Sick, broke appellants denied speedy social security hearings

The tribunal was ostensibly created to streamline the appeals process and save Canadian taxpayers $25 million a year

OTTAWA – Dozens of gravely ill or financially strapped Canadians denied Canada Pension Plan disability benefits were refused accelerated appeals in 2014 by Ottawa’s badly backlogged social security tribunal.

The backlog plaguing the tribunal has swelled dramatically since its launch almost two years ago, with thousands of injured or ailing Canadians now waiting as long as five years to have their appeals heard.

In 2014, 46 people asked for an expedited appeal due to financial hardship. Only seven were successful, the government reveals in responses to recent order paper questions from the NDP.

Eleven people sought expedited hearings in 2014 due to terminal illnesses. Four were turned down while seven were successful.

Richard Beaulne, a spokesman for the tribunal, calls it an unfortunate reality that most appellants experience financial hardship. He says the tribunal must determine exceptional financial hardship, however, to justify hearing an appeal ahead of others.

And he says accelerating the appeals process for those with terminal illnesses only happens when appellants have provided the proper medical documentation to support their request.

NDP MP Jinny Sims calls it “tragic” that anyone with a terminal illness would be refused expedited help by their government.

“After a decade of Conservative government, not only are many families falling further behind, but when they are facing financial hardship, they face a backlogged process,” she said.

Jason Kenney, the former employment minister who’s now taken over defence, pledged earlier this month to wipe out the social security tribunal backlog by this summer.

The new employment minister, Pierre Poilievre, is on board with Kenney’s plan to eliminate the backlog, an official at the department said recently.

The tribunal, consisting of 74 full-time members and 22 part-timers, has been under a cloud of controversy since its inception in April 2013.

In addition to the ballooning backlog of cases, the government-in-council appointments to the tribunal have also been contentious. A third of them have ties to the Conservative party.

The tribunal was ostensibly created to streamline the appeals process and save Canadian taxpayers $25 million a year.

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