Veterans don't have social contract, Ottawa says in lawsuit response
Federal government responds to class-action lawsuit aimed at New Veterans Charter
The federal government is arguing it does not have a social contract with veterans in response to a class-action suit brought by veterans upset with the compensation arrangement offered to wounded soldiers under the New Veterans Charter.
The veterans' lawsuit claims the charter and the changes it brings to compensation for veterans violate the Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
In 2005, Ottawa changed the way it calculates compensation for soldiers who are wounded in battle. Under the New Veterans Charter, vets are offered a lump sum payment instead of a lifetime pension. Veterans say the changes mean wounded soldiers will receive much less over their lifetimes.
In a response filed in B.C. Supreme Court Jan. 31, the government denies the veterans charter violates the Charter of Rights and maintains that the veterans involved in the case have not been "deprived" of anything.
The court documents say that the plaintiffs "seek to advance a pure economic interest" and a "scheme providing benefits cannot be said to amount to a deprivation merely because the claimant views the benefits as insufficient."
The lawsuit was first filed in October 2012, and involves a group of six veterans, all of whom served and were injured in Afghanistan.
The government tried to have the lawsuit dismissed last year, but B.C. Supreme Court Justice Gordon Weatherill rejected that attempt.
Social covenant dates to WW I, vets say
One of the suit's main arguments is the existence of a "social contract" between the government and Canadian Forces veterans.
The lawsuit argues a social covenant was first promised to those who served in the Canadian Armed Forces during the First World War and has been continually promised since then, through policy, political speeches and veterans' legislation, until now.
That promise includes adequate recognition and benefits for those who serve.
The lead lawyer for the six veterans who brought the suit said the promise made to soldiers fighting in the First World War is constitutionally protected.
"The social covenant is this promise that our country, Canada, has promised service people they will be protected when they get maimed and their families will be looked after if they are killed," Donald Sorochan said.
But in its legal response, government lawyers said no such contract exists.
"At no time in Canada's history has any alleged 'social contract' or 'social covenant' having the attributes pleaded by the plaintiffs been given effect in any statute, regulation or as a constitutional principle written or unwritten."
'Contradiction to the culture that is Canada'
The government goes on to argue that when Prime Minister Robert Borden first made the promise during the First World War, he was making political statements that were not meant to create a social contract.
Pat Stogran is the spokesperson for the group behind the lawsuit, the Equitas Society, and is the former veterans ombudsman. He called the government's response "ludicrous."
"That is a contradiction to the culture that is Canada," he said.
Stogran also said veterans are being shortchanged and many of the serving soldiers right now have no idea the problems they will face once they're out of the forces.
The current veterans ombudsman said there was a clause in legislation the New Veterans Charter replaced to ensure the government was fulfilling its obligations to veterans, but that clause was not included in the new legislation.
The Veterans Ombudsman's Office suggests that obligation should be part of the New Veterans Charter
"So it's clearly at least stated within the context of the legislation that there is an obligation and it doesn't matter whether it's legislated or moral or how you describe it, but there is an obligation for every citizen of Canada," current Veterans Ombudsman Guy Parent said.
The new charter is undergoing a review right now.
Billions paid in benefits, minister's office says
Nicholas Bergamini, a spokesperson from Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino's office, said the government has committed to improving the New Veterans Charter "in addition to formally recognizing the contribution and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform."
"Canadian veterans are served by the New Veterans Charter and the Veterans Bill of Rights, which leads to billions of dollars paid each year for rehabilitation, retraining and medical care for veterans who are injured in the service of Canada," he said.
The government's response to the lawsuit comes just as Canada wraps up its mission in Afghanistan. The prime minister, Governor General and Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Tom Lawson were on hand to welcome home the final group of soldiers in Ottawa on Tuesday.
Forty thousand Canadians served in Afghanistan over the 12-year mission and more than 2,000 were wounded. Many others have come home to realize they are suffering from PTSD.
A recent spate of suicides and closures to Veterans Affairs offices have highlighted the challenges associated with taking care of ill and injured veterans.
But the government maintains there are enough services and supports in place to support Canadian veterans.
On Tuesday, while addressing the recently returned soldiers, Lawson reiterated the pledge to care for Canada's veterans.
"Many men and women in uniform were also injured, both mentally and physically, as a result of their work in Afghanistan. And we will pledge to continue taking good care of them."
Mobile users, read the documents here (PDFs):
- An earlier version of this story incorrectly labelled a link to a court document. The story has been updated to add a link to the correct veterans' court document.Mar 20, 2014 12:39 PM ET