October 04, 2016 - 12:22 PM
OTTAWA - A group of mothers who say they were wrongly denied sickness benefits are calling out the federal Liberal government for continuing to fight them in court despite a promise to end the legal feud months ago.
The Liberals said during last year's election campaign that they would drop federal opposition to a class-action lawsuit involving thousands of Canadians who were denied benefits to which they were entitled while on maternity leave.
The mothers and their lawyer had remained remained largely silent, hoping the government would acquiesce once a few months had passed and ministers were well-versed on their portfolios.
Instead, the court case has limped along — a result, the women say, of the Liberals dragging their heels on the file.
The women involved in the class-action lawsuit broke their silence Tuesday, hoping it prods the Liberals to follow through on the campaign pledge.
"They used the words, 'We will end this immediately,'" said Jennifer McCrea, the Calgary woman at the heart of the case.
"I would ask them to give me a definition of the word 'immediately.' 'Prime Minister (Justin) Trudeau, define the word immediately, because a year is not immediately. It's just not.'"
In a statement released Tuesday, the lawyer representing the women in their $450-million class-action lawsuit calls on the Liberals to stop fighting women who were gravely ill when they tried to claim benefits they were owed.
Stephen Moreau said the Liberals have taken no steps to end the legal battle, which has been going on for four years and could take years more to get to trial.
The minister in charge of the file didn't say why the government has not dropped the case, but said the issue of special benefits, like sickness and parental benefits, is a "very significant concern" to his department.
"I know we are making some progress. We are hoping to make further progress on that file quite soon," Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said after a cabinet meeting Tuesday.
NDP critic Niki Ashton said she was baffled as to why the Liberals continued to let the case drag through the courts.
"We have a prime minister who has spoken very clearly about being feminist," Ashton said.
"His government has really espoused the feminist message. Acting on something like this and doing justice for these women is actually something that is very much feminist."
Figures provided to Parliament in March showed the government had spent more than $2.2 million in legal fees to fight the case.
Parliament decided in 2002 to allow those who were diagnosed with cancer, for instance, to access 15 extra weeks of employment insurance payments in addition to a year's worth of maternity leave benefits.
McCrea's claim alleges that at least 3,177 people were denied the EI benefit between 2002 and 2011, herself included.
McCrea was diagnosed with breast cancer in July 2011, while she was on maternity leave with her youngest son, Logan, who was eight months at the time. She had a double mastectomy in August 2011 and was deemed cancer-free shortly afterwards.
This year marks five years of being cancer-free, a milestone she is marking by running five marathons over the course of the year.
Logan is now entering Grade 1. McCrea said she expected Logan to be in preschool when the case was settled.
"We are no closer to a settlement than we were...when (former prime minister Stephen) Harper was there."
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News from © The Canadian Press, 2016