Veterans Affairs Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn issued a formal apology Monday to an outspoken critic whose confidential psychiatric reports were used in a political smear campaign.
The embattled minister's statement was the first public step in defusing the privacy scandal that has sent his department reeling and distracted attention away from improvements to veterans benefits by the Harper government.
Although aimed at Sean Bruyea, the former intelligence officer whose medical information was stitched into a ministerial briefing note in March 2006, the apology acknowledged for the first time that other veterans may have suffered similar privacy invasions.
"I also extend my sincere regrets to anyone who may have gone through the same situation," Mr. Blackburn said in a release.
The formal statement of regret to Mr. Bruyea was accompanied by an offer of fast-tracked mediation for an out-of-court settlement to the Gulf War veteran's $400,000 privacy lawsuit against the federal government.
Since Mr. Bruyea's story broke last month, other veterans have come forward with evidence or concern that their personal information, including medical records, was misused by Veterans Affairs bureaucrats.
Louise Richard, who along with Mr. Bruyea criticized federal reforms to veteran services in 2005, uncovered evidence her files had been passed around without her permission.
Veterans ombudsman Pat Stogran, whose term ends next month, said he's been told his files were accessed 400 times. At least three other veterans have contacted lawyers with similar cases. At least one involves the leak of personal information outside of the federal government.
The country's privacy commissioner investigated Mr. Bruyea's case and found not only a serious breach, but systemic problems at Veterans Affairs in the handling of personal information.
Mr. Bruyea's lawyer, Paul Champ, says the federal government extended the mediation offer within hours of the privacy commissioner's report. Discussions begin next month.
"There is a sacred trust between the government and veterans, and Sean's treatment demonstrates that sometimes that trust can be abused and forgotten by department bureaucrats," Mr. Champ said.
"Sean appreciates the government's willingness to take immediate steps to redress the wrong done to him. It sends a good message to the thousands of veterans across the country who have been very disturbed by this case."
Mr. Bruyea uncovered evidence that bureaucrats were out to smear him through a Privacy Act request. He received 14,000 pages of information written about him and his opposition to the New Veterans Charter.
Bureaucrats at first tried to woo him because Mr. Bruyea was the face of veterans advocacy prior to the appointment of an ombudsman. But the documents show when he started raising questions and pointing out flaws in the reforms, officials turned on him.