Mother whose child was killed in murder-suicide deemed ineligible for assistance

Tanya Brancalion has been knocked back. She has been left reeling in the wake of her husband's suicide. She is devastated by the death of her son, taken by her husband on that day in September when he committed murder-suicide.

Everything in tatters and still struggling to cope, Brancalion suffered another indignant blow when she was informed she did not qualify for a survivor's pension, essentially because she did not have any children.

She knows damn well she doesn't have any children.

The Toronto Star first reported on Brancalion's situation, explaining that the 34-year-old widow was too young by one year to qualify for monthly survivor's benefits under the Canadian Pension Plan. She would have also have qualified if she had a dependent to care for.

But, well, you know.

"I think that when somebody goes through something as horrific as losing their family, that the government that they pay taxes to should have some kind of compassion," Brancalion told the Star this week.

One would think so, but one would be wrong.

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Human Resource and Skills Development Canada tried to defend the decision of not providing Brancalion with the monthly stipend by restating their rules and offering an unsatisfactory explanation.

Here is the statement, in part, it offered the Toronto Star:

The rationale is that younger survivors would be able to enter or return to the workforce and thus become self-supporting. On the other hand, it is recognized that older individuals, persons with disabilities and those with young children at home have a more difficult time achieving self-sufficiency and are therefore in greater need of the earnings-replacement protection that is provided by a survivor's pension.

Here is how that breaks down in terms a human can understand:

If Brancalion was 35 instead of 34, she would be considered an "older survivor" and less likely to become self-sufficient, therefore she would be eligible for support.

If she was 34 but her only child had not been murdered by her suicidal husband, the government would agree that she would have a more difficult time achieving self-sufficiency; therefore she would be eligible for support.

But because she is 34 and has no children anymore, nothing is stopping her from jumping right back to work, and therefore she is not eligible for support.

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That does not sound human. Or humane. It sounds like a government agency found a policy it can hide behind. It is probable that every person who processed and denied her claim for support saw her circumstances and said, "whoa, that sucks."

But no one found a way to deal with it on a human level, without sounding like a heartless bureaucratic machine. Make an exception now and we'll have to make an exception for the next case, the reasoning surely went.

Hard-and-fast rules — especially arbitrary ones like this — that separate the haves from the have-nots are certain to make for outrage and hurt feelings.

They can also make for heroes; heroes that focus on the people behind the policies and fight for the justice those rules are meant to provide.

Brancalion needs a hero right now. She'd probably settle for a human.