*** Without fail, EVERYTIME a CON govt. comes into power - they remind Canadians why we should not have allowed such a thing. Tell us again how you support the troops? Bloody disgraceful. MS ***
OTTAWA - Canada's privacy commissioner says the Veterans Affairs Department broke the law in the way it handled the personal information of an outspoken critic.
Jennifer Stoddart released the findings today of her year-long investigation into a complaint by retired intelligence officer Sean Bruyea, whose medical and financial information ended up in briefing notes to two federal cabinet ministers.
"What we found in this case was alarming," Stoddart said in a statement.
"The veteran’s sensitive medical and personal information was shared — seemingly with no controls — among departmental officials who had no legitimate need to see it. This personal information subsequently made its way into a ministerial briefing note about the veteran’s advocacy activities. This was entirely inappropriate."
That is a flagrant violation of the federal Privacy Act, which says individual information must be shared within government on a need-to-know basis.
Bruyea's medical information, including diagnosis, symptoms and prognosis, were found in a 2006 briefing note to former veterans affairs minister Greg Thompson. A second briefing note, dating back to the former Liberal veterans minister in 2005, also contained sensitive information.
The investigation officials from different branches of Veterans Affairs, including Program Policy, Communications and Media Relations, were involved in discussing and contributing to the content of the briefing notes and also had full access to them.
Stoddart's investigation also found the department sent large volumes of Bruyea's medical information to a veterans' hospital without his consent.
She's told Veterans Affairs to institute better protections and controls for the handling of information and to ensure that information is shared only on a need-to-know basis, among other things.
The commissioner can only make recommendations and has no enforcement power, nor is she able to levy penalties for violating the Privacy Act. It will be up to Veterans Affairs Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn to take action.
Bruyea launched a court action against the federal government in early September.
Other veterans, notably former combat nurse Louise Richard, have come forward with evidence that their records have also been inappropriately circulated among department officials.
Stoddard confirmed she has received complaints from other veterans.
The commissioner plans to launch an audit of privacy at Veterans Affairs that will examine the department’s policies and practices.