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Updated on Aug 11, 2014

From the ashes of Canada’s former 1,000-member dispute resolution body, the young federal Social Security Tribunal is muddling its way slowly through a mountain of thousands of Canada’s denied federal disability benefits.

Federal Conservatives on April 1, 2013, officially and finally dissolved the board of part-time “referees,” as The Globe and Mail called them, charged with ruling on appealed Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security disputes. Since then, the Social Security Tribunal of less than 70 members has done its best to plod through a fraction each month of thousands of cases, some of which have waited over a year to be heard and seen claimants go bankrupt, decline in health, and even die prior to their hearings.

To be exact, 7,224 income-security case appeals awaited the tribunal when it began operation. By the end of 2013, another 3,741 CPP and OAS appeals followed. The Tribunal settled over 700 without a hearing, but only heard 348 total cases during its first year out of 10,000 filed.

Making matters more disconcerting, all appeals inherited by the tribunal have now exceeded their 365-day deadlines. They’re now directly in the hands of the Tribunal’s adjudicators.

“More than 7,000 appeals were transferred from the OCRT to the Tribunal. As appeals became ready to proceed, they were assigned to Tribunal Members,” the Social Security Tribunal’s informational website explains. “Although many appeals were concluded, the Tribunal was unable to assign the majority of these appeals before April 1, 2014 because the parties’ right to file additional documents and submissions continued and because numerous documents, Notices of Readiness and submissions were received in the final 30 days which extended the time for a response to May 1, 2014.

The site goes on to call a timetable for almost any case’s resolution currently “difficult to estimate exactly,” along with an explanation that the Tribunal will continue proceeding with the oldest files first and notifying parties several weeks in advance of an appeal’s assignment to a member adjudicator.

Due to the delays, the Tribunal is providing claimants with leeway for submitting new documents.

“While all parties may continue to file documents and responses as part of the appeal, once a Tribunal Member has been assigned to the appeal, a time limit to file last documents will be determined, and any documents filed beyond the established time limit will be considered only at the discretion of the Tribunal Member,” the site continues. “Therefore, filing documents during the prescribed time limits will not delay the final decision. However documents filed beyond these time limits may create delays, as the Tribunal Member will need to determine whether or not to admit them as evidence.”

Jiny Sims, NDP employment and social development critic, estimates that it would take the Tribunal about nine-and-a-half years to burn through the current backlog, even if the Tribunal received not another single appeal.

“It’s not a welfare program. These people paid into it,” Regina-based appeal consultant Allison Schmidt remarked on delays that she called a “disgrace.”





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