Government settles defamation lawsuit against Seamus O'Regan out of court

A defamation lawsuit against Natural Resources Minister Seamus O'Regan, dating back to his days as veterans minister, has been settled out of court. He was sued by veterans advocate Sean Bruyea over comments made in a 2018 article about the Liberal government's pension-for-life plan for ex-military members.

The case had cost taxpayers $183,000 as of the end of 2019

Natural Resources Minister Seamus O'Regan (left) and veterans' advocate Sean Bruyea. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press, Ashley Burke/CBC)

The Trudeau government has agreed to settle a defamation lawsuit against Natural Resources Minister Seamus O'Regan out of court.

The claim dates back over two years, to when O'Regan was veterans affairs minister. It relates to an opinion article published in the parliamentary precinct newspaper The Hill Times in which O'Regan took long-time veterans advocate Sean Bruyea to task.

Defending the minister against the small claims court lawsuit had cost the federal government over $183,000 as of the end of last year.

The Department of Justice and Bruyea's lawyer released a joint statement today announcing the settlement, the "terms of which are confidential."

The statement goes on to say that neither the minister nor the federal government "admit any liability or wrongdoing."

A spokesperson for O'Regan declined further comment beyond what was contained in the agreed joint statement, which encouraged Canadians, especially veterans, "to enter the public debate about policies and programs that affect our veterans and their families."

The cost of fighting the case was revealed late last year in a response to a written question posed in the House of Commons by Conservative veterans critic Phil McColeman. The federal government said at the time it would not provide any further information on the case "due to solicitor-client privilege."

In early 2018, Bruyea published an opinion piece in The Hill Times which dissected the Liberal government's pension-for-life plan, a program designed to give wounded soldiers a choice between a lump sum payment or a life-long pension as compensation for their injuries.

His original opinion piece compared the old pension system, enacted by the former Conservative government, with the overhauled one put in place by the Liberals, which came into effect on April 1, 2019.

Backing up his claims with data, Bruyea said "the numbers don't add up." He argued that the pain and suffering compensation for ex-soldiers is "grossly unfair" and that disability claims had become "miserly."

A week later, O'Regan responded in the same publication, saying it was time for a "reality check" and pointing out that the comparisons Bruyea had made involved different systems with benefits constructed in different ways.

O'Regan wrote that "individuals like Sean Bruyea" are stating "mistruths about Pension for Life ... to suit their own agenda."

Veterans have a right to speak out: Bruyea

The defamation lawsuit was launched in the summer of 2018.

Asked for comment on Wednesday, Bruyea said he was pleased the case was over and would not discuss the terms.

He did say it was an important victory for those in the veterans community who might have felt intimidated about speaking out and challenging the government.

"It was important for me to help defend the right of veterans and Canadians to speak freely about the facts of an important policy issue without those facts being attacked, discredited, distorted or destroyed," Bruyea said.

"I really wanted the government to think before using such tools and tactics, which are really quite offensive, to prevent public debate on programs and policies."


Murray Brewster

Defence and security

Murray Brewster is senior defence writer for CBC News, based in Ottawa. He has covered the Canadian military and foreign policy from Parliament Hill for over a decade. Among other assignments, he spent a total of 15 months on the ground covering the Afghan war for The Canadian Press. Prior to that, he covered defence issues and politics for CP in Nova Scotia for 11 years and was bureau chief for Standard Broadcast News in Ottawa.

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