On Remembrance Day, we recognize the sacrifices that Members and Veterans of the Canadian Armed Forces have made for our country. These individuals voluntarily risk their lives in the name of freedom. And, sadly, many of them suffer debilitating injuries – and even death – as a consequence of their service.
Despite the extreme sacrifices that they’ve made, Members and Veterans and their families often receive inadequate support from Veterans Affairs Canada after becoming injured. Time and time again, the Government of Canada has left Veterans to try to navigate their way through an extremely complex legislative scheme in order to figure out what benefits they’re entitled to. Ironically – numerous reports have shown that many staff members at VAC don’t even understand these benefits and the interrelationship between them – so it’s illogical to expect Veterans with serious cognitive, psychological, and physical injuries to be able to do so.
On October 17, 2022, the Federal Court certified a class action brought on behalf of Veterans and their families who received benefit amounts that were lower than they would have been had they been properly advised by VAC. Over 10,000 Veteran class members will be impacted by the Court’s decision – all of whom have been designated as totally and permanently incapacitated by VAC and all of whom have, consequently, been unable to engage in gainful employment. The Court held that a class action will serve the goals of judicial economy, access to justice, and behaviour modification.
The Court rejected Canada’s argument that it owed no duty of care to Veteran class members. The Court recognized the “high needs” of ill and injured Veterans, all of whom were entitled to an Earnings Loss Benefit and all of whom had a VAC case manager or other regular contact with VAC representatives. The Court held that it was reasonable to expect VAC to take reasonable care to prevent harm that could occur if VAC provided misinformation to these Veterans.
This is the first time that a Court has recognized that a duty of care may exist as – as between Canada and Veterans – in Canada’s administration of benefits programs. Angela Bespflug is class counsel on this matter and she notes that, “This finding will likely have ripple effects for other litigation brought on behalf of Veterans. And rightly so. Why should Canadians voluntarily risk their lives in service to their country if they are left without financial and other assistance in the event that they’re injured during service? As a country, we should have a duty to protect and care for the individuals that risk their lives for our freedom.”
Further, we note that many of our veterans are Indigenous persons who were not greeted by equality upon their return, and we remain committed to doing what we can to right those wrongs as well.
We are constantly humbled by the fortitude, selflessness, and compassion of those who serve our country. We will continue to fight for Veterans’ rights – and we encourage all Canadians to do so.
Use your voices this Remembrance Day to remind Canada that we, as a society, will no longer tolerate the abandonment of those who risk their lives in the name of freedom – and who suffer debilitating injuries as a consequence of their service.