Former B.C. children's watchdog sues province in pension dispute

Former B.C. children's watchdog sues province in pension dispute

The province is being sued by its former children's watchdog for breach of contract who say the government reneged on promised pension benefits.

In a statement of claim, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, said the government is motivated by "malice and bad faith" in the disagreement, which dogged her 10-year stint as children's watchdog.

The claim was filed on Friday and states that "[Turpel-Lafond] has suffered mental distress as a result of the [government's] conduct, entitling [Turpel-Lafond] to aggravated and punitive damages, as well as damages for bad faith conduct and damages for mental distress."

The claim states that the government broke a verbal agreement to provide Turpel-Lafond with 18 months worth of pension credits for each year of service. That agreement was extended when the government first offered her the position as an independent representative for children and youth in 2006. At the time, she was a provincial judge in Saskatchewan.

Verbal agreement

The statement of claim says that Turpel-Lafond broached the issue of salary, moving expenses and pension benefits even before she accepted the position.

The B.C. government responded with a verbal agreement. 

​At the time, Turpel-Lafond was a provincial judge in Saskatchewan. In order to accept the B.C. position, she was required to take a leave from her judicial duties, waiving her right to contribute to the judges pension plan.

But after her first year of service, Turpel-Lafond noted that pension statement did not reflect the entitlement promised by the government. The statement of claim says Turpel-Laford repeatedly raised the pension issue with the government but never received a written contract.

"Despite honouring its commitments to provide the same enhanced pension entitlement to other independent officers of the legislature, the government continues to fail to honour the same commitment to [Turpel-Lafond]." the claim said.

Turpel-Lafond's claim says she ''has or will ultimately suffer a loss of pension benefits as a result."

The government has 21 days to file a formal response but has yet to do so.

But, a statement released from the Ministry of Justice said the government has received the claim and will review it. The statement added that the the ministry won't comment because the matter is before the courts.

Term ended last year

Turpel, who finished her stint last November, has since returned to Saskatchewan and resumed her previous career as a provincial judge.

Her lawyer, Greg Anctil, said it's unusual for a high-profile position such as Turpel-Lafond's job to be offered without a written agreement. But, it's also not the first time the province has failed to provide a written employment contract, Anctil said.

He represented former auditor general John Doyle who sued for pension entitlements after leaving office.

"There should be written agreements," Anctil said. "But this isn't the first time the government has had a situation where promises were made — or allegedly made — and it wasn't subject to a formal written agreement."

The statement of claim says the province had a history of animosity with Turpel-Lafond. It says a deputy minister told her in 2015 that "the government would treat her as a 'member of the opposition.'"

The claim said the Minister of Children and Family Development Stephanie Cadieux refused to meet with her in the last 12 months in office.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.