Court's refusal to hear benefits lawsuit a 'slap in the face,' says Alberta veteran
'It's pretty sad that this is happening at this day and age in Canada' says Brock Blaszczyk
An Alberta soldier who made headlines around the world for confronting the prime minister over veterans services says the Supreme Court's refusal to rule on a case that would challenge Ottawa's obligations to service members came as a "slap in the face."
An attempt to sue the federal government by a group of disaffected Afghan war veterans was dealt a final blow Thursday when the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear an appeal of their case.
Canada's top court declined to hear an appeal of a British Columbia Court of Appeal decision that ruled there was no obligation or "social covenant" between Canada and those who have served in its military.
Edmonton's Brock Blaszczyk — a former infantry soldier who lost his foot to an improvised-explosive device while fighting in Afghanistan — said Thursday's announcement from the Supreme Court is a big setback for veterans rights.
'It forced our hand'
"It's a real slap in the face," Blaszczyk said in an interview Friday with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM. "And honestly, it's pretty sad that this is happening at this day and age in Canada."
The appeal was launched by six veterans who were suing the Government of Canada – on behalf of thousands of others – for a reinstatement of full lifetime disability pensions.
The veterans involved in what is called the Equitas case said the federal government has a sacred obligation to care for the country's wounded soldiers, and that the duty was breached in a 2006 overhaul to the compensation program for those injured in the line of duty.
In declining to hear the case, the Supreme Court did not give reasons for its decision.
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Blaszczyk's left foot was amputated and his right leg suffered severe tissue damage after he stepped on an improvised-explosive device, five months into his first mission in 2010.
He said he now has chronic night terrors triggered by post-traumatic stress disorder.
Blaszczyk said he — like many other wounded veterans — has struggled to get the medical and financial help he needs during his transition back into civilian life. Veterans had no choice but to take the federal government to court, he said.
"I have run into problems with benefits not being awarded, because I work full time, even though I'm an amputee and I'm losing soft tissue on my other leg and my arm is shredded." he said.
"[Justin Trudeau] is definitely not following up on the promises he made in 2016 about not taking us to court and reinstating the lifetime pension.
"They didn't want to sit and hash it out through mediation, or things like that, so it forced our hand."
Blaszczyk became a prominent figure in the ongoing political debate about veteran services after he stood up during a public town hall meeting hosted by Justin Trudeau in January.
During the meeting in Edmonton, Blaszczyk challenged Trudeau over the lawsuit and questioned Ottawa's plan to reform some veterans' programs, including changes to disability pensions.
"I was prepared to be killed in action," Blaszczyk told the town hall. "What I wasn't prepared for, Mr. prime minister, is Canada turning its back on me."
His emotional statement was met with applause, and a controversial response from Trudeau.
Trudeau first thanked Blaszczyk for his service and said his frustration and anger were justifiable. Then, to some shouts and boos from the crowd, the prime minister defended his government's changes to veteran pensions, saying they shift the emphasis from lump payments to long-term services, and that program spending had to be taken into account.
"Why are we still fighting certain veterans groups in court?" Trudeau responded to Blaszczyk. "Because they're asking for more than we are able to give right now."
"The way things have been unfolding the past week, it just goes to show the arrogance of Justin Trudeau -Brock Blaszczyk
Trudeau's comment that night pointed to Ottawa's true intentions toward veterans, Blaszczyk said. He said the the Supreme Court's refusal to hear the case should be considered a call to action.
Veterans need to continue their fight outside the courtroom, he said.
"The way things have been unfolding the past week, it just goes to show the arrogance of Justin Trudeau and what he actually feels about veterans," said Blaszczyk, who noted that he has been meeting with opposition officials in recent weeks.
"I guess we're going back to the political front."
'It's going to be a long battle'
Veterans Affairs Minister Seamus O'Regan issued a statement Thursday that noted the lawsuit had already brought about political change, with the Liberal government's injection of billions of extra dollars into the benefits system.
He also suggested the federal government had no choice but to defend itself.
"Their claims raised complex and far-reaching issues, and when a legal action broadly impacts the government of Canada, as in this case, the government is obligated to defend itself against claims that appear to be unfounded in Canadian law," O'Regan's statement said.
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Blaszczyk said the minister's statements will ring hollow for veterans who are are facing "epidemic" suicide rates and rampant levels of PTSD.
If the government fails to help soldiers who have come home with physical and psychological wounds, the results could be "catastrophic," he said.
"It's going to be a long battle. It's going to be hard and it could get worse before it gets better," he said.
"We're going to fight tooth and nail."