Veterans Affairs ordered to take second look before supporting vets’ relatives

Liberal government ordered officials to adopt a more critical eye

The Trudeau government sought to defuse weeks of outrage by ordering officials to adopt a more critical eye before approving funds and services for the family member of veterans — particularly relatives convicted of serious crimes.

Yet it wasn’t immediately clear what impact the order will have on the case of Christopher Garnier, the Halifax man convicted last year of killing an off-duty police officer whose receipt of financial assistance for PTSD treatment from Veterans Affairs Canada has sparked widespread anger.

A Halifax court heard last month that Veterans Affairs Canada was covering the cost of Garnier’s psychologist because his father was a veteran who has also been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

The revelation that taxpayers were footing the bill for Garnier’s treatment has sparked widespread condemnation, and Veterans Affairs Minister Seamus O’Regan promised last month to look into how and why the decision was made.

RELATED: Ottawa proposes $100M class-action settlement for disabled vets

On Tuesday, he told the House he had reviewed the findings and was directing official “to ensure that services received by a family member of a veteran are related to the veterans’ service and where they are not, that they be reviewed by a senior official.

“I am directing the department to immediately address its policy on providing treatment to family members under extenuating circumstances,” he added, “such as conviction of such a serious crime.”

The minister also said benefits will not be provided to a veteran’s family member who is incarcerated in a federal facility; responsibility for the provision of such services rests with Correctional Services Canada.

But when it came to Garnier’s benefits, O’Regan repeatedly cited privacy considerations for refusing to discuss the case while indicating the order would not be retroactive.

“The policy is to provide scrutiny with all future decisions,” O’Regan said outside the Commons. “All future decisions will now have an elevated level of scrutiny when we are dealing particularly with extenuating circumstances like this.”

Liberals subsequently voted down a symbolic Conservative motion demanding an immediate end to the provision of Veterans Affairs benefits to Garnier, who never served in uniform.

The minister also sidestepped a reporter’s questions about whether the new policy would prevent similar situations in the future if the department deemed the relative of a veteran should get benefits.

“I’m not going to get into hypotheticals,” O’Regan said.

Conservatives appeared unimpressed with the move. During a heated question period — and on social media — several Tory MPs demanded the government take immediate action by stripping Garnier of his current benefits.

RELATED: Veterans still facing difficulty accessing benefits, ombudsman says

Garnier, 30, was convicted in December of murdering 36-year-old Catherine Campbell, an off-duty Truro police officer and dumping her body in a compost bin, and his lawyer had argued his client’s mental illness was brought on by the murder.

His conviction carries an automatic life sentence, but a Nova Scotia Supreme Court justice ruled last month that he would be able to apply for parole after serving 13 1/2 years — less 699 days for time served.

The Halifax man has since appealed his sentence, calling it “manifestly excessive.” He had also earlier appealed his conviction, in part because he says police interview tactics elicited a false confession.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

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