A legal case involving a military veteran who said his reputation was damaged by a column written by a cabinet minister has been resolved through a settlement.
The terms are not being disclosed, but a joint statement issued Wednesday by the parties – veteran Sean Bruyea, minister Seamus O’Regan and the Government of Canada – confirmed a confidential agreement had been reached.
“In reaching this settlement, the defendants do not admit any liability or wrongdoing,” the statement said.
“Canadians, especially all Veterans and their families, are encouraged to enter the public debate about policies and programs that affect our Veterans and their families.”
Mr. O’Regan’s office declined to comment beyond the joint statement.
Mr. Bruyea’s Ottawa-based lawyer, Paul Champ, said in an interview that while the government is not admitting any liability, which his team respects, the settlement marks a resolution.
“Unfortunately Mr. Bruyea had to go through this process of a couple of years,” Mr. Champ said. “But happily now, we do have a mutually satisfactory settlement.”
His client was originally seeking $25,000 in compensation after the publication of a 2018 column in the Hill Times by Mr. O’Regan when he was veterans affairs minister. (He is now the Minister of Natural Resources.) It followed an article by Mr. Bruyea in the same newspaper.
Mr. Bruyea wrote that changes to the pension system for disabled Canadian Armed Forces staff would pay some veterans applying for benefits after March, 2019, less than the previous system.
Mr. O’Regan subsequently accused the veteran of “stating mistruths” and suggested that he had made numerous other errors.
Mr. Bruyea sued for defamation.
In a statement, Mr. Bruyea said he is pleased that the government has settled the lawsuit and that it will think twice before “attacking a veteran or any Canadian” for participating in public debate about policies and programs.
“The settlement of my lawsuit offers a certain reassurance that veterans and other Canadians can exercise their fundamental right to freedom of expression without being unfairly targetted by government,” he said.
In January, Conservative veteran affairs critic Phil McColeman submitted a written request in the House of Commons to determine how much the government has spent on the case involving Mr. Bruyea and Mr. O’Regan.
At the time, Justice Minister David Lametti said $183,551 in legal costs had been incurred as of Dec. 9, 2019, adding the government could not provide additional information due to solicitor-client privilege.
Mr. McColeman called the figure revealing and outrageous and said the matter could have been resolved without legal costs far greater than the compensation being sought, adding that a “simple apology would have been nice."
Mr. Bruyea has previously said that the “personal attacks” forced him into court to defend his honour and reputation, as well as “defending the right of all Canadians to speak freely.”
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