Canada’s privacy czar seeks details on release of military class action claim information

Click to play video: 'Claims in Canadian military sexual misconduct lawsuit nearly double' Claims in Canadian military sexual misconduct lawsuit nearly double
With the deadline to join a class-action lawsuit against the Canadian Armed Forces over sexual misconduct fast approaching, the number of claimants is ballooning. As Abigail Bimman reports, people are still being urged to step forward. – Nov 8, 2021

The federal privacy commissioner is seeking answers following a report that highly personal information was released about claims submitted through the military sexual misconduct class action settlement.

In a statement to Global News, a spokesperson for Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien said the watchdog’s office had not been notified of any such breaches and is now contacting the company running the claims portal, as well as military officials, for more information.

“To date, we had not been notified of this matter. We have now reached out to the Department of National Defence and Epiq Class Action Services Canada in order to obtain more information and determine next steps,” said spokesperson Vito Pilieci in an email.

“I do not have further information to provide at this time.”

Read more: Military sexual misconduct class action members’ details accidentally released

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The Canadian Press reported on Wednesday evening that the company administering the federal government’s $900-million class action settlement for survivors and victims of military sexual misconduct inadvertently released private information about dozens of claimants.

That report stated that Epiq Class Action Services Canada confirmed the privacy breach to The Canadian Press, which came after a veteran said she had received letters intended for more than 40 other people in an email last week.

Retired master corporal Amy Green told The Canadian Press she was shocked when she discovered she had been sent names, email addresses and claim numbers, which she said is enough information to access certain parts of a claimant’s file.

“If I wanted to, I could just log in and upload anything to their file because I have their email address and their claimant ID,” said Green, who left the military in 2014 and now lives in London, Ont. “So I could tamper with anything.”

Epiq Class Action Services Canada said on Thursday that “human error” was behind the breach.

“We promptly implemented new procedures to ensure this does not happen again and have taken the appropriate disciplinary action,” said Angela Hoidas, vice-president of marking and communications.

“Epiq fully understands the importance of protecting personal information and sincerely regrets this error. We have notified counsel for parties in the case as well as those affected claimants, all of whom have received our deepest apologies.”

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Hoidas said that a “limited amount of data” about less than 100 claimants was inadvertently shared with another member of the class action settlement. This information included first names, last names, email addresses and claimant ID numbers, and those impacted have been notified, she said.

“There is no way for a claimant to log in and access their private file. If claimants want to submit a document by way of a secure upload, they use their name and claimant ID (which is a number randomly generated and assigned to the claimant by Epiq) via a secure link on the dedicated class action website,” Hoidas added.

“The uploaded document is then reviewed by authorized Epiq employees to assess and determine next steps. There is no ability to externally access any uploaded files or any claimant information whatsoever.”

Read more: A timeline of the Canadian Forces sexual misconduct crisis

Defence Minister Anita Anand said it is crucial for claimants to be able to have confidence in the system.

“I am deeply disturbed by the privacy breach of claimants’ personal information by Epiq Class Action Services Canada, the court-appointed administrator for the CAF-DND Sexual Misconduct Class Action Settlement,” Anand said in a statement to Global News.

“It is fundamentally important that the personal information of claimants in the CAF-DND Sexual Misconduct Class Action Settlement be treated with the utmost care. We understand that this matter is being investigated by the administrator. I expect the administrator to take urgent steps to ensure the security of information and to prevent this from happening again.”

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Global News first reported on allegations of inappropriate behaviour by senior military leaders beginning in February 2021, and by July 2021 the number of claims submitted to the class action had skyrocketed.

The $900-million class action lawsuit was settled in 2019 and opened to claims from survivors and victims of military sexual misconduct on May 25, 2020. It had received 2,729 claims by late December 2020, before jumping to 7,346 as of July 13, 2021 — an increase of roughly 170 per cent.

In the remaining four months before the claims process formally closed in November, the number of claims jumped to more than 13,500 in a near-doubling that came as the military was embroiled by what experts have repeatedly called a “crisis” over allegations of sexual misconduct against senior leaders.

In all, a total of 19,466 Canadians submitted claims through the class action process.

— with files from The Canadian Press.

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