14 November 2012

Veterans Affairs Needs Public Inquiry



St. John’s - Privacy breeches at Veterans Affairs have not been properly investigated, according to citizens’ group Our Duty, and it is calling for a full public inquiry.

This comes days after it was revealed that Minister Steven Blaney ordered a halt to an investigation by the Office of the Veterans Ombudsman shortly after Blaney took office.

“The federal government has been playing a shell-game with the truth,” said Our Duty President Jeff Rose-Martland, “It is time for an independent public inquiry.”

The issue first came to light 2 years ago with the Sean Bruyea affair. A veteran and advocate, Bruyea had his medical files pried into by the Minister’s office after he spoke out against the New Veterans Charter. But Bruyea was not the only person targeted. It also emerged that Sgt Tom Hoppe, a decorated veteran, and former Ombudsman Pat Stogran were also victimized by the Ministry. Deputy Minister Tinning was briefed on the medical records of Retired Forces Nurse Louise Bird prior to a meeting. Private medical information was used to bully Harold LeDuc of the Veterans’ Review and Appeal Board. The veteran behind the SISIP class-action suit against Veterans Affairs, Dennis Manuge, had his medical and financial records used in a Ministerial briefing. Sylvain Chartrand, advocate for reservists, had his records passed from VAC to National Defence.

“Enough is enough,” said Rose-Martland, “The Privacy Commissioner investigated, but could only report on non-compliance. The Ombudsman’s investigation was ordered by Minister Blackburn to look into why these breeches took place. Then came the election, Blackburn was replaced by Blaney, and suddenly the Privacy Commissioner is the one supposed to handle it. This is nothing more than a cover-up.”

Our Duty has been made aware of dozens of cases. “It appears to be standard procedure for VAC officials. As soon as a veteran speaks out, senior bureaucrats in the Ministry go digging into Service Delivery files,” said the citizen advocate, “That’s absolutely forbidden by the Privacy Act and by VAC policy. The Ministry and Service Delivery are supposed to be separate entities. If a veteran has a problem with Service Delivery, they have to appeal to the Deputy Minister to request a Ministerial review - the Minster is not permitted to act on his own. So why, exactly, can the Ministry pull those same files when a veteran criticizes them?”

“It gets worse,” Rose-Martland continued, “We have learned that family members of advocates have also been targeted. Why? Why would the Minister need to know what someone’s brother’s file says? He wouldn’t, not legitimately. The public needs to know what sort of games the Ministry is playing with peoples lives.”

Our Duty notes that Minister Blackburn had promised departmental officials would face severe sanctions for these acts, yet those officials received bonuses last year.

“We have inquiries stifled and cut off. We have threats and intimidation by Veterans Affairs. We have people who broke the law being rewarded. All on the taxpayer dime.”

“We want a full public inquiry into these matters,” said the Our Duty President, “The public needs to know exactly what has been happening in that Ministry: who is doing these things, who ordered it, and most importantly, why? What has this information been used for? And is this still going on?”

“This inquiry needs to have teeth. It needs to be able to investigate and to lay criminal charges. Most importantly, it needs to report back to the taxpayers, because we are the ones who will be paying damages.”


Jeff Rose-Martland