Aaron Bedard is one of the plaintiffs in the Equitas Society’s class-action lawsuit. (File photo)

Court strikes injured veterans’ disability pensions claim

Equitas fight ‘far from over’

The BC Court of Appeal has struck “in its entirety” a claim that sought to restore compensation for injured servicemen and women to pre-New Veterans Charter levels.

In rendering the decision – which stemmed from court action launched by White Rock-based Equitas Society in 2012 – appeal-court judges emphasized it was not a determination on “whether the government is providing adequate compensation to members of the armed forces who are injured in the course of their duties.”

Noting “considerable sympathy” for the plaintiffs, the decision – announced Monday morning – is also “not directed to the wisdom of legislation,” the judgment states.

“We have tremendous respect and admiration for the plaintiffs. All right-thinking Canadians would agree that they should be provided with adequate disability benefits. If that is not occurring, it is a national embarrassment. Again, however, that is not the issue the court is deciding. Rather, the question before the court is whether an arguable case can be advanced that the Canadian Parliament lacks authority to enact legislation fixing and limiting compensation.”

Equitas Society brought a class-action lawsuit challenging the New Veterans Charter forward in 2012. Created in 2006, the charter replaced veterans’ lifelong pensions with lump-sum settlements – a change that resulted in a 40 per cent reduction in financial compensation, Mark Campbell, a retired major, told a news conference held at the Vancouver office of Miller Thomson Law Monday afternoon.

In this week’s decision, appeal court judges concluded “Canada has constitutional authority to enact and administer the compensation scheme.”

However, judges disagreed with arguments that the plaintiffs were “an analogous group for the purposes of this lawsuit,” and that Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms serves generally “to impose positive obligations on governments.”

Equitas president Marc Burchell told Peace Arch News following the news conference that he was initially “very surprised” by the decision, but now “I understand where they’re coming from.”

“They made a decision based on what is existing law,” Burchell said. “The court really puts it back into the hands of parliamentarians (to) actually pass law.”

Don Sorocan, lead counsel for Equitas, said no decisions on next steps have been made – including whether to seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Such an appeal “is not something that should be decided on a moment’s notice,” he told the news conference.

However, the case does illustrate issues of national importance, he said. Those include a determination on whether the “honour of the Crown” should apply outside of any aboriginal context.

“Crown’s lawyers argued there is no such thing as a social covenant,” Sorocan said. “The court of appeal has accepted that.”

The fight to reinstate the compensation was led by South Surrey father Jim Scott, whose son, Dan, was injured during his second tour of duty in Afghanistan, during a training session with claymore mines in February 2010. He lost his spleen, a kidney and suffered a collapsed lung.

According to court documents filed in 2012, the soldier received a lump-sum payment of $41,411.96.

Equitas held a rally in October to raise awareness of the issue, and Burchell said such steps will continue.

“Our role as advocates and lobbyists simply escalates,” he told PAN.

“It’s far from over. It’s actually the beginning of the next chapter.”

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