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Same-city military moves cost Canadian taxpayers $12 million

WATCH: Global News has learned Canadian taxpayers have spent millions for same city moves when members of the military retire. Jacques Bourbeau has the exclusive.

OTTAWA – Canadian taxpayers spent more than $12 million over the past five years, footing the bill for retiring military members to move within the same city, or to nearby communities within 100 km.

According to documents provided to Global News under an Access to Information request, the Department of National Defence paid for 1169 same-city retirement moves.

Some of the moves weren’t cheap.

Lt.-Cmdr. Fugger switched locations in North Vancouver. The price of the move was $58,978.43. One soldier billed taxpayers for two same-city moves. Documents show Lt.-Col. Fritz-Millett moved locations in Kingston in 2009, costing taxpayers $45,900.97. A year later the documents show Lt.-Col Fritz-Millett moved a second time within Kingston, at a further cost of $9,467.33.

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The moves are authorized under a DND perk that pays for one final post-retirement move for all military members. The rationale is that after serving their country, and being told throughout their career where they have to live, members of the Armed Forces can choose where they want to live upon retirement.

But that policy came under fire when Global News revealed that National Defence paid nearly $600,000 to move Generals, most of them recently retired, within the same city or just outside the city limits. The most expensive move was expensed by retired Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie, who claimed $72,000 to move from one house in a tony Ottawa neighbourhood to another house just a four minute drive away.

WATCH: EXCLUSIVE: Retiring general Andrew Leslie compensated for personal mileage – $7.70

At the time, the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Tom Lawson said in an internal e-mail the intent of the policy is justified, allowing military members to move to the location of their choice after their years of service are over.

But he questioned whether “same-city” moves could be supported in the same way, calling them “a bit rich for taxpayer blood.”

The Conservative government agreed, ordering changes to the military’s moving policy in August, decreeing it would no longer pay for retiring Canadian Forces members to move to a new residence in the same city, with exceptions for sick and disabled soldiers.

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But the documents show the practice of using their retirement move to switch residences in the same city was much more widespread than previously known.

“The red light should have been flashing all over the place,” says retired military colonel Michel Drapeau. He argues the fact that so many military personnel were taking advantage of this policy says something about the culture within the Armed Forces.

“It comes across to me as a sweetheart deal. I mean, if you’re in the military you could do this. But let’s not talk about it, let’s not publicize it, let’s not discuss it out there. When my time comes I want to take advantage of it. That’s what it means to me.”

NDP Defence Critic Jack Harris says the military has its spending priorities wrong.   “That money could be used to compensate the in excess of 150 people who are desperately trying to get compensated for their loss of home equity as they were forced to move by the policies of the military.”

To find out just how often the military has been paying for same-city retirement moves, Global News requested the moving records of all Lieutenant-Colonels, Majors and Master Warrant Officers for the past five years.

Ottawa was the most popular location for same-city moves. Four hundred and sixty-six Canadian Forces members switched locations in the nation’s capital and environs, accounting for almost half of all the moving expenses ($5.5 million). The next most popular location for same-city moves was Kingston, Ont. (68) followed by Victoria (50), Gatineau, Que. (41) and Edmonton (32).

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The majority of Canadian Forces members who were changing locations in the same-city/region managed to do it pretty cheaply. The vast majority of the moves, 779 to be exact, cost less than $10,000. But there were some pretty pricey moves as well. Three of them cost between $50,000 and $60,000. Nineteen same-city moves ended up with bills between $40,000 and $50,000. And 56 were in the $30,000 to $40,000 range.

The average cost for same-city moves increased by rank. On average, Master Warrant Officers received $9,285.38, Majors received $10,572.64 and Lieutenant-Colonels received $11,317.43.

“Nobody was prepared to look at [it] from an ethical perspective if nothing else,” says Drapeau. “Never mind the legal, the financial, the ethical perspective: Is that a fair burden to place upon the Canadian taxpayer.”

A spokesperson for Defence Minister Rob Nicholson says these costs show the government’s decision to restrict this entitlement was justified.   “The Intended Place of Residence policy is meant to help Forces’ members when they retire – but using this privilege to move within a close proximity is not in the spirit of the program,” Johanna Quinney told Global News.

“The abuses of this program were clearly not defensible to taxpayers and this is why we have restricted eligibility to only those moving more than 40 kilometres.  These new policy changes strike the right balance between fair compensation and respect for those who pay the bill.”