Saturday, 6 Mar 2021

‘We’ve been stripped of our rights and our dignity’: Canadian WW2 veteran on why he wants to sue government for $30 million

A group of Montreal war veterans wants to sue the government for $30 million. The group is led by 95-year-old Wolf William Solkin, who fought on the front lines for Canada in World War 2 and has lived at Ste. Anne’s Hospital in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue since 2012.

“I’m angry. We’ve been stripped of our rights and our dignity, and I’m just fed up enough to fight,” Solkin told Global News Wednesday.

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Two years ago, he says, things changed for the worse. In 2016, the veterans’ hospital was transferred from the federal government to the Quebec government. Solkin says it was then that the quality of care began to drop.

“They had a culture of care. Now, it’s turned into a culture of, ‘I don’t care,” Solkin said.

The union representing workers at the hospital says the transfer came with a 40 per cent salary cut for many staff members.

“Workers had a really big reduction of salary,” said Fanny Demontigny of SCFP branch 2881. “Forty per cent of workers left when the transfer was done.”

“To replace that many of your staff is an impossibility,” Solkin said. “They’ve been struggling to that ever since and they have never been able to do it.”

The veteran believes the staff cuts nearly cost him his life one time. When the hospital was run by Canada, he said, he used to have a urologist come visit him every month to change his permanent catheter. After the transfer, he said the urologist would only come once every three months, and he developed a serious infection that found him rushed to the ER.

“I was really on the brink,” he said, adding that the number of head nurses has gone from one per floor to one per three floors.

Now, he’s had enough. Through his lawyer, Solkin has filed a demand to certify a class action lawsuit. The lawsuit says that during the transfer, there was a pledge to maintain the current level of service.

“They said that the service quality being provided to veterans at Ste. Anne Hospital would be maintained after the transfer to provincial authorities,” Solkin’s lawyer Laurent Kanemy told Global News. Now they’re going after the province, veterans affairs and the local health authority for $30 million. It’s money they said should have helped maintain care for all veterans at Ste. Anne’s Hospital.

“Seeing what’s happened to my fellow veterans, especially those who are more helpless and hapless than I, has fired me up to come to their defense,” Solkin told Global News. He said many veterans are either unable to speak, or afraid to speak out of fear of reprisals.

The 95-year-old is well aware he may not live to see the lawsuit resolved, but he says it’s not about him. Solkin thinks of all his fellow veterans, including his best friend Bill O’Donnell, who died in battle over a half century ago, and who may have been subjected to the same treatment had he survived the war.

“He’s worth fighting for, and so is every one of the guys around here,” he said through tears.

Veterans Affairs Canada and the West Island CIUSSS both said they would not comment on the lawsuit because it’s before the courts, but in email statements both spoke of their commitment to veterans.

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