Fighting veterans' class-action suit has cost Ottawa $700,000

The federal government has spent almost $700,000 fighting a class-action lawsuit by disgruntled, wounded Afghan veterans, according to newly released figures tabled in Parliament this week.
Mike Blais, president of Canadian Veterans Advocacy, says Ottawa's $700K legal bill to fight a veterans class-action suit is unconscionable. 1:32

The federal government has spent almost $700,000 fighting a class-action lawsuit by disgruntled, wounded Afghan veterans, newly released figures show.

The figures are contained in answers to questions posed to the offices of Justice Minister Peter MacKay and Defence Minister Rob Nicholson by Liberal MP Stéphane Dion tabled in the House of Commons this week.

The Department of Justice has borne the majority of the legal costs so far, spending approximately $694,070.52 to fight the lawsuit, while the Department of National Defence spent another $3,231.22. The Department of Veterans Affairs said it did not spend any money in the case before the courts.

Mike Blais, president of Canadian Veterans Advocacy, at a press conference Wednesday morning said the legal bill is unconscionable and he called on the government to negotiate a settlement. 

Blais said Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau told him a Liberal government would settle the suit and added he was to meet next with NDP Leader Tom Mulcair.

Asked about the lawsuit on Wednesday, Veterans Affairs Minister Erin O'Toole said "it's the first matter" he looked into after being appointed to the job three weeks ago, adding he couldn't comment further because the case is before the courts.

The ex-soldiers are challenging the government's 2006 overhaul of benefits, claiming the new veterans charter is discriminatory under the charter of rights because it does not provide the same level of benefits and support as the old pension system.

In the government's statement of defence, federal lawyers argue Ottawa has no special obligation to those who've fought the country's wars and that it is unfair to bind the current government to promises made nearly a century ago by another prime minister.

The assertion has given the governing Conservatives a black eye among ex-soldiers, who are considered a natural constituency.

with files from The Canadian Press