The privacy watchdog is looking at whether a Veterans Affairs investigation of a breach of privacy actually involved another breach of privacy.

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The federal government apologized to Sean Bruyea in 2010 for illegally circulating his private medical information in briefing notes. The Gulf War veteran is an outspoken critic of the veterans affairs department. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The department hired an outside contractor, Amprax Inc., to look at how personal information about veterans advocate Sean Bruyea ended up in a ministerial briefing note in 2006.

Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddard ruled in 2010 that the leak violated the law, but Amprax issued a report which cleared bureaucrats in the case.

In the course of that investigation, however, Bruyea says Amprax was given access to as many as 4,000 documents on him during its investigation.

Bruyea also claims that as many as 24 people – deemed by the commissioner the first time around to have had no business looking at the information – were also shown records they had no reason to see.

Things have now come full circle, with Stoddard investigating the investigation.

"Rest assured that the issue of privacy of veterans is a top priority for our office," said a May 29 letter to Bruyea, obtained by The Canadian Press.

Privacy commissioner audit underway

In response to the original case involving the former military intelligence officer-turned-advocate, the commissioner has been conducting an overarching audit of Veterans Affairs Canada, which has been accused by other outspoken ex-soldiers of messing with their files.

Veterans groups have said a judicial inquiry is the only way to clear the air and restore confidence among ex-soldiers when it comes to the handling of their files.

The Conservatives have said the Amprax report had no influence on the government's decisions to strengthen privacy protection at the veterans department.

A spokeswoman for Steven Blaney, the minister in charge, repeated the statement Monday and insisted that despite the controversy, the department is committed to safeguarding personal data.

"Our government is committed to protecting the private information of our veterans," Codi Taylor said in a statement.

"Because of this strong commitment, Minister Blaney has instructed his departmental officials to fully co-operate with the Privacy Commissioner during her investigation."