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Court hears Charter challenge against Sask. government's disability program

Peter Gilmer, an advocate with the Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry, says people on the Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability should not be forced to withdraw from thier Canada Pension Plan at age 60.  (Alexander Quon/CBC - image credit)
Peter Gilmer, an advocate with the Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry, says people on the Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability should not be forced to withdraw from thier Canada Pension Plan at age 60. (Alexander Quon/CBC - image credit)

The Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability (SAID) program is supposed to be a lifeline for people who have no other alternative.

But lawyers representing the Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry were at Regina's Court of King's Bench on Friday arguing the program is discriminatory.

"It violates what the federal government intended," said Leif Jensen, who along with Dan LeBlanc, are representing the ministry.

"It's contrary to the Charter and specifically the right for disabled people to be treated equal."

Currently, seniors using the SAID program are required to take money from their Canada Pension Plan at the age of 60, well ahead of the standard of 65. The money they get this way is then counted against their SAID benefits.

Peter Gilmer is a minister with the Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry. He said this system is a problem for some of the people his organization helps.

Gilmer said it puts many people in an impossible position. That's why the ministry filed its legal challenge in March 2023.

"The real reason for the Canada Pension Plan is to provide a a better support for people, but what happens is that while people are on the SAID program, they take it out early. It is deducted dollar-for-dollar and we would describe that as a clawback," Gilmer said.

On Friday, lawyers representing the provincial government declined to speak with media.

In court, the government defended its actions, saying that 87 per cent of people using SAID are better off with the system in place.

The legal team representing the Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry said that's not good enough.

"We say that means that some are advantaged, some are not. We don't know how many," said Jensen.

"What we do know is that 13 per cent of disabled folks in Saskatchewan who are reliant on the SAID program are disadvantaged. That is, that they have less money at the end of the day when they turn 65 than they would otherwise have."

New Brunswick and Saskatchewan are the only provinces that make withdrawal mandatory at age 60.

Advocates point to a 2020 decision from the Manitoba Court of Appeal, who ruled the practice in that province violated Section 15 of Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which affords equality and equal protection under the law.

Gilmer hopes the challenge here in Saskatchewan ends with the same result.

Justice C.D. Clackson has reserved their decision until a later date.