The federal government has spent nearly $60,000 defending former veterans affairs minister Seamus O’Regan in court, according to documents obtained under access to information laws.
The cost stems from a defamation case launched against him by a veterans’ rights activist who is seeking $25,000 in damages.
Activist Sean Bruyea, the plaintiff in the case, filed an Access to Information request to the Justice Department, uncovering the mounting legal bill.
“I was shocked,” Bruyea said. “They are willing to spend more than twice the amount in the small-claims court action than what it would have cost to settle.”
The whole case surrounds O’Regan’s handling of a column Bruyea wrote in The Hill Times in February of 2018, criticizing the proposed changes to the disabled Armed Forces pensions, which come into effect this month.
Bruyea determined some veterans who apply under the new system will receive less overall than those who had applied under the new system.
In response, O’Regan submitted a rebuttal column to The Hill Times, accusing Bruyea of misleading the public to satisfy his own agenda.
Veterans Affairs official even told O’Regan’s office that Bruyea’s claims were mostly correct, but O’Regan still accused Bruyea of “stating mistruths.”
As a result, Bruyea sued O’Regan for defamation in May in small-claims court, seeking $25,000 in restitution.
It doesn’t happen all that often,” said Rory Fowler, a military lawyer.
Fowler said taxpayers may be forced to pay the entire legal costs because O’Regan is a member of the government.
“The Crown could be held vicariously liable for the actions of its servants and the minister of the Crown could be a servant,” he said.
O’Regan, now Indigenous Services Minister, asked the court to throw out Bruyea’s suit, claiming O’Regan column was for the public good, therefore outweighed the damage that could have been done to Bruyea.
Bruyea, however, remains defiant, believing that O’Regan’s aggressive response caused him significant harm.
“I’m not suing the minister because of his opinion, I’m suing him because he personally defamed me,” he said.
“I’m prepared for a public debate about the facts with the minister.”