The Veterans Affairs Department will no longer pay for supplementary health services for veterans’ family members who are incarcerated in federal correctional facilities, a change of policy made as the Liberal government faced a barrage of criticism over the benefits provided to a convicted killer who is the son of a veteran.
The decision by Veterans Affairs Minister Seamus O’Regan was announced Tuesday after the Conservatives spent days hammering the government over the payments made by Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) to cover the PTSD treatment of a Halifax man who murdered an off-duty police officer.
The government paid for the costs of Christopher Garnier’s visits to a private psychologist because his father is a veteran who has also been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Mr. O’Regan told reporters on Tuesday afternoon that he had asked his department to explain how the decision was made. After reviewing the response provided by the bureaucrats, he said he directed VAC to ensure that any services recommended for a veteran’s family member that entail “extenuating circumstances” are reviewed by an area director of the department and a health professional.
“Treatment benefits are not be provided to a veteran’s family member who is incarcerated in a federal facility,” the Minister said. “Those facilities are responsible for the treatment of persons in their institutions.”
Mr. Garnier will not have his benefits revoked, however, because the Minister said the new policy is “to provide scrutiny with all future decisions.”
Mr. Garnier was convicted in December of murdering 36-year-old Catherine Campbell, an off-duty Truro police officer, in 2015 and dumping her body in a compost bin. His lawyer has argued Mr. Garnier’s mental illness was brought on by the murder.
On Tuesday, before the change to the benefits for veterans’ family members was announced, the Conservatives launched a day-long debate about Mr. Garnier in the House of Commons and introduced a motion calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to revoke the benefits that were extended to the convict.
“The department is now using veterans' money on a convicted killer. Will the Prime Minister finally do the right thing and cancel these benefits for this killer?” Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer asked in leading off the daily Question Period.
Mr. O’Regan stood repeatedly to explain that he could not discuss details of the case. He also accused the Conservatives of hammering away at the issue for reasons of political expediency. But it was revealed part way through the Question Period that the Minister had ordered the change.
“It’s an emotional subject because many of us, including me as Minister and many other members of this House and, I think, indeed many Canadians when they first heard the news of this were outraged given the conditions of the case,” Mr. O’Regan said later. “But it is really important to remember that at the centre of this is still a father and a veteran and even under such trying circumstances as this we have to stand with that veteran.”
With a file from The Canadian Press