A punishment for disabled people is causing resentment in Quebec and more and more voices are being raised to protest against it. A real movement was born: Les Invalides at the front. Since 1997, the state has punished disabled people aged 65 and over with a reduction in their old-age pension because they did not work between the ages of 60 and 65.
One of the people behind this movement is Richard McLean, who, despite his poor health, decided in 2020 to attack the government and punishment. Mr McLean was a truck driver but suffered a stroke at the age of 51. He will never be the same again. Since he is confined to his wheelchair, he can no longer work and therefore receives a disability pension from Retraite Québec.
On his 65th birthday he received a letter that turned his life upside down. He is informed that his retirement pension will be reduced because he received a disability pension between the ages of 60 and 65.
In fact, the law stipulates that any person who has received a disability pension during these five years will be subject to a penalty on their old-age pension, which can then reach up to 36%. In fact, Retraite Québec imposes the same penalty on people in Mr. McLean's situation as it does on those who voluntarily choose to retire early at age 60. Mr. McLean will therefore see his monthly pension increase from $1,160 to $680.
His partner Danielle Drolet is shocked that the state treats her partner and all people in the same situation this way.
You didn't work because you couldn't work. It's not because you didn't want to! You couldn't do that.
In the years that followed, financial insecurity took its toll as his physical and mental health deteriorated. He said to himself: How do we get there? remembers his wife. Sometimes he even refused treatment to save money.
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Kevin McLean and his mother-in-law Danielle Drolet
Photo: Radio-Canada / Stéphanie Allaire
We too have the right to live
Richard McLean, a discreet, taciturn and weakened man, then agrees to tell his story to The Bill in the hope of making a difference.
I hope for everyone who [a] He lost his disability pension and the government will give it back to him. We too have the right to live.
He then met Me Sophie Mongeon, which marked the beginning of a protest movement. The lawyer is challenging the sentence imposed on Mr. McLean before the Quebec Administrative Tribunal (TAQ), joining her case with that of four other plaintiffs who are also challenging it.
He also became the standard-bearer of a class-action lawsuit demanding that the measure be declared a Charter violation and that those punished be provided compensation.
Dying feels like a financial burden
On March 10, 2022, Richard McLean, exhausted from life and in considerable pain, received medical euthanasia. In his final moments, he apologized to his loved ones for being a financial burden and unable to leave them an inheritance.
Two days before his death he was at least able to celebrate a small victory. During the show “La bill” he learned that the penalty had increased from 36% to 24%.
“We were all there, at home,” remembers his son Kevin McLean. Then he said: If we don't have the penalty overturned, it will still be a win. He was a little proud of it and said to himself: Well, I would have changed something.
A legacy fight
Danielle Drolet wants to continue her partner's fight, but she doesn't have the strength alone. You know, you're fighting the government. So let's see! You know, there is a fortress and you can get there alone with your little knife!
In that moment, Kevin feels entrusted with a mission and realizes that he has inherited not a sum of money, but his father's fight.
It is time for this Société de transport de Montréal mechanic to honor his memory and support his mother-in-law, who must now testify before the TAQ on behalf of her late spouse. I told him: I will go to court with you, I will accompany you. It would be very exciting. She was afraid. It's impressive to go to court [devant] two judges who tell us it is historic. I said don't stress, just tell your story.
Then, thanks to Kevin's efforts, they gained new support, that of his union, the powerful CSN. I explained that to them. They said, wait a minute, what are you talking to us about? That does not make sense! “We will support you,” says Mr. McLean proudly.
He is also involved in the movement “Les Invalides au front”, a Facebook page created by Me Sophie Mongeon that brings together more than 2,000 members. He is also organizing an event supported by the CSN in May 2023.
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I am Sophie Mongeon, Richard McLean's lawyer
Photo: Radio-Canada / Sébastien Gauvin Blanchet
The best win of my entire career!
Victory finally smiles on Kevin and his mother-in-law as well as the four other applicants. On July 28, 2023, after months of waiting, the TAQ concluded that the penalty was discriminatory and violated the Canadian Charter. The two judges declared the sections of the Quebec Pension Plan Act relating to punishment inapplicable because they violate the right to equality based on mental or physical defects.
Back in 2017, the Human and Youth Rights Commission concluded that the punishment violated the Quebec Charter.
For Me Mongeon, this decision, which will set a precedent, is historic.
Honestly, this is the best win of my entire career. Because this decision will impact not one person, two people, five people, but potentially 70,000 people.
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Kevin McLean at a press conference at the National Assembly on October 31st
Photo: National Assembly
The government is appealing the decision
However, the victory is short-lived. The government is appealing the decision to the Supreme Court. A decision that all opposition parties condemn. With this support, Kevin McLean is calling on the government to reverse its decision. There is still time to take a step back. You have the power to do this.
I think the first thing you have to do in life is to take responsibility for what you have done, that is, to take responsibility for the good things – I have done quite a few, apparently – but also for the bad fates to take yourself.
I left straight away, I blame myself
Even Louise Harel, who carried out the punishment at the time, supports the movement and believes that the government must give in and abolish it.
In her opinion, the current economic context has nothing to do with that of 1997, when she was minister responsible for the Régie des rentes and there were even fears about the regime's financial survival.
It's unthinkable! We have a surplus there. There is no reason why the government should not look for a solution quickly, she emphasizes. The 2022 annual management report also shows that the Quebec Pension Plan's total reserve is $106 billion.
Despite the difficult economic situation, she admits that she should not have introduced the penalty. She claims to have taken for granted what the Régie had told her, that the income would be almost the same or equivalent, which is not the case at all, she now admits. It's like I always thought it would be the old age pension and the guaranteed income supplement that would make up for it.
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Former minister Louise Harel in an interview with journalist Katherine Tremblay from the program “La bill”
Photo: Radio-Canada / Luc St-Pierre
I left straight away, I blame myself. That's why I support them as often as possible.
She now hopes that a dialogue can be established between the government and the parties, because in her opinion the solution cannot come through the courts.
People can't wait another decade until they finally have a decent income after all the lawsuits, she complains.
This is systemic discrimination. The ex-minister emphasizes that this must be resolved collectively, systematically and not individually in court.
Willing to negotiate and give up the repercussions
Sophie Mongeon says she is willing to negotiate with the government and even waive retroactivity, i.e. the retroactive refund of amounts collected since the penalty was introduced in 1997.
We already have a plan, a proposal that we can give them that is very fair and honorable and, frankly, a great solution for everyone. Repercussion is the least important thing to us. What is important now is to ensure that future generations are no longer punished and that this stops immediately.
She wants to quickly get a meeting with Treasury Secretary Eric Girard. The parties will meet in court on March 8 to set a hearing date.
Due to the legalization of the case, neither Retraite Québec nor the Minister of Finance agreed to grant us an interview.
The report by journalist Katherine Tremblay and director Stéphanie Allaire will be broadcast on Tuesday January 16th at 7:30 p.m. on the program La bill on ICI TÉLÉ.