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Afghan vets lawyer says his clients have Charter rights too following Khadr payout

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A lawyer representing six Afghan war veterans involved in an ongoing lawsuit with the federal government says his clients have Charter rights too following the Omar Khadr payout.

Don Sorochan has been representing the veterans for five years and said while he acknowledges the mistreatment of Khadr’s rights, his clients deserve the same respect.

“Our claim says our clients are being deprived of their security for their life just by virtue of the way the government is treating them,” Sorochan said. “We’ve raised Charter rights and arguments as well.”

The class-action lawsuit was first filed in 2012 in British Columbia during the previous Conservative government, with the six Afghan war vets arguing new rules in 2006 discriminated against them by offering lump sum payments for their injuries, instead of the pensions that veterans of previous wars got.

It made major headlines two years later when the government said it does not have a ‘social covenant’ to provide pensions, sparking widespread criticism from the opposition, veterans and the public.

Despite some progress under Erin O’Toole, who replaced Julian Fantino as Veterans Affairs Minister and the case eventually being put in abeyance, the Liberals won the election promising to end such cases and that there was a social obligation.

Things seemed to improve during a meeting in 2016 between both sides, but the case is still unresolved.

“I understand from the point of view of what was done wrong to Mr. Khadr, but in no way does it even compare to what has been done wrong to our guys,” Sorochan said, adding he’s been involved in trying to stop the recruitment of child soldiers as an international lawyer.

On Monday in Calgary, Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr reiterated the Charter rights breach position when discussing how the veterans are still waiting for their own resolution.

“In terms of working with our veterans, I’m proud of the work that our government has done since taking office,” Hehr said. “The former government, you know what they did for veterans? They closed nine offices, they cut one-third of my staff, they never moved forward on rectifying the situations that were present since the New Veterans Charter came about in 2006.”

Hehr pointed to increasing the Disability Award and earning loss benefits, as well as investments in mental health.

But he was also asked what he would say to the veterans specifically.

“We’re committed to financial security for our veterans,” he said. “We are committed to a pension for life option, we’ve stated that clearly and on the record in this year’s budget and we are working towards that, we’ll make announcements toward the end of the year.”

But Sorochan said he’s heard that messaging before.

“All I know is that the prime minister got up in the election and said they would return the pension, not a trumped up pension, the pension and that they had costed it and it could be done relatively quickly,” he said. “It’s costly though, I acknowledge that and they should’ve thought about that when they made the promise.”

One of the lead plaintiffs is an injured soldier who was trained to dismantle the very types of claymore mines that Khadr was forced to build in his youth.

“We’ve already seen what they consider to be the value of how a mistreatment of Mr. Khadr was,” he said. “That would go a long way towards solving a lot of problems for a lot of our veterans.”