Benefits should be revoked from convicted killers: Veterans' advocate

A veterans’ advocate says a convicted murdered should not have access to Veterans Affairs benefits and is criticizing the department’s decision to pay for PTSD treatment for Christopher Garnier.

Governor General stripped murderer Russell Williams of benefits in 2010

Christopher Garnier, shown at Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Halifax on Nov. 21, 2017, was convicted of second-degree murder in the 2015 death of off-duty police officer Catherine Campbell. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

The federal minister of Veterans Affairs says he is looking into how a convicted killer who didn't serve is receiving post-traumatic stress disorder treatment through his department, but that is doing little to ease the concerns of some veterans.

Dennis Manuge, a veterans' advocate, said a convicted murderer should not have access to Veterans Affairs benefits and is criticizing the department's decision to pay for treatment for Christopher Garnier, who was convicted last December of second-degree murder in the death of off-duty police officer Catherine Campbell in Halifax.

"I demand better and expect better," said Manuge. "Quite frankly, they're saying a convicted murderer of a female police officer deserves the same benefits and services as my seven-year-old daughter, who very well may have looked up to Catherine Campbell at some point in her life as a role model."

Dennis Manuge in a photo from 2012. Manuge says Veterans Affairs Canada should not give mental health benefits to veterans or their families who have been convicted of crimes. The former army corporal took the government to court in a 2007 class-action lawsuit to fight the practice of clawing back military pensions of injured soldiers by the amount of disability payments they received. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

An expert at Garnier's trial testified he developed PTSD as a direct result of strangling Campbell.

Garnier, 30, has been receiving benefits through his father, Vince Garnier, who served in the Canadian Forces. At Chris Garnier's parole eligibility hearing, the court heard that Vince Garnier also has PTSD and getting treatment for his son helps them both.

Minister Seamus O'Regan said Wednesday he would review how and why the decision was made. He added that the policy intends to not only help veterans but their families as well.

Veterans Affairs Minister Seamus O'Regan, interviewed by CBC News Aug. 29 in St. John's, says he's looking into the case. (Danny Arsenault/CBC)

The department did not elaborate on the details of the minister's review and are standing by their decision to pay for Garnier's treatment.

"This government and Veterans Affairs Canada have harmed a lot people this week, make no mistake about it. Veterans and Canadians are outraged," Manuge said. "It's heartbreaking."

He said Garnier could be accessing mental health treatment through Corrections Canada and thinks O'Regan should apologize to Campbell's parents. 

Contradictory policies

Veterans Affairs Canada grants mental health benefits to veterans' families and caregivers on a case-by-case basis.

One policy online states that children over the age of 25 can't access the benefits, unless they are caregivers.

However, another policy document states there is no definition of the term "family" and participants do not have to fall into categories such as "dependent child." 

"Mental health services may be provided to family members to the extent that they are required to achieve the treatment outcomes that have been established for the veteran client," said department spokesperson Léonie Roux in an email on Thursday.

"A counsellor at VAC Assistance Service would not turn anyone away needing help."

There is no rule that benefits will be stripped from people convicted of crimes. However, according to a Department of Defence statement from 2010, the governor general revoked benefits from Russell Williams, who pleaded guilty to killing two women.  

"It's like they're making it up as they go along," said Manuge.

"Why would somebody that admittedly got their PTSD in the commission of killing a female police officer would be granted any kind of benefit of doubt, benefit or service from Veterans Affairs Canada no matter what the relationship he has with somebody?" asked Manuge.

Kings-Hants MP Scott Brison said Thursday he wouldn't comment on specific cases, but added it's important the Veterans Affairs program's delivery reflects its intention. (CBC)

On Thursday, Kings-Hants MP Scott Brison, and Nova Scotia's regional representative in cabinet, said he wouldn't comment on specific cases, but reiterated O'Regan is looking into the file.

"It's important that that program, in terms of its delivery, reflects the real intent of that program to begin with," he said.

Premier Stephen McNeil said he was "stunned and shocked" by the department's decision to help Garnier.

"I don't believe anyone in their drafting of this policy to look after military families believed that it would be looking after a convicted killer in our province, and I strongly voiced that issue with the federal government and with my colleagues and they will look into it," said McNeil.

Catherine Campbell served as a Truro Police Service constable for six years. (Jeff Babineau/Facebook)

Garnier killed Campbell in a north-end Halifax apartment on Sept 11, 2015, hours after they met at a downtown bar.

He put her body in a compost bin, wheeling it through the city streets, before dumping her under Halifax's Angus L. Macdonald Bridge. He was also convicted of interfering with a dead body.

With files from The Canadian Press and Jennifer MacMillan

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