09/21/2018 11:44 EDT | Updated 09/21/2018 12:01 EDT

Trudeau: Tories Playing Politics On Veterans Affairs Support For Convicted Killer

Christopher Garnier, convicted of killing an off-duty police officer, has received PTSD treatment.

Adrian Wyld/CP
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rises during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Sept. 20, 2018.

OTTAWA — Tensions boiled over in the House of Commons Thursday over Veterans Affairs Canada's decision to pay for the PTSD treatment of a Halifax man who murdered an off-duty police officer.

The Conservatives made the case a key focus of the day's question period, pressing the Trudeau government to halt payments.

Watch: Trudeau says "there is nothing the Conservatives will not stoop to"

Each side of the Commons claimed disgust with the language their political opponents were using, prompting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau early on to say he wouldn't answer a Conservative question about the case.

Trudeau defended the government's support to former service members and their family members who struggle with mental trauma before accusing the Conservatives of trying to "play politics with tragedies."

Conservative veterans affairs critic Phil McColeman told reporters outside the Commons that many Canadians were outraged that Christopher Garnier continued to receive Veterans Affairs benefits despite never serving in uniform.

"What we saw today is an outrage, that we cannot ask questions to this government as to why an individual who has never served a minute in the military qualifies for benefits, PTSD benefits, PTSD that he claimed in court were caused by the fact that he murdered (Campbell)," McColeman said.

'Cop killer'

"That's what he says is the reason for his PTSD. This prime minister defends that?"

A Halifax court heard last month that Garnier was seeing a private psychologist, with Veterans Affairs covering the cost because his father was a veteran who has also been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Garnier was convicted in December of murdering 36-year-old Catherine Campbell, an off-duty Truro police officer, and dumping her body in a compost bin. His lawyer has argued Garnier's mental illness was brought on by the murder.

The revelation that taxpayers were footing the bill for Garnier's treatment sparked widespread condemnation, and the government promised to look into how and why the decision was made.

"If a serving member is found guilty of murder and dishonourably discharged, that member and his or her family would lose all their benefits," Conservative MP John Brassard said.

"For the sake of all those who served honourably and continue to fight Veterans Affairs for the benefits they earned, will the prime minister commit today to stop paying the benefits of this cop killer?"

Andrew Vaughan/CP
Christopher Calvin Garnier attends a pre-trial hearing at Nova Scotia Supreme Court on Oct. 24, 2017.

Yet the government was no closer to providing any answers to the barrage of questions from Tory MPs demanding to know how the decision was made — and why the payments haven't been cancelled.

Veterans Affairs Minister Seamus O'Regan said he was still waiting for officials to explain how Garnier received federal support for his PTSD treatment before expressing frustration at repeated Conservative questions.

"Out of respect for the family of Constable Campbell, can we simply let this debate rest for now?" he said.

"I have asked my officials to review the decision. I have asked them to get back to me. Can we please let it rest there?"

Garnier's conviction carries an automatic life sentence, but a Nova Scotia Supreme Court justice ruled last month that he would be able to apply for parole after serving 13 and a half years — less 699 days for time served.

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The Halifax man has since appealed his sentence, calling it "manifestly excessive." He had also earlier appealed his conviction, in part because he says police interview tactics elicited a false confession.

During Garnier's trial, the jury heard he met Campbell for the first time at a downtown Halifax bar on Sept. 11, 2015. Hours later, she was dead in a north-end apartment.

In his decision regarding parole, Arnold said Campbell was expecting romance and affection that night, but "for reasons unknown, Mr. Garnier punched her in the face, broke her nose, strangled her to death, and then, in an effort to hide his crime, treated her remains like garbage."

Garnier repeatedly told the jury he did not remember using a large green compost bin to dispose of the woman's body near a Halifax bridge, where it stayed undetected for nearly five days.