Feds fight family

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Technicalities may cost disabled Calgary mother her CPP benefits

My congenial friend Mohamed Zohiri tells of the torment and terror suffered by his 56-year-old mother Shafika.
It’s not a story that should make Canadians proud.

Shafiki and her late husband, Mostafa, came to Canada from Egypt in 1979 when Mohamed was just two years old.

Mohamed’s father, was a small-time entrepreneur, and the family—today with two daughters, Nancy, 22, and Linda 19, did OK until Mostafa died of a heart attack at 47 in 2000.

With that, it was left to Mohamed, a Western Canada high school graduate, now with an economics degree from the University of Calgary, to keep the family from the food banks.

Shafika, with only a rudimentary education, tried her hand at just about every menial job, working as a short-order cook, a cleaner, and on the assembly line in a bagel factory.

None lasted, because Shafika is in excruciating agony due to degenerative osteoarthritis in her knees. She can hardly stand, let alone walk, and is afflicted with severe emotional disorders including depression, anxiety and panic attacks.

Times were tough, to say the least, and the family had difficulty hanging onto their Coral Springs Place N.E. home.

Then, Mohamed, now involved in various small businesses, heard his mother might be entitled to Canada Pension Plan (CPP) benefits earlier than reaching the age of 60 under disability provisions, so they went before a federal tribunal dealing with CPP issues.

The Canada Pension Plan/Old Age Security Review Tribunal official’s transcript of the hearings, at which Shafika needed an interpreter because of her poor English, shows she was distraught and cried frequently.

She was, Mohamed says, terrified by the process.

Calgary doctor Zia Qureshi submitted evidence Shafika suffered from both major depression and osteoarthritis and was “totally and permanently disabled and unable to perform any gainful employment.”

Staff psychiatrist Dr. Safeer Khan, of the Peter Lougheed Hospital, concluded given the nature of her mental illness she will never maintain a job.

No surprise, really, then that in June came the good word from deputy commissioner Guy H. Arsenault that Shafika’s bid had been accepted and she would be entitled to benefits of several hundred dollars a month.

Just one fly in the ointment in that a “party” dissatisfied with the decision had 90 days in which to object.

But who would object to a woman so obviously severely physically and mentally sick?

Why, none other than Human Resources Development Canada (HRDC)—an outfit now run by billionaire heiress Belinda Stronach.

HRDC is backed up by the resources of the federal Justice Department—the big legal guns.

So now, this frightened woman—all crippled 5-ft. of her—has to face the full force of a new batch of federal interrogators, who will try to prove she is quite capable of work and isn’t entitled to handful of dollars a month in CPP benefits until she reaches the age of 60—if she lives that long.

The damning case against Shafika consists of several technical vagaries: Did she apply for benefits within prescribed time limits; is she really as sick as doctors say; did she not find ‘gainful’ employment during one year of her ‘supposed’ sicknesses when she earned about $12,000?

Well, she surely did earn $12,000 doing menial jobs from time to time, but how can one say trying to support herself and two daughters on $12,000 is really ‘gainful’ employment?

A friend describes Shafika’s attempts to make that $12,000 as an “heroic struggle” not to go on welfare or live on other government handouts.

Yet, rather than being praised for this “heroic struggle,” it is being used against her.

Yet, although the earlier tribunal accepted her excuses and explanations, and decided that, yes, she was entitled to the benefits, she now has to fight all over again.

The Zohiris have enlisted Calgary West MP Rob Anders in their fight, but the bottom line is Ottawa likely believes if this poor woman wins again she will set a precedent for others.

Mohamed is sure his mother can’t handle a further grilling full of gobbledygook and jiggerypokery by slick federal bureaucrats and polished federal lawyers.

Neither do I, but this is part of the “gentler, kinder Canada” the likes Liberals such as Jean Chretien and Paul Martin boast of with puffed-out pride.

They must live in a very different country than Shafika Zohiri, her son, Mohamed, and daughters Nancy and Linda.


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