Opposition parties call for extension to deadline for military tainted water compensation
The Conservatives, New Democrats and Greens pressure Ottawa as time runs out
The deadline for military members and their families to apply for compensation after drinking contaminated water is approaching fast — and federal opposition parties are urging Ottawa not to block an application for an extension.
Some current and former members and their families who lived in CFB Valcartier's married quarters from 1995 to 2000 could be eligible for thousands of dollars in compensation — if they apply before the Jan.15 deadline.
In 2020, the Quebec Court of Appeal awarded millions of dollars in compensation to some residents of Shannon, Que., a town close to CFB Valcartier. Only military members and their families who were living in married quarters in the town during that time period are eligible.
For decades, a cancer-causing industrial degreasing agent called trichloroethylene, or TCE, was used at Valcartier's research facility and a nearby ammunition factory. It leached into the water table. The Quebec Court of Appeal concluded the chemical was used over an "indeterminate period" from the 1950s to the 1990s.
- Former residents of Quebec military base must apply for compensation for contaminated water before Jan. 15
Class-action lawyers representing residents of Shannon will be in court on Jan.11 asking for an extension to the deadline. The Conservative, NDP and Green parties are calling on the federal government to support the residents' request for more time.
"Conservatives support that call for an extension of the deadline," said James Bezan, the Conservative national defence critic. "We expect the government to do the right thing to provide the compensation and not try to do this on the cheap."
Bezan also called on the Department of National Defence (DND) and Veterans Affairs Canada to do more to help inform those affected that they can apply for compensation.
WATCH | Veteran says his family was exposed to tainted water on a military base:
One of the lawyers assisting class-action claimants estimates that about 2,800 have applied for compensation. But Steve Clarke said he fears roughly 2,000 more could be left out — many of them former spouses and children of personnel stationed in the Quebec community in the late 1990s.
"The people being left out are the most marginalized," Clarke said. "Women, children and those people who have moved around the world — the people who are least capable of finding out about this.
"These women, because of the high divorce rate amongst military people, have been divorced from their husbands. We have no way of contacting them."
NDP veteran's affairs critic Rachel Blaney agreed, saying military systems often fail women.
"There's a pattern that is very clear within the armed forces and then on to Veterans Affairs that leaves women behind and doesn't acknowledge both their roles as serving members [and] as support to those who serve our country," Blaney said.
Blaney said the federal government has an established pattern of mistreating military spouses, citing a clause that excludes many of them from survivor pension benefits — the so-called "golddigger clause."
The Green Party called on DND to extend the deadline and to extend the compensation criteria to include people who drank the water but didn't live in married quarters.
"It's not about technical definitions," said Green Leader Elizabeth May. "It's about justice, and people who were exposed to trichloroethylene in their water should know that that has occurred."
Veterans Affairs Canada and DND would not say whether the Government of Canada's lawyers will oppose the motion in court Wednesday.
"The court will make a decision as to whether or not to extend the deadline. Further discussions will then take place on next steps, but we cannot speculate on what those may be," said DND spokesperson Jessica Lamirande.
DND said it published class action notices in regional and national newspapers and issued several news releases to get the word out about compensation. It said it supplied the class-action lawyers with the names of members currently serving, but stopped short of providing the names of former members affected.
Defence Minister Anita Anand said in a media statement that the water contamination at CFB Valcartier was "unacceptable" and her thoughts are with those affected. Through the class action, she said, the military is ensuring identified claimants receive compensation.
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