Moral obligation

In a country like Canada, espousing what Canadians espouse, it shouldn’t have come to a legal ruling.

It’s been observed that a measure of legality is not the same thing as a measure of morality.

A recent decision by the Supreme Court not to hear the appeal of the class-action lawsuit against the government on behalf of disabled Canadian veterans – championed by the White Rock-based Equitas Society – is likely on the same basis as the BC Court of Appeal’s dismissal of the same case last December. Namely, that courts can only enforce actual legislation.

That’s a triumph of legalese, and, no doubt, considered a victory by Department of Justice lawyers who have been arguing that Canada owes “no duty of care” to its disabled veterans.

But is it a victory for Canada, and for the young men and women – often sacrificing life and limb – who have served their country selflessly for generations? Can any of us look in a mirror and truly say we owe those injured in the service of our country’s democratic ideals no duty of care? There was no doubt for politicians in the aftermath of the bloodbath of the First World War that we owed disabled veterans something. That’s when the Pension Act was brought into law, providing disability pensions for veterans for close to nine decades afterwards.

Then, in 2005, the Martin government introduced the New Veterans Charter – embraced by the Harper government the next year – replacing pensions with lump-sum payments. If it was supposed to be a new deal for veterans, it was a bad one – something that is hard not to see as a cost-cutting measure instituted by our leaders comfortably remote from combat zones.

During the 2015 election campaign, current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the pensions ought to be reinstated. The same year, the House of Commons unanimously endorsed a resolution calling on the government to establish a “moral covenant” to provide compensation and support services to disabled veterans.

But these were words, not laws.

Equitas vows to continue the battle to establish a duty of care and reinstate disabled veterans pensions. Perhaps, in time, they will sway public opinion to such an extent that politicians can no longer retreat behind legal excuses.