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Colonel Russell Williams, shown in July of 2009 as commander of CFB Trenton, faces two concurrent life sentences for first-degree murder. (MCpl Trainor/Master Corporal Tom Trainor/DND)
Colonel Russell Williams, shown in July of 2009 as commander of CFB Trenton, faces two concurrent life sentences for first-degree murder. (MCpl Trainor/Master Corporal Tom Trainor/DND)

Canadian Forces won't change access to staff records despite Williams case Add to ...

The Canadian Forces says it will not change the way it handles the private information of staff even after it was revealed Russell Williams abused his military authority to target one of his victims.

Over four days of gruesome evidence and heart-wrenching victim statements, court heard that Mr. Williams - as then commander of Canada's busiest airbase, CFB Trenton - used his authority to learn Corporal Marie-France Comeau's schedule and address.

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Mr. Williams, who was stripped of his rank of colonel Friday, used that information to break into her home, where he repeatedly beat, raped, and ultimately murdered her.

Mr. Williams was sentenced Thursday to two concurrent life sentences for the sadosexual murders of Cpl. Comeau and Jessica Lloyd.

When asked that same day if Mr. Williams' crimes would prompt the military to rethink its policy on private information, the head of the air force said the "fact that commanders have access to that information will not change."

"Ultimately the commander is still responsible for all the people under his command and therefore needs to have access to those files when required," said Lieutenant-General Andre Deschamps, speaking from the same airfield Mr. Williams once commanded.

"If you want to maintain people in the military, there's a requirement to know where people are because they're in the military."

A spokeswoman for the federal privacy commissioner noted that the Department of National Defence is subject to the Privacy Act, but added they could not comment on the specifics of the Williams case.

However, the spokeswoman did say the commissioner intended to "follow-up with DND on this issue."

Mr. Deschamps said the military looked extensively into Mr. Williams' file and spoke to criminologists and other experts, and said no one missed any warning signs.

Michel Drapeau, a retired colonel, military lawyer and expert in privacy issues says he wants an independent investigation into Mr. Williams' military records and an external review of the process the military uses to select future leaders.

"To say there's nothing we can do, I don't accept that," said Mr. Drapeau.

He said Lt.-Gen. Deschamps was essentially telling Canadians "trust me," and that the military has examined the selection and promotions system and that nothing needs to be done.

"Well, trust is a two-way street. If you want to get my trust and take you at your word, then show me something," Mr. Drapeau said.

"Given all of the pain to our cherished institution, surely there is one lesson that you've learned."

David Zweig, professor of human resources at the University of Toronto said the Williams' case raises fundamental questions about what information employers should have access to.

Organizations, including the military, should ensure that most personal data is in a secure location with access available only to human resources staff, he said.

Only contact information and work schedules should be readily available to managers, Mr. Zweig said, acknowledging that safeguard would not have been enough to protect Cpl. Comeau.

The military would be wise to revisit its employee protection policies, he said, adding such a measure could provide a needed boost to the Forces' shaken morale.

"There's no way to keep every piece of information private, but certainly putting safeguards in place and forcing someone to make a query to HR might make them think again about abusing access to information," Mr. Zweig said.

"Even if we can't guarantee complete privacy, having them review their policies would help employees feel that their information is being held with more security."

When asked about what steps would be taken to protect soldiers' information, Lt.-Gen. Deschamps replied Thursday that the military has "confidence" in those who serve and that there are processes to protect personal information, but did not go into further detail.

When a journalist noted that confidence failed in the case of Mr. Williams, Mr. Deschamps became defensive.

"You're implying that this commander here is a criminal. This is not the case," Mr. Deschamps said, referring to Williams' successor at CFB Trenton.

When pressed about whether any other changes should be made to make sure other soldiers do not become the victims of crime, Mr. Deschamps replied that he would not "speculate."

"I can only speak to what we know and understand as a reasonable process. The fact that this individual has abused his privilege is recognized and he's being dealt with under the justice system for doing that," he said.

This is the second time the public has learned about a major privacy breach involving military records in the last few weeks.

This week, the Canadian Medical Association Journal wrote a scathing editorial about Veterans Affairs Canada, over the way it handles private medical records.

Earlier this month, Canada's privacy commissioner found that the department broke the law by distributing medical records of veteran and outspoken critic Sean Bruyea and used them to smear him.

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