Opposition blasts Fantino as disabled vets head to court over military pensions
Published Thursday, December 4, 2014 4:57PM EST
Last Updated Thursday, December 4, 2014 8:36PM EST
Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino continued to face heat in the House of Commons on Thursday, as opposition parties blasted the federal government for denying a military pension for veterans disabled in Afghanistan.
Lawyers for the federal government were in British Columbia’s highest court this week to launch an appeal following a court approval of a class-action lawsuit by seven soldiers who were disabled during the mission overseas.
The plaintiffs are attempting to sue the government for changes to the Canadian Forces compensation rules. The Attorney General of Canada wants the lawsuit thrown out.
During question period on Thursday, opposition parties said the appeal shows that veterans can’t trust the Conservatives to have their best interests at heart.
“Why are the Conservatives blaming the veterans for having believed their promises,” NDP House Leader Peter Julian said.
Liberal MP Joyce Murray called out Fantino to explain why one of the plaintiffs in the class-action, Mark Campbell, is being denied his pension. Campbell, a retired Canadian Forces major, lost both his legs during an ambush in Afghanistan.
“Could the minister please tell this House which democratic principles would be violated by providing this brave veteran, a double amputee, with his pension,” Murray said.
Fantino declined to comment directly on the lawsuit, saying it is before the courts.
“The government does not comment before the court, except to say that this matter deals with something all parties agreed to under the previous government,” Fantino said. “And Mr. Speaker, it was the Liberal government that initiated much of what today, is in debate.”
Fantino was referring to the New Veterans Charter, which is at the heart of the class action lawsuit. The plaintiffs claim that the charter, which was approved unanimously in Parliament in 2005, is unconstitutional and violates the Charter of Rights of Freedoms.
In particular, military members are angry that the lifetime disability pension is now provided in the form of lump-sum payments. They say it is insufficient to help them support their families and is a reduction from what was previously provided to injured soldiers.
Calls continued to grow for Fantino to be fired or resign on Thursday, as opposition parties also hammered the minister over staffing and funding cuts within his ministry.
Fantino responded by attacking the NDP’s record. The minister said he could cite many times when the Opposition party voted against various bills that the Conservatives had put forth to improve the lives of veterans and their families.
“The irony of all of this, I can rhyme off a litany of issues that the party opposite has not supported all of which have gone to help support our veterans and programs and services for them and their families,” Fantino said.
Vets deserve special rights: Lawyer
In B.C. court on Thursday, lawyers representing the injured soldiers against the federal government said veterans should be entitled to special treatment under Canada’s constitution.
Don Sorochan told the judges’ panel that veterans deserve unique rights in the same way certain aboriginal rights are guaranteed.
“The politicians acknowledge this. They stand by the cenotaphs,” Sorochan said. “And yet we have an argument raised here … that veterans are only entitled to whatever benefits the Parliament of the day may deem necessary.”
Sorochan said new rules under the New Veterans Charter eliminated promises handed down through governments since before the outbreak of the First World War.
Lawyers for the Attorney General of Canada have said that veterans’ matters should be dealt with in Parliament, not in court.
With files from The Canadian Press