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Apology by press release not enough, veterans advocate says

Sean Bruyea, a retired Canadian Forces captain, pauses during a news conference in Ottawa on Oct. 7, 2010.


Sean Bruyea and his wife, Carolina, broke down and cried Sunday when they heard the Harper government was going to say it was sorry. On Monday, the apology the outspoken Gulf War veteran and critic of Veterans Affairs had been waiting for finally arrived.

"I recognize that this information sharing has caused you needless suffering and anxiety, and for that the Government and I are truly sorry," Veterans Affairs Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn said in his statement.

Mr. Bruyea's personal medical and psychiatric records had been circulated throughout the Veterans Affairs department. There has been no official finding that his documents were circulated as a way to discredit him, but the Privacy Commissioner has confirmed they were used in a ministerial briefing note at the time when Mr. Bruyea was fighting the department.

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Mr. Bruyea says the apology comes as "a huge relief." Still, it came in the form of the very same press release that was handed out to the media. He believes an apology should be made in person - and he has fired off a note to that effect to the minister's staff.

He wants to hear Mr. Blackburn deliver the apology. And he thinks it should be read at a news conference or in the House of Commons.

On Monday afternoon, he informed Mr. Blackburn's staff that he was heading downtown and "was more than willing to attend" at the House or at some other venue.

"The formal apology is not just for me," he told The Globe. Indeed, in his note Mr. Blackburn also apologizes to "anyone who may have gone through the same situation."

"As I said, we will be co-operating with regard to the in-depth audit being conducted by the Privacy Commissioner, and we will take action in follow-up to the results and recommendations," the minister wrote.

Earlier this month, watchdog Jennifer Stoddart ruled there was a serious breach of Mr. Bruyea's privacy rights. Mr. Blackburn's apology letter also included an offer to fast-track mediation for an out-of-court settlement to the former soldier's $400,000 privacy lawsuit against the government. That process is to take place in mid-November and Mr. Bruyea is hoping it will last only a day.

He his fight is not about the money. He noted that he will not accept a gag order as part of the settlement. "As an advocate [for veterans rights]I couldn't abide by that," Mr. Bruyea said.

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And he wants to emphasize, too, this isn't about just what happened to him but about a culture in the bureaucracy in which they were "trying to destroy an individual" in order to push through a policy. "This is not the Canada I fought for," he said.


Update In response to a Tory MP during Question Period on Monday, Mr. Blackburn mentioned the apology but did not read its full text. "Mr. Speaker, today I have offered our government's sincere regrets to Mr. Bruyea and anyone who may have gone through the same situation," he told the Commons.

"I wish to report that the Government of Canada is immediately undertaking an expedited mediation procedure in this case. As I said, we will be co-operating with regard to the in-depth audit being conducted by the Privacy Commissioner and we will take action and follow-up on the results and recommendations. Meanwhile, I have already taken measures and actions to ensure that veterans' privacy is protected."

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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