A prominent, long-standing member of the country's Veterans Review and Appeal Board had his privacy violated twice in an alleged smear campaign meant to discredit him using his private medical information as ammunition, The Canadian Press has learned.
The behind-the-scenes fight involving Harold Leduc has been so bad and so vicious that the Canadian Human Rights Commission quietly ordered the veterans board to pay the decorated, former warrant officer $4,000, including legal costs, for harassment he'd suffered from other agency members.
Leduc, who spent 22 years in the military, claims he was a target for gossip, innuendo and intimidation because he often sided with veterans in his review decisions.
It is the latest, and potentially the most wide-ranging, in a series of privacy breaches, which the Conservative government claimed was cleaned up at the department that oversees the care of ex-soldiers and RCMP.
In late 2010 following the privacy scandal involving advocate Sean Bruyea, the government said it instituted tighter controls over the personal information of veterans and who had access to files.
'I'm very embarrassed about my service-related disabilities and I don't think that's anybody's business, but mine. I was just shocked and devastated.' —Veterans Review and Appeal Board member Harold Leduc
Yet, in the spring of 2011, an investigation report, which included Leduc's personal information and examined the toxic in-fighting at the independent agency, was released un-censored following an access to information request.
"I am writing to notify you of a privacy breach that resulted in the improper disclosure of personal information," said a July 6, 2011 letter to Leduc from the access co-ordinator of the veterans board, who apologized and described the incident as a clerical error.
Earlier privacy breach
Two years previously, the deputy chair of the board acknowledged in another letter, that Leduc had been the victim of a more serious breach, where over 40 officials accessed his file that included medical information. Some of the officials were from veterans affairs, others included those who oversaw the review and appeal board.
"I was devastated because it was a huge breach of trust that they can't go back on," Leduc said in an interview with The Canadian Press. "I'm very embarrassed about my service-related disabilities and I don't think that's anybody's business, but mine. I was just shocked and devastated."
Board chairman John Larlee declined a request for an interview, but spokeswomen for both the agency and the veterans affairs minister released statements in response to a series of questions posed by The Canadian Press.
Both Danielle Gauthier and Codi Taylor said safeguarding privacy has been of the utmost concern.
"When a privacy breach occurs, we take immediate steps to address it, including corrective actions and disciplinary measures where appropriate," Gauthier wrote in an email Friday.
Neither of them would address Leduc's circumstance, citing privacy concerns. They declined to explain how his privacy could have been violated twice — or what measures were taken in response.
"Minister Steven Blaney believes that any violation of our Veterans privacy is totally unacceptable," Taylor wrote in an email.
"Our government took action over a year ago to ensure disciplinary measures for those who violate the law. Our government wants to ensure that the privacy of all veterans remains protected which is why Minister Blaney instructed departmental officials to look at how the Privacy Action Plan could be updated."
Taylor would not explain what new measures might be introduced — or when.
The Canadian Press has obtained a series of documents, emails and findings, which stretch back almost four years and paint a picture of a 24-member board that has become a viper's nest of intrigue, division, and petty vendettas.
The board is the place veterans can turn to if they're unhappy with the decisions of department bureaucrats. Two member review panels and three member appeal panels adjudicate their grievances. If one member says "yes," the decision must go in favour of the veteran, regardless of how other members feel.
"I was told — I think as far back as January 2007 — directly by one of my colleagues, who said: 'A bunch of us are keeping an eye on you because we've been told you have certain conditions and so, we think you are biased,'" Leduc said.
He was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder following over two decades of service in the military. And it was the conversations with other board members that prompted him to begin asking questions of officials about his privacy.