Government Spends $213,500 to Avoid Paying $25,000 for Defamation

Government Spends $213,500 to Avoid Paying $25,000 for Defamation
Minister of Veterans Affairs Seamus O'Regan rises during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018.(The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld)

A veteran’s advocate won a small victory against the legal team for former Veteran Affairs minister Seamus O’Regan, who government lawyers defended at a cost of $213,500, according to documents tabled in the Senate.

On May 11, 2018 Sean Bruyea, a veteran’s advocate, filed a lawsuit against the then-Minister of Veterans Affairs over an op-ed the minister wrote that was published in The Hill Times.

The plaintiff sought damages of $25,000 for defamation.

Government lawyers filed a motion to dismiss the case and won. Bruyea appealed that decision and the two sides argued for five hours on August 24, 2018, about whether the Deputy Judge should accept the government’s motion to dismiss.

The government argued that having the suit proceed would limit the Minister’s freedom of expression.

Bruyea argued that the case had merit and won.

The suit originated from an op-ed Bruyea wrote in early 2018 and had published in The Hill Times, a parliament-focused newspaper.

Bruyea’s article compared the old veteran’s pension plan under the Conservative government with the one put in place by the Liberals, calling it “grossly unfair.”

The minister’s rebuttal was published two weeks later claiming people like Bruyea who were stating “mistruths about Pension for Life and are leaving out parts of our programs, are doing so to suit their own agenda.”

After opposing the motion to dismiss, Bruyea said “I’m saddened that this is what the system does to people, that big guys can ruin credibility and not suffer any consequences, or at least use a huge legal machine to go after the little guy.”

On July 12 , 2019, the Court of Appeals ordered the case to go back to the small claims court for trial.

Erin O’Toole sided with Bruyea on a Twitter post back on July 12, saying “Sean Bruyea is a Veteran who knew the facts & figures about Veterans benefits better than the Minister yet he was subjected to an unfair attack from the Liberals for daring to hold them to their word @SeamusORegan should apologize & settle this case.”
Sean Bruyea is seen during an interview in Ottawa, Tuesday Sept. 14, 2010. (The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld)
Sean Bruyea is seen during an interview in Ottawa, Tuesday Sept. 14, 2010. (The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld)

The government ended up settling the lawsuit with Bruyea. The $213,500 price tag on a $25,000 suit has raised new criticisms, though experts acknowledge the government has other considerations than cost when facing legal challenges.

“What?  Really?” Bruyea said, according to CBC News upon hearing the government’s legal costs.  Bruyea said he was astonished at “the lengths the government will go to, with other Canadians’ money, to avoid saying ‘I’m sorry, I was wrong.”

The amount of the final settlement paid to Bruyea last week, which is not a part of the $213,500 figure, hasn’t been released.