The head of the agency handling the compensation claims of residential school survivors says he was the person recently contacted by a "disgruntled" individual claiming to have obtained the personal information of those who have applied for compensation due to abuse suffered in residential schools.

In a letter sent to NDP MP Charlie Angus dated April 4, Dan Shapiro, the chief adjudicator at the Indian Residential Schools Adjudication Secretariat, says he was contacted on March 12 by an individual claiming to have information relating to claims made by residential school survivors.

This is the same individual who in 2012 made a similar claim. The agency investigated the claim at the time and concluded no breach had occurred.

"I was unexpectedly contacted by phone, by the same individual saying, again, that he may have information related to Independent Assessment Process claims obtained from the home of an adjudicator," Shapiro said.

A chronology of events as outlined by Dan Shapiro in his letter to Charlie Angus:

March 12: Dan Shapiro, the chief adjudicator at the Indian Residential Schools Adjudication Secretariat, received a call from a 'disgruntled' individual claiming to have information related to residential school survivors

Shapiro said that same individual later recanted, but it is not clear when the individual did so.

March 14: The agency contacted security at the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada.

March 14:  On the same day, lawyers at the agency contacted the police.

March 24: 10 days later, the agency informs the Office of the Privacy Commissioner.

March 26: The police provide lawyers at the agency with information, "none of which shed light on whether the individual may have any... information," Shapiro said.

The individual has since recanted his claim saying he did not actually have any information related to the claims of residential school survivors, Shapiro said.

"He has also indicated that he is disgruntled with the adjudicator and is motivated to see the adjudicator removed from the job," Shapiro said.

In his letter to Angus, Shapiro said the agency has "at no time received credible evidence that the individual does in fact have any confidential information."

"Rather, what we have received are unsupported statements from a disgruntled individual who has admitted his motivation to harm the adjudicator," said Shapiro.

CBC News reported on March 27 that the Office of the Privacy Commissioner was asked to look into a possible breach of privacy, after an adjudicator working for the agency handling their compensation claims filed a police report citing blackmail.

Shapiro said that while the agency itself has not filed a police report, it has made "a request to the Chief of Police that the matter be investigated."

It is not known in what city the incident occurred. A spokesperson for Shapiro told CBC News on Wednesday the agency did not want to comment on its discussions with police and that it did not see the usefulness in releasing such information at this time.

The latest details of this case come after Angus wrote to Shapiro on March 27 asking him to make public the details of the incident.

"I was pleased to receive a timely and thorough response," Angus told CBC News in an email on Wednesday.

The agency takes the privacy of claimants "very seriously," Shapiro said.

The adjudicators who are under contract for the agency, according to Shapiro, are provided with security training and must adhere to strict security requirements such as:

  • The use of encrypted computers and encrypted USB keys.
  • The use of encrypted tape recorders to record hearings.
  • Ensuring that all documents and digital files are stored and transported in accordance with measures designed to ensure that personal information is not released, even in the event of a theft or loss of equipment.

Secretariat investigates possible security breach

While the "disgruntled" individual has since recanted his claim, Shapiro posted a notice on the Secretariat web site on Tuesday to inform claimants that the agency continues to investigate a possible security breach.

"We are still looking into the matter, and are not in a position yet to confirm whether any information was stolen," Shapiro said in the notice posted on the agency's web site.

Shapiro said his agency has reported the matter to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner and is working closely with the privacy watchdog to determine the next steps.

"We have also been in touch with the police about the possible theft of information from the Secretariat, however we have no evidence at this time that anything has been stolen," Shapiro said.

"As we gather more information about the possible breach and determine whether any personal data was compromised, we will decide on an appropriate course of action in close consultation with the privacy commissioner."

"We sincerely regret any anxiety or concerns this matter may cause to claimants," Shapiro said.