OTTAWA—Considering the national outcry against the so-called “New Veterans Charter” and the lump sum these past few months, it is interesting to note that the number of veterans who initiated open criticism of the New Veterans Charter in 2005 was very small. Sean Bruyea, Louise Richard, and Harold Leduc were not only the only veterans, but the only Canadians to go on the public record to oppose the rapid passage of Bill C-45, which eventually became known as the “New Veterans Charter.” Two of those three have come forward with proof that their medical files have been or may have been illegally accessed.
Back in the spring of 2005, the election madness that hit Ottawa had many expecting Canada going to the polls at a moment’s notice. It was in this atmosphere that Bill C-45 was rushed through Parliament. On May 10, 2005, Richard, Bruyea, a handful of supporters and I held a press conference the day Bill C-45 was passed without a second of debate in under one minute in the House of Commons. It was during this press conference that Bruyea gave the first public warnings about heeding the “fine print” of the new lump sum law and how the “devil was in the details.”
This alarm was carried on the CBC national news that evening, and this press conference forced the Senate to hold an emergency hearing by the Senate National Finance Committee, the next day on May 11, 2005. This was the only time that any Parliamentary group remotely scrutinized the contents of the NVC before it was unanimously approved by the government and made law two days later.
Bruyea’s fate is now well known. The 14,000 pages of Privacy Act documents thus far received by Bruyea and the resultant legal claim point to a highly disturbing and morally reprehensible reaction by the bureaucracy at Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC). In at least Bruyea’s case, his public criticism stimulated a coordinated effort in the bureaucracy to isolate this outspoken veterans advocate and diminish the influence of his advocacy upon at least two ministers, a Parliamentary secretary, and dozens of the most senior managers at Veterans Affairs Canada.
This “privacy scandal” has reached far beyond the fears of veterans and has sparked a national outcry at the abuses of power of Canada’s federal government to harass, intimidate, and manipulate the confidential information of anyone seen as a critic. In the case of Bruyea and Veterans Affairs, bureaucrats also effectively implemented a ‘divide and conquer’ strategy.
Richard was rightly and fairly offered a position on the Veterans Affairs ad-hoc Special Needs Advisory Group (sometimes referred to as SNAG). This group was created principally as a result of the Senate National Finance hearing wherein opposition to the New Veterans Charter led compassionate Senators to question the ability of the new legislation to care for the most seriously disabled as pointed out by Bruyea in his testimony.
Like all members of SNAG who clearly had the good intention of monitoring the new veterans’ benefits as they were implemented, Richard was required to sign a non-disclosure agreement sometimes called a government “gag order.” After Veterans Affairs refused to make any changes to the legislation and all but one word of the regulations, Richard resigned in protest when the lump sum and accompanying benefits were implemented on April 1, 2006.
As Richard has recently discovered and bravely revealed publicly, and like Bruyea, she was also the subject of briefing notes containing excessive personal information sent to and circulated by senior Veterans Affairs Canada officials. It is interesting to note that some of these notes correspond in the similar timeframes to her public criticism of VAC in media conferences, during testimony to Parliamentary committees as well as her appearing in media publications such as The Hill Times.
But what about the third public opponent of Bill C-45, the bill which became the New Veterans Charter?
According to his Parliamentary testimony, Harold Leduc, as the past-president of the Canadian Peacekeeping Veterans Associations, was one of as few as six individuals representing only a handful out of dozens of veterans organizations consulted by Veterans Affairs Canada bureaucrats. Veterans Affairs bureaucrats and the ministers who have parroted the bureaucracy’s communication lines claimed that this process to create the NVC was the most widespread and “comprehensive” consultation “in VAC history.”
During this so-called “comprehensive” consultation, these (as few as) six individuals apparently agreed months ahead of time during the infamous January 2005 Toronto meeting with VAC bureaucrats to support Bill C-45 without seeing the actual wording of the legislation until 48 hours or less before it was tabled in Parliament in April 2005. Thus, such secretive manoeuverings allowed Veterans Affairs bureaucrats to corral and “manage” any potential opposition to the details of Bill C-45.
Whatever internal machinations occurred within this secret cabal of as few of six individuals and the VAC bureaucrats is not clearly known. What is known is that Leduc testified at the rushed Senate committee hearing on May 11, 2005. During his testimony, he supported the creation of an ombudsman for VAC as well as questioning important aspects of Bill C-45.
Leduc was later appointed to the Veterans Review and Appeal Board. He is knowledgeable of veterans’ issues and legislation so he is likely more well-qualified than most of the political appointees. Board members are currently paid between $102,300-$120,400.
However, as a governor-in-council appointee, Leduc would, like Richard, be required to adhere to a so-called government “gag order.” Such gag orders effectively silenced two of the three public opponents of the NVC. This conveniently allowed Bruyea to be portrayed by VAC bureaucrats, according to the distortions written by VAC bureaucrats for senior managers and ministers, as the lone—and psychologically unstable—wolf opposing the New Veterans Charter while questioning his long-time advocacy to create a veterans’ ombudsman.
It has taken five years for Bruyea and the entire veteran community to receive some limited vindication for these illegal and frightening tactics used by bureaucrats to attack their critics.
The questions which should be on many minds at this important juncture are: Is Leduc a target of similar unauthorized intrusions into his medical files? As a Liberal appointee five years into a Conservative government, he must find it difficult to keep the position? Is he too being told to keep quiet?
Whether Leduc is under a “gag order,” it is time to have that public inquiry in the form of a judicial royal commission as the way in which Canada treats and mistreats its injured soldiers and their families is clearly broken. A royal commission would also protect Leduc and his position on the board. For that matter, even a Parliamentary committee should be able to protect him should he be subpoenaed to testify as such testimony is “privileged.”
Whatever the answers, Leduc has much to offer and not just to the wider veteran community. Canadians have a right to know if he too has been silenced.
Whatever the answer, all Canadians deserve to have a royal commission to sort out the apparently “unsortable” mess at Veterans Affairs Canada.
Perry Gray is a retired Canadian Forces intelligence officer and chief editor of Veteranvoice.info.
The Hill Times