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B.C. court rejects veterans’ claim against federal injury program

Major Mark Campbell, left, J. Gerald Lenoski, vice-president and director of Equitas, and Donald Sorochan, partner at Miller Thompson LLP, speak during a meeting to discuss a lawsuit brought on by six injured veterans, including Campbell, and how they say the Canadian government is failing veterans, in Toronto on Thursday, June 5, 2014.

Matthew Sherwood/The Globe and Mail

The B.C. Court of Appeal has struck down a claim by six veterans to overturn a controversial government approach to compensating those injured in service, but one of those veterans vows to find a new avenue, possibly beyond the courts, to carry on the fight.

"I don't see this as the end of the line at all," Mark Campbell, one of the veterans, told a news conference at their lawyer's office in Vancouver, hours after the ruling was released. "We're just getting going. This is a minor setback, a minor battle in a long-term war."

Options ahead include advocacy, and a possible appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, said Mr. Campbell, a retired infantry major whose legs were blown off when he walked over an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan in 2008.

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At issue is an appeal-court ruling on Monday against the legal action launched by the veterans to oppose a 2006 decision by the former federal Conservative government to replace lifelong disability pensions with a lump-sum payment, career training and targeted income support.

Veterans, including Mr. Campbell, who are involved in the lawsuit had said the approach, enacted under the New Veterans Charter, was worth less than the past pension system. The veterans' legal costs are being covered by the Equitas society.

Although the B.C. Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that there was enough merit to the case to proceed to trial, the three-judge court of appeal said the case had no chance of success and ruled against it.

Still, the ruling written by Justice Harvey Groberman acknowledged the service of veterans.

"I have considerable sympathy for the plaintiffs who have served our nation and suffered serious injuries in doing so," he wrote.

"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 that the court is deciding."

Mr. Campbell said he was not sure the new government would address veterans' concerns as promised, namely to restore the former pension act or provide tax-free benefits without clawbacks under the New Veterans Charter equal to the previous pension.

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"If I were a serving member, I would be asking myself whether I want to go to work tomorrow, whether or not I wanted to accept the peril inherent to the job when the government of Canada has turned around and said it does not have your back," said Mr. Campbell.

He said that the situation may derail military efforts to recruit new members. "There is no way in hell I would allow my children to join the Canadian Armed Forces," he said.

Lawyer Don Sorochan, acting for the veterans, told the news conference it was too early to say whether there will be an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada on Monday's ruling.

He said the test for going to the Supreme Court is whether an issue of national importance is at stake, and the country has a "social covenant" with veterans.

In Ottawa, Veterans Affairs Minister Seamus O'Regan said in a statement that his department will work to strengthen support to forces members, veterans and their families by providing support necessary for financial independence.

"We remain committed to a lifelong benefit option for ill and injured veterans and we will finalize a benefit for life option for pension program for ill and injured veterans soon," Mr. O'Regan said, adding the details are being refined through consultation.

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During the 2015 federal election, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau campaigned with Equitas members and the Liberals were the only party to promise to reinstate lifelong pensions. The most recent federal budget promised lifetime pensions would be offered to disabled veterans before the end of the year.

The Conservative critic for veterans affairs said the federal government should work toward a negotiated solution with veterans.

"During the 2015 election, Justin Trudeau promised that he would stop taking veterans to court. The Liberal government should uphold that promise and start treating our veterans with the respect and dignity they deserve," Phil McColeman said in a statement, responding to the appeal-court ruling.

Veterans Affairs Minister Seamus O’Regan says a lifelong disability pension for veterans will be revealed by the end of the year. The B.C. Court of Appeals ruled Monday against a veterans group fighting to bring back the previous pension system. The Canadian Press
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