Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Sean Bruyea's Battle With Veteran's Affairs Is A Stark Reminder Of Why Privacy Is An Issue For All Of Us

"OTTAWA – An outspoken veterans' advocate and Gulf War vet says the federal government tried to hospitalize him after he began speaking out against government policies."
"Bruyea had complained after discovering through Access to Information that his file had been accessed 4,131 times over 10 years by more than 600 department officials."
"Sean Bruyea told CTV’s Question Period that two months after he first testified against a controversial change to veterans’ disability payments, Veterans Affairs Canada attempted to discredit him by hospitalizing him and making his advocacy a psychological issue.

“Within two months of that period, they tried to force me to go to their hospital for a psychiatric assessment that they had never asked for before.

Why within two months of my advocacy, did they require that assessment?”Bruyea said.

“You are saying they were trying to hospitalize you?” asked CTV’s Craig Oliver.

“Well, exactly. I was terrified. As an intelligence officer who studied Soviet Russia, I mean I knew about the Gulags in Stalinist Russia, and I thought: 'This isn’t much different. They are trying to make my advocacy a psychological issue'.”

Bruyea said within days of his testimony against lump-sum disability payments, veterans affairs also denied him approval for treatment he had been receiving for his post-traumatic stress disorder, such as meetings with his psychologist and a couple’s therapist.

Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddard found Thursday there had been grave breaches of Bruyea’s personal information at the department and ordered a full audit."

Toronto Sun - Vet alleges government tried to hospitalize him

"Until Ms. Stoddart ruled on Oct. 7 that the Veterans Affairs Department violated the Privacy Act by disclosing personal and medical information to bureaucrats and Cabinet ministers who had no right to the files, the government had delayed a legal response to the statement of claim for damages Mr. Bruyea filed last March 2, the court file shows. Normally, a notice of defence to the legal action would have been required at the latest within 30 days, but the government held it off until Sept. 22.

Ms. Stoddart launched her investigation after Mr. Bruyea discovered under the Access to Information Act how widely the department had circulated his medical files as an injured veteran within the department and to former veterans affairs ministers Greg Thompson, a Conservative, and Albina Guarnieri, the previous Liberal veterans affairs minister. Ms. Guarnieri notes Ms. Stoddart referred to the briefing notes she received as "appropriate" because they concerned issues Mr. Bruyea raised.

The privacy commissioner also confirmed Mr. Bruyea's complaint that departmental officials had used his medical condition, post traumatic stress disorder, in an attempt to discredit his work as a veterans advocate opposing a new Veterans Charter. Mr. Bruyea opposed in particular a $275,000 lump-sum cash payment for severely injured veterans, that had been initially brought in under Ms. Guarnieri and implemented by Prime Minister Stephen Harper's (Calgary Southwest, Alta.) government.

Ms. Stoddart said a departmental briefing note to former Conservative veterans minister Greg Thompson in March 2006 contained references to Mr. Bruyea's advocacy activities as well as "considerable sensitive medical information, including diagnosis, symptoms, prognosis, chronology of interactions with the department as a client, amounts of financial benefits received, frequency of appointments and recommended treatment paths." "

The Hill Times Online - Bruyea's lawsuit against feds could be settled out of court, says lawyer


And Sean Bruyea's own words:
"As I testified to this committee last month, I was and am the victim of reprisals by Veterans Affairs officials precisely because of my opposition to the New Veterans Charter as well as my support of a veterans’ ombudsman. The New Veterans Charter cannot be looked at in isolation from the process in which it was created. We cannot as a nation or a parliament blindly accept that any means justify the end. The secretive and bullying manner in which the New Veterans Charter was fast tracked prevented due process of Committee review, a review we called for exactly five years ago today and which you are now thankfully carrying out.

Perhaps if Parliament had held public hearings prior to tabling the New Veterans Charter, Veterans Affairs officials such as Darragh Mogan, the chief architect of the NVC, would not have acted with such impunity on March 24 2006 when he told six VAC senior managers including Assistant Deputy Minister Brian Ferguson that it was “time to take the gloves off” when dealing with me and my public analysis of the New Veterans Charter. [bold mine - James]

It is not just a little alarming that the plan detailing what Mr. Mogan carried out with his “gloves off” was sent to two Canadian Forces officers and then later blanked out by Access to Information. It can’t be a coincidence but later that afternoon, Ken Miller circulated a letter to Assistant Deputy Minister Brian Ferguson, Darragh Mogan and others which I wrote to Prime Minister Harper regarding the Charter and which had bold letters written above: “Not for Departmental Viewing.” Thirty-six minutes later, instructions from Assistant Deputy Minister Brian Ferguson that my personal medical files be shared with Parliamentary Secretary Betty Hinton were put into action, just three days after Minister Thompson saw those same files.

I can only assume that this was done to undermine her confidence in me, because her office doesn’t look like a medical office to me and neither Mr. Mogan nor Mr. Ferguson appear to have M.D. or medical doctor designation following their names. More curiously, Parliamentary Secretary Betty Hinton’s support of me quickly declined after receiving the skewed medical information provided by the Department, and I don’t think that’s a fair or ethical use of my personal information. But I may not be alone here; the Privacy Commissioner is investigating the matter.

I wasn’t dreaming when 13,000 pages of Privacy Act information showed me how VAC had used my personal medical files, to slander my reputation with Ministers, Members of Parliament and Senior VAC managers thereby undermining my effectiveness as an advocate for the overhaul of the New Veterans Charter. Nor was I delusional when those same documents showed how VAC bureaucrats – not medical doctors – had determined that I was “clearly unwell”, in need of a “one-week” or more inpatient psychiatric assessment, simply because I demanded a Parliamentary review of the New Veterans Charter. [bold mine - James]

While it is true that I suffer from PTSD and have a therapeutic medical team which strongly opposed the need for this assessment, the mere fact that one disagrees with VAC officials, is not in itself, a diagnosis for such draconian measures or for any other treatment.--- If disagreement with VAC officials were a diagnosis for treatment, many members of this committee would already be racking up rather large therapy bills.

The fact that VAC officials would target an opponent in such a devious way, is precisely why a “Comprehensive Whistleblower Veteran and Family Protection” legislation must be included in any rewrite of the New Veterans Charter to show veterans that they are equal partners in overseeing the programs created in their name and in honour of their sacrifices." - Sean Bruyea testifies on Veterans Charter (Part 2)


Search google news for more on this horror story

Google news search - Sean Bruyea

Google search - Sean Bruyea

Sean Bruyea's website

Media Quote List - Sean Bruyea


This is the sort of reprisal that can occur when anyone challenges those with power and authority. It happens when people challenge private corporations and it happens when people challenge politicians/government or its bureaucrats.

It happens in schools - remember my post about the remotely activated webcams on the school issued laptops? The student who received the largest part of the settlement for being spied on remotely by school administration officials was targeted because he was considered a troublemaker for the school administration.

A couple of decades ago I got suddenly paid out by an employer when I started to organise a union in my workplace (I had submitted my resignation effective some 6 months in the future because I was going to university in the fall of that year) prompted by some awful safety violations and tolerance of sexual harassment in the workplace. My co-workers told me that other union friendly people had been fired for contrived reasons in the past in this particular location of the large multi-national I worked for (no, I am not referring to Wal-Mart).

Information is a weapon. People having access to your information can arm them. There are times when people will try to harm you in one way or another. Sean Bruyea is a case in point.


Picture Credit: - Sean Bruyea testifies on Veterans Charter (Part 2)

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