OTTAWA – The case of a former civilian defence employee, left as a paraplegic by a horrific military transport crash in the Arctic, has been dismissed by a Federal Court judge.
Bob Thomson, whose 1991 ordeal was made into a movie over 20 years ago, had pleaded with Veterans Affairs and its appeal body to be treated on par with those in uniform.
Justice Denis Gascon, in a written decision last week, said the former manager made some valid, compelling points, but until Parliament changes the law, Thomson remains ineligible for the same benefits as military survivors of the same crash.
“For the reasons that follow, while I sympathize with Mr. Thomson and his dramatic circumstances, I must dismiss the application,” Gascon wrote in an Aug. 18 decision, released online Friday.
“I acknowledge that Mr. Thomson raises numerous valid concerns regarding the treatment of his claim for compensation when compared to the treatment received by members of the Canadian Forces in similar situations. However, this is something that only Parliament and the legislature, not this Court, can ultimately address.”
Thomson survived the Oct. 30, 1991 crash of C-130 Hercules in the Northwest Territories, but was left paralysed and after spending 30 hours exposed to the elements before rescue, he suffered multiple amputations because of frostbite.
The transport was on a resupply mission to Canadian Forces Station Alert when the aircraft struck a rocky outcrop on Ellsmere Island. The pilot was apparently flying by sight rather than instruments when the crash happened 16 kilometres short of the runway.
Four of the 18 people on board were killed.
The tragedy was made into a television movie two years later, titled “Ordeal in the Arctic”, based on the book Death and Deliverance. The film starred television actor Richard Chamberlain as the pilot, Capt. John Couch.
Carl Gannon, the national president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada’s Union of Veterans Affairs Employees, said it’s not only instance where the military is treated better than their civilian counterparts.
He pointed to the ongoing fight of RCMP members to have access to the veterans independence program, which provides housekeeping and other support to elderly and disabled ex-soldiers.
“It’s shameful,” said Gannon. “It is not the federal court or even VRAB (Veterans Review Appeal Board) that are at fault, it is Parliament. They must recognize the sacrifices Canadians make and adjust legislation accordingly but until this happens, we will continue to see these types of injustices.”
In the years after the crash, Thomson was compensated for his injuries under the Flying Accidents Compensation Regulations and awarded a pension by Veterans Affairs, but he denied entitlement to a stipend known as the Exceptional Incapacity Allowance, which is given to military members.
He represented himself before the Federal Court and argued that the veterans review board made a mistake in denying him the benefit and a clothing allowance because of the high degree of his disability.
Thomson, who managed retail outlets for the military, argued that civilians such as himself faced discrimination by not being on the same footing as military members involved in the same accident.
Gascon, in his ruling, noted that special allowances are not included under the flying accident guidelines and that as such there was no basis for discrimination.
The judge went out of his way to suggest it was something the government needed to address.
“Once again, I acknowledge that Mr. Thomson raises numerous valid concerns regarding the treatment of his claim for compensation when compared to the treatment received by members of the Canadian Forces in a similar situation,” Gascon concluded. “However, this is something that should be raised with Parliament and the legislature, as only them, and not this Court, can ultimately address those.”