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Veterans demand inquiry into privacy violations

OTTAWA — The country’s veterans ombudsman received nine privacy violation complaints over the last five years, seven of which were handed over to Canada’s privacy commissioner — a move questioned by a growing number of ex-soldiers.

A high-profile advocate, who claims his medical files were raided, wants the federal solicitor general to investigate whether it was appropriate for ombudsman Guy Parent to “take a back seat” on the issue.

He also asks whether the veterans minister overstepped his authority by shutting down a probe initiated by his predecessor.

Former warrant officer Harold Leduc, who was recently dropped from a federal agency that reviews benefits claims of ex-soldiers, says he believes his complaint about alleged privacy violations deserved to be investigated by both the ombudsman and privacy commissioner Jennifer Stoddart.

And a citizens group on the East Coast weighed into the issue Wednesday, demanding a public inquiry into what they say is a pattern of privacy violations at Veterans Affairs that targeted advocates.

A spokeswoman for Parent says each complaint was dealt with appropriately and denied the ombudsman had been usurped.

“As an independent body, the Office of the Veterans’ Ombudsman does not back down from investigations on request,” said Claude Rochon in an email statement.

“The decision to halt the review of this specific potential privacy breach was made when it was confirmed that the relevant mandated federal authority, in this case the Office of the Privacy Commissioner, had been seized with the matter.

“Parallel investigations by our office and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner would not have been a sensible use of resources.”

Last week, it was revealed Veteran Affairs Minister Steven Blaney quietly ended one of the privacy probes by the ombudsman, which had been ordered by his predecessor, Jean-Pierre Blackburn.

Like Parent, Blaney said he believed that investigation was best handled by Stoddart. A few weeks ago the privacy commissioner, in a comprehensive audit, gave the department a thumbs-up and said its procedures for handling information have been tightened.

But that hasn’t satisfied advocates, include a St. John’s, N.L.-based organization active in supporting ex-soldiers.

“The federal government has been playing a shell-game with the truth,” said Our Duty president Jeff Rose-Martland, who has written extensively on veterans issues.

He claims his organization has been made aware of dozens of unreported, alleged privacy violations and called for a full inquiry.

In addition to Leduc, another veteran, Tom Hoppe, one of the country’s most decorated peacekeepers and a member of the ombudsman’s advisory committee, had a complaint before Parent.

 
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