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Editorial: Dishonouring veterans

Veterans, legion members and members of the public were out in force on Nov. 11, 2016 to take in Sydney's Remembrance Day service at the Joan Harriss Cruise Pavilion.
Veterans, legion members and members of the public at a Remembrance Day service. — SaltWire file photo

Wrong church, wrong pew: at least, that’s what the British Columbia Court of Appeal said to Canadian veterans this week.

But sometimes, even in a loss, there’s a moral victory.

Earlier this week, six Canadian veterans, all of whom suffered injuries while serving this country, lost of a court battle over the New Veterans Charter, a piece of legislation put in place by the House of Commons in 2006.

The Veterans Charter replaced life-long pensions for injured veterans with lump-sum payments, creating a system that the veterans say provides them with compensation well below the level of basic provincial workers’ compensation programs.

The veterans wanted to launch a class-action lawsuit and roll back the New Veterans Charter, arguing that prime ministers back to Robert Borden have made commitments that this nation would always care properly for its injured veterans, and that those commitments should be honoured.

If veterans are not receiving adequate benefits, and it’s pretty clear they are not, that is a national embarrassment.

The Appeal Court ruled that the current legal action should be halted because it had no chance of success — essentially, because the promises of prime ministers, including Justin Trudeau’s promises to overturn the Veterans Charter during the last federal election, don’t trump the duly-passed legislation of the House of Commons.

“The idea that inspirational statements by a prime minister containing vague assurances could bind the Government of Canada to a specific legislative regime in perpetuity does not, in any way, conform with the country’s constitutional norms,” the court wrote in its decision.

Fair enough: if promises by politicians instantly became laws, well, we’d be living in a wholly different nation.

The Appeal Court essentially said that the veterans’ argument did not have any chance of success in its current form. Worth bearing in mind, though, is what the judge who wrote the decision, Justice Harvey Groberman, said in the preamble to his reasons.

“I have considerable sympathy for the plaintiffs, who have served our nation and suffered serious injuries in doing so. We have tremendous respect and admiration for the plaintiffs. 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 the Court is deciding. Rather, the question before the Court is whether an arguable case can be advanced that the Canadian Parliament lacks authority to enact legislation fixing and limiting compensation,” he wrote.

If veterans are not receiving adequate benefits, and it’s pretty clear they are not, that is a national embarrassment.

Indeed.

It should be even more embarrassing for Trudeau and his government, who said clearly that they would turn back the clock on the 2006 decision to implement the charter.

The courts might well not be the place to fix the problem.

But it should certainly be fixed, and soon.

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