Veterans and serving soldiers who may have consumed contaminated water at CFB Valcartier have another six months to apply for compensation.
On Wednesday, a Quebec court granted the extension, requested by lawyers involved in a class-action claim. The judge rejected the federal government's attempt to block the extension.
"I am very happy for the people," said Charles Veilleux, one of the class-action lawyers who has been involved in the case for years.
For decades, a cancer-causing industrial degreasing agent called trichloroethylene, or TCE, was used at Valcartier's research facility and a nearby ammunition factory. It leached into the water table. The Quebec Court of Appeal concluded the chemical was used over an "indeterminate period" from the 1950s to the 1990s.
In 2020, the Quebec Court of Appeal awarded millions of dollars in compensation to some residents of Shannon, Que., a town close to CFB Valcartier. Only military members and their families living in married quarters during that time were eligible.
But the class-action lawyers acting for the Shannon residents say they've struggled to reach affected military members and their families — who tend to live transient lives, moving from posting to posting.
"Many of them are disseminated across North America, even around the world," said Veilleux. "For many of them, it was difficult to pay attention to a case that didn't exist 25 years ago."
The judge's order means claimants now have until July 15 to apply. Those eligible had been given until Sunday to submit a compensation claim through an online portal. Class-action lawyers will bear the costs for administrating any claims received between January and July.
Former military member Ed Sweeney and federal Conservative, NDP and Green MPs have been calling on the federal government to agree to a six-month deadline extension. They've accused Ottawa of standing in the way of providing justice to victims.
WATCH | Veteran says his family was exposed to tainted water on a military base:
"We expect the government to do the right thing, to provide the compensation and not try to do this on the cheap," said James Bezan, the Conservative national defence critic, earlier this month.
Class action lawyers also asked the Department of National Defence (DND) to provide a complete list of current and former members who lived on the base. Justice Bernard Godbout noted in his ruling in French that DND only provided that information for current members.
In December 2000, tests by a local public health authority found TCE in many wells in Shannon. Residents were told to stop drinking the water. An environmental group has mapped several locations where the chemical was found.
The appeal court concluded the Canadian government violated area residents' right to security under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
"The accumulation of red flags … the knowing pursuit of an unacceptable polluting practice over a long period and the indifference of the responsible authorities to the consequences of such a practice on the population concerned leads to the conclusion that there was an unlawful and intentional interference with the right to security of the person," says an English summary of the Quebec Court of Appeal decision.