSM c A150 and the Assistance Regulation, Man Reg 404/88R. (See para. 9). The Social Services Appeal Board (the “Board”) finds the Appellant has a legal duty to make “reasonable efforts” to obtain benefits and that, at any given time, if a benefit becomes available, he or she must apply for it. (See para. 11). The Board found that it lacked jurisdiction to review the constitutionality of its own legislation, and declines to decide whether s. 12.1(2) of the Assistance Regulation infringes the Appellant’s equality rights under the Charter. (See para. 12).
The Appellant is granted leave to appeal the Board’s decision on two questions of law:
- Did the Board err in confirming the Director’s decision to suspend the Appellant’s income assistance benefits pending confirmation that he had applied for OAS/GIS benefits?
- Did the Board err in determining that it does not have the jurisdiction to review the constitutionality of its own legislation?
The Court of Appeal (Chief Justice Chartier, Justice Mainella, and Justice Pfuetzner) finds the Board did not err in law when it confirmed the Director’s decision to suspend the Appellant’s income assistance benefits (see para. 48) and was correct to find that it lacked jurisdiction. (See para. 19).
Writing for the Court of Appeal, Pfuetzner J.A. considered s. 8.1 of The Social Services Appeal Board Act, CCSM c S167, a provision which, at the relevant time, said that the Board does not have jurisdiction to “inquire into or make a decision concerning the constitutional validity or applicability of an Act of the Parliament of Canada or of the Legislature, or of a regulation made under the authority of such an Act” or to grant a Charter remedy. (See para. 7). The Director’s position was that, with this provision, the Legislature “clearly withdrew constitutional jurisdiction” and noted that “other jurisdictions in Canada have similarly chosen to place restrictions on administrative tribunals’ ability to adjudicate constitutional issues.” (See para. 18).
The Appellant’s position was that the Legislature cannot remove Charter jurisdiction from a tribunal without providing an effective alternative administrative route for Charter claims. (See para. 16; Nova Scotia (Workers’ Compensation Board) v Martin; Nova Scotia (Workers’ Compensation Board) v Laseur, 2003 SCC 54 at para 44). However, significantly, the Appellant conceded that the constitutionality of s. 8.1 of The Social Services Appeal Board Act was not before the Court of Appeal. (See para. 17). According to Pfuetzner J.A., the Board made no error in declining to assess the “facial validity” of s. 8.1 in order to assess its constitutionality. Rather, the appropriate forum in which to challenge s. 8.1 of the The Social Services Appeal Board Act is the Court of Queen’s Bench. (See para. 19). Accordingly, the significant jurisdictional question raised in this appeal remains to be definitively answered elsewhere.
Turning to the substantive question (i.e. whether the Board erred in confirming the Director’s decision to suspend the Appellant’s income assistance benefits), it is important to note that, in Stadler v Director, St Boniface/ St Vital, 2020 MBCA 46 leave to appeal to SCC dismissed, 39269 (26 November 2020) (referred to by the MBCA as “Stadler #2”), the MBCA determined that s. 12.1(2) of the Assistance Regulation should be “read down to exclude disabled recipients of income assistance from the requirement to apply for CPP benefits before the age of 65”. (See Stadler #2 at para. 112). According to Steel J.A., being “forced to apply early…permanently reduces the income of a person with physical disabilities”. (See para. 6, quoting from Stadler #2 at para. 110).
The decision of the MBCA herein is significant because it provided an opportunity to comment on the meaning of Stadler #2. For Pfuetzner J.A., Stadler #2 “stands for the principle that it is a breach of section 15 of the Charter for a disabled recipient of income assistance to be forced to apply early for CPP prior to attaining the normal retirement age of 65 if to do so will result in a financial disadvantage.” (See para. 38, emphasis in original). In the circumstances of this case, Pfuetzner J.A. found the Appellant was not asked to apply “early” for a benefit prior to the normal retirement age. Rather, since the “plain and ordinary meaning of these provisions is that 65 is the normal age for receipt of OAS/GIS benefits” (see para. 42), the Appellant herein was asked to apply for a benefit when it became available and this does not result in permanent financial disadvantage. (See para. 48).
Counsel for the Appellant: Karen Burwash (Peter J. Moss Law Office, Winnipeg)
Counsel for the Respondent: Deborah Carlson and Alan Ladyka (Department of Justice (MB), Winnipeg)
Counsel on a watching brief for the Social Services Appeal Board: Megan Smith (Thompson Dorfman Sweatman LLP, Winnipeg)