Publishing VRAB Decisions

13 September 2010

Col. Patrick Stogran

Veterans Ombudsman

P.O. Box Stn B

Ottawa, ON K1P 6C3

Dear Col. Stogran:

Thank you for your letter dated August 3 and meeting of August 19 regarding the publishing of decisions rendered by the Veterans Review and Appeal Board (VRAB, the Board). We are always interested in the ideas and issues you bring forward as Veterans Ombudsman and share your commitment to ensuring our Veterans are treated fairly.

As an administrative tribunal, the Board recognizes the need for transparency in decision-making processes and the need to inform the public and Veterans about our work. That said, unlike the courts, the Board is subject to the Privacy Act (Opens a New Window) and must fulfill its obligations in this era of online access to information. In light of these competing interests, the Board has given much consideration over the years to the matter of striking a balance between openness and privacy.

As the Board hears reviews and appeals of disability pension and award decisions made by the Department of Veterans Affairs, its decisions often include medical diagnoses, details about family matters and other personal information. The Board is also in a unique position in that it rules on disability claims for Veterans as well as still-serving members of the Canadian Forces and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada has provided some guidance (Opens a New Window) to administrative tribunals on protecting the privacy of individuals while maintaining the transparency of administrative justice. Suggestions include removing personally identifying information that is not essential to an understanding of the decision or the decision-making process.

In 2009, the Board considered the impacts of anonymizing and posting all of its decisions on its Web site. It should be noted here that since its inception, the Board has been driven to produce quality and timely decisions for a high volume of claims. It has issued an average of 7,000 decisions per year since 1995, which is in stark contrast to the organizations referenced in your letter (eg. the Pensions Appeal Board issued only 172 decisions last year).

As discussed, there is a significant cost and effort associated with anonymizing and translating decisions as well as implementing and maintaining a user-friendly system for online publishing.

The Board is undertaking a further review to determine whether options other than posting all of its decisions would equally serve the public interest while improving transparency. This review will consider the unique aspects of our appeal process, including the individual nature of decisions. It will also include a review of best practices used by other tribunals. At the end of the day, our goal is to adopt an informed and responsive approach. We will also continue in our efforts to expand our Web site to provide more relevant information about our hearing process.

In closing, I would like to thank you for this opportunity to discuss the challenges faced by a small tribunal such as ours. Please be assured of the Board's commitment to striking a balance between privacy and openness for the benefit of applicants.

Yours sincerely,

John D. Larlee

Chair, VRAB

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