Courts and Politics and Veterans
© 2018 FrontLine Defence (Vol 15, No 1)

In 1917, on the eve of the attack on Vimy Ridge, [Prime Minister Robert Borden] assured the country’s soldiers that they “need have no fear that the government and the country [would] fail to show just appreciation of [their] service.” The Prime Minister considered it Canada’s “first duty” to support the troops and he promised them that none would have “just cause to reproach the government for having broken faith” with its men. [excerpt from]

And yet, in 2012, six serving and former members of the Canadian Forces who suffered injuries in the course of their military duties felt obliged to initiate legal action against the federal government. The class action suit alleges that the Government of Canada has acted unconstitutionally by creating an inadequate system of compensation for members of the Canadian Armed Forces who have suffered injuries in the course of their military service.

In a December 2017 ruling against the plaintifs, judges of the BC Court of Appeal ruled that the social covenant promised by Prime Minister Borden “has no established meaning in law.” Reason 55 of the ruling reads like a Monty Python skit. “The idea that inspirational statements by a prime minister containing vague assurances could bind the gov­ernment to a specific regime in perpetuity does not, in any way, conform with the country’s constitutional norms,” it states.

Does the justice panel equate a serving Prime Minister to “strange women lying in ponds distributing swords” in that Borden’s solemn promise, while leading the government in power, was no basis for a system of government”?

Is Canada turning its back on wounded veterans? In Reason 16, Justice Groberman acknowledges “sympathy […] respect and admiration for the plaintiffs,” and noted that “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.”

Canadians believe we have a fiduciary obligation – ethical, moral, social and legal – to care for those who have been sent into harm’s way while bravely responding to, and serving, the government’s will. The question is, when will the government and courts acknowledge and legislate this moral imperative – so that we, as a nation of caring people, can move forward and hold our heads high knowing that, at the very least, we will provide sufficient care for the lives that have been broken, the minds that have been altered, and the souls that have been tormented by the sights, sounds and experiences they have endured while being sent to face death (and worse) on our behalf? That this remains an ongoing legal and political debate is both embarrassing and shameful.

As the Monty Python skit goes on to point out, “supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses.” The masses say “protect our troops” and proclaim “if we send them, we must mend them.”