Canada’s Minister of Veterans Affairs has announced he will review how and why his department decided to foot the bill for the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) treatments of a convicted murderer who never served as member of the Canadian Forces, but whose father did.
Seamus O’Regan announced the decision in a tweet on Wednesday evening.
“While I completely understand people’s frustration with this story, these supports for family members are not new — they’ve been in place for many years,” he wrote.
“I will be looking into how and why this decision was made.”
Last year Christopher Garnier, 30, was convicted of second-degree murder in the strangling death of off-duty police officer Catherine Campbell, 36.
Campbell’s body was found in September 2015 underneath the Macdonald Bridge in Halifax.
At his parole eligibility hearing, Garnier’s lawyer filed documents arguing he was suffering from PTSD as a result of Campbell’s death.
Testimony from an expert during the hearing revealed that the treatment is being covered by Veterans Affairs Canada, the federal department that is responsible for benefits and services provided to veterans, as a result of his father’s status as a veteran.
The court heard Vince Garnier, who had served in the Canadian Forces also suffers from PTSD and that getting treatment for his son helps both of them.
Dr. Alexandra Heber, chief of psychiatry for Veterans Affairs Canada, said that she could not speak to the specifics of Christopher Garnier’s case due to privacy issues but said that it is not uncommon for the family members of veterans to receive treatment paid for by Veterans Affairs Canada.
“The goal is always in the service of the veteran’s care,” Heber told Global News, with the decision being made on a case-by-case basis.
In a statement provided on Tuesday, Veterans Affairs Canada said access to counselling or other services for the family members of a veteran can be provided when it’s determined that those services will help the veteran in their rehabilitation.
“When a man or woman serves in Canada’s armed forces or the RCMP, their whole family serves with them. That is why the government of Canada has made it a priority to not only improve benefits and services for our nation’s veterans, but for their families as well,” the statement read.
Heber said that as health-care providers, Veterans Affairs does not take a criminal conviction into account when deciding what services to provide.
“If we have a veteran who is a client of ours and who commits a crime and is convicted, do we stop providing care for them? No, of course we don’t. The same principle would apply,” she said.
Veterans Affairs says that approximately 130,000 of the 700,000 veterans in Canada are their clients.
Politicians and veterans’ advocates have criticized the decision by Veterans Affairs.
Nova Scotia’s interim Progressive Conservative leader has issued a statement saying she’s “outraged” by the federal department’s decision to help Garnier.
Karla MacFarlane says it’s a “slap in the face” to veterans who have served the country, adding that Garnier’s case should be handled by the federal Justice Department and not Veterans Affairs.
Federal Conservatives have also voiced opposition to Veterans Affairs’ decision.
“This is an absolute travesty as far as I’m concerned,” federal Conservative shadow critic Phil McColeman said Wednesday.
He called on Veterans Affairs Minister Seamus O’Regan to “please step in now and address this outrage,” while another Conservative MP, Erin O’Toole, called the department’s help for Christopher Garnier an “outrage of the highest order.”
McColeman said while he can only speculate about what went into the decision, he wonders want kind of scrutiny was applied in this case.
“I want him (O’Regan) to intervene,” said McColeman.
“In many cases that I’ve dealt with representing veterans from my own riding over the years, there’s discretion that’s often used at the upper management levels of Veterans Affairs,” he said. “Whatever happened I think the minister owes us an explanation.”
Colin Saunders, a retired sergeant in the Canadian Armed Forces, told Global News on Tuesday that he was outraged with the decision.
“How is it that veterans are waiting a year or a year-plus to get treatment, some of whom who never do, but we have a guy who has committed murder and is now getting treatment on behalf of Veteran Affairs.”
During his trial, Garnier repeatedly told the jury he did not remember using a large green compost bin to dispose of the body near the bridge, where it stayed undetected for nearly five days.
The 30-year-old was also sentenced to serve a concurrent four-year sentence for performing an indignity to human remains as a result of his actions.
He had met Campbell for the first time that night at a downtown Halifax bar, and hours later she was dead in a north end apartment.
“On Sept. 11, 2015, as shown on the surveillance video from the Alehouse, Catherine Campbell was expecting romance and affection on the evening she was murdered. She was vulnerable,” said Justice Joshua Arnold in his decision.
“For reasons unknown, Mr. Garnier punched her in the face, broke her nose, strangled her to death, and then, in an effort to hide his crime, treated her remains like garbage.”
Earlier this month, a Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge decided Garnier would be able to apply for parole after serving 13.5 years — less 699 days for time already served.
Garnier is appealing his conviction.
With files from The Canadian Press