A nearly $900-million class-action settlement over the clawback of military pensions has been reached, although final approval won't come until February.
Dennis Manuge, a former solider who was injured in 2003, has fought in the courts for more than six years to get money for veterans who have been disabled in a conflict zone or at home.
The law firm that represents Manuge, the lead plaintiff in the case, said Wednesday the proposed $887.8-million deal includes $424.3 million in retroactive payments to veterans that date back to 1976. It also includes $82.6 million in interest.
Part of the settlement includes access to a $10-million scholarship for class-action members and their families for future court costs. The council representing disabled veterans will also donate $1 million to a charity for support of access to justice initiatives for veterans and $50,000 to Manuge for the work he has done to advance the case on behalf of veterans.
The last step in the process is a hearing for final approval of the agreement expected Feb. 14. The court will be asked to find that the agreement is fair, reasonable, and in the best interests of the veterans involved.
Case has taken 6 years
The class-action lawsuit was filed in 2007 on behalf of Manuge and about 4,500 other vets, though that number has grown to about 7,500 eligible veterans after more detailed information about the disability pension plan was released.
New Democrat veterans critic Peter Stoffer said the ruling comes as a relief.
"I think it's wonderful news for Dennis and the approximate [7,500] families across the country who will be affected by this. It's unfortunate it took this long, that many years," said Stoffer. "I'm very grateful for the law firm ... for Judge Barnes' decision and eventually for the government for doing the right thing."
Peter Driscoll, one of the lawyers representing Manuge, said he's not sure why it took so long to reach an agreement.
"This is the only case in Canada where we were forced to go to the Supreme Court of Canada to get it certified as a class-action — that took the longest period of time — sort of procedurally the Government of Canada challenging our ability to even act on behalf of these veterans. We won that fight and then we started from square one again," he said.
New Democrat veterans critic Peter Stoffer said he was pleased with the decision, but irritated by the government's blatant politicking — including the claim it has "worked quickly" to help affected veterans.
"It just shows you, here's a government, or a bunch of politicians, that say 'we stand up for our military and our veterans, except for when it comes to financial concerns, then we'll take you to court,'" said Stoffer.
MacKay's office released a statement on Wednesday in response to the decision.
"The well-being of both our serving and retired members is very important for the Government of Canada," he said. "Acting quickly and fairly to resolve this matter is of the utmost importance, and I am pleased an agreement in principle has been reached."
Manuge was injured in an accident at Canadian Forces Base Petawawa in Ontario just before being deployed to Bosnia in 2001.
He left the military two years later suffering from a lower back injury and bouts of depression.