Letter to MND: Potential inequities with respect to entitlement benefits for search and rescue

12 January 2016

The Hon. Harjit S. Sajjan, PC, OMM, MSM, CD, MP
Minister of National Defence
National Defence Headquarters
Major-General George R. Pearkes Building
13th Floor, North Tower
101 Colonel By Drive
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0K2


Dear Minister Sajjan,

I would like to draw your attention to the possibility of pro-actively addressing potential inequities with respect to entitlement to benefits faced by CAF members who are injured in the course of providing search and rescue (SAR) services.

As you are aware, the Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-establishment and Compensation Act (the Act), more commonly referred to as the New Veterans Charter, provides greater death and disability benefits for Canadian Armed Forces members who sustain injury while serving in an area or an operation that has been designated by the Minister as special duty service. The designation of Special Duty Area (SDA) or Special Duty Operation (SDO) recognizes that risks encountered during some forms of peacetime service are similar to those experienced during wartime.

In order for the Minister to designate special duty service, certain conditions must be satisfied. Firstly, the member must have been or will be deployed as part of the operation. Secondly, the service must be listed in section 71 of the Act and, finally, the Minister must be of the opinion that the deployment has or may expose members to conditions of elevated risk (defined as higher than normally associated with peacetime service). Paragraph 71(1)(f) of the Act includes search and rescue operations among those that can be designated as special duty service.

Domestic search and rescue operations are inherently dangerous and expose Search and Rescue (SAR) crews to levels of risk far exceeding that which would normally be encountered by the average CAF member during peacetime. SAR crews are routinely asked to function in extremely hazardous geographic and weather conditions, often at night, in high stress situations where even the smallest error in judgement can result in loss of life and/or equipment. They perform lifesaving operations often at the risk of their own personal safety.  Additionally, the cumulative effect of this line of military service can have more insidious negative health implications for SAR crews and technicians.

The statistics published in the annual reports of the Director of Flight Safety demonstrate that there is a disproportionate rate of serious injuries for SAR crews compared to other Canadian Forces units.  CAF SAR coordinates roughly ten thousand incidents each year, using military aircraft in over one thousand cases. Their service saves more than one thousand lives each year.

Despite a demonstrably elevated risk to this line of military service, SAR operations have not been formally designated as SDO. The unfortunate consequence is that SAR crew who become injured/ill are disadvantaged when compared to those who are injured/ill on deployment to a designated SDA/SDO. The differences are minor if the injury/illness is clearly service related. However, if the injury/illness is not clearly service related, then the process to receive benefits can become long and protracted as the member tries to prove the service relationship. CAF members whose injury/illness is diagnosed while serving in a SDA/SDO do not face this challenge.

I appreciate that there are some complexities involved in designating search and rescue operations as a SDO on a continuous basis. However, not doing so sets up a situation where members, whose primary focus is search and rescue, find themselves disadvantaged compared to members who serve in a designated SDA/SDO. By taking action within the authority of your office, SAR personnel will receive the same level of benefits as other CAF personnel exposed to elevated risk.

Your action in this regard could address this potential unfairness. I am available to discuss this matter further at your convenience.



Gary Walbourne


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