Veterans' Privacy Breaches Prompt Call For Inquiry
NDP veterans affairs critic Peter Stoffer is calling for a public inquiry into breaches of privacy with the medical information of former military members.
Harold Leduc — a prominent, long-standing member of the country's Veterans Review and Appeal Board — had his privacy violated twice in an alleged smear campaign, The Canadian Press revealed last week.
Leduc, who spent 22 years in the military, claimed he was a target for gossip, innuendo and intimidation because he often sided with veterans in his review decisions.
His private medical information was used as ammunition.
Dennis Manuge, a veteran from Musquodoboit Harbour, N.S., told CBC News he believed his privacy had also been violated in the process of suing the federal government over veterans' pensions. He filed an Access to Information request on the suggestion of his lawyers.
"I had over 1,000 hits to my file," Manuge said Monday.
"When I saw Harold Leduc's story break in the media, there was almost validation because all of us are outspoken and all of us have been targeted."
Manuge said he and several others have complained to the federal privacy commissioner, asking her to forward the issue to the RCMP for a criminal investigation.
"It's not about the money, it's about the trust. I thought we lived in a democracy and I thought that's why I signed up — to ensure that our freedoms were protected," he said.
In Leduc's case, the Canadian Human Rights Commission ordered the veterans board to pay him $4,000 for harassment he had suffered from other agency members.
Jean-Christophe de le Rue, a spokesman for Minister of Veterans Affairs Steven Blaney, said in an email that the federal government considers privacy its utmost concern.
"Minister Steven Blaney believes that any violation of our veterans privacy is totally unacceptable. Our government took action over a year ago to ensure disciplinary measures for those who violate the law," he wrote.
"Our government wants to ensure that the privacy of all veterans remains protected."
Stoffer said he doubts that.
"First of all have an inquiry into it and open it up," he told reporters.
"The privacy commissioner said these individuals broke the law. Usually if you break the law, you are either fired from your job, jailed or imprisoned, or fined. None of that happened to anybody."
Stoffer said he believes Leduc's and Manuge's cases are the tip of the iceberg.
"There is no question that the department officials within that Department of Veterans Affairs used sensitive personal information to denigrate the applicant or the person who is applying for the benefit," he said.
"That's why they did it so when it finally came to the final appeal, they say, 'Well, you know, that guy is not all normal or whatever; just ignore him and it will go away.' No. Using personal medical information and psychiatric information was wrong."
Big Canada Pension Plan Changes Coming In 2012
Ottawa is bringing in a raft of new or tweaked policies to reflect that retirement these days is more of a gradual transition for many people rather than a single event. Many of these changes either begin in 2012 or are entering the next phase-in period, and they'll have a direct impact on the retirement plans of Canadians. In some cases, the changes are big enough that people nearing retirement may want to have a chat with a financial adviser before deciding exactly when to apply for a CPP retirement pension. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images) <em>With files from CBC</em>
1. Early CPP, Lower Benefits
The first change involves payment rates. People can choose to take a CPP retirement pension as early as age 60. But there's a catch: A 0.5 per cent reduction in the pension payout for each month before age 65 that someone begins receiving it. That translates into a retirement benefit that's 30 per cent less at age 60 that it would be if you waited until 65. Starting in 2012, Ottawa is beginning to phase in a bigger reduction to get that early access. For 2012, the penalty rises to 0.52 per cent per month -- or a 31.2 per cent reduction for someone who starts receiving their retirement pension at age 60. The early-bird reduction will continue to rise until 2016, when it hits 0.6 per cent per month, or a maximum 36 per cent reduction for those who start receiving CPP payments at age 60 rather than waiting until they reach 65. (Getty)
2. Later CPP, Bigger Benefits
Similarly, those who wait until after the age of 65 to start collection CPP will get a bigger increase in their retirement benefit. Before 2011, the rules stated that the CPP retirement benefit was boosted by 0.5 per cent for each month after age 65 that an individual put off receiving it. So someone who waited until age 70 would enjoy a 30 per cent boost in their payments. But starting in 2011, the government began to phase in a gradual increase to that delay bonus. For 2012, the increase for each month after 65 that a person delays applying for CPP goes to 0.64 per cent -- or a maximum increase of 38.4 per cent for those who start receiving a pension at age 70. By 2013, the maximum bonus moves to 42 per cent. These changes won't affect people who are already receiving CPP benefits. They are being made, according to Service Canada, to restore these adjustments to "actuarially fair levels," so there are "no unfair advantages or disadvantages to early or late take-up of CPP retirement benefits." (Getty)
3. Drop-Out Years Increase
Canadians currently don't need to contribute to the CPP every year from age 18 to age 65 to get a full CPP retirement pension. When someone's average earnings over their contributory period are calculated, 15 per cent of their lowest earning years are automatically ignored when the calculation is made. For someone who takes their CPP retirement pension at age 65, that means seven years of low or zero earnings are dropped from the equation. But starting in 2012, that "general drop-out provision," as it's called, goes up to 16 per cent. For someone eligible for CPP benefits in 2012, that will allow up to 7.5 years of the lowest earnings to be excluded from the calculations -- boosting the retirement benefit paid. In 2014, the percentage will rise again to 17 per cent, which will allow up to eight years of low earnings to be dropped. These changes can really benefit people who entered the workforce late, who were unemployed for a long time, or took time off to go back to school. One point to note is that there are separate drop-out provisions specifically for time spent out of the workforce because of disability or to have children. (Alamy)
4. 'Work Cessation Test' Dropped
CPP rules used to require that someone stop or drastically reduce the amount they earned during the two consecutive months before they began to receive a CPP retirement pension. This was, for many Canadians, an annoying and costly requirement -- especially since so many people now ease into retirement instead of stopping work completely. Now, that rule is history. Beginning in 2012, the "work cessation test" has been eliminated. (<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/misteraitch/" target="_hplink">Flickr: misteraitch</a>)
5. Post-Retirement Benefits
There's another rule change that's important for semi-retirees to be aware of. Before 2012, if someone started receiving a CPP retirement pension early -- say, at age 62 -- they didn't have to make any CPP contributions if they decided to collect payments but also keep working after age 62. Starting this year, if you are under age 65 and continue to work while also drawing a retirement pension, you and your employer must make CPP contributions. The good news for employees is that these extra contributions will be credited to what's called a Post-Retirement Benefit (PRB), which will result in a higher CPP retirement pension in the year after you make contributions to your PRB. This measure is a nod to the reality that many "retired" Canadians are still working. Canadians who continue working after age 65 and are receiving a retirement benefit will have the choice of whether or not they want to make CPP contributions. If they choose to make them, their employer must kick in their share too. Those additional contributions will go towards higher benefits beginning the year after the PRB contributions. (<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/elwillo/" target="_hplink">Flickr: Keith Williamson</a>)
6. Premiums And Benefits Rise
CPP benefits are always adjusted to reflect the rising cost of living. For 2012, the increase in benefits is 2.8 per cent. That will bring the maximum monthly CPP retirement pension to $986.67. Contribution rates are unchanged. But since the yearly earnings maximum that the rate applies to is going up, the maximum annual contribution will rise by about $89 in 2012 to $2,306.70 for both employees and employers. (<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/redvers/" target="_hplink">Flickr:R/DV/RS</a>)