Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Veterans Deserve Special Rights like Aboriginals, Lawyer Tells B.C.'S Top Court

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Veterans Deserve Special Rights like Aboriginals, Lawyer Tells B.C.'S Top Court

Article excerpt

Veterans deserve special treatment: lawyer

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VANCOUVER - Veterans deserve special treatment under the constitution in the same way aboriginals are guaranteed unique rights, a lawyer for six soldiers injured in Afghanistan has told British Columbia's top court.

The federal government is obligated to make good on nearly century-old promises to care for the only citizens it orders into possible death while fighting to make "our country possible," Don Sorochan told a trio of judges as he disputed that aboriginals are the only extraordinary case.

"The politicians acknowledge this. They stand by the cenotaphs," Sorochan said Thursday in the B.C. Court of Appeal.

"And yet we have an argument raised here ... that veterans are only entitled to whatever benefits the Parliament of the day may deem to be necessary."

Sorochan was responding to an attempt by the federal government to block the certification of a class-action lawsuit for injured soldiers who apply for disability benefits after April 2006, an application already approved by a B.C. Supreme Court judge.

The current and former Canadian Forces members are challenging changes to the compensation regime under the New Veterans Charter, brought into force by an all-party vote in Parliament. The individual plaintiffs represent "hundreds, if not thousands" of other potential claimants upset with their treatment by the federal government, Sorochan said.

None of the claims have been tested in court.

The veterans contend the new scheme is inadequate for supporting their families and substantially reduced from what is granted to other generations of injured soldiers. The predominant change involves doling out lump-sum payments in lieu of disability pensions.

One former soldier lost both legs above the knees in a Taliban ambush in Afghanistan. Retired major Mark Campbell says not getting a medical pension means he will get about $35,000 less a year.

Lawyers for the Attorney General of Canada have argued the government's duty to give special protections to one citizen category only applies as a legal principle in the aboriginal context. They maintain that issues raised by the veterans should be addressed by Parliament and not in court. …

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