Serial killer Russell Williams will keep his military pension—for now

Ontario’s highest court bars Laurie Massicotte from pursuing Williams’s pension as part of a multimillion-dollar lawsuit
Colonel Russell Williams (C) former Commander of Canadian Forces Base Trenton is escorted from the Belleville courthouse, October 18, 2010. Williams, 46 was arrested on Feb. 9 and charged with the murder of two women, one of them a soldier at his base in Trenton, Ontario. Fred Thornhill/Reuters
Fred Thornhill/Reuters
Fred Thornhill/Reuters

Killer ex-colonel Russell Williams is going to keep his military pension—for now, at least.

In a judgment released today, Ontario’s highest court ruled that Laurie Massicotte—a Tweed, Ont., woman who was ambushed in her living room and sexually assaulted just weeks before the disgraced air force officer committed his first murder—should not be allowed to pursue Williams’s pension as part of a multi-million-dollar lawsuit she first filed in 2011. Simply put, the Court of Appeal ruled that any legal arguments about the serial predator’s retirement benefits are “premature” because Massicotte has yet to win her case or be awarded damages.

If her lawsuit is ultimately successful—and Williams fails to pay the dollar figure determined by a judge—then the pension could be back in play, the court concluded.

What should happen to Williams’s pension, believed be worth $60,000 a year, has been a controversial question since the day he confessed to a sadistic crime spree that shocked the country: two horrific murders, two home-invasion sexual assaults, and dozens of fetish break-ins targeting female underwear. Like most pension plans, the one bound by the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act specifically states that benefits are “exempt from attachment, seizure and execution,” which means they can’t be revoked by the government or awarded to plaintiffs. It doesn’t matter that the recipient is a serial predator who violated every core value the military stands for; he contributed to the pension plan for more than two decades, so the money is his.

Now serving a life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years, the former commander of CFB Trenton was also the target of three civil lawsuits: one launched by “Jane Doe,” his first sexual assault victim; one by Massicotte; and another by the family of Jessica Lloyd, who was kidnapped from her home in Belleville, Ont., and murdered inside Williams’s nearby cottage in Tweed. All three lawsuits also named the former colonel’s wife, Mary Elizabeth Harriman, alleging that she acquired her husband’s half of their $700,000 Ottawa home in a “fraudulent” post-arrest deal designed to shield his assets from the very type of civil litigation he ended up facing. (Unlike the other two, Massicotte’s lawsuit also seeks damages from the Ontario government for the alleged “negligence” of the provincial police force, which she claims should have done more to warn her neighbourhood that a potential predator was on the loose.)

As Maclean’s first reported in August, Williams reached an out-of-court financial settlement in two of the cases (Jane Doe and the Lloyd family) and both actions were simultaneously dismissed against his wife. But Massicotte’s $7-million suit remains active—and, in recent months, her lawyers have requested major amendments to her original statement of claim. Specifically, Massicotte asked to alter her lawsuit to allege that Section 83 of the CF Superannuation Act violates her Charter rights to life, liberty and security because it deprives her of potential compensation for the “physical and psychological losses” she endured.

In April, Justice Martin James refused to allow the proposed amendment, ruling that a constitutional challenge would only “complicate and lengthen” a case that is already more than two years old. When Massicotte appealed the ruling, Williams fought back—arguing that he “had no input or involvement in the passage” of legislation that protect pensions from lawsuits, and if Massicotte wants to challenge the constitutionality of that system, she would need to sue the federal government, not him.

In the end, Ontario’s top court sided with Williams.

“We see no basis to interfere with the motion judge’s conclusion,” said Justice C. William Hourigan, speaking for the unanimous three-judge panel. “Declaratory relief should have been sought against the federal government, not against Mr. Williams and should therefore not be permitted. Further, in our opinion, the proposed amendments are premature. The issue of whether Mr. Williams’s pension is exigible does not arise until after the final determination of issues as currently pleaded.”

What happens next is not clear. Williams’s lawyer, Pasquale Santini, declined to speak to reporters after the hearing, and Massicotte’s lawyer, Philip Healey, said little more. “There are different things that could happen next,” he said, “but I don’t want to comment on that.” When asked how his client is holding up, Healey responded: “She has, of course, been through a lot, and she is doing the very best she can.”