EXETER, ONT. -- The Royal Canadian Legion, the national institution founded by veterans for veterans, has commenced a legal battle with a Canadian insurance giant.

The 625 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.

The legions, led by the Victory Branch in London, Ont., argue they have been denied an insurance claim for loss of business income in a debate over the policy’s language.

The treasurer of Victory Branch, Brian Harris, who also serves in the higher office of Vice-President of Ontario Command, says 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.”

Harris points to the Victory Branch’s ongoing bottle drive just to pay basic bills.

“The public help from the bottle drive has been fantastic and we’re so grateful to all the Londoners.”

But the bottle money only sustains one legion, for now, when they have all been impacted.

Harris says 625 branches in every province, except for B.C., believed they had insurance coverage to get them through the early days of the crisis.

According to Harris, at the start of the pandemic, the 625 branches held "loss of business use" policies with AVIVA.

The law firm filing the claim against the insurance company, Lerners Lawyers of London, contends those polices were valid for 30 days of business loss of income.

Lawyer Kevin Ross says the policies were “triggered” by the government order for legions to shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Harris says 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 tells CTV News is related to wording.

In a clause of the AVIVA policy included in the court claim, it is stated the policy covers an interruption of business including “an outbreak of a contagious or infectious disease that is required by law to be reported to government authorities.”

Ross says it’s that language that is in question.

“The insurance is denying coverage on the basis that they do not feel that a pandemic is the equivalent to an outbreak,” Ross explains.

The denial, Harris says, has left the 625 legions on the brink of financial ruin seeking compensation.

“If things don’t change very quickly there will be branches that will not open again because of this pandemic.”

Ross believes the overall situation, including the denial by AVIVA, has left the legion with “no choice, out of economic necessity, but to bring a claim to seek compensation.”

The suit seeks $20 million but Ross and Harris acknowledge it would take time to determine how much business was lost, over the 30-day period, for each of the 625 legions.

Still, for Harris, what’s at stake is bigger than the legions, or the dollar figure.

“The legion really is the heart of the community. When you hurt the legion, you’re not only hurting veterans and their dependants, you’re hurting all the other community groups that we support.”

CTV News reached out to AVIVA Insurance for comment, and received the following reply from Janis McCulloch, a public relations specialist with the company.

“Because this matter is in litigation, it wouldn’t be appropriate to comment publicly.”

The allegations in the statement of claim has not yet been tested in court and the class-action lawsuit needs to be certified by the courts.