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The pension plans of Canadian police officers may be a less conspicuous issue than their rates of pay while they are serving the public, but their pensions are a major crux in the debate about the cost of policing.
Police officers are often able to retire with their full pensions after 25 years of service, at around the age of 50 – unlike the vast majority of Canadian employees.
Canadians have high esteem for their police forces, and want their police to be well and fairly paid. They may not, however, realize how deeply they are liable as taxpayers to meet their obligations to retired police officers.
Early retirement for the police is based on the firmly held belief that it is required by the stress and strain of their work, both physical and mental. The idea that this toll is a heavy one is plausible, but the evidence for it is elusive. For example, life expectancy for RCMP officers is somewhat higher than for federal civil servants. That may be because the Mounties are physically more fit to start out with, but it still tends to show that retired officers have not been worn out or shattered by their work.
In 1995, the Supreme Court of Canada dealt with a case about Albert Large, a former police officer in Stratford, Ont., who challenged the mandatory retirement age of 60. Though the Large case made its way to no less than three levels of courts, the rationale for compulsory early retirement was never made clear.
The Supreme Court concluded that the underlying merits of the retirement age could not be explored, for lack of evidence at the initial human-rights hearing, though doctors had – not surprisingly – given conflicting testimony about the effect of getting older on the cardiovascular and other systems – phenomena not peculiar to the police or to other public safety occupations.
Undoubtedly, there are many demanding and unpleasant aspects to police work, but that might be said of many lines of work.
The costs involved are such that Canadian governments would be well advised to commission a substantial study to answer the question whether a large proportion of police officers are indeed at the effective end of their working lives when they reach their 50s.
On the contrary, it seems entirely possible that many retired police officers go on to other income-earning activities.
It might be tempting to institute a partial “clawback” of pension payments to retired police officers, but that would probably be too much of a disincentive against their continuing to work in whatever field.
Instead, police pension plans and collective agreements should be revised – in phased-in stages – so as to offer the option of a reduced pension at or around the age of 50, but not full pension until they turn 65 or even more.
It is very likely that the Canadian people – much as they admire and trust the police – do not realize the extra tax burden that will fall on them, in order to fulfill the promises that governments have made on their behalf – a burden to which the Canadian public has not truly consented.
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