OUT­DOOR WORLD: THE FLIES THAT BIND

The News (New Glasgow) - - FRONT PAGE - BY ALY THOM­SON

Newly re­leased doc­u­ments of­fer a glimpse into how high-level govern­ment of­fi­cials grap­pled to re­spond to the rev­e­la­tion that Veter­ans Af­fairs was fund­ing the PTSD treat­ment of a Hal­i­fax man con­victed of killing an off-duty po­lice of­fi­cer.

Emails ob­tained by The Cana­dian Press through Ac­cess to In­for­ma­tion and Pri­vacy leg­is­la­tion re­veal a slew of peo­ple within the Veter­ans Af­fairs of­fice — in­clud­ing the deputy min­is­ter, pol­icy an­a­lysts and com­mu­ni­ca­tions of­fi­cers — were in­volved in shap­ing the mes­sage that was re­layed to me­dia about Christo­pher Garnier’s ben­e­fits.

The news came out dur­ing Garnier’s sen­tenc­ing hear­ing for the sec­ond-de­gree mur­der of Stel­lar­ton’s Cather­ine Camp­bell — a Truro po­lice of­fi­cer. The court heard Veter­ans Af­fairs was cov­er­ing the cost of his psy­chol­o­gist be­cause his fa­ther is a vet­eran who has also been di­ag­nosed with post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der.

Within the hun­dreds of pages of emails de­lib­er­at­ing how to re­spond to the in­un­da­tion of me­dia in­quiries, of­fi­cials dis­cussed per­ti­nent pol­icy and what mes­sages would “sup­port the ra­tio­nale for in­clud­ing fam­ily mem­bers in a veter­ans treat­ment plan.”

Trevor Ni­chol­son, a se­nior pol­icy an­a­lyst with Veter­ans Af­fairs, out­lined for sev­eral of his col­leagues how the depart­ment’s men­tal health pol­icy func­tions.

“Who may be in­cluded in a vet­eran’s treat­ment plan or re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion plan ... is at the dis­cre­tion of the de­ci­sion-maker based on the rec­om­men­da­tion of the veter­ans treat­ing health pro­fes­sional, and in con­sul­ta­tion with the veter­ans,” said Ni­chol­son in an Aug. 28 email. “(Veter­ans Af­fairs Canada) may in­clude fam­ily in treat­ment ses­sions with the vet­eran pa­tient and/or pro­vide ses­sion to fam­ily mem­bers on their own in order to ad­dress the im­pacts that the pa­tients’ men­tal health con­di­tion is hav­ing on the other mem­bers of the fam­ily unit.”

In an email to nine of her col­leagues the next day, Veter­ans Af­fairs of­fi­cial San­dra Wil­liamson wrote that “it must be made clear that the full range of ben­e­fits and ser­vices of­fers to veter­ans is NOT of­fered to fam­ily mem­bers.”

Mary Ni­chol­son, di­rec­tor of health care and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pro­grams for Veter­ans Af­fairs, agreed with Wil­liamson’s ap­proach.

“I’m sure it’s part of your mes­sag­ing but also im­por­tant to note that fam­ily mem­bers were only ever granted ac­cess to rec­og­nize the im­por­tant part they play in sup­port­ing ill or in­jured veter­ans — part of the well-be­ing frame­work,” she wrote in an email on Aug. 29.

In a state­ment to The Cana­dian Press about the Garnier case, Veter­ans Af­fairs said com­mu­ni­ca­tions lines are de­vel­oped and re­viewed reg­u­larly as part of a daily work process.

“It is part of nor­mal busi­ness pro­cesses to con­nect to dif­fer­ent ar­eas of the depart­ment to en­sure that mes­sag­ing ac­cu­rately re­flects depart­ment pol­icy and ac­tiv­ity,” spokesman Mar­tin Mag­nan said in an email.

In Septem­ber, the Trudeau govern­ment or­dered of­fi­cials to adopt a more crit­i­cal eye be­fore ap­prov­ing funds and ser­vices for the fam­ily mem­ber of veter­ans — par­tic­u­larly rel­a­tives con­victed of se­ri­ous crimes.

Veter­ans Af­fairs Min­is­ter Sea­mus O’Re­gan told the House of Com­mons that ben­e­fits would in the fu­ture not be pro­vided to a vet­eran’s fam­ily mem­ber who is in­car­cer­ated in a fed­eral fa­cil­ity.

But when it came to Garnier’s ben­e­fits, O’Re­gan re­peat­edly cited pri­vacy con­sid­er­a­tions for re­fus­ing to dis­cuss the case while in­di­cat­ing the order would not be retroac­tive.

The fed­eral govern­ment was also ap­par­ently flooded with let­ters from the pub­lic, as widespread out­rage mounted over Garnier’s re­ceipt of fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance for a men­tal con­di­tion that was brought on by the mur­der.

In an Aug. 30 email to sev­eral other Vet­eran Af­fairs of­fi­cials, Anick Bedard wrote that O’Re­gan was re­ceiv­ing a “large num­ber of emails” re­act­ing to the news.

In re­sponse to one let­ter, Nova Sco­tia Lib­eral MP Sean Fraser con­ceded that his ini­tial re­ac­tion was one of dis­be­lief.

“It was dif­fi­cult at the out­set to un­der­stand how some­one who suf­fers from PTSD as a re­sult of a mur­der they com­mit­ted should be el­i­gi­ble for health ben­e­fits from Vet­eran Af­fairs Canada,” Fraser wrote on Aug. 30 in an email at­tached to the file. “De­spite my first re­ac­tion, I want to be ex­tremely care­ful about how pol­icy may de­velop in re­sponse to the ex­tra­or­di­nary facts of this case. The sys­tem that pro­vides med­i­cal cov­er­age to veter­ans and their fam­i­lies is a good one, and a po­lit­i­cal knee-jerk re­ac­tion to this case has the po­ten­tial to deny cov­er­age to veter­ans and their fam­ily mem­bers who need it, which I don’t be­lieve is a re­sult that any­one wants.”

Garnier — who stran­gled the 36-year-old woman and used a com­post bin to dis­pose of her body — is ap­peal­ing his sec­ond­de­gree mur­der con­vic­tion and sen­tence.

The con­vic­tion car­ries an au­to­matic life sen­tence, but a Nova Sco­tia Supreme Court jus­tice ruled in Au­gust that Garnier would be able to ap­ply for pa­role af­ter serv­ing 13 and a half years — less 699 days for time served.

Dur­ing his trial, Garnier re­peat­edly told the jury he did not re­mem­ber us­ing the large green com­post bin to dis­pose of the body near a har­bour bridge, where it stayed un­de­tected for nearly five days.

Garnier had also ar­gued that Camp­bell died ac­ci­den­tally dur­ing rough sex that she ini­ti­ated af­ter they met at a down­town bar ear­lier that evening.

CP PHOTO

Hal­i­fax’s Christo­pher Garnier was con­victed of sec­ond-de­gree mur­der in the death of off-duty Truro po­lice of­fi­cer and Stel­lar­ton na­tive Cather­ine Camp­bell in Septem­ber 2015.

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