Thousands of members of Canadian Armed Forces owed millions of dollars in back pay
Over a 16 year period, members deployed on international naval operations overseas did not receive some of the benefits they were entitled.
Jim Embanks, a 25-year veteran of the Royal Canadian Navy, didn’t know he was entitled to extra compensation for his time served until Friday, when he read it in an online newsletter from the Department of Defence.
“This is the first I’ve heard of it,” said Embanks. “I was totally astounded, yep!”
Canadians serving aboard ships are entitled to certain financial benefits.
The Sea Duty Allowance – or SDA – is compensation for living in the confines of a ship.
The Hardship Allowance – or HA – is compensation for duties while in an active operation.
Embanks, who served aboard the HMCS Charlottetown during the 2011 Libyan Crisis, experienced the pay error that the defence departments say they are now correcting for all members who served in international waters for the past 16 years.
“When we went into the theatre, they would have to stop the sea duty allowance that day, they’d give us the hardship allowance, or we commonly called it, foreign duty allowance," said Embanks.
When the ship left the conflict zone for even a short period of time, the hardship allowance was taken away, and sea duty allowance was reinstated.
The Department of Defence now admits it didn’t have the power to do that, and members were entitled to both, which is exactly what an external military grievance committee ruled twice in the past nine years.
“So if TB was saying that there was no problem, TB being the treasury board, they’re saying there was no problem to pay both, then the chief of defence staff did not have the authority to restrict it,” said Christine Guerette with the Military Grievances External Review Committee.
In a statement from a DND spokesperson, they said: “A tremendous amount of work is ongoing to identify the affected members and to calculate the money owed.”
They go on to say: “When errors or omissions are made in policy, we do our best to fix those errors, and do all we can to assure that our members are treated fairly through that process.”
The department says it doesn’t know exactly how many members are affected, but that it involves up to 20,000 individual deployments, at an estimated cost of $10,000,000.
Figuring out who gets how much, could take up to five years to complete.
“Do I think they should get the sea duty allowance? Of course!” said Embanks.
However, there is one catch. While those serving since July 23, 2003 are entitled to compensation, the department has had the rules changed.
Anyone serving after August 1 of this year will only be able to receive one benefit at a time.
Independent Defence Analyst, Ken Hansen, says this could create a problem when it comes to recruitment and retention for the Canadian Armed Forces, especially in technical areas where there is already a shortage of members.
This, because some members will be receiving back pay for not receiving both allowances, while those who start after August 1 this year, will only be allowed one at a time.
With files from CTV Atlantic’s Heidi Petracek