Disabled veterans take appeal to Supreme Court on pension battle

MANITOWANING—The local president of the Manitoulin-North Shore War Pensioners of Canada agrees and supports a group of disabled veterans who are taking their legal fight for better pensions to the Supreme Court of Canada.

“I go  back to the old Veterans Pensions Act, with all of the promises made by the government all veterans are still receiving less financial support from the Canadian government than they did 10 or more years ago,” stated Colin Pick. “Times have changed and costs have gone up and these veterans can’t afford to provide everything they need because of the high cost of living and a lack of sufficient help from the government and, with veterans who have been severely injured, this is even more so the case.”

Six veterans are involved in the Equitas case and they say the federal government has an obligation to care for the country’s wounded soldiers and that this duty was breached in a 2006 overhaul to the compensation regime for those injured in the line of duty.

Retired Major Mark Campbell and former combat engineer Aaron Bedard, both part of the Equitas suit, held a news conference on Parliament Hill January 31 to announce plans to take their pension fight to the Supreme Court.

Mr. Campbell called it a “national disgrace” that the government is spending tax dollars in a legal fight against injured veterans and “untolerable” that changes to the pension regime have left two standards of compensation for soldiers, depending on when they were injured.

“This is grossly unfair and it has to change,” Mr. Campbell told CBC News during a press conference.

The overhaul to veterans’ compensation replaced lifelong disability pensions with a lump-sum payment, career training and targeted income support, which the veterans claim was worth less than the previous pension system.

The case, which they hoped to turn into a class-action lawsuit, has been in the courts since 2012.

Lawyer Dan Sorochan, who is representing the Equitas group, told CBC News he hopes the Supreme Court will hear an appeal to a lower court decision that dismissed the lawsuit, and definitively rule on whether the government has a “social covenant” or sacred obligation and whether that covenant is enforceable.

“The position taken by the government was astonishing. For them to stand up and say we don’t have any special obligation to veterans was completely contrary to everything they had been saying in Parliament and during the election campaign,” Mr. Sorochan told CBC News.

During the 2015 federal election campaign, the Liberals promised to give veterans the option to have a lifelong pension. Following protests, the government announced major changes to the compensation system in December 2017 that would pour about $3.6 billion into veterans’ benefits.

Mr. Campbell called that proposal a “sham. The new pension for life is nothing more than a shell game,” he said at the news conference.

Veterans Affairs Minister Seamus O’Regan said the government has spent $10 billion to expand a number of items, including: pain and suffering compensation; income replacement and education; career transition and mental health benefits; and submitted that the government has followed through on its pledge to institute a lifelong pension.

Mr. Sorochan said the Government of Canada must either reinstate the old Pension Act, or must ensure that compensation for injuries under the New Veterans Charter is as good as or better than what veterans received before.

“These severely injured veterans involved in this court challenge and others carry an extra burden physically and mentally, as well as financially, on their families,” said Mr. Pick. “They should be better compensated for having fought for and serving our country than what they are getting. It boggles my mind that the government continues to fluff around this matter and has let it go this far in court.”

On February 1 Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government is fighting some Canadian veterans in court because they are asking for more than the federal government can afford.

As has been previously reported, before the previous veterans’ lifetime pension was eliminated in favour of a lump sum payment, veterans could have received up to $2,700 per month. Under the restored pension plan the Liberal government introduced the maximum a wounded soldier would ever see is $1,150 per month.

However, Mr. Trudeau said his government’s monthly pension amount is lower because it takes into account the cost of services offered by the federal government, including post-traumatic-stress treatment and psychological care, support for caregivers and family members who look after wounded veterans and job training for those who can still get back into the job market.

“It will be interesting to see what happens in the court case,” added Mr. Pick.