Afghanistan veteran moves forward with lawsuit against Legion of Saskatchewan and Veterans Affairs

A Saskatchewan veteran says he’s still pursuing his lawsuit against the Royal Canadian Legion after discovering a Legion staff member was snooping through his records and those of other veterans.

Veterans Internal Affairs Canada (VAC) Emails shared with CTV News last year described a months-long investigation into breaches of the personal medical and other information of up to six veterans by a duty officer at the Legion’s Regina branch.

The veteran who shared the information with CTV News filed a statement of claim against VAC and the Saskatchewan Legion last May, seeking damages in excess of $500,000.

In the lawsuit, the veteran is known only as CD.

The privacy violations arise from an agreement between the Legion and VAC that allows Legion service officers to access veterans’ medical, financial and personal records in a federal government database to help them apply for benefits. They must have a signed permission to represent a veteran before accessing the files.

In its defense, Veterans Affairs says it acted quickly once it discovered there were several privacy violations by the Regina Legion branch.

“The VAC was made aware of allegations that Paul Valiquette improperly accessed veterans records in 2021-2022,” the Veterans Affairs attorney says in a defense statement filed in October.

“VAC security quickly investigated the allegations and concluded that Paul Valiquette had improperly accessed the plaintiff’s CSDN file without adequate justification. Paul Valiquette’s access to the CSDN has been revoked and his trust level security status is in the process of being revoked.”

In internal emails the veteran shared with CTV News, a VAC staff member said they found Valiquette demonstrated “a lot of carelessness in accessing files” in the database.

Two Regina veterans were sent letters saying their private information was accessed “when there was no job-related requirement to do so.”

“We have discussed this in the past about how RCL service officials appear to be overreaching… in their scope of work for VAC clients,” writes one staff member in a September 2022 email.

In the 2022 investigation into the Regina Legion, VAC questioned Legion Veterans Services Director Carolyn Hughes about why Valiquette needed access to certain files. She responded that in many cases he “couldn’t remember why she would have agreed to them in the past.”

Hughes also said that previous staff at that Legion branch were not tracking his access at all.

“Unfortunately, for the first few months he was working there, and the previous officers did not keep any kind of follow-up either.”

A Veterans Affairs security official noted that Valiquette included minimal details when filling out the online forms necessary for access. After his investigation, the federal department changed the rules to require slightly more detail from Legion service officers when accessing the database.

When contacted by CTV News last year, Legion Command Saskatchewan director Chad Wagner said he had only received direct information about a privacy breach by VAC.

He declined to comment because he was still before court, but he did say that veterans were free to withdraw their consent from Legion duty officers at any time.

In its statement of defense filed in August, the Saskatchewan Legion took issue with CD’s decision to file suit anonymously, saying it was “impossible for the…defendants to raise and present a responsive defence, without knowing the identity of the demanding”.

The Legion also argues that CD’s anonymity violates court rules. The Legion says his claim is inappropriate, “a nullity” and should be dismissed.

Despite asking for significant financial compensation from the Legion and Veterans Affairs, CD says what he really wants to see is a change in the agreement between the federal government and the Legion to prevent this type of unregulated access to the private information of veterans (many of whom now suffer disabilities as a result of their service.

“I think ultimately if VAC saw how bad they’ve been through that system and gone crazy with it, they would just take it away. I would like to see both individuals in the Legion lose their jobs. They should not be working in that space with a vulnerable population,” he told CTV News in March.

“Unfortunately, I have no control over that kind of thing. That’s why we end up asking for money, which is stupid, because it’s never been about money.”

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