Carleton University has won the right to reclaim roughly $500,000 in pension payments made to a former professor who was missing for years before his remains were found in the woods near his Quebec home.
Quebec’s highest court has sided with the university in ordering that it be reimbursed for the payments made to George Roseme, a retired political science professor, over nearly seven years.
In a decision released this week, the court said Roseme’s right to the payments ended when he died, not on the date his body was discovered or on the date his death was certified.
Court documents show Roseme had signed a memorandum agreeing that his pension payments would cease with his death, rather than going to his heirs or estate.
The former professor was 77 and suffering from early-stage Alzheimer’s disease when he went missing in September 2007. Documents say a six-day search failed to locate him.
Carleton was not informed of his disappearance and only learned of it in early 2009 after a story was published in a local newspaper.
The university notified his former partner, Lynne Threlfall, who had recently been appointed his tutor in his absence, that it would stop the payments.
But it was forced to backtrack after Threlfall pointed out that under Quebec law, Roseme was presumed alive for seven years after his disappearance or until there was proof of his death, the documents say.
In July 2013, a dog found human remains in the woods close to Roseme’s property near Gatineau, Que., they say. The remains were determined to be Roseme’s.
A coroner’s investigation found that Roseme had died in 2007 and a copy of the act of death was delivered in April 2014, the documents say.
Shortly afterward, Carleton went to court to reclaim $497,332.64 — the amount paid to Threlfall as Roseme’s tutor starting in January 2008.
Threlfall argued at the time that she should not have to pay anything back since Roseme’s death was only established in April 2014 and she had not received any money since then.
Quebec’s Superior Court disagreed, prompting her to appeal the ruling.
The three-judge appeal panel found that while the trial judge had made some errors, reimbursement was still warranted.
“The appellant received pension benefits to which she was entitled as tutor to the absentee, but for which the cause was eventually revealed to have been invalid,” a summary of the decision reads.
“The benefits were paid without any obligation to do so and had to be repaid by the appellant to avoid a situation of unjust enrichment.”
Neither Carleton nor Threlfall could immediately be reached for comment.
Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press