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Ottawa urged to act amid ongoing privacy leaks in military sex misconduct deal

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Ottawa is facing calls to respond to a growing number of privacy breaches involving military members who experienced sexual misconduct while in uniform, with experts and opposition parties calling the errors unacceptable.

Epiq Class Action Services has admitted to releasing the personal details of more than 100 current and former Armed Forces members through 20 different privacy breaches since February.

The admissions have followed several reports by The Canadian Press in which veterans have come forward to report that they have received the names, contact details and claim numbers of others in error.

The most recent breach occurred earlier this month, and came despite repeated promises from Epiq that it had addressed the problems. It also followed the decision to have an external auditor assess the company’s claims process.

The Federal Court appointed Epiq to administer the government’s $900-million settlement deal, which includes processing the claims of the nearly 20,000 people who have applied for compensation.

Experts on military sexual misconduct say the breaches threaten to retraumatize affected service members, and undercut trust at a time when many victims and survivors are already leery of letting down their guard.

“There is such a high barrier for victims to come forward already, especially in a military environment,” said Megan MacKenzie, the Simons Chair in International Law and Human Security at Simon Fraser University in B.C.

“I imagine that the prospect that their submissions ⁠— which likely contain very personal information and experiences ⁠— might be breached or that their identities would be revealed would be incredibly traumatizing.”

While Epiq has described the type of information inadvertently released as “limited,” several veterans who received other claimants’ information have expressed concern that their own personal data and files could be compromised.

They have also criticized Epiq for not being more forthcoming about such privacy breaches. Charlotte Duval-Lantoine of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, whose book on military sexual misconduct was published last month, agrees with those views.

“There needs to be more communication as to what the problem is, and what is being done to resolve it,” she said.

“Putting in place an external entity to monitor the process can be reassuring, but the claimants need to be informed of what is being done every step of the way.”

A panel of claimants, lawyers and government officials tasked with overseeing the settlement ordered an independent audit of Epiq’s claims process in April to prevent further problems, and the company has said an external auditor has been hired.

Retired master corporal Amy Green, who was the first veteran to come forward with reports she had been sent the personal information of dozens of other claimants, said she had no idea an audit had been ordered.

In fact, Green and fellow veteran France Menard, who also received information intended for another claimant, say neither the company, the government nor the law firms involved in the class-action settlement have reached out since they came forward.

Green is also questioning why the federal privacy commissioner has not responded to her complaints about the Epiq breach, the first of which was filed in March.

The watchdog’s office has said it is looking into a breach that was reported by Epiq, but otherwise said little for months.

Bloc Québécois ethics critic Rene Villemure suggested the problem could be the office’s lack of resources, which was highlighted by outgoing privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien during 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 treat everything that comes in even though it is very important,” Villemure said.

“I’m calling for the government to give more funding to the privacy commissioner so that these cases can be pursued accordingly.”

He added that it is perhaps time for the Federal Court to reconsider its appointment of Epiq and look for another administrator.

The Department of National Defence says it has asked Epiq to investigate the causes of the privacy breaches and take whatever steps are necessary to make sure the problem doesn’t happen again.

For its part, the company has pointed the finger at staff who did not follow established protocols. Disciplinary action has been taken against those employees, according to Epiq communications vice-president Angela Hoidas, and the protocols have been reinforced.

Yet the fact the problems keep happening and Epiq has yet to face any serious pushback does not sit well with veterans, and they want the Liberal government to start weighing in ⁠— something it has so far refused to do.

The Conservatives and NDP have both piled on, accusing the Liberals of letting victims of military sexual misconduct down by not doing more to hold Epiq accountable for its repeated errors.

“This situation is unacceptable,” Conservative defence critic Kerry-Lynne Findlay said in a statement.

“I urge the minister of national defence to make good on her commitment to the victims of sexual misconduct in the military, and ensure that the victims are respected, and the integrity of the settlement is not damaged any further.”

NDP counterpart Lindsay Mathyssen echoed that sentiment, saying the Defence Department’s approach so far is not working.

“We hear the Department of Defence is asking Epiq Class Action Services Canada nicely to ‘investigate and take steps to ensure that this matter is contained, resolved and does not happen again,’” Mathyssen said.

“This is not enough from a government that claims they want to uproot this problem. The government must take on the concerns from victims and concerned members of the CAF to ensure their rights and privacy are respected.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 16, 2022.

 

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

 

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All three levels of government, police, organizers granted full standing on inquiry

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OTTAWA — The commissioner of the inquiry examining Ottawa’s use of the Emergencies Act to bring an end to the so-called “Freedom Convoy” protest in February has granted standing to the organizers, police and representatives of all three levels of government.

The decision by Paul Rouleau means those granted standing will be given advance notice on information submitted into evidence before the inquiry, and also gives them certain privileges, such as the opportunity to suggest or cross-examine witnesses.

Those granted full standing in the public inquiry include the federal, Alberta and Saskatchewan governments, the cities of Ottawa and Windsor, Ont., the Ottawa Police Service, Ontario Provincial Police and the organizers of the convoy, including Tamara Lich, Tom Marazzo and Chris Barber.

Former Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly will be allowed to produce documents, make submissions on factual, evidentiary and policy-related issues and examine witnesses, and the Manitoba government has been granted permission to provide written submissions.

However, Rouleau denied standing to the Conservative Party of Canada and several participants of the protests, some of whom had their bank accounts frozen under the Act.

Rouleau said it is important that the inquiry remain an independent, non-partisan process, noting there is also the Special Joint Committee of the Senate and House of Commons on the Declaration of Emergency reviewing the use of the Act’s powers.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 27, 2022.

 

The Canadian Press

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Ottawa police say they're ready to shut down Canada Day occupation attempts – CBC.ca

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Ottawa city officials say they are prepared for a “unique” Canada Day, with plans to keep anti-government protests from turning into another occupation.

The traditional nationally broadcast shows are returning for the first time since 2019, this time from the plaza in front of the Canadian War Museum because of ongoing construction on Parliament Hill.

Ottawa police say they expect more protests and larger crowds than usual during Canada Day celebrations as groups related to the Freedom Convoy continue to plan demonstrations. Some in those groups have indicated they’d like to protest through July and August.

“This is expected to be a unique Canada Day, with larger crowds and a larger event footprint,” interim Ottawa police Chief Steve Bell said during a Monday news conference.

WATCH | Interim police Chief Steve Bell talks about plans for Canada Day 

Police promise ‘swift and decisive’ action against any Canada Day occupation attempts

13 hours ago

Duration 0:37

Steve Bell, interim Ottawa police chief, says protesters will not be allowed to set up structures like sheds or tents, or have their own dance parties on city streets.

“We’ve developed our plans in the shadow of the unlawful protests and Rolling Thunder event. We’ve been speaking with community members and businesses and we’re very aware of the lingering trauma and concern about what they’re hearing after those events.”

Bell said officers will allow legal protests while shutting down illegal activities, including setting up structures or speakers without a permit and the threat of occupation, like on downtown streets in the winter.

He said police have been following online commentary and trying to talk to people who’ve said they’re coming to protest.

Two police officers escort someone away.
Police take a person into custody as they worked to clear an area on Rideau Street during a convoy-style protest participants called Rolling Thunder in Ottawa April 29, 2022. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

“[We’ve] planned, we’re prepared and we have the resources,” Bell replied when answering a question about whether police were ready to step in again like they did in late April, when attempts to gather near the Rideau Centre mall were shut down by officers.

Provincial police and the RCMP have offered help to shut down occupation attempts as long as there’s a risk, he said.

The Ottawa Police Services Board received an update on plans for Canada Day when it met Monday evening.

Bell spoke about the toll recent months have taken on officers, noting the demand is not “sustainable” and describing police as “fatigued” ahead of the long weekend.

“For this event we’ve actually had to cancel days off, we’ve cancelled discretionary time off, called people back from annual leave,” said the chief. “This is an all hands on deck event, but that has a cost on the health and wellbeing of our members.”

At least 5 days of traffic control

Last week, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson told people thinking of coming to the capital “not to be intimidated by individuals who may be coming to Ottawa to cause trouble.”

He said Monday he wants this to be a safe, festive event for children and families and that people who “come to disrupt” will be dealt with, without a warning.

Bell told the police board that the force has been clear with its expectations for demonstrators, and that harassment won’t be tolerated.

“If there is a hate or bias crime incidents, if there’s intimidation or threats, we will actively investigate those,” he said, adding police know residents have “scars” from the occupation.

“I want to reassure you that those feelings, that trauma that our community has felt is front and centre in all of our planning efforts and will be front and centre in our response efforts.”

Overall, Bell said police are expecting hundreds of thousands of people downtown. For comparison, an estimated 56,000 people went to the shows on Parliament Hill in 2019 and that doesn’t count everyone celebrating nearby.

About 16,000 people attended the noon show on the Hill in 2019. (CBC News)

There will be the traditional Canada Day road closures Friday July 1 and early Saturday, though there are more closures near LeBreton Flats because of that change in show location.

But Ottawa police are establishing another “vehicle exclusion zone” — similar to what was set up in late April for the Rolling Thunder motorcycle rally — with no street parking at all and no protest vehicles allowed in from 8 a.m. this Wednesday until at least 6 a.m. on Monday, July 4.

A map of police checkpoints in Ottawa.
Ottawa police are controlling access to these parts of downtown, including two river bridges. All vehicles that aren’t involved in rallies or protests will be allowed in, the city says, but drivers cannot park on the street. (City of Ottawa)

Those plans may change if needed, officials said Monday. People are asked to plan ahead, expect delays and check city pages and local media for updates.

OC Transpo and Société de transport de l’Outaouais service is free July 1 and when it comes to OC Transpo, until 4 a.m. July 2.

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Canada's COVID-19 response better than many comparable countries, study finds – CBC News

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Canada handled the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic and weathered the ensuing upheaval better than several other nations with comparable health-care and economic infrastructure, a new study suggests.

The research, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal on Monday, credits Canada’s strong performance to restrictive and persistent public health measures as well as a successful vaccination campaign.

A team of Ontario researchers compared data from February 2020 to February 2022 in 11 countries dubbed the G10 due to the late inclusion of one subject. They analyzed data from Canada, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States — all countries with similar political, economic, and health-care systems.

“If you look at Canada compared to the G10, the differences are enormous,” study co-author Dr. Fahad Razak said in a recent interview.

“If you look at our vaccination rate, we had the highest in the entire G10, we had the lowest number of people infected and lowest of people dying.”

The research suggests Canada’s cumulative per-capita rate of COVID-19 cases was 82,700 per million, while all countries — with the exception of Japan — were above 100,000 per million. Canada’s rate of COVID-19—related deaths was 919 per million, once again second-lowest behind Japan. All other countries were over 1,000 per million.

Raywat Deonandan, an epidemiologist and associate professor at the University of Ottawa who was not involved in the study, said the methodology of the research is sound, even if it can be challenging to compare infections and deaths across jurisdictions. 

“Bottom line: Canada’s relatively strict approach resulted in fewer infections and deaths,” Deonandan said in an email.

WATCH | Expert explains how Canada fared comparably well in the pandemic:

Canadian public health measures made ‘big difference’ against COVID-19, expert says

14 hours ago

Duration 5:01

A new study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal suggests Canada’s public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic was better than many similar countries. Montreal cardiologist Dr. Christopher Labos agrees, saying Canada did well when considering factors like mortality and vaccination rates.

‘Persistent level’ of restrictions

Razak said at least 70,000 more Canadians would have died during the first two years of the pandemic if Canada had the same death rates as the United States, the country with the highest cumulative number of COVID-19-related deaths.

“That means most of us would probably personally know a grandparent, or a friend or family member … who’s living today in Canada who would have died if we had the same trajectory as the United States,” Razak said.

He said Canada’s comparatively positive outcomes came about despite gaining access to vaccination later than most countries, noting there were also other health-care system structural disadvantages to overcome across the country at the outset of the pandemic.

A member of the Governor General’s Foot Guards wearing a mask waits on the red carpet at the Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards Gala in Ottawa on May 28. (Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press)

“Some hospitals were so overwhelmed that we had to ambulance or airlift patients to other hospitals,” he said.

But Canada, he said, differed from other developed countries when it opted to implement public health measures that were both strict and persistent. Though such measures drew vehement opposition in some circles, Razak said they helped mitigate the pandemic’s overall impact.

“Compared to many other countries … they would have periods with tight restrictions but quickly pull back,” he said. “For Canada, it was really this high and persistent level almost entirely for the first two years.”

Highest proportion with two doses

Razak said the success of Canada’s immunization drive emerged as the strongest takeaway from the research, praising officials for engaging with the population and ensuring vaccines were readily available across the country.

More than 80 per cent of eligible Canadians have been fully vaccinated with two doses as of June. The percentage of the vaccinated populations in other G10 countries is between 64 and 77 per cent, according to the study.

“There was a magic in Canada around these vaccine roll-outs during dose one and dose two,” Razak said.

“When we speak to our colleagues across the world, Canada was the envy of the world in terms of our population rallying around this. It is a lesson to the world, that very high engagement can occur with the right strategy.”

Dr. Eleanor Fish, an immunology professor at the University of Toronto who was not involved in the study, said the findings were consistent with her own assessment of the pandemic in Canada. 

Like Razak, she said the population’s high vaccination rate played a major role in the country’s strong performance.

WATCH | Dr. Theresa Tam on timing of boosters:

COVID-19 boosters ‘likely’ needed around end of this year, Dr. Tam says

1 day ago

Duration 8:42

Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, speaks to CBC chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton about where Canada is with COVID-19, her thoughts on vaccine boosters and what she’s watching for when cooler fall temperatures return

Fish also cautioned that there could be challenges ahead this fall, when COVID and other respiratory illnesses are likely to put a strain on the health-care system.

“We should be planning for that now,” said Fish.

Economic burden

The study also showed the countries’ response to the pandemic left an economic burden, with government debt rising for all countries and Canada registering one of the highest relative increases.

“We had these very significant economic impacts, we had very tight restrictions on our individual freedom which led to things like isolation … but we also had really among the best results in terms of controlling the impact of the virus,” Razak said.

“Was it worth it? That’s not a scientific question. That’s a values and morals and policies question.”

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