Members of the Canadian Armed Forces are shown at Residence Yvon-Brunet, a long-term care home in Montreal, Saturday, May 16, 2020. Members of the Canadian Armed Forces working inside long-term care homes could find themselves testifying about the state of those facilities in relation to lawsuits against the institutions. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Members of the Canadian Armed Forces are shown at Residence Yvon-Brunet, a long-term care home in Montreal, Saturday, May 16, 2020. Members of the Canadian Armed Forces working inside long-term care homes could find themselves testifying about the state of those facilities in relation to lawsuits against the institutions. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Troops could be called to testify in lawsuits against long-term care homes

Damning military reports said troops found cases of abuse and negligence in the homes

Members of the Canadian Armed Forces working inside long-term care homes could find themselves testifying about the state of those facilities in relation to lawsuits against the institutions.

The unusual scenario follows the deployment of hundreds of service members in April and May to more than two-dozen nursing homes in Ontario and Quebec hit hard by COVID-19.

Damning military reports later said the troops found cases of abuse and negligence in the homes, including bug infestations, aggressive feeding of residents that caused choking, bleeding infections and residents left crying for help for hours.

Stephen Birman and Lucy Jackson of Toronto law firm Thomson Rogers are leading a proposed $20-million class-action lawsuit brought against the Altamonte Care Community on behalf of the Toronto home’s residents and their families.

The lawsuit against Altamonte and its parent company, Sienna Senior Living Inc., alleges negligence and breach of duty over a lack of proper protocols and training as well as severe understaffing and a lack of proper equipment before and during the pandemic.

It is one of several court actions brought against long-term care facilities since COVID-19 first hit in earnest in March, ravaging many homes across the country. Nursing home residents and staff account for the vast majority of COVID-19 deaths in Canada.

READ MORE: 36 soldiers test positive for COVID-19 after working in Ontario, Quebec care homes

Birman and Jackson say the troops’ firsthand observations could be critical in proving their clients’ claims against the home, particularly as lockdowns imposed since March have made it difficult to impossible for residents’ families to get into the facility.

“The military is in a position to provide very helpful evidence,” Birman told The Canadian Press.

“They came in as a third party, as an objective observer, and they saw and identified a horrendous and shocking situation that may never have come to the forefront to the extent that it has if not for their involvement.”

The military report on Altamonte includes allegations most residents did not get receive their medication or proper meals and many had been left in bed for long periods without being moved or washed. There were also concerns about staff shortages and training.

Similar observations were made about the other four Ontario facilities, including bug infestations, aggressive feeding of residents and residents being left crying for hours The Quebec report was less critical, but did raise concerns about staff shortages.

None of the allegations in the reports or the proposed lawsuit, which was filed on June 1, have been proven in court.

Birman and Jackson are now collecting information to bolster their case for getting the lawsuit certified as a class action, which involves talking to as many residents, family members, staff as well as military personnel as possible.

READ MORE: Federal aid for care home systems needed ahead of second wave, advocates say

Military spokeswoman Lt. Stephany Lura said military personnel had the same obligation to report to their commanders whatever observations they had while working in the long-term care facilities, as they would with any other mission.

“Like any other Canadian, CAF members may be called upon as witnesses,” she added. “This situation is no different. Our members will receive all necessary support from the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces should it be needed.”

While inviting service members to reach out to them, Birman and Jackson suggested service members could also be compelled to provide eyewitness accounts and other information through affidavits and other procedures.

“I would think everybody who’s involved in this important matter would want to hear from the military when this matter makes its way to the courts,” Birman said. “We will do everything we can to gather their evidence so it forms part of the record in this case.”

The military had more than 1,000 service members in 15 long-term care facilities in Quebec and almost 500 in five homes in Ontario last week.

While officials confirmed Sunday that operations at one of those Ontario homes, Orchard Villa in Pickering, had ended, the military appeared poised to deploy into another home in the city of Vaughan, north of Toronto.

“We can confirm that CAF is onsite at Woodbridge Vista today to do an onsite assessment,” said Gillian Sloggett, spokeswoman for Ontario Minister of Long-term Care Merrilee Fullerton.

“We are grateful for CAF’s continued support and we will have more news to share about next steps in the coming days.”

Talks around the continued provision of service members to long-term care facilities in Quebec until September are underway between Ottawa and the provincial government.

— With files from Allison Jones and Salmaan Farooqui in Toronto.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Canadian Armed ForcesCoronavirusSeniors

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Sipili Molia, regional kettle manager, shows off the Salvation Army’s new contactless donation system for the 2020 Christmas Kettle Campaign outside municipal hall on Dec. 1. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
VIDEO: Tech offers hope as Salvation Army sees need skyrocket across B.C.

Charity is equipping hundreds of kettles across B.C. with ‘touchless giving technology’

Kathy MacNeil, president and chief executive officer of Island Health, Dawn Thomas, acting deputy health minister and Island Health’s vice president, Indigenous health and diversity and Chief Don Tom of Tsartlip First Nation, stand out Saanich Peninsula Hospital Tuesday morning, when they also answered questions about a new report that “widespread systemic racism against Indigenous people” in the provincial health care system. (Island Health/Submitted)
Head of Island Health says Saanich Peninsula Hospital not part of racist guessing game

Tsartlip First Nations Chief Don Tom welcomes changes following report but promises future scrutiny

Caroline Sousa, Bela Spick and her son Mateo marched along Prospect Lake Road in November 2019 to bring attention to the unsafe conditions on the road. (Black Press Media file photo)
Saanich reduces Prospect Lake Road speed limit to 30 km/h

New speed limit in effect as of Dec. 1 from Goward Road to Estelline Road

The Capital Regional District and the Habitat Acquisition Fund have agreed to partner on the purchase of the $3.4-million Mountain View Forest in Saanich to establish a new regional park. (Photo courtesy the Habitat Acquisition Trust)
CRD, Habitat Acquisition Trust to spend $3.4M on 20-hectare forest park in Saanich

Mountian Road Forest property to be conserved as regional park

Teagan Hunt (Grade 12) and Aiden Grew (Grade 11) are the 2020 winners of Lambrick Park’s annual Queen & King of the Hill demanding race up Mount Doug’s Churchill Drive. (Photo courtesy of Tom Turnbull)
Lambrick King of the Hill wins Cedar Hill time trial

Aiden Grew sets course record for gruelling King of the Hill run

A tongue-in-cheek message about wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 on a sign outside a church near Royal Columbia Hospital, in New Westminster, B.C., on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection count climbs back up to 656

20 more people in hospital, active cases still rising

Dave Wallace coached the Parksville Royals for 23 years. (PQB News file photo)
B.C. baseball community mourns death of legendary Vancouver Island coach Dave Wallace

‘All who knew Dave and his passion for the game will miss him greatly’

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
B.C. researchers launch study to test kids, young adults for COVID-19 antibodies

Kids and youth can often be asymptomatic carriers of the novel coronavirus

A sign is seen this past summer outside the Yunesit’in Government office west of Williams Lake reminding visitors and members to stay safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Rebecca Dyok photo)
B.C. First Nation leaders await privacy commissioner decision on COVID-19 information

Release of life-saving data cannot wait, says coalition of First Nations

MLA Jennifer Whiteside is B.C.’s new minister of education. She is speaking out against Chilliwack school trustee Barry Neufeld and asking him to resign. (Black Press)
New education minister calls on Chilliwack trustee to resign

Whiteside echoes former minister’s promise to look at options to remove Barry Neufeld

Peter Beckett. ~ File photo
Supreme Court of Canada to decide if it will hear appeal in 2010 wife murder trial

Peter Beckett has stood trial twice for murder in connection with the death of his wife, Laura Letts-Beckett

Tabor Home in Abbotsford. (Ben Lypka/Abbotsford News)
B.C.’s largest COVID-19 care-home outbreak records 19 deaths, 147 cases

Tabor Home in Abbotsford has been battling outbreak since Nov. 4

Most Read