The federal government has apologized to Sean Bruyea, a Canadian Gulf War veteran and Veterans Affairs critic whose sensitive personal and medical information was illegally shared by officials in the department.


Veteran Sean Bruyea wants an inquiry into how his confidential medical and personal information ended up in the hands of numerous government officials. ((CBC))

It comes after the federal privacy commissioner found Veterans Affairs officials broke the law by including Bruyea's medical and psychological diagnosis and treatment in ministerial briefing notes and also sharing it with a veterans' hospital.

In an interview with CBC News on Monday from Ottawa, Bruyea said he and his wife broke down in tears when they first heard about the apology.

"It's been quite a trying five years, so for us, it means a lot," Bruyea said.

In a statement, Veterans Affairs Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn also said the government is immediately launching an "expedited mediation procedure" to resolve Bruyea's legal case against the government and several departmental officials.

"I was very troubled to learn that personal information concerning you was shared among public servants who had no need for this information in order to do their work," Blackburn said in his statement.

"I recognize that this information sharing has caused you needless suffering and anxiety, and for that the government and I are truly sorry."

The minister also acknowledged for the first time that other veterans might have been subjected to similar privacy breaches.

"I also extend my sincere regrets to anyone who may have gone through the same situation," Blackburn said.

Bruyea started a $400,000 court action after learning through access-to-information requests he filed that his privacy rights were breached.

But he insisted the lawsuit was not about the money, but his way of trying to fix the system "so it doesn't happen to any other veteran or any Canadian, for that matter."

"I'm very grateful for the apology and I don't want anything to distract from that, but we cannot trust that the bureaucrats who did this wrongdoing will fix it themselves," Bruyea said.

From Gulf War vet to Veterans Charter critic

The decorated former intelligence officer fought for years for modest monthly disability pension from Veterans Affairs after being medically released from the military in 1996 with symptoms of Gulf War syndrome and post-traumatic stress disorder.

He became an outspoken critic of the 2006 Veterans Charter's replacement of life-time guaranteed pensions for veterans with a one-time lump-sum payment.

Privacy commissioner Jennifer Stoddart found that Bruyea's personal information ended up in March 2006 briefing notes of the former minister in charge, Greg Thompson, while his medical information, including diagnosis, symptoms and prognosis, were also found in a second ministerial briefing note dating back to 2005 under the former Liberal government and then minister.

In her report released earlier this month, Stoddart said she found it "alarming" that Bruyea's information was shared "seemingly with no controls" among departmental officials "who had no legitimate need to see it."

Bruyea said the actions of department officials left him and his wife in a "humiliating state of powerlessness and vulnerability" and in "constant terror" of what the department, which controlled 100 per cent of his income at the time, would do next.

Blackburn, who got the Veterans Affairs portfolio eight months ago after Thompson left politics, has pledged to act on Stoddart's recommendations and vowed to increase penalties for bureaucrats who break the rules.