Media Update for September 23, 2010

The big story today pertains to one of our members, Sean Bruyea. Mr. Bruyea has been a vocal critic of the Department of Veterans Affairs for years now. He was one of the first to draw attention to the unfairness of the New Veterans Charter, noting that it would mean the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars for many of the most vulnerable and seriously wounded veterans now coming out of Afghanistan. His early opposition made him a target of bureaucrats who were being made to look bad, so they followed their instincts and launched a campaign of reprisal. This included attacks on his credibility and, it has now been publicly revealed, sending his confidential medical records around the department.

It is obvious that this appalling breach of the Privacy Act was done with a complete sense of impunity. Not without reason, either: there are no consequences for breaching the Act. So, while the government has promised to follow the Privacy Commissioner’s recommendations following her investigation, this isn’t enough. There needs to be a fuller investigation and real consequences for those who perpetrated the act, those who facilitated it, and those who failed to act when alerted to the problem.

By the last I refer most specifically to the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner, Christiane Ouimet. Her office refused to even interview Mr. Bruyea, turning his complaint back in the same manner it has turned back all complaints except one (that I know of). Indeed, her term in office can only be characterized as a complete failure for accountability – and a complete victory for politicians and senior bureaucrats seeking to suppress dissent and news of wrongdoing. Had she any integrity herself, she would have resigned by now.

The Quebec scandal on judicial appointments, which was triggered by allegations of corruption in judicial appointments by former provincial Justice Minister Marc Bellemare, has come to a boil again. Bellemare’s credibility took a beating last week as senior bureaucrats denied all his allegations and launched a few sly attacks on his character at the Bastarache Inquiry. This week there was some testimony that seemed to support his version of events and some which didn’t. The Premier, Jean Charest, however, categorically denies everything.

There are also two stories about federal government departments not doing their jobs. The first is Transport Canada, which was criticized for not dealing with a float plane pilot who had a history of risky flying behaviour before his fatal crash in 2008. The second involves the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. The Minister responsible, Gerry “death by a thousand cold cuts” Ritz, admitted that he didn’t know how many inspectors were out in the field looking at meat. This, just two years after the 2008 listeriosis outbreak that killed 22 Canadians. In addition, CFIA’s own auditor found that food from outside Canada may not be getting properly inspected.

Finally, I include a link to a really interesting interview with a Kenyan anti-corruption activist, John Githongo. He makes some really great points about the negative effects corruption has on democracy and development.

Have a good weekend.

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Veterans Affairs Bureaucrats Pass Around Advocate’s Medical Information

Quebec Judicial Appointments Scandal

TSB Report Suggests Negligence in 2008 Float Plane Crash

Continued Federal Food Inspection Weaknesses Exposed

New Federal Lobbying Rules Come into Force

The Link Between Corruption and Development

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Veterans Affairs Bureaucrats Pass Around Advocate’s Medical Information

Veterans Affairs critic’s confidential medical information given to minister
Globe and Mail, September 21, 2010
Summary: Confidential medical and financial information belonging to an outspoken critic of Veterans Affairs, including part of a psychiatrist’s report, found its way into the briefing notes of a cabinet minister.

Opposition demands probe as vet’s medical files appear in minister’s notes
Winnipeg Free Press, September 22, 2010
Summary: Prime Minister Stephen Harper acknowledged an outspoken veterans critic was likely the target of character assassination after private medical information about him was widely circulated within the federal bureaucracy. But the prime minister blamed the privacy breach on the previous Liberal government.

Privacy breach at Veterans Affairs ‘struck terror in our hearts’
Globe and Mail, September 22, 2010
Summary: Sean Bruyea is now at the centre of explosive revelations that Veterans Affairs bureaucrats widely shared information from his personal medical files for briefings related to his advocacy work on veteran policies. Records unearthed by Mr. Bruyea over several years and made public this week reveal bureaucrats highlighted the intimate details of his mental-health issues in several e-mails and briefings, including to former Conservative veterans affairs minister Greg Thompson and former Liberal veterans affairs minister Albina Guarnieri.

Canada’s privacy czar powerless to stop veteran smear, inquiry needed: expert
Winnipeg Free Press, September 23, 2010
Summary: An expert says Canada’s privacy commissioner is largely toothless when dealing with the kind of character assassination levelled at an outspoken critic of Veterans Affairs. Retired colonel Michel Drapeau, a lawyer, says Jennifer Stoddard has no way to enforce her recommendations and no ability to impose monetary penalties on those who violate the Privacy Act.

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Quebec Judicial Appointments Scandal

Friends got judicial posts, Quebec inquiry hears
National Post, September 21, 2010
Summary: One had a father who was a top organizer for the provincial Liberals in western Quebec. Another had been active in the party decades earlier and had an old friend who was a prolific Liberal fundraiser. A third was married to the cousin of a minister in Jean Charest’s newly elected Liberal government. In all three cases, a provincial commission of inquiry heard yesterday, Liberal connections helped them advance their case for a position on the Quebec Court.

Agenda de Jean Charest: nulle mention de la rencontre avec Bellemare
La Presse, September 21, 2010
Summary: Dans une version très expurgée de l’agenda de Jean Charest, que La Presse a obtenue, on ne trouve nulle trace d’une rencontre cruciale avec Marc Bellemare le 2 septembre 2003.

Top fundraiser lobbied Bellemare
The Gazette (Montreal), September 22, 2010
Summary: A top Liberal fundraiser admitted yesterday he lobbied former provincial justice minister Marc Bellemare in the summer of 2003 to help an old school chum get a plum job on the bench.

Franco Fava admits “I’m a pretty social fellow”, but denies seeking nominations for judges
The Gazette (Montreal), September 23, 2010
Summary: The Bastarache commission on the nomination of judges resumed work Thursday with an intense cross examination of Liberal fundraiser Franco Fava. Jean-François Bertrand, the lawyer acting for former justice minister Marc Bellemare, started the morning hammering away at Fava who Wednesday denied all Bellemare’s story of being a key player in a system of getting judges named to the bench.

Les «contacts» de Franco Fava sous la loupe
La Presse, September 23, 2010
Summary: Franco Fava est-il le «bénévole avant tout», simple militant libéral qui a une influence limitée, qui se contente de donner son opinion quand on la lui demande, comme il le prétend? Ou celui que les médias ont décrit comme le «grand argentier» du Parti libéral du Québec, qui a affirmé à des journalistes avoir ses entrées au plus haut niveau politique et place ses amis à des postes importants? (Column)

Jean Charest denies being told of influence-peddling
Globe and Mail, September 23, 2010
Summary: Relaxed, composed and assured, Premier Jean Charest firmly denied ever being informed by former justice minister Marc Bellemare of influence peddling.

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TSB Report Suggests Negligence in 2008 Float Plane Crash

B.C. pilot warned three times about risky flying before fatal 2008 crash, says TSB
The Province (Vancouver), September 20, 2010
Summary: The pilot who crashed a float plane off the Sunshine Coast in bad weather in 2008 — killing himself and six passengers — had been warned three times by his employer about his risky flight choices.

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Continued Federal Food Inspection Weaknesses Exposed

Minister unsure how many Canadian inspectors watching animals bound for slaughter
Ottawa Citizen, September 22, 2010
Summary: The Canadian Food Inspection Agency cannot say how many inspectors are stationed across the country to make sure animal health rules are followed during the transport of animals destined for dinner plates, according to newly released information.

Lax controls mean imported food might not meet Canadian standards: report
Globe and Mail, September 23, 2010
Summary: Food from other countries is coming into Canada without full assurance it meets federal safety requirements, says a newly released report.

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New Federal Lobbying Rules Come into Force

Lobbyists face new transparency regulations
National Post, September 20, 2010
Summary: Lobbyists who bend the ear of members of Parliament and senators must now register such activities under expanded new regulations that have taken effect, Treasury Board President Stockwell Day said on Monday.

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The Link between Corruption and Development

Corrupt Democracy – An Interview with John Githongo
Abner Udali’s Blog, September 23, 2010
Summary: An interview with John Githongo, an anti-corruption official who had to flee Kenya after uncovering a $1 billion fraud benefiting the county’s elites. .

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