Montreal

Military members eligible for Shannon contaminated water compensation could miss out

More than 3,700 people, including military personnel, who are eligible for compensation from the federal government and two private companies in a multimillion dollar contaminated water case in Shannon Que. are running out of time to sign up.

More than 3,700 people have yet to file compensation claims, with July 10 deadline looming

Lawyers for a class action lawsuit over contaminated water in Shannon Que. have so far been unable to reach many members of the Canadian Armed Forces and veterans who could be eligible for compensation because they lived in military housing at nearby CFB Valcartier. (Lars Hagberg/The Canadian Press)

Hundreds of people including military personnel, who are eligible for compensation from the federal government and two private companies in a multimillion dollar contaminated water case in Shannon Que. are running out of time to take part in the class action.

Claimants have until July 10 to come forward, but so far, only 1,250 people out of 5,000 who are eligible have filed a claim with the firm Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton, which is administering the class action. 

"We're desperately trying to find them," said Charles Veilleux, a lawyer representing the claimants.

in 2012, a Quebec Superior Court judge ordered the Department of National Defence and two private companies, SNC-Lavalin and General Dynamics, to compensate residents for contaminating their local groundwater for decades with a carcinogenic degreasing agent known as trichloroethylene (TCE).

More residents became eligible after a 2020 Quebec Court of Appeal ruling. 

Veilleux said he is hoping to obtain an extension, to give claimants more time to file. He also hopes to put out new colour ads in a larger format to try to catch the attention of people who may not know about the class action. 

He said armed forces personnel and veterans who lived in military housing at the Valcartier base may not know they are eligible for between $250 and $1000 for every month they lived there between 1995 and 2006. 

Armed forces not helping track down personnel, committee says

Jean Bernier, vice-president of the Shannon Citizens Committee, said many people who lived at the base for a short time have since moved away and others may have passed away, making it even more complicated to reach their next of kin.

The Department of National Defence (DND) was not obligated by the Superior Court ruling to help track down former military members who may be eligible, according to the citizens group.

"They are not trying to get in touch with the military personnel that were living on the base on the dates that give a right to compensation – they are not doing it," said Bernier. 

Lawyers for the class action have little more to work with than an address and word of mouth, because DND does not have to hand over a list of names of people who lived on the base, due to confidentiality reasons, according to Marie-Paule Spieser, president of the citizens committee. 

She said the department will only validate claims once they are submitted.

"The army will confirm [the name and the month of residence], but the request for compensation has to come from the military member or ex-military member," she said.

Hundreds of people who lived in military housing at CFB Valcartier, north of Quebec City, between 1996 and 2006 could be eligible for compensation for contaminated water. (Radio-Canada)

Public notices were placed in local and national papers, including the Globe and Mail and the National Post, as well as in military publications, when the eligibility period began last July.

In an email to Radio-Canada, a spokesperson for the Canadian Armed Forces said most of the eligible members, who are still serving in the Armed Forces have received individual notices about the claims process. 

"The notice was also published on Canada.ca and was emailed to all CAF members and employees of the Department of National Defence," the statement said.

The spokesperson said these actions would be repeated at least twice during the eligibility period.

But Spieser said, as it's been more than 20 years since some eligible claimants have lived on the base, the class action administrators and the Armed Forces should be putting in more effort to help find them. 

"I think there's a huge part of that population [of military members] who have not made their claim," she said.

Bernier believes, given the complexity of the case, the court should have granted a much longer period for claimants to sign up.

"I wouldn't have given 12 months to make the demands. I would have given 5 years," he said.

With files from: Sandra Hercegova, Radio-Canada’s David Rémillard

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