Island Legions part of $20M lawsuit against insurance company

MANITOULIN – Both Royal Canadian Legion Branches on Manitoulin Island are part of a lawsuit involving 625 Legions across Canada who have filed against their insurance broker, contending they have been left in dire straits, directly related to the current COVID-19 pandemic. The Legions, led by the Victory Branch in London, argue they have been denied an insurance claim for loss of business income in a debate over the policy’s language.

“We’re pretty concerned about our current situation,” Carrie Lewis, president of Royal Canadian Legion (RCL) Branch 514, told the Recorder late last week. “There is very little assistance being provided by the government and we don’t qualify for support under the government’s rules and regulations.”

“And with the insurance we have we are not covered for things like flooding, locusts or the pandemic; if the pandemic isn’t a natural disaster, what is? You pay insurance and get excluded from getting insurance when you most need it,” said Ms. Lewis. 

“No, we didn’t qualify (with the Legion’s insurance company),” stated RCL 514 treasurer Leigh Major. He pointed out the Legion (and the RCL in Little Current) are both covered by Programmed Insurance Broker, with AVIVA as the carrier of the insurance.

“We need to be open,” said Ms. Lewis, who said that after the Legion executive meets this week she is hopeful that the Legion will be holding some fundraising events.

Cathy Morrison, secretary of RCL 177 Little Current acknowledged the Legion has insurance through PBI and Aviva. “We are hanging in there so far, our volunteers are doing a great job and have held fundraising events. The bills have to be paid, but with any luck the province will allow us to open our doors soon.”

Ruth Eadie, president of RCL 177 said, “we have been doing fundraisers like taco night and wing night and tomorrow (Canada Day) we will be holding a fish fry. I think we are making enough to pay the bills. I think we’re okay, we don’t have a lot of money, but enough to keep afloat. Maybe the government will give us some support, but we haven’t heard anything from them.”

“Oh yes, like every Legion we will be hit with difficulties. We have been fortunate our volunteers have been helping us to run the fundraisers. In the pandemic everyone has been willing to lend a hand,” said Ms. Eadie. “And the community has been wonderful in its support. I don’t think anyone wants to lose the Legion.” 

Royal Canadian Legion halls across the country have been closed for months due to COVID-19, and now a number of them are facing the prospect of never being able to reopen. With most ineligible for the host of federal aid programs being offered to help keep other businesses and charitable organizations afloat, hundreds of these facilities could be forced to shut their doors forever without federal intervention.

It is estimated that about 124 of the 1,381 RCL branches across Canada are likely to close permanently, and another 357 are facing financial hardship.

“We’re a 95-year-old organization. And in that 95 years, we have prided ourselves on being self-sufficient, we have not reached out for funding. But these are unprecedented times,” national executive director Steven Clark said in a statement recently.

The Royal Canadian Legion has written to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office twice, informing him of the gaps in the current federal aid offerings, and says they have yet to receive a response. 

A government source told CTV News a reason the Legions can’t get funding is because their programs are not directly related to the fight against COVID-19, though thousands of businesses have been able to access billions of federal aid dollars to make ends meet amid the pandemic.

Brian Harris, the treasurer of the Victory Branch (who also serves in the higher office of vice president of Ontario Command), told the Recorder, “both Legions, Branch 177 and Branch 514, are part of the 625 Legions who are suing the insurer for $20 million.” 

“Yes, absolutely. Even with their best efforts some legions provincially and across Canada won’t be able to afford to open their doors. It is the same for businesses in Canada, some won’t survive.”
CTV News reported that the Legion branches are involved in a $20 million class-action filing against AVIVA Insurance Company of Canada, which they say is directly related to the current pandemic.

Mr. Harris told CTV News what’s happening is wrong. “(The lawsuit) is a last resort. We have to remember legions are in a desperate situation right now, quite desperate.” 

The law firm filing the claim against the insurance company, Lerners Lawyers of London, contends the policies were valid for 30 days of business loss of income. Lawyer Kevin Ross told CTV News the policies were triggered by the government order for legions to shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mr. Harris told CTV News that soon after the closing he filled out the paperwork to file a claim on behalf of the Victory Branch. But he says he received a denial from the insurance company, which Ross told CTV News is related to wording.

Mr. Ross told CTV News the insurance company is denying coverage on the basis that they don’t feel that pandemic is the equivalent to an outbreak.

“When we are allowed to open, we hope people will continue to support the Legion,” said Ms. Lewis. She said the situation is not yet dire, “but if this goes on much longer we could have a big problem.”