Women who took part in the RCMP’s job-sharing program while raising young children were unfairly denied the chance to bolster their pensions, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled.

In a 6-3 decision Friday, the high court accepted the arguments of three mothers who worked reduced hours on the national police force in order to devote time to their children.

The women said the RCMP pension plan breached their equality rights under the charter by denying them the benefit of accruing full-time pension credit for periods when they temporarily worked reduced hours for family reasons.

They pointed out that under the plan, RCMP members can accrue pensionable service during leaves of absence, such as maternity, sick or education leaves, provided the member pays both the employer and employee contributions for the leave period.

But members who temporarily reduce their hours of work see their pensions diminished, as they are not given the option of “buying back” full-time pension credit for the hours not worked.

Joanne Fraser, Allison Pilgrim and Colleen Fox, all now retired from the force, were unsuccessful in the Federal Court and in a subsequent appeal, but the Supreme Court agreed to hear their case.

In its decision, the Supreme Court noted nearly all of the participants in the job-sharing program are women and most of them limited their hours of work because of child care.

Justice Rosalie Abella wrote on behalf of the majority that full-time RCMP members who job-share must sacrifice pension benefits because of the temporary reduction in working hours.

“This arrangement has a disproportionate impact on women and perpetuates their historical disadvantage,” she said, calling it a “clear violation” of their right to equality under the charter.

The decision is “a huge win for equality and women in the workplace, and in the home,” said lawyer Paul Champ, who represented the women in court.

“When I called Joanne Fraser and told her of the win, her response was, ‘It’s about time.’ I couldn’t agree more.”

Abella said it will be up to federal officials to come up with the methodology to allow full-time members who reduced their hours under the job-sharing program to buy back their full pension credit.

But she said any measures should be in keeping with the court’s reasons and apply retroactively to give the claimants in the case, and others in their position, a meaningful remedy.

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press

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