Two days before his death in early February, longtime veterans’ advocate Wolf William Solkin received the call he had been waiting for.
Lawyer Laurent Kanemy reached him at Ste. Anne’s Hospital, in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, to tell him of a “big victory” in the cause Solkin had dedicated the later stages of his life to.
A $19-million settlement agreement had been reached in a class-action suit against the federal and provincial governments over care provided to veterans at the hospital — a fight Solkin had spearheaded years earlier.
“There was about a minute-long lull on the phone when he was just overwhelmed with emotion,” Kanemy said this week, recalling the conversation. “As he had told me many times, he saw this as his last battle.”
Solkin, a Second World War veteran, died two days after hearing the news and just over a week short of his 98th birthday. The settlement still needs to be approved by a judge but Kanemy hopes the lead plaintiff in the case found comfort in knowing his fight was not in vain.
“He basically made this thing happen and it breaks my heart that he won’t see the judge signing off on it,” Kanemy said. “But it’s still mission accomplished for him.”
Solkin had moved into the veterans’ hospital after breaking a hip in 2013 and soon started advocating on behalf of other veterans there.
After the federal government transferred control of the hospital to the provincial government in 2016, Solkin spoke out about staff reductions and the negative impact the change had on residents. Using his iPad to advocate for his cause, he wrote letters and opinion pieces from his hospital bed.
That fight eventually morphed into what became the class-action suit.
Filed in 2018 and approved the next year, the suit argued the two governments and the local health authority failed to respect aspects of the transfer contract, including the obligation to maintain the same level of care and services that were provided before.
It sought compensation for about 166 veterans, all from the Second World War or Korean War, who lived at the hospital at the time of the transfer, or for their families if they had since died.
The case was scheduled to be heard last November but the parties came to a settlement agreement instead. If approved by a judge, the $19 million will be split among the 84 remaining veterans at the hospital and the deceased’s families.
As part of the agreement, the local health authority involved in the suit, the West Island CIUSSS, has also committed to improving care for the remaining veterans and promoting military culture within the hospital.
In an interview with the Montreal Gazette in 2018, Solkin had said he believed the lawsuit was a matter of respect for seniors who had served their country. The average age of the veterans living at the hospital is 94.
“We’re not here because we’re spry, we’re here because we’re frail and failing,” Solkin said at the time. “We’re here to die, not live. But we should die in our own good time, with proper care and attention. With the dignity we are due.”
Kanemy has been speaking with other veterans’ families since the settlement agreement was reached. He believes they share the same sentiment.
“They felt like collateral damage,” he said. “The lawsuit was always about reestablishing their dignity and getting the government to live up to what they had promised.”
In an email response, the West Island CIUSSS said it’s satisfied with the settlement, noting it’s in the interest of all parties.
“The conclusion of this episode now allows us to deepen our ties and focus on the future and the care and services offered to veterans,” a spokesperson wrote. “We are committed to maintaining an open dialogue at all times with veterans and their families.”
Obituary: Wolf Solkin fought for veterans' rights to the end