He never served, but Veterans Affairs pays for convicted murderer's PTSD treatment

The decision by Veterans Affairs Canada to pay for treatment for a Halifax man who never served in the military and got PTSD from murdering an off-duty police officer is upsetting both an advocate for veterans and a family member of the officer.

Christopher Garnier serving life sentence for Halifax murder of off-duty officer Catherine Campbell

Christopher Garnier is serving a life sentence for second-degree murder and indignity to a human body in the 2015 death of Truro, N.S., police officer Catherine Campbell while she was off duty. (CBC)

The decision by Veterans Affairs Canada to pay for the treatment for a Halifax man who never served in the military and got PTSD after murdering off-duty police officer Catherine Campbell is upsetting an advocate for veterans as well as a member of Campbell's family.

Christopher Garnier, 30, is serving a life sentence for second-degree murder in the strangling of Campbell, 36, whose body was found in September 2015 near Macdonald Bridge in Halifax.

At trial, an expert for the defence testified Garnier developed post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the killing. At a sentencing hearing earlier this month, a Crown prosecutor told the court that Garnier's treatment is being paid for by Veterans Affairs because his father, Vince Garnier, is a veteran.

"In this circumstance, I find it really hard to chew on that we're spending taxpayers' money like that to help someone when we also have veterans that are having a really hard time getting treatment through VAC," said retired sergeant Colin Saunders, who organized a protest over veterans' benefits earlier this year on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

"Certainly, there's lots of veterans whose family members need help or need services and they're not getting it."

Campbell served as a Truro Police Service constable for six years before she was killed in September 2015. (Jeff Babineau/Facebook)

Garnier killed Campbell, a constable with the police force in Truro, N.S., in a Halifax apartment on Sept. 11, 2015, hours after the two met at a downtown bar. He put her body in a green compost bin and wheeled her to the bridge.

In December, a jury convicted him of second-degree murder and interfering with a dead body.

A Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge ruled earlier this month that Garnier must serve at least 13½ years behind bars before he can apply for parole.

The defence had argued that parole eligibility should be set at the minimum of 10 years, in part because Garnier suffered from PTSD related to killing Campbell.

The court heard his father, who had served in the Canadian Forces, also has PTSD, and that getting treatment for his son helps them both. 

At the time of his arrest, Garnier had just started a job with a safety equipment company.

'Certainly, there's lots of veterans whose family members need help or need services and they're not getting it,' says veterans advocate Colin Saunders, who served more than 21 years in the Canadian army, (Submitted by Colin Saunders)

Veterans Affairs won't comment on the case, due to privacy reasons. However, in a written statement, the department explained how family members can access benefits.

"When a man or woman serves in Canada's Armed Forces or the RCMP, their whole family serves with them. That is why the government of Canada has made it a priority to not only improve benefits and services for our nation's veterans, but for their families as well," the statement said.

"As such, access for family members ‎of veterans to counselling and other services may be provided in circumstances where it is determined that the provision of these services will assist the veterans in achieving their rehabilitation goals."

Other mental health services Veterans Affairs said it may support on a short-term basis include marital counselling, family counselling and access to social work services‎.

But Saunders said if a serving military member was convicted of murder, that person would be kicked out with a dishonourable discharge and no benefits. 

"I really believe that this current government has not made veterans their priority," said Saunders, a former artillery sergeant who retired from the Canadian Army in February 2017 after serving more than more 21 years.

Campbell's aunt wrote in a public Facebook post that Garnier has twisted the system and she is "sickened by this."

"There are actual veterans who returned from war, or multiple wars, and they are killing themselves because they can't get help for the PTSD they suffer from through no fault of their own!" Mandy Reekie Wong wrote on Aug. 14, shortly after Garnier was sentenced.  

Campbell's family declined to speak to CBC News about the issue, saying it is trying "to get back to some sort of peace in our lives now."

Garnier's lawyer, Joel Pink, declined a request for an interview.

About the Author

Sherri Borden Colley

Reporter

Sherri Borden Colley has been a reporter for more than 20 years. Many of the stories she writes are about social justice, race and culture, human rights and the courts. To get in touch with Sherri email sherri.borden.colley@cbc.ca