Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Bandwagon Blackburn

Just head shaking, the instincts of the Veterans Affairs Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn that were on display yesterday. Reeling from the revelations about breaches of veterans' privacy in his ministry, where private medical records have apparently been widely accessed in respect of at least two critics, Sean Bruyea and Pat Stogran, bandwagon Blackburn tried to jump on board an investigative train that had already left the station:
A statement by Jennifer Stoddard's office, released to The Canadian Press, contradicts Veterans Affairs Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn who earlier in the day told a news conference that he asked for a wide-ranging probe.

"The Commissioner has advised Minister Blackburn’s office that her investigation into a complaint about the handling of one veteran’s personal information has raised concerns about the possibility of systemic privacy issues," said Valerie Lawton, a spokeswoman for Stoddard in a prepared statement.

"As a result, she had already decided to initiate an audit of the department’s privacy practices."

Lawton said Stoddard welcomed the minister's invitation.

Blackburn made it sound as if he initiated the more comprehensive probe during a news conference to announce improved support for the families of the most severely wounded soldiers.

"I'm very concerned about what's happening there," he said at National Defence Headquarters.

"This morning we have a discussion with the privacy commissioner and I thought with all that news is coming, that it would be appropriate for the commissioner, the privacy commissioner, to look further in the department to see what's going on, to enlarge what she has done up to now, to look further into the department to be sure that what's going on there." (emphasis added)
In other words, it appears that the Veterans Affairs minister, having discovered the existence of a wide ranging privacy investigation being conducted into the conduct of officials in his ministry, tried to make it appear that he and his government were the driving force behind the investigation. He should have just acknowledged the investigation and pledged support.

To make matters worse, Blackburn inexplicably tried to lay fault for the burgeoning privacy issues at Pat Stogran's feet. Blaming the veterans ombudsman for not raising the problem with Blackburn and not looking into the issue. This is Stogran he's blaming, whose own medical files have allegedly been widely breached as well. Does this minister have any concept of where the buck stops? Doesn't appear to and maybe he shouldn't be in charge.

The Privacy Commissioner's office shouldn't be faulted here at all for issuing their statement of clarification. I imagine some will try. News of alleged privacy breaches of a significant nature had arisen, they were assuring people the office is on the job and didn't require any prompting to get on it. Blackburn left the impression that maybe they needed that prompting. The Privacy Commissioner is also an independent officer of Parliament and the statement provided that extra clarification that the investigation was independent from government influence. Again, Blackburn's statement might have left the opposite impression.

This government is fatally preoccupied with optics and making itself look good, even on a subject matter as sensitive as veterans' privacy.