Veterans' privacy breaches prompt call for inquiry
NDP veterans affairs critic Peter Stoffer is calling for a public inquiry into breaches of privacy with the medical information of former military members.
Harold Leduc — a prominent, long-standing member of the country's Veterans Review and Appeal Board — had his privacy violated twice in an alleged smear campaign, The Canadian Press revealed last week.
Leduc, who spent 22 years in the military, claimed he was a target for gossip, innuendo and intimidation because he often sided with veterans in his review decisions.
His private medical information was used as ammunition.
Dennis Manuge, a veteran from Musquodoboit Harbour, N.S., told CBC News he believed his privacy had also been violated in the process of suing the federal government over veterans' pensions. He filed an Access to Information request on the suggestion of his lawyers.
"I had over 1,000 hits to my file," Manuge said Monday.
"When I saw Harold Leduc's story break in the media, there was almost validation because all of us are outspoken and all of us have been targeted."
Manuge said he and several others have complained to the federal privacy commissioner, asking her to forward the issue to the RCMP for a criminal investigation.
"It's not about the money, it's about the trust. I thought we lived in a democracy and I thought that's why I signed up — to ensure that our freedoms were protected," he said.
In Leduc's case, the Canadian Human Rights Commission ordered the veterans board to pay him $4,000 for harassment he had suffered from other agency members.
Jean-Christophe de le Rue, a spokesman for Minister of Veterans Affairs Steven Blaney, said in an email that the federal government considers privacy its utmost concern.
"Minister Steven Blaney believes that any violation of our veterans privacy is totally unacceptable. Our government took action over a year ago to ensure disciplinary measures for those who violate the law," he wrote.
"Our government wants to ensure that the privacy of all veterans remains protected."
Stoffer said he doubts that.
"First of all have an inquiry into it and open it up," he told reporters.
"The privacy commissioner said these individuals broke the law. Usually if you break the law, you are either fired from your job, jailed or imprisoned, or fined. None of that happened to anybody."
Stoffer said he believes Leduc's and Manuge's cases are the tip of the iceberg.
"There is no question that the department officials within that Department of Veterans Affairs used sensitive personal information to denigrate the applicant or the person who is applying for the benefit," he said.
"That's why they did it so when it finally came to the final appeal, they say, 'Well, you know, that guy is not all normal or whatever; just ignore him and it will go away.' No. Using personal medical information and psychiatric information was wrong."
With files from The Canadian Press