A group of aging war veterans living in Montreal is declaring victory.
A multimillion-dollar settlement agreement has been reached in a class-action lawsuit that saw retired Canadian Forces soldiers living at Ste. Anne’s Hospital sue the federal and provincial governments. The veterans had claimed that the quality of care at Ste. Anne’s had diminished when the facility was transferred from federal to provincial control in 2016.
The lead plaintiff on the suit was Wolf Solkin, who fought for Canada on European soil in the Second World War. Solkin learned of the settlement just days before he died at 97 years old.
“That was really something. He said, ‘Lou, we won!'” Solkin’s wife Louise Langlois-Solkin recounted to Global News.
Solkin had been living at Ste Anne’s since 2013, and spoke out repeatedly about how the quality of care had declined significantly after the transfer.
“One of the few things we have left to us is our dignity and our pride, and that dignity is being chipped away at,” he told Global News in 2018.
In early 2019, he became the lead plaintiff on the case. It targeted the provincial and federal governments, as well as the West Island health authority (CIUSSS).
“I would like to see the day our proper level of care is restored along with our dignity as veterans and Canadians,” Solkin said in 2019.
His health declined in 2020, but in his final days, he declared victory. Both levels of government agreed to a settlement that would pay out $19 million to veterans or their families. The agreement also stipulated that care must improve for the approximately 85 veterans left at Ste Anne’s.
Langlois-Solkin was at Solkin’s side when he got the news from his lawyer.
“For a week before, he was very sick. But at this time, he was full of energy,” she recounted.
“He was obviously extremely emotional. He broke down, actually,” said Laurent Kanemy, Solkin’s lawyer. “He said, ‘I’m so happy.’ He said, ‘You don’t know that for me, that’s the best thing that could ever happen to me at this point.‘”
Kanemy said negotiations with the different levels of government ensured certain “safeguards” were agreed to, with the goal of improving care for Second World War and Korean War veterans living at Ste. Anne’s.
“There’s a section which deals specifically with the ongoing care and changes that have been put into the agreement that are to be implemented. Some of them have already been implemented,” Kanemy said.
Provincial and federal authorities both expressed satisfaction with the agreement.
“While the settlement agreement still requires final approval by the court, Veterans Affairs Canada is very pleased that this matter is being resolved with what we believe to be a fair settlement,” Veterans Affairs Canada said in a statement.
“We are satisfied with the out of court settlement. It is an agreement that is in the interest of all different parties in the case,” said Helene Bergeron-Gamache, a spokesperson for the West Island CIUSSS.
Solkin’s wife said his main concern was improving the quality of care for other veterans. To him, the money to be paid out was secondary.
“They will have the best care, the thing that he didn’t have for so many years. He wanted this for the veterans,” Langlois-Solkin said.
She said Solkin barely had the strength to sign the agreement. He signed on Feb. 1 and died on Feb 3.
“That’s what he was waiting for,” she said, explaining that she felt he let go after he knew the settlement was secured.
The deal still needs to be approved by a judge on April 22. Kanemy does not foresee any major hiccups at that hearing. Per Solkin’s wishes, the agreement was posted on the Veterans’ Affairs website.