Author Topic: Veterans call for stiffer penalties  (Read 1512 times)

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Veterans call for stiffer penalties
« on: April 02, 2012, 11:40:41 PM »
Veterans call for stiffer penalties

Suspension with pay said not harsh enough for 54 staff implicated in health privacy breach.

Dateline: Monday, March 14, 2011

by Michael L Blais, CD

The case of Sean Bruyea may have come to an ignoble end this week. Jean Pierre Blackburn, Minister for Veterans Affairs, announced long awaited sanctions against those within his department deemed guilty of violating Canada's Privacy Act. At issue: thousands of unauthorized views of Veteran Bruyea's confidential VAC medical files

Last fall, the Minister apologized to Bruyea after the Privacy Commissioner's ruling that the department violated his medical privacy while looking for ways to discredit his opposition to the government's 2006 New Veterans' Charter. Among other concerns, the Charter replaces lifelong disability pension benefits with a one-time lump sum payment — a system that disabled vets say cuts their compensation by 40 percent.


Three senior Veterans Affairs bureaucrats cited in Bruyea's lawsuit were not dismissed, but have instead been promoted.

Worse, said Jennifer Stoddart's report, "The Office of the Privacy Commissioner has significant privacy concerns about the use of sensitive medical information within Veterans Affairs." The Commissioner found that confidential information was circulated at the highest bureaucratic and ministerial levels.

Prime Minister Harper and Minister Blackburn immediately condemned the privacy violations as unacceptable. The Harper Government subsequently, and with extraordinary alacrity it might be noted, streamlined an out-of-court settlement to compensate Bruyea for the manner in which his privacy rights were violated.

Minister Blackburn's theatrical performance at the time was impressive, including threats of dismissal and a vigorous campaign to ensure Canadians understood the government did not tolerate such behavior. He promised that justice would be served — to veterans whose confidence had been betrayed by the very ministry created to serve them when they were injured in the service of Canada and Canadians.

Months later, Veterans Affairs Minister Blackburn declared justice was served and declared the case closed. What did Minister Blackburn's version of justice look like and did it fulfill his promise to veterans and Canadians? In total, 54 sacrificial lambs at VAC were lightly penalized, with three day suspensions with pay at worst. Most were merely given a letter of reprimand. The three senior Veterans Affairs Canada bureaucrats cited in Bruyea's lawsuit were not dismissed, but have instead been promoted. Minister Blackburn justified these inept sanctions by claiming that officials never intended to harm Bruyea.

Does this sound like justice to you?

The Minister's eager defence of the lawbreakers is out of touch with the facts. The Ministerial briefing notes circulated among virtually every senior manager in Veterans Affairs clearly stated that the Departments actions were causing grave harm to Bruyea. This did not stop the bureaucrats from continuing with their malicious plan. The disturbing tone of thousands of emails revealed within the 14,000 pages of documentation Bruyea obtained through his Privacy Act requests reinforces evidence of the bureaucrats' widespread knowledge of the harm they were causing him.

Nor was Bruyea the only victim. Tom Hoppe won the Medal of Bravery and Meritorious Service Cross rescuing children while under sniper fire in Bosnia in 1994. Hoppe was also singled out and discredited by bureaucrats, who questioned his loyalty to VAC, simply because he appeared with Bruyea at a press conference denouncing the New Veterans Charter.

Not even Patrick Stogran's confidential medical files have been secure… and he was Canada's first Veterans' Ombudsman.

This is the government which claims it is "tough on crime"? Is this the freedom of expression so many young Canadians have lost their lives defending on foreign battlefields?

There is and was only one credible course of action for Minister Blackburn and the Harper government to take once the Privacy Commissioner, Jennifer Stoddart, identified federal laws had been breached on multiple and widespread levels: Summon the RCMP and launch a formal criminal investigation.

No one is above the law.

Tragically, the government has so far avoided this honourable course of action. In October last year, Stogran spoke of a brave veteran with ALS who used his failing health to condemn the insensitivity and indignity of dealing with Veterans Affairs. For veterans, Colonel Patrick Stogran's prophetic words have once again rang mournfully true.

"Without substantive and enduring cultural changes to the system that mistreats our veterans, however, any promises of improvement are as shallow as Brian Dyck's final breaths."

Minister Blackburn refused to take this opportunity to make substantive and enduring cultural changes to the system that surely mistreated Sean Bruyea and the other veterans whose privacy rights were violated. And yes, the Minister's melodramatic promises about justice and departmental improvement months ago have proven to be as shallow as Brian Dyck's last breath.

Lest we veterans and the rest of Canada forget… on election day.

Michael L Blais CD is the founder of Canadian Veterans Advocacy

Privacy Act: Collection of personal information

4. No personal information shall be collected by a government institution unless it relates directly to an operating program or activity of the institution.

1980-81-82-83, c. 111, Sch. II “4”.