Most veterans support $888M settlement over pension clawbacks, court told
Second World War veteran Jacques Nadeau displays his medals and badges during a Remembrance Day ceremony in this 2012 file photo. (Graham Hughes/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Published Thursday, February 14, 2013 10:52AM EST
Last Updated Thursday, February 14, 2013 3:29PM EST
HALIFAX -- Veterans who reached a settlement with Ottawa over military pension clawbacks are overwhelmingly in support of the $887.8 million deal, a lawyer for the plaintiffs said Thursday.
Ward Branch said of the 7,500 people who are part of a class-action lawsuit against the federal government, only 15 wrote to express their concerns about the agreement.
"It's very hard to make everyone happy all of the time, but we came achingly close," Branch told Federal Court Judge Robert Barnes as a settlement approval hearing got underway.
Before proceedings began, Dan Wallace, who also represents veterans, said 78 of them specifically supported the $66.6 million in legal fees that his firm would earn from the settlement if the court approves it.
The legal fees have become a contentious issue. Defence Minister Peter MacKay has said the costs are "grossly excessive," and the Crown is expected to oppose them during the two-day settlement approval hearing.
NDP veterans affairs critic Peter Stoffer said he was astonished when he heard the federal government was objecting to the legal fees.
"I literally reversed my lunch when I heard that," Stoffer told a news conference Thursday in Ottawa.
"It is simply unconscionable that the government can now stand up and complain about legal fees when they were the ones that forced these honoured people into the courts in the first place."
Mike Blais, president of Canadian Veterans Advocacy, said he and other veterans are disappointed by how the federal government has conducted itself throughout the court proceedings.
"The government should be taking full responsibility for prolonging this court action, for putting veterans through a great deal of stress, turmoil and indecision," Blais said.
"We feel we've been insulted."
The settlement was announced last month after veteran Dennis Manuge launched a class-action lawsuit against Ottawa in March 2007.
The lawsuit was on behalf of himself and other disabled veterans whose long-term disability benefits were reduced by the amount of the monthly Veterans Affairs disability pensions they received.
Manuge's legal team scored its victory last spring, when the Federal Court said it was unfair of the federal government to treat pain and suffering awards as income. MacKay later said the government wouldn't appeal and appointed a negotiator to cut a deal.
The deal includes $424.3 million in retroactive payments to veterans that dates back to 1976.