Between 2002 and 2010, civil servants accessed Dennis Manuge’s medical records on hundreds of occasions.
In 2002, Dennis Manuge fell and broke a bone in his back at CFB Petawawa in Ontario. Following the accident, Manuge was granted a monthly disability pension.
In 2003, Manuge was medically discharged by the army. The Government of Canada considered his disability pension as “income” and deducted his long-term disability benefits from the amounts payable to him as pension under the Pension Act. From 2003 to 2005, this policy cost Manuge $10,000.
Manuge & the vets go to court... and win
In 2007, Manuge launched a class action lawsuit against the federal government on behalf of more than 6,500 disabled veterans, all of whom had been affected by the disability benefit clawback. The Federal Court certified Manuge’s case in 2008, a decision that was reversed by the Federal Court of Appeal. In December 2010, the Supreme Court of Canada reinstated the original Federal Court Decision, opening the way for the class action lawsuit by veterans. The claim is currently before the courts.
In May 2012, the Federal Court of Canada granted the class action lawsuit and declared the clawback to be illegal. The Government of Canada announced that it would not appeal the decision and that it would cease the clawback on disability benefits starting July 2012. After spending $750,462 in legal fees fighting the veterans, the Canadian Press reported in September 2012 that the government had appointed Stephen Toope, a lawyer and the president of the University of British Coumbia, to lead negotiations toward a settlement.
Bruyea goes public
Meanwhile in 2007, decorated Gulf War intelligence officer and veterans advocate Sean Bruyea had discovered that personnel from Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) had consulted his personal files. They had also put confidential medical information into briefing notes, and sent the notes to Ministers in both Liberal and Conservative governments. It was seen as an attempt to discredit Bruyea and his opinions. Bruyea eventually received an apology. (Read a summary of the Bruyea case here.)
Manuge accesses information
After hearing about Sean Bruyea, Dennis Manuge decided to consult his own file. He made a request under federal Access to Information laws. Manuge discovered that there had been privacy breaches with respect to his medical records. The breach allegedly included access to his personal medical, psychological and financial information, without legitimate reason, between 900 and 1,000 times between 2002 to 2010, by numerous civil servants across Canada. These civil servants allegedly included members of the Veterans Review and Appeal Board (though Manuge had no outstanding appeals), personnel from the Ministerial inquiry unit, and even a senior editor and writer at a Minister’s office.
“They literally have your entire life on paper. All your medical record, everything that there is, that you’ve disclosed in applications to receive psychological, physical services and benefits from Veterans Affairs Canada,” commented Manuge.
Sometimes Mauge’s file was accessed by people with legitimate titles like ‘client service officer’ or ‘payment officer.’ However Manuge wondered why those who accessed his file needed the specific personal information it contained.
Manuge tried to come to an agreement with a top official at Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC), in order to avoid filing a lawsuit about the unlawful access to his records, and avoid going to the media. But Manuge was allegedly told by VAC’s Justice Department lawyers that he would have to prove his case.
A third veteran has now come forward about violations of privacy. Sylvain Chartrand, who served in Bosnia and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, revealed that his medical record was consulted more than 4,000 times between 2003 and 2010. Chartrand had also been a vocal advocate for veteran’s rights.
Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney has not commented on Manuge’s file. However Blaney said that VAC had worked with the Privacy Commissioner’s Office in 2010 to implement a new strategy to preserve the confidentiality of the information at VAC. A spokesperson for the Privacy Commissioner said an audit of VAC’s personal information management practices is currently under way, and they expect to publish findings in the winter of 2012.
- 2002: Manuge injures his back at CFB Petawawa.
- 2003: Manuge is medically discharged from the military and the government reduces his disability pension with the result that Manuge lost $10,000 between 2003-2005.
- 2007: Manuge files a class action lawsuit on behalf of himself and 4,500 injured veterans who lost thousands of dollars in clawbacks from disability benefits.
- 2008-2010: Manuge’s class action suit is certified by the Federal Court, then rejected by the Federal Court of Appeal, but reinstated by the Supreme Court, allowing the class action suit to move forward.
- November 2010: Manuge announces to the press that government officials have unnecessarily accessed his medical records hundreds of times.
- November 2011: The class action lawsuit by thousands of veterans begins.
- May 2012: The Federal Court of Canada grants the class action and declares the clawback illegal.
- September 2012: The government decides not to pursure the appeal. Stephen Toope is appointed to lead negotiations between the parties.
Role or Position
Corporal Dennis Manuge is a former member of the Royal Canadian Regiment. He served in Bosnia in 2001, and was medically discharged from the forces in 2003. Along with Sean Bruyea and Pat Stogran, Manuge has been a vocal critic of government clawbacks of long-term disability benefits for thousands of Canadian veterans.
Implications and Consequences
- Democratic Rights: Allegations of uncontrolled and illegitimate access of Manuge’s private information, if true, point to a violation of his privacy rights.
- Transparency: Such surreptitious and non-transparent monitoring of Canadian citizens has no place in a democratic society.
- Democracy: The violation of Manuge’s privacy, like that of Sean Bruyea, has motivated other injured veterans to file Access to Information requests. The power of these collective actions may help to hold the government to account.
- Free speech: The extensive access of veterans’ personal information exposes them and their fellow vets to reprisals for having publicly expressed their views, and to the chilling effect of knowing that governments will use personal information in contexts that exceed the permissible use of such data.