Federal Court gives green light to action over alleged military pension delays

OTTAWA — A judge has certified a class-action lawsuit from former military reservists who say they endured lengthy waits for pension payments.

It means that hundreds or possibly thousands of people who served in the Canadian Forces reserves can sign on to the legal fight for compensation.

In a decision made public Tuesday, Federal Court Justice James O'Reilly said the necessary legal requirements for the class action had been met.

Former members say they had to wait weeks, months or even years before receiving monies owed to them.

It took more than six months for payments to begin flowing to retired naval reservist Douglas Jost, the representative plaintiff, following his July 2015 release.

The proposed action, filed in June 2017, included former members of both the regular forces and reserves who were entitled to pension benefits from March 1, 2007, to the present. However, O'Reilly ruled that the class should be confined to reservists, saying he had seen no evidence of problems experienced by regular members.

Adam Tanel, a lawyer for Jost, said if there is no federal appeal of the ruling, the class members are ready to begin settlement negotiations immediately or proceed to trial as quickly as possible.

"We are obviously pleased with the result," Tanel said Tuesday.

"The ball is now squarely in the federal government's court. They must decide whether they will attempt an appeal. The veterans impacted by this fiasco have already been waiting for a long time. We would like to move quickly to secure them fair compensation."

Federal lawyers opposed certification of the class action, arguing various conditions had not been met.

They said it would be preferable for claims to be determined one by one instead of through a class action, given the complex and difficult issues.

O'Reilly said the complexities would exist no matter how the claims proceeded, adding the government had not identified an alternative remedy that would be more efficient.

The government also contended Jost was not an appropriate representative because he received his benefits in a timely way.

"I disagree," O'Reilly wrote. "Mr. Jost has alleged a significant delay in the payment of his pension benefits. In addition, he has demonstrated an intention to pursue this action vigorously through able counsel on his own behalf and for the benefit of others similarly situated."

The pension centre is now up to date on all types of pension benefit payments, said Daniel Le Bouthillier, a National Defence spokesman.

The service standard for initial pension payments is within 45 calendar days after the date of release, provided that all required documents have been received by the pension centre in advance of the release date, he added.

— With a file from Lee Berthiaume  

— Follow @JimBronskill on Twitter

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 5, 2019.

Jim Bronskill , The Canadian Press