Thursday, February 1, 2018

Disabled Vets Head to the Supreme Court?

Kathleen Harris of CBC News reports, 'Grossly unfair': Disabled veterans take pension battle with Liberals to Supreme Court:
A group of disabled veterans is taking its legal fight for better pensions to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The six veterans involved in what is called the Equitas case say the federal government has a sacred obligation to care for the country's wounded soldiers, and that the duty was breached in a 2006 overhaul to the compensation regime for those injured in the line of duty.

Mark Campbell, a retired major, and former combat engineer Aaron Bedard, both part of the Equitas suit, held a news conference on Parliament Hill today to announce plans to take their pension fight to the Supreme Court.

Campbell said it's a "national disgrace" that the government is spending tax dollars in a legal fight against injured veterans, and "untolerable" that changes to the pension regime have left two standards of compensation for soldiers, depending on when they were injured.

"This is grossly unfair and it has to change," he said.

The overhaul replaced lifelong disability pensions with a lump-sum payment, career training and targeted income support, which the veterans claim was worth less than the previous pension system.

The case, which they hoped to turn into a class-action lawsuit, has been winding its way through the courts since 2012. It was launched when the Conservative government was in power but continued under the Liberals.

Lawyer Don Sorochan, who is representing the Equitas group, hopes the Supreme Court will hear an appeal to that decision, and definitively rule on whether the government has a "social covenant" or sacred obligation, and whether it is enforceable.

"The position taken by the government was astonishing. For them to stand up and say we don't have any special obligation to veterans was completely contrary to everything they had been saying in Parliament, on the election campaign," he told CBC News.

During the 2015 federal election campaign, the Liberals promised to give veterans the option to have a lifelong pension.

Major changes announced

After much frustration and protests, the government announced major changes to the compensation system in December 2017 that would pour about $3.6 billion into veterans' benefits.

But Campbell called that proposal a "sham."

"The new pension for life is nothing more than a shell game," he said.

Questioned about the legal challenge in the House of Commons today, Veterans Affairs Minister Seamus O'Regan said the government has spent $10 billion to expand: pain and suffering compensation, income replacement and education, career transition and mental health benefits.

He also said the government has followed through on its pledge to institute a life-long pension.

"Veterans asked for a pension for life option. We delivered," he said.

According to a copy of the court filing to the high court, the case raises "fundamental questions about the unique and special relationship between Canada and members of the Armed Forces," and whether an "inadequate compensation scheme" breaches Canada's solemn obligation to those who served the country.
'Profound implications'

The filing says the B.C. Court of Appeal's decision could have profound implications for future military service in Canada and the very operation of Veterans Affairs Canada.

"Those who enlist in military service do so at great personal risk and sacrifice, but do so based on the premise which underlies the social covenant: Should they fall or be injured, the nation and people of Canada will ensure they will be looked after," the filing reads. "The implication of the Court of Appeal's decision is that this solemn obligation does not exist."

Sorochan said the social covenant has been recognized since the First World War, when promises were made to those who served their country. It was, and remains, necessary to build and retain a voluntary citizens' army.

Sorochan said the B.C.appeal court ruling effectively said even if a promise was made, any government could undo it "on a whim."

"I don't think that's much comfort if you're going to put your life on the line when you could take away the promise."

Phil McColeman, the Conservative veterans' affairs critic, called on the Liberals to fulfill their campaign promise.

"It's shameful that as a result of Liberal broken promises, veterans have been forced to take their case to the Supreme Court in order to be heard," he said in a statement to CBC News. "The Conservative Party of Canada believes in providing the best possible services and benefits for veterans and their families, in recognition of their service to Canada."

In the House, O'Regan said when the Conservatives were in office, members of the armed forces returned home from duty to find services cut, veterans offices closed and their voices ignored.

In a news release, Marc Burchell, president of the Equitas Society, said the B.C. Court of Appeal ruling says there is nothing embedded in the law to protect injured veterans.

"This case is about making sure the government of Canada supports our fighting men and women as they must," he said. "The government must either reinstate the old Pension Act, or must make sure compensation for injuries under the New Veterans Charter is as good as – or better – than what they received before."
Go back to read my comment on a Christmas full of pensions where I noted the following:
Veterans Affairs Minister Seamus O'Regan said no disabled vet will end up with less money but clearly, the new plan doesn't address the discrepancies that bedeviled the previous Conservative government.

Importantly, one of the vets in the last article is right, you can't have two soldiers with the same injuries from the same war but at different times receiving different compensation. That is fundamentally wrong.

One word of caution to disabled vets, I agree with the government, you are much better off over the long run accepting the monthly payment than accepting a lump sum payment upfront. Don't make the mistake of asking for a lump sum payment, you will regret it.

I know PSP Investments manages the pensions of the Public Service, the Canadian Armed Forces, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Reserve Force. And they're doing a great job, so it's better to stick with the monthly payment for life, trust me on that.

Lastly, I read these stories about how we treat disabled veterans, and I must admit, I'm not impressed with how the Conservatives and Liberals have treated this file. It's just plain wrong and the message it sends out is disheartening, to say the least.

Importantly, I don't find Canada treats all people with disabilities, especially disabled vets, with the dignity and support they deserve.

I'll leave it at that because I have some other more nasty comments on how our country treats people with disabilities but it's Christmas and I'd rather stay polite and composed.
I was being way too polite and restrained in that comment. Let me stop mincing my words and publicly state that I find the way people with disabilities are treated in Canada is a national disgrace. It might be a tad better than in other countries but that's not saying much, it's still a national disgrace.

There are a lot of "powerful" leaders in politics and the private sector who regularly read this blog. I don't care who you are or how important you are, I can sit in front of all of you and openly state the way people with disabilities are treated in Canada is a national disgrace and you haven't done enough to address gross injustices that still pervade our society.

Importantly, I find a lot of large private and public sector organizations talk up diversity and inclusion but have done very little when it comes to hiring people with disabilties and treating them with equal respect and dignity that other members of our society receive and take for granted.

And let me be clear, this is a pervasive and sytemic problem and it's not just a private sector problem. The provincial and federal governments haven't been meeting their objectives to hire more people with disabilities in the public sector. It may shock you to learn the real numbers in the federal and provincial civil service, which is why they're kept hush and don't receive the public scrutiny they should receive (except once in a while, when we read articles on how wheelchair users face severe job market discrimination in Quebec, not that the situation is drastically better elsewhere).

I have long stated that every large public and private organization should publish statistics in their annual report detailing the percentage of their workforce in minority groups like visible minorities, aboriginals and people with disabilities, and hire more women at all levels of the organization.

It's not enough to state you're an equal opportunity employer and that you believe in diversity and inclusion, you should back up your words with actions and be transparent about what initiatives you're taking to hire disadvantaged minorities, especially people with disabilities, across all levels of your organization (not just entry level jobs!).

Those of you who want to understand the intellectual underpinnings of why more needs to be done to help people with disabilities in every society, I suggest you read Martha Nussbaum's book, Frontiers of Justice: Disability, Nationality, Species Membership (click on image):


Nussbaum is an American philosopher and the current Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago, where she is jointly appointed in the Law School and the Philosophy department.

She's an intellectual powerhouse, and along with Charles Taylor, Michael Walzer, and a handful of other potical and moral philosophers, she has greatly shaped my views on justice, equality and respect for diversity.

Anyway, back to the Equitas case and the legal battle for better pensions headed to the Supreme Court of Canada. I applaud these six veterans and hope a lot more will join them in this fight to make sure all veterans are treated equally and fairly under our law.

It truly is deplorable that the federal government is using tax dollars to fight injured veterans in court instead of coming to its senses and keeping its pre-election promise. In my opinion, it's a lose-lose for the Liberal government, a case it doesn't need and should have avoided at all cost.

Moreover, I actually believe these veterans have a very persuasive case and there is a good chance the Supreme Court will side in their favor, another embarrassment for the Liberals.

In a way, maybe it's best to let the Supreme Court hear this case and make a much-needed ruling. This way, in the future, politicians won't reneg on their promises to our veterans.

Below, CBC News reports on why vets are appealing a decision to the Supreme Court of Canada. It's shameful but I hope these vets are successful in their appeal and that a new legal precedent will be set.

Also, Martha Nussbaum, Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago, speaks on the Aristotelian foundations of her capabilities approach and its implications on the modern political atmosphere while walking along Chicago's beautiful lakeshore.


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