Branko Sucic has been waiting a long time for his Old Age Security pension.
His daughter says the 78-year-old has been faced with a barrage of government demands for decades-old documents ever since first applying for the payments in 2004, but 10 years later she feels he’s no closer to getting what he deserves.
“He could die by the time this goes through,” said Marianne Rukavina, whose father immigrated to Canada in 1970. “This is so wrong…and I just want to make it right.”
Sucic, however, doesn’t seem to be alone — some advocates for seniors and immigrants claim certain applicants who came to Canada from other countries appear to be treated unfairly when they apply for OAS.
“This is more particular to people who have come into the country some time through their life and moved in and out of the country apparently,” said Susan Eng, a Toronto lawyer and vice-president for advocacy at CARP, a group that defends seniors’ interests.
“I think it’s a practical problem of barriers that are very difficult for people to overcome. If you ask the average citizen whether or not they kept their travel documents from 20 years ago to prove how long they spent some place they would have a hard time coming up with them.”
Service Canada says OAS payments are available to most people aged 65 or older who meet legal status and residence requirements. Applicants living in Canada typically need to be Canadian citizens or legal residents at the time their application is approved and must have lived in Canada for at least 10 years after turning 18.
To satisfy requirements, all applicants must provide “supporting documentary evidence” to prove all the dates they entered and exited the country.
“It is important to establish periods of Canadian residence because, not only does residence determine eligibility to the OAS pension, it can also affect the amount of pension the applicant will receive,” said Eric Morrissette, a spokesman with Employment and Social Development Canada. “An application for an OAS pension cannot be approved until all eligibility requirements have been met.”
Those dissatisfied with decisions from Service Canada can request a reconsideration of their case but it must be made in writing within 90 days of being notified of the decision.
Sucic’s daughter can’t believe how onerous the process has been for her father, who grew up in what is now Croatia. He left the country for Italy in the late 50s with his wife, before moving to Australia in 1959, where he became a citizen of that country.
He then brought his family to Canada in 1970, where he lived and worked until December 1993, when he moved back to Croatia to support his extended family during the war in former Yugoslavia. He returned to Canada in 1997 and has lived here ever since.
With three failed applications behind them and a fourth underway, Rukavina has now made it her mission to ensure her father succeeds.
In their latest communication with Sucic, Service Canada asked for his exact residences from birth until present, Rukavina said, including her father’s “current address” in Australia, despite the fact that he hasn’t been back to the country since 1970.
“This is absolutely insane, the amount of documentation wasted, sent, not acknowledged — the things that they’ve asked for they have received,” said Rukavina, who has also raised the case with the office of the minister for employment and social development.
“If this is happening to my dad, there’s other people out there that this is happening to.”
Ed Janicki would have been in the same situation if not for an old luggage tag he found while rummaging through his mother’s possessions.
The 67-year-old came to Canada with his family at the age of three from a refugee camp in Germany. Although he got his citizenship in 1955, served in the military and worked in Canada all his life, Service Canada demanded he show proof of his original arrival at a port in Halifax.
Janicki didn’t find any landing papers, but he did find the luggage tag from the family’s journey to Canada which was stamped with the date they landed.
The government accepted the tag as a landing record and allowed his OAS application to proceed, but Janicki wonders what would have happened if that tag hadn’t been saved.
“It just doesn’t make any sense the way this government treats some of the immigrants,” he said. “You spend your whole life working, you spend your whole life giving taxes and then they’re going to say we’re going to make you jump through a hoop.”
Avvy Go, director of Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic in Toronto, said she sees such cases at least a few times a year.
“The OAS issue affects, I think, certain immigrant populations more so than others,” she said. “A lot of times we feel that people are being denied in an unreasonable manner.”
Defining the scope of the problem, however, is tough because there are no official figures available on rejected applications for the OAS pension. The anecdotal evidence that is available though, is enough for advocates to ask questions, said Go.
She recounts a case where a husband and a wife who had immigrated to Canada and had exactly the same residency records applied for OAS only to have one spouse denied while the other’s application was accepted.
“They start out with an assumption that certain people are not actually living in Canada and are taking advantage of our benefits,” said Go. “This assumption of immigrants and seniors, questioning whether their tie is with Canada or their home country, that really is the issue behind these cases.”