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Same-sex benefits victory a 'world first'

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Some good news for your saturday morning

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Same-sex benefits victory a 'world first'

Last Updated Fri, 19 Dec 2003 19:35:47

TORONTO - Canada's gay community celebrated Friday when an Ontario court ruled that same-sex couples are entitled to survivors' pension benefits back to 1985.

Ottawa discriminated against gay men and women by denying them benefits when their partners died before 1998, Justice Ellen Macdonald ruled. "This is the first class-action decision awarding compensation to gays and lesbians for discrimination anywhere in the world," said lead defence lawyer Douglas Elliott.

If unchallenged, the Ontario Superior Court ruling means that as many as 2,000 gay Canadians will receive a total of about $100 million, according to attorneys involved in the case.

Making payments retroactive to April 1985 is significant, Elliott said, because of the number of gay people who died of AIDS during that decade. 'A victory for me and my partner'

Many members of Canada's gay community cheered the decision, saying the case was about equality not just money. "I'm very, very happy," said Albert McNutt of Truro, N.S. "This is a real victory, not only for me but for my partner."

After being denied a survivor's pension when his partner died in 1993, McNutt was devastated. "I really felt as though our relationship didn't count," he recalled. "To have your relationship not thought of in a legitimate way and demeaned in that sense, it really tore me apart."

The federal government has 30 days to file an appeal. The decision, which affects Canada Pension Plan benefits, does not apply to Quebec, which has its own plan.

The Halifax lawyer who represented McNutt and other Nova Scotians in the lawsuit, Dawna Ring, said she hopes that newly sworn-in Prime Minister Paul Martin will let Friday's judgment stand. "We hope that Mr. Martin will not choose to have federal government lawyers, paid for out of taxpayers' dollars, fighting against the people of Canada," Ring said. "Do the right thing and treat these Canadians as equals under the constitution of Canada."

Written by CBC News Online staff
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