OPINION: Canada Child Benefit must cover bereavement
Submitted by Sandra Escalera
It happens to others.
You never think it will happen to you. Tragedies are things that happen to others. The problem is that we are always the “others” for someone else. For our family, it started in May 2014 when our son Bruno, who was then five years old, was rushed to the emergency room for tests and scheduled for emergency surgery. The next day, in a small hospital room, we heard the words that marked our lives: Your son has cancer. For my family, this was the starting point for a battle for his care, because as foreign students, we were not eligible to access the public health-care system. After some ups and downs, Bruno became cancer free for three years before relapsing in 2018. He passed away in March 2019. We did not have any family living in this country, but we always felt surrounded by both friends and strangers who supported us along the way. We are incredibly grateful for all the love our son received.
In his last weeks, we counted on the incredible care of the palliative medicine team, including a social worker who helped us make all the difficult calls to arrange the funeral. Two days after Bruno got his wings, the social worker came to our house and helped us with all the administrative details. One of those details was to inform Revenue Canada of my son’s death, so they could cancel the child benefit payments. They informed us that the payment for next month was already processed, so we would receive it, but we were expected to pay it back. I clearly remember the social worker telling us that there were no death benefits for children “because they never had a job.”
At that moment I had so much on my mind that I couldn’t process what she said, but that phrase stuck with me. Why are children not considered worthy of any death benefits? Families of severely ill children are usually already struggling, taking time off from work to take care of them. Even in the case of a sudden accidental death, grieving parents have to deal with unexpected expenses, and money should not be the first thing on their minds. I know it’s possible to buy a private life insurance policy for your child to cover funeral expenses, but honestly, not everyone thinks of doing this or is able to pay for it. Others cannot buy life insurance because private insurers won’t cover a child diagnosed with a chronic health condition; this was our situation.
As I mentioned before, we were incredibly blessed. We were able to get support from private foundations and discounts from the funerary co-operative. Also, we had received some donations to fulfill our son’s last wishes. After his passing, we donated the remaining money to child- hood cancer research. Sadly, not everyone is so lucky. After consulting with other grieving families, we decided to take action.
We prepared a petition to the House of Commons to modify the rules of operation of the Canada Child Benefit to continue the payments for two months after the death of a child under 18. We firmly believe that the funeral and burial costs for a child should be considered part of the costs associated with raising that child. This would represent a small gesture that would not create an excessive burden on the public budget, as the cost would be greatly offset by the benefit for grieving families.
We are doing this in the name of Bruno and all those who left us too soon. Small coffins are the heaviest, but we as a society can help a little to lessen the burden to grieving families. We invite you to support our petition, for us, for others, for you.
You can add your signature to petition E-3526 online at petitions.ourcommons.ca. A link will also be posted on the QCT Facebook page. The petition will be available to sign until Sept. 20.
Sandra Escalera and her family live in Quebec City.