Ken Haire has been left in legal limbo and cannot access his deceased partner’s pension because same-sex laws in their specific case were not made retroactive.
The 71-year-old says he and his partner of 33 years, Gerry Schwarz, were in an exclusive common-law relationship for more than three decades before Gerry died unexpectedly from heart failure on Jan. 2, 2012, at the age of 76.
Schwarz retired from CN Rail in 1991 and while the company recognized Haire as his spouse, the CN Pensioners Association does not because the recognition of same-sex couples will not be made retroactive to his retirement date.
Haire says he has been forced to sell the house they shared and some of their belongings just to get by.
He has spent parts of the last nine years fighting to get CN’s pension and benefits department to overturn its decision. Now he’s decided to take that fight public.
“He would be devastated if he knew what was going on now,” Haire said of his late partner. “He was a company man. He loved CN Rail.”
“He felt comfortable that if anything happened to him, I would be able to continue on with a reasonably comfortable lifestyle,” Haire said. “And it didn’t happen that way.”
When Haire got Schwarz’s death certificate, he reached out to CN. The company sent condolences on the loss of his common law spouse, and said it would do everything in its power to make sure his pension continued to be paid out.
But on Jan. 31, 2012, Haire got a very different letter from CN’s pension and benefits department. It informed him that the definition of spouse at the time of Schwarz’s retirement from CN was a “person of the opposite sex,” in a conjugal relationship for more than one year. Even though the terms had been updated in 1998 to include LGBT relationships, the pension plan had not made those changes retroactive.
Therefore, according to the company, Haire was not entitled to anything.
“I suddenly went from being Gerry’s common law spouse, to just being a roommate,” Haire said. “I was hurt. I was more insulted by the fact that … after all those years and all the people he had worked with, that they still didn’t acknowledge the fact that Gerry and I were a couple. We were a couple in every sense of the word. It really did hurt.”
CN told CBC News on Saturday that it is now reviewing how its policies have affected workers who retired before 1998.
“We realize that some former practices and decisions made in good faith in the past need to be re-examined in light of our engagement toward diversity and inclusion,” a CN spokesperson said in a statement.