Russell Williams clings to his pension

With a court date looming, serial killer Russell Williams fights to maintain his military retirement benefits.

Fred Thornhill/Reuters

Fred Thornhill/Reuters

Russell Williams’s military pension is believed to be worth roughly $60,000 a year, which means the killer ex-colonel has received nearly a quarter-million dollars worth of retirement benefits since his career in uniform came to a shocking end in 2010. At the penitentiary canteen, there is nothing he can’t afford.

But, four years after Williams was sentenced to life behind bars—and four years after the Canadian Forces confirmed that his pension is irrevocable, regardless of his sadistic crimes—Ontario’s highest court is about to weigh in on the former commander’s controversial retirement plan. And Williams, now locked in a solitary cell in rural Quebec, is fighting back against the one victim seeking a piece of his generous pension.

Laurie Massicotte, a neighbour who was ambushed in her living room and sexually assaulted less than two months before Williams committed his first murder, wants to amend a lawsuit she originally launched in 2011 to include a new allegation: that the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act, which shields military pensions from court actions, violates her Charter rights because it deprives her of potential compensation. Simply put, Massicotte says a woman who endured what she did on Sept. 30, 2009, should have every legal right to pursue her attacker’s pension. The serial predator who climbed through her window doesn’t think so.

In written arguments filed in advance of a Nov. 3 Court of Appeal hearing, Williams says Massicotte’s proposed pension amendment is “premature and hypothetical” because she hasn’t won her lawsuit, let alone been awarded damages. If she does eventually win her case—and if Williams fails to pay the dollar figure specified by a judge—then she “might be in a position” to ask the courts to declare the pension regime unconstitutional, Williams argues. But even then, he claims, the target of such an action should be the federal government, not him.

“Such redress can only be claimed against the attorney general for Canada,” reads Williams’s 12-page factum, submitted by his Ottawa lawyer, Pasquale Santini. The Superannuation Act is “legislation passed by the federal government for the benefit of all Canadians and not just David Russell Williams,” it continues. “David Russell Williams had no input or involvement in the passage of this legislation and has no input or involvement with its continued application.”

In other words, it wasn’t Williams who decided that pensions should be immune from court-awarded damages and, if Massicotte wants to challenge the constitutionality of that system, a lawsuit against him is not the proper place to do it.
Like most Canadian pension laws, the military’s legislation clearly states that benefits are “exempt from attachment, seizure and execution,” meaning they can’t be cancelled by government or targeted by court claims. As outrageous as that may seem when the plan member is a depraved killer, the law is rooted in reasonable public policy: that pensions are designed to protect the basic financial security of retirees, and should therefore be off-limits to creditors.

Rare exceptions do exist. Pension earnings can be awarded to ex-spouses in divorce proceedings, for example, or diverted to cover unpaid child support. “The problem, however, is that there are no further exemptions,” says Kerri Froc, a lawyer and Ph.D. candidate at Queen’s University who specializes in women’s constitutional rights. “What of a case, like Williams, where the pension-holder intentionally inflicts physical and psychological damage? The kind of injuries experienced by sexual assault survivors are such that it may have an impact on their income-earning potential. They may also require funds for treatment and, in any event, they have a right to be made whole, so far as a judgment can do that. Why should their need to recoup those losses be treated as less deserving than a rapist’s need for his pension?”

That is not the question facing Ontario’s Court of Appeal. (Not yet, anyway.) At this point, the high court is only being asked to rule on a very technical issue: Should Massicotte be allowed to expand her lawsuit to claim, come trial, that the military’s pension plan breaches her Charter rights to life, liberty and security? A judgment in her favour would not grant her automatic access to Williams’s pension, but it would put those benefits in jeopardy for the first time—setting up an intriguing constitutional challenge that just might succeed.

“I do think it’s time that we take a hard look at why we would want to maintain barriers to sexually assaulted women being able to obtain some degree of justice and recovery from their perpetrators,” Froc says.

As first reported by Maclean’s in August, Williams reached an out-of-court settlement with the plaintiffs in two other civil lawsuits: “Jane Doe,” the victim of his first home-invasion sexual assault; and the family of Jessica Lloyd, whose abduction and horrific murder left behind the clues that ultimately led to Williams’s arrest. Whether he offered to settle with Massicotte is not clear. (Santini, his lawyer, declined an interview request.)

What is certain is that Williams wants Massicotte to pay his legal bill for next month’s hearing. As his factum concludes, he wants her appeal dismissed “with costs.”


Russell Williams clings to his pension

  1. Re: Russell Williams clings to his Pension”:

    I find it mind boggling that our Government would continue to pay pensions to anyone who has committed and been convicted of such heinous crimes and has been sentenced to life in prison. He, and others like him, should forfeit all rights to pensions and incomes once they have been convicted.

    Taxpayers are already paying substantially to keep that animal in prison and in solitary at an extra cost. At the very least he should have to use his $60,000 per annum to pay for his “Room and Board”. Those people have it too easy and we should take a lesson from Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona.

    • However, you leave out the possibility of how modifying the pension regulations would adversely affect others with children and/or spouse. I don’t believe Williams had children, but that’s not the point. Changing the legislation would definitely have far-reaching affect for other offenders in the same position. As posted by another, suing for a portion of his income would be a more practical route. After all, regardless of Williams’ character, he’s still entitled to whatever pension amount because of income earned.

  2. I’d kinda like to know how he’s collecting his pension.
    He didn’t have 25 years in to collect immediately.
    He isn’t 55 yet so he still can’t collect.
    Does anyone know if his wife signed off on her portion of his pension (which is required by law)?
    Those small questions aside; his pension is income (whether he collects it now or later).
    Why cannot the victim just sue for a portion of his income, rather than having to go the route of getting his pension?
    May be a fine point but why make it harder for her?

  3. I think this is somewhat of a moot point since he is in jail, he cannot use his pension money anyway. He won’t be eligible for it until he is released and if he never is released then he will never see a penny of his pension anyway.

    • The article opens by saying he has already collected more than a quarter million in “retirement benefits” since 2010. He may not be able to walk to the mall and buy stuff, but he sure as hell can use that money while in jail. To pay lawyers for his civil suits, for example.

  4. Don’t see why a commissioned member of the Canadian Armed Forces; who dishonored the Military and everyone around him should be given anything! Especially if found guilty of such a heinous crime. If this was a non commissioned member they would be left with nothing!

  5. There is no requirement to change legislation – it is a “one off” – I am sure an executive order in council or some similar government complicated method will solve this and cancel any pension benefits.

    There will have to be a return of contributions – so give that to his wife or the victims.

    Deal is done.

    However I am sure some legal beagle will find a way to make my idea sound like a bad one.

    All it takes is the gonads to make the decision and then to tell any lawyers to Eff Off. And that can be done as well should the government decide to grow a back bone.

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