Equitas Society members Prem Singh Vinning and The Honourable John Allen Fraser present veteran Major Mark Campbell with a Canadian flag print at last year's fundraising dinner. Campbell lost both legs above the knees while serving in Afghanistan.

Court, ombudsman back veterans group’s claim

Class-action challenge to New Veterans Charter passes legal hurtle.

A White Rock-based veterans-support group is celebrating a court decision that allows a lawsuit against the federal government to proceed.

While the Conservatives plan to appeal last month’s B.C. Supreme Court ruling that dismissed the government’s motion to strike the class-action lawsuit – filed last fall on behalf of Canadian soldiers who are receiving benefits under the New Veterans Charter – a veterans ombudsman report released this week finds “urgent shortcomings” in the seven-year-old charter.

Jim Scott, president of White Rock-based Equitas Society, said the group is pleased with Justice Gary Weatherill’s Sept. 6 decision to uphold the lawsuit.

“We’ve always believed that if the facts got into the court of law, they’d be fairly reviewed,” Scott told Peace Arch News. “It’s not surprising that the courts are seeing our point of view.”

At issue is the government’s decision to alter the way wounded soldiers are compensated through paying lump-sum settlements instead of long-term benefits, a method Scott says ultimately results in reduced compensation for soldiers.

It’s one of several points highlighted in a report by Veterans Ombudsman Guy Parent released Tuesday, which calls for improvements to the charter.

The report states more than 400 disabled veterans are at risk of living in poverty due to “the insufficiency of the economic financial support provided after the age of 65.” And it criticizes accessibility of the Permanent Impairment Allowance, designed to compensate severely impaired veterans who can’t work.

“Fifty-three per cent of veterans who are assessed to be totally and permanently incapacitated, and who are unable to engage in suitable gainful employment, are not awarded these benefits,” the report states.

Though he wouldn’t offer his opinion on the contents of the report, Conservative MP Russ Hiebert (South Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale) commended Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino’s decision last month to launch an extensive review of the New Veterans Charter.

“I’m pleased that the minister of veterans affairs has committed to a parliamentary review of the veterans charter,” Hiebert told PAN Tuesday.

“It’s a good thing that the review is happening by legislators, because that is the best way to fix any shortcomings, as opposed to in a courtroom.”

When asked about the lawsuit, Hiebert would not offer comment on the government’s decision to appeal the B.C. Supreme Court’s ruling, nor how the report might affect the direction of the case.

“Because I’m not privy to the details behind the government’s strategy, as it relates to the lawsuit, I’m not in a position to comment.”

For members of the Equitas Society, Scott – whose son, Dan, suffered serious injuries while serving in Afghanistan in 2010 – said it’s encouraging to see the issue of veterans’ benefits being recognized by the courts, the ombudsman and the minister.

“The government has long taken the position that any soldier that gets killed or wounded in battle that themselves or their families will be taken care of,” Scott said. “You can’t, with a stroke of a pen, change tradition.”

Equitas gala

In its ongoing campaign of financial support for the veterans movement, Equitas (www.equitassociety.ca) is hosting its annual fundraising gala Oct. 18 at Morgan Creek Golf Course.

The event features a number of auction items up for grabs.

Anyone interested in attending can email holly.scott@shaw.ca

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