Politics

B.C. says it won't waive claim in $900M military sexual assault settlement

British Columbia wants a say in the federal government’s proposed $900-million class-action lawsuit settlement with hundreds of current and former members of the Canadian military who allege they were the victims of rampant sexual misconduct.

Province's attorney general says B.C. asking for standing in the case

The federal government has offered a $900 million settlement to alleged victims of sexual assault and harassment within the armed forces. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

British Columbia wants a say in the federal government's proposed $900-million class action lawsuit settlement with hundreds of current and former members of the Canadian military who allege they were the victims of rampant sexual misconduct.

The province's attorney general has written to the Federal Court asking for standing in the case as a judge this week hears submissions for and against the proposed settlement.

The federal government has approached all of the provinces asking them for a waiver abandoning any claim for federal compensation for the cost of providing health care to the alleged victims.

"The province has not agreed to waive its claim and has not consented to the proposed settlement," said the letter from the office of B.C. Attorney General David Eby, dated Sept. 13.

The judge plans a separate hearing to deal with Eby's request for standing and other logistical matters related to the proposed settlement.

B.C. Attorney General David Eby. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Eby's letter, filed with the court this week, suggested that both Ontario and Nova Scotia harbour similar reservations about being unable to recover from the federal government health care costs related to the alleged misconduct of soldiers, sailors and aircrew.

Lawyers representing the hundreds of alleged victims would not comment on the letter or its potential impact on the case, saying they'll wait to see what arguments the province makes before Justice Simon Fothergill.

The settlement was announced last summer, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holding it up as a sign that the Liberal government takes seriously claims of sexual misconduct in the military. The federal government does not admit liability in the case.

Out of the $900 million set aside by Ottawa for the settlement, $800 million will go toward paying the claims of current and former members of the Canadian Armed Forces. An additional $100 million will be used to settle with civilian employees of the Department of National Defence who say they experienced sexual harassment, sexual assault or discrimination based on sex, gender, gender identity or sexual orientation on the job.

Members of the class action will be eligible for individual compensation sums of between $5,000 and $55,000, depending on the circumstances of their cases.

Those who experienced "exceptional harm" and were previously denied benefits could be eligible for up to $155,000 each.

In a statement issued when the settlement was announced, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said "no one should feel unsafe at work" and "it takes a lot of courage to come forward and share difficult and painful experiences and press for change."

Over the past two days, the judge has heard harrowing personal accounts from the alleged victims, who are both male and female.

'I'm broken'

Some of the harassment cases and alleged crimes date back decades, but many are more recent. Some allegedly happened over the last few years.

"I'm broken," one former female officer told court today. She said her assault was reported to the military police and the subsequent investigation interviewed only friends of the accused. (CBC News does not report the names of alleged sexual assault victims.)

Another woman, a member of the air force, spoke about being drugged in an officer's mess and raped in a barracks in 2010. On that night, she told the judge, a predator stole her sense of security from her.

"To this day, I don't know who did it. Charges were never laid. There was no hearing and no verdict," said the woman, who is no longer in the military.

"When news of the class action lawsuit reached me, I initially felt as if this could be my chance at attaining a small measure of justice."

She said the settlement, which she favours, represents validation for what she and others endured.

"It is impossible to erase the damage caused by the trauma and the systemic betrayal of trust, but if this settlement can begin to lift those wounded soldiers up, then it has my full support," she said.

Others told the judge that more needs to be done within the military to screen out sexual predators.

During the last four years, the Canadian military has waged a high-profile campaign to stamp out sexual misconduct and assault within the ranks.

Some of the alleged victims who spoke on Friday are still serving members; they told the judge that the policy has had limited success and the military's macho culture is deeply ingrained.