Veterans Affairs says there is no evidence that the former paralympian was offered assisted death

He found nothing in the files of Veterans Affairs to indicate that at the time of the death of a former military member — a paralympic athlete — medical attention was offered by a department employee by a departmental worker, the department’s deputy secretary of state told a House of Commons committee on Monday.

Paul Ledwell told the veterans affairs committee that it reviewed more than 400,000 individual files as part of the department’s internal investigation into whether veterans were offered—or pressured to accept—assisted deaths.

Christine Gauthier, a former member of the Canadian military and a former paralympic athlete with a serious spinal cord injury, shocked lawmakers on the committee last week when she said the Department of Veterans Affairs had offered her the opportunity to die with medical assistance.

Ledwell said the department was privately reviewing the case file in response to Gauthier’s statement.

“There is no indication in the files, in any memo, in any correspondence based on an interview with a veteran that referred to MAID,” Ledwell told the veterans affairs committee.

“If there is veteran’s material, if there is any indication of it, we welcome you to review it and make it part of our investigation, as we have invited other veterans.”

Gauthier, who competed for Canada at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Paralympic Games and the Invictus Games that same year, spoke before the same committee last Thursday. He testified, mostly in French, that the veterans department offered help to die and wrote registered letters to both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Veterans Affairs Minister MacAulay about it.

The committee requested a copy of their information. In a subsequent media interview, Gauthier said that the proposal for medically assisted death was made verbally in a 2019 interview with a Veterans Affairs employee. He said he made a note of it in his personal files.

He told CBC News on Monday that he was shocked to hear the department’s refusal. He made a copy of a letter in which he expressed his concerns and added that he would wait for it to be placed in the department file.

“Do I believe them when they say they have no evidence in their files? No,” he said.

In preparation for his deposition last week, he said he noted how the department only accepted four suspected cases of Veterans Affairs personnel who recommended MAID. He said to himself, “There are more than four.”

Lawrence MacAulay, Minister of Veterans Affairs and Assistant Secretary of National Defense, was elected to the House of Commons on November 18, 2022. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

MacAulay told the committee last month that an internal investigation found that a department employee was believed to have improperly counseled four veterans about the possibility of ending their lives with the help of a doctor. The matter has been turned over to the RCMP for further investigation.

The minister took that line before the committee on Monday, saying the ministry is still aware of only four cases. He urged other former military members, including Gauthier, who may have been similarly pressured, to contact the department directly so they can be included in the ongoing investigation.

“I made it clear that there were four cases involving a case manager. Absolutely unacceptable, absolutely unacceptable,” MacAulay said. “Veterans Affairs does not provide SERVICE service in any way.”

Gauthier said that his letter to the prime minister was accepted and sent a similar letter to MacAulay.

But on Monday, the minister publicly denied having heard anything from him about medical-assisted death.

“First of all, there is a sign that I have received information that someone has written to me and that this SERVICE has been interviewed … This is not the case,” MacAulay said.

Gauthier said he had been struggling with the department for five years to get a wheelchair ramp or lift, adding that he still had the postal receipts confirming the delivery.

MacAulay was asked about the disconnect between Gauthier’s statement and his own. “I can only deal with the facts I have,” he replied.

Conservative lawmaker and committee vice chairman Blake Richards said he was anecdotally aware of eight separate complaints from veterans. He said some of these veterans were reluctant to trust the department because of their treatment in the past.

“You were aware of this case in July 2021, [and] Richards clearly didn’t pay attention to that to MacAulay during the minister’s committee appearance,” he said. “You keep telling us there are four. We know there are more than four, and no doubt.”

After the committee meeting, Richards said any veteran who watched the testimony would be “incredibly disappointed”.

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