Veterans activist, government reach settlement of $25,000 libel suit

Veterans activist, government reach settlement of $25,000 libel suit

TORONTO — A noted veterans activist has settled his $25,000 defamation lawsuit against former minister of veterans affairs Seamus O’Reagan after a two-year battle, the parties said on Wednesday.

Details of the agreement between Sean Bruyea and the Department of Justice were confidential.

In an interview, Bruyea said he had accomplished his goals, which were to make governments think twice before personally attacking someone or using complex legal manoeuvres against ordinary people.

“Everything was done to make me give up, but I didn’t,” Bruyea said. “Government didn’t just go after me and attack my credibility, they actually attacked the credibility of the facts. This was a bit of a war on facts. I found that the most deeply disturbing part of the whole battle.”

Despite the settlement, he said an apology would be welcome.

“I would like an apology to follow this from the government to all veterans for having put a chill on the public debate on veterans issues,” Bruyea said.

A spokesman for O’Regan, currently natural resources minister, said the Liberal minister would have no comment beyond a joint statement issued by the parties.

“In reaching this settlement, the defendants do not admit any liability or wrongdoing,” they said. “Canadians, especially all veterans and their families, are encouraged to enter the public debate about policies and programs that affect our veterans and their families.”

Bruyea, of Ottawa, sued O’Regan in small claims court over an article in the Hill Times on Feb. 26, 2018. In the column, the then-veterans affairs minister took aim at Bruyea for criticizing a Liberal government decision to give vets with service-related injuries the choice of a lump-sum payment or life-time pension.

Among other things, O’Regan accused Bruyea of deliberately lying about the program to “serve some dishonest personal agenda.”

The disabled former Air Force intelligence captain sued O’Regan and the attorney general for maximum damages allowed in small claims court, a division of the Superior Court of Justice.

At the request of O’Regan and the government, a deputy judge initially threw out the suit before trial based on Ontario’s “anti-SLAPP” legislation. The law bars suits aimed at stifling legitimate free speech. The deputy judge ruled the public interest in dismissing the action without a hearing on its merits outweighed a potential trial.

However, Ontario’s top court quashed the ruling after concluding in a precedent-setting decision that deputy judges cannot hear such a dismissal motion and ordered a hearing on the merits of Bruyea’s claim.

“It would have been nice to put the minister on the stand but I think government wanted to settle to avoid that,” Bruyea said.

A crowdfunding drive raised $7,000 for his defence and other donors also helped, he said.

Bruyea had also won an out-of-court settlement in 2010 over attempts to discredit his public advocacy on behalf of disabled veterans and their families. His case sparked controversy when it was revealed that government bureaucrats had distributed his private medical and financial information to hundreds of government officials, members of Parliament, ministers, and the Prime Minister’s Office.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on June 10, 2020.

Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press

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