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Military family battles Harper government in Federal Court over moving losses

OTTAWA - A military family that took a $77,000 loss selling their Edmonton-area home because of a forced transfer is challenging the Conservative government in Federal Court.

Maj. Marcus Brauer is protesting a federal Treasury Board decision that denied him full compensation for lost equity under a long-standing Defence Department policy.

The resurrection of his case comes amid lingering questions about moving expenses claimed by military brass.

The government has yet to explain why it covered the nearly $40,000 bill to move a court-martialed and disgraced former brigadier-general to the United Arab Emirates. Nor has there been a public accounting of $47,000 in claims for three officers whose moves were listed as going from a spartan military camp in Afghanistan to Ottawa, Kingston, Ont., and Halifax.

Requests for comment or clarification were unanswered Tuesday.

The Harper Conservatives also remained silent Tuesday after two days' of political attacks on former lieutenant-general and star Liberal candidate Andrew Leslie's $72,000 moving bill.

Brauer said he could not comment on the expense claims of flag officers and noted that the nuts and bolts of moving outlays are handled under a separate benefits program.

But he did say he's been scrambling to make ends meet following a $77,000 equity hit in his move to Halifax, and has been appealing for donations to cover the estimated $20,000 needed to keep the Federal Court challenge going.

"The level of destitution we are going through is not acceptable for any family," he said Tuesday in an interview with The Canadian Press. "After 25 years of service I don't think I should have to go through this."

Military members almost never have a choice about when or where they are moved.

Reimbursement is supposed to be available when a transfer requires the soldier to sell a home in a depressed housing market, but the Defence Department and the Treasury Board disagree over the definition of market.

That has last left at least 146 military families with only a fraction of their losses covered, according to internal records released last year. In some cases, almost $100,000 has been lost because homes had to be sold quickly in conditions following the 2008 economic downturn.

The Treasury Board, which controls federal purse-strings, had been flexible in its interpretation of the market definition until about 2009 when it started cracking down and rejecting more applications, the documents show.

Military officials have been arguing for years without success for the policy to be changed. The chief of defence staff, the military grievance board and the Canadian Forces ombudsman have all said the Treasury Board position is unfair and unjust.

Brauer said a decision from the Federal Court is expected in the spring, but in the meantime he's been left fighting federal lawyers who've put up roadblocks to his request, under access-to-information legislation, for Treasury Board documents explaining the rationale for the rejection.

Depending on how the court rules, he said, he's considering a class-action lawsuit on behalf of the dozens of other families who've contacted him.

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