Ottawa is facing calls to respond to a growing number of privacy breaches involving service members who have been victims of sexual misconduct in uniform, with experts and opposition parties calling the mistakes unacceptable.
Epiq Class Action Services has admitted to leaking the personal data of more than 100 current and former members of the Armed Forces through 20 different privacy breaches since February.
The admissions followed several reports from The Canadian Press in which veterans came forward to say they had received the names, contact details and claim numbers of others in error.
The most recent breach happened earlier this month and came despite Epiq’s repeated promises that it had fixed the issues. It also followed the decision to entrust an external auditor with the assessment of the company’s complaints process.
The Federal Court has appointed Epiq to administer the government’s $900 million settlement agreement, which includes processing claims from nearly 20,000 people who have sought compensation.
Military sexual misconduct experts say the violations threaten to re-traumatize affected service members and undermine trust at a time when many victims and survivors already fear letting their guard down.
“There’s already such a big hurdle for victims to come forward, especially in a military environment,” said Megan MacKenzie, Simons Chair in International Law and Human Security at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. .
“I imagine the prospect that their submissions – which likely contain very personal information and experiences – could be breached or their identities exposed would be incredibly traumatic.”
Although Epiq described the type of information inadvertently disclosed as “limited”, several veterans who received information from other claimants expressed concern that their own personal data and files were compromised.
They also criticized Epiq for not being more open about these privacy breaches. Charlotte Duval-Lantoine of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, whose book on military sexual misconduct was published last month, agrees with these views.
“There needs to be more communication about what the problem is and what is being done to fix it,” she said.
“Establishing an external entity to monitor the process can be reassuring, but applicants need to be informed of what is being done at every stage of the process.”
A panel of plaintiffs, attorneys and government officials overseeing the settlement ordered an independent audit of Epiq’s claims process in April to head off further issues, and the company said an outside auditor had been hired. .
Retired Master Corporal Amy Green, who was the first veteran to report she had received the personal information of dozens of other applicants, said she had no idea a check had been made. ordered.
In fact, Green and fellow veteran France Menard, who also received information intended for another plaintiff, claim that neither the company, nor the government, nor the law firms involved in the class action settlement approached since they came forward.
Green also wonders why the federal privacy commissioner hasn’t responded to his complaints about the Epiq breach, the first of which was filed in March.
The watchdog’s office said it was investigating a breach reported by Epiq, but did not say otherwise for months.
Bloc Québécois ethics critic René Villemure suggested the problem may be the office’s lack of resources, which was pointed out by outgoing privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien during an interview. a parliamentary committee meeting earlier this year.
“When the former commissioner appeared before our committee, he said, ‘We don’t have enough funding, so we can’t deal with everything that comes in even if it’s very important,'” Villemure said.
“I am calling on the government to provide more funding to the Privacy Commissioner so that these cases can be prosecuted accordingly.”
He added that it may be time for the Federal Court to reconsider its appointment of Epiq and seek another administrator.
The Department of National Defense said it has instructed Epiq to investigate the causes of the privacy breaches and take all necessary steps to ensure the problem does not happen again.
For its part, the company pointed the finger at staff who did not follow established protocols. Disciplinary action has been taken against those employees, according to Epiq vice president of communications Angela Hoidas, and protocols have been tightened.
Yet the fact that the problems are still happening and that Epiq has yet to face a serious setback doesn’t sit well with veterans, and they want the Liberal government to start weighing in – which it has until now. ‘now refused to do.
Both the Conservatives and the NDP continued, accusing the Liberals of failing victims of military sexual misconduct by not doing more to hold Epiq accountable for its repeated mistakes.
“This situation is unacceptable,” Conservative Defense Critic Kerry-Lynne Findlay said in a statement.
“I urge the Minister of National Defense to uphold her commitment to victims of sexual misconduct in the military and to ensure that victims are respected and that the integrity of the colony is no longer damaged. “
His NDP counterpart, Lindsay Mathyssen, echoed that sentiment, saying the Defense Department’s approach so far isn’t working.
“We hear that the Department of Defense is kindly requesting Epiq Class Action Services Canada ‘to investigate and take action to ensure this matter is contained, resolved and does not happen again,'” Mathyssen said.
“It’s not good enough for a government that claims to want to uproot this problem. The government must consider the concerns of victims and affected CAF members to ensure that their rights and privacy are respected.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on June 16, 2022.
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