The Department of National Defence is freezing financial benefits to Canadian Forces members who are posted abroad or frequently on the road after discovering that tens of millions of dollars in payments were dished out in contravention of federal rules in recent years.
The government is promising to kick start the payments as soon as it legally can, and it is offering temporary financial relief to Canadian Forces members and families in need. In addition, the government will find new ways to pay for members' families to travel overseas to attend repatriation ceremonies for fallen soldiers, among other things.
Vice-Admiral Bruce Donaldson, Vice-Chief of the Defence Staff, said the temporary freeze will affect up to 7,000 Canadian Forces members, who will have to wait for an unspecified period of time to regain access to a series of monthly reimbursements.
At a hastily called news conference, the department explained that it had obtained specific government authorizations for certain types of benefits to Canadian Forces members. However, the department had then tried to offer new benefits under these same authorizations, only to discover that it couldn't.
"It's been a busy few years, the Canadian Forces are in a period of surge," Vice-Adm. Donaldson said. "In some cases … we didn't do our homework."
The freeze has no impact on members' salaries. Still, it affects payments that are now offered to Canadian Forces members who are serving in dangerous parts of the world or who are posted to bases away from their families.
"The group is close to 1,500 or 1,600 [Forces members]who will see that the $300, $500, $700 that they used to claim on a monthly basis, they'll have to wait to make those claims," Vice-Adm. Donaldson said.
The department is now seeking to obtain a retroactive authorization for past payments, which total in the tens of millions of dollars, and to obtain approvals for future payments.
"We have got to stop, sort it out as soon as possible, and our principal aim is to avoid financial hardship for men and women in uniform, and make sure they get the benefits that they deserve," Vice-Adm. Donaldson said.
The department said it is now in discussion with central agencies, namely the Treasury Board Secretariat, which puts into practice the government's financial rules and regulations. An internal investigation at Defence will determine whether any wrongdoing was involved and whether there is a need for disciplinary measures.
"I wouldn't want to prejudice the investigation. If I had evidence of specific wrongdoing, we would be going after that immediately," Vice-Adm. Donaldson said.
The frozen benefits fall into four categories: bonuses to members with out-of-country postings; separation allowances to those with long-term assignments away from families; travel expenses; and support to soldiers' next-of-kin.