Feds spent $694K in legal fight against veterans
Kieron Lang, CTVNews.ca
Published Wednesday, January 28, 2015 11:19AM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, January 28, 2015 7:07PM EST
The Government of Canada has spent nearly $700,000 on its defence against a group of seven veterans who were injured in Afghanistan, a sum that one military advocate calls “unconscionable.”
The legal costs were revealed in response to an Access to Information request filed by the opposition Liberals with the Ministries of Justice, National Defence, and Veterans Affairs.
According to a response signed by Minister of Justice Peter MacKay, his department has incurred "approximately $694,070.52" in legal costs.
The Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces said its costs amount to $3,231.22, while Veterans Affairs said it has not spent any money on the case.
The group of former Canadian Forces members – comprising Daniel Christopher Scott, Mark Douglas Campbell, Gavin Michael, David Flett, Kevin Albert Matthew Berry, Bradley Darren Quast and Aaron Michael Bedard -- filed the class-action lawsuit, arguing that new compensation rules imposed by the Veterans Charter violate their constitutional and Charter rights.
After a benefits overhaul in 2006, the Veterans Charter eliminated lifetime disability payments for injured soldiers, and replaced that scheme with lump-sum payments.
Lawyers for the former soldiers argue that the compensation offered now falls far short of compensation for injured non-military workers, and by civil courts in cases of accidents or personal injuries.
Justice Gordon Weatherill rejected a request by lawyers for the Attorney General of Canada to toss the case.
In their statement of defence, lawyers for the Harper government argued that it is unfair to hold it accountable for decisions made by lawmakers a century ago, and that Ottawa has no special obligation to wounded veterans.
Newly minted Veterans Affairs Minister Erin O’Toole told CTV’s Power Play Wednesday that he cannot comment on a case that’s before the courts. But he said the government has been working to address “gaps” in the New Veterans Charter, which was brought in by the previous Liberal government and implemented under the Conservatives.
Asked about the optics of spending such a large sum of taxpayer money to fight the veterans in court, O’Toole replied: “I wouldn’t, you know, want to be seeing any veteran who’s disappointed to the point of going to court.
“As a former lawyer, I think court has to be the last resort for anything.”
The president of Canadian Veterans Advocacy, Mike Blais, is calling on the government to negotiate a settlement rather than pursue the court case any further.
Blais called the legal fees incurred by the government “unconscionable,” and said Canadians would be “as appalled as I am” to see how hard the government is fighting wounded veterans in court.
“They shouldn’t be spending money on lawyers fighting a man who has lost two legs, his testicles, sustained serious internal (and) brain stem injuries, complex PTSD,” Blais told reporters in Ottawa Wednesday.
“And they spent that much money hiring lawyers to deny him, to fight against him and others who are in that class-action suit, when all they want is equality of the Pension Act. That money should have been spent on veterans.”
Blais said if the government does not change its relationship with veterans, including scrapping the lump-sum payment, veterans “will engage” in an anyone-but-Conservative campaign during the upcoming federal election.
He added that Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has told him a government under his leadership would not continue to fight the veterans’ lawsuit.
Under questioning from Trudeau in the House of Commons Wednesday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the government won’t comment on matters before the court.
He went on to defend his government’s Veterans Affairs record, saying that the Conservatives have “enhanced veterans services and programs to the tune … of some $5 billion.
“We are proud of those actions,” Harper said.
With files from The Canadian Press