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HEALTH INSURANCE, PRIVATE - Constitutional issues

Thursday, August 01, 2019 @ 6:13 AM  

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Appeal by several retirees of the federal public service and the Association that represented them from the dismissal of their judicial review application. The Federal Court found changes made to the Public Service Health Care Plan did not violate the appellants’ contractual rights or their freedom of association under s. 2(d) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Charter). The Plan provided supplementary health care benefits primarily for active employees of the federal public service and for retirees who chose to participate. In 2014, amendments to the Plan were announced to increase the proportion of the contributions borne by retirees from a cost sharing ratio of 75-25 to a 50-50 ratio. The increase in the retirees’ rate of contribution was to be phased in over four years and was not to affect retirees with low incomes. The Treasury Board received input and a joint recommendation from active and retired employees prior to amending the Plan.

HELD: Appeal dismissed. The Federal Court did not err in concluding the Plan amendments did not breach vested contractual rights. The evidence before the Federal Court fell far short of establishing that the retirees’ consent to the changes was obtained by coercion or duress. The Federal Court did not err in finding the Treasury Board did not violate the appellants’ freedom of association under s. 2(d) of the Charter. The Treasury Board’s conduct and its decision to move to a 50-50 cost-sharing ratio appropriately balanced the retirees’ freedom of association and the Treasury Board’s statutory objectives. The retirees, through their designated representative, had the ability to have their voices heard and there was a remedy available if they felt their voices were being drowned out.

Bemister v. Canada (Attorney General), [2019] F.C.J. No. 732, Federal Court of Appeal, M. Nadon and Y. de Montigny JJ.A. and J.M. Woods A.C.J., June 24, 2019. Digest No. TLD-July292019009