Development & Aid, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, North America

CANADA: Many Vets Say Agent Orange Settlement Falls Short

Christopher Arsenault

HALIFAX, Sep 19 2007 (IPS) - Notorious for its devastating use by the U.S. military in the Vietnam War, the toxic defoliant Agent Orange was tested and sprayed extensively in Canada by both the Canadian military and its U.S. counterpart in the1950s, ’60s and ’70s

Young men in the Canadian province of New Brunswick spray Agent Orange in the 1950s without protective equipment.  Credit: Robyn Gregory

Young men in the Canadian province of New Brunswick spray Agent Orange in the 1950s without protective equipment. Credit: Robyn Gregory

Recently, some Canadian veterans received a long-awaited compensation package, but veterans’ advocates say the reparations do not go nearly far enough.

In 1966, Ken Dobbie and thousands of other young men spent summers hacking foliage soaked in Agent Orange while clearing forests at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown in the province of New Brunswick.

“We never had any protection; we would handle this stuff [brush covered in Agent Orange] with our bare hands,” Dobbie told IPS.

“We were never told these chemicals were dangerous, and now I am living in constant pain,” said Dobbie, 58, who is sick with brain atrophy, neurological disorders, thyroid growths, toxic hepatitis, and type 2 diabetes he blames on the time he spent working and living at Gagetown.

In 1966-67, the U.S. military, invited by the Canadian government, tested Agent Orange and Agent Purple on 83 acres at Base Gagetown.

The term “Agent Orange” originated from the 45-gallon orange-striped barrels Monsanto and Dow Chemical used to market and ship the roughly 1:1 chemical mix of dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) and 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4,5-T). Dioxin, a known carcinogen linked to cancer and other ailments, is a component of Agent Orange and Agent Purple.

Last week, Canada’s Veterans Affairs Minister Greg Thompson announced a 94.5-million-dollar compensation package, offering lump sum payments of 19,700 dollars to some veterans and civilians who were at the base in 1966-67. “We are proud to announce a plan that is fair and shows compassion to the thousands of Canadians whose lives have been so affected,” said Thompson in a statement.

“We may never fully know what happened when Agent Orange was tested at the Canadian Forces Base in Gagetown in 1966 and 1967, but our government has always stood firm,” said Thompson, a member of Canada’s ruling Conservative Party. The federal government reportedly expects about 4,500 people will qualify for the package.

Veterans, however, say the Canadian government is using the compensation, which is only available to victims of U.S. spraying in 1966-67, to divert attention from a larger issue.

Between 1956-1984, the Canadian military sprayed 1,328,767 litres of chemical defoliants on 181,038 acres (an acre is slightly smaller than a football field) of Base Gagetown, including Agent Orange, Agent White and Agent Purple, according to a 1985 declassified briefing to the New Brunswick provincial government obtained by IPS through Canada’s Access to Information Act.

“Restricting [compensation] payments to a few weeks in 1966-67 is dishonest,” said Tony Merchant, a lawyer representing some 3,000 veterans and civilians in a class action lawsuit against the companies who manufactured Agent Orange, including Dow Chemical and Monsanto, and the Canadian government.

“If the companies created dangerous products that hurt people than those companies are responsible,” Art Connolly, a military veteran and vice president of the Agent Orange Association of Canada, told IPS.

Connolly says the recent compensation package is “part of a government campaign to bewilder, bedazzle and confuse.”

Veterans groups are pushing for a full public inquiry into the spraying of defoliants and compensation for all affected people, not just those who were sprayed in 1966-67.

In 1985, Dow Chemical and other firms paid 180 million dollars to U.S. veterans of the Vietnam War, settling a class action lawsuit. However, both Monsanto and Dow still deny Agent Orange is dangerous.

“When we allowed Americans to spray Agent Orange on a Canadian Base in 1966, the U.S. Congress had passed a law barring the spraying of Agent Orange on military bases in the U.S.” Merchant told IPS. “The problems with these defoliants were known and appropriate care wasn’t taken.”

In April 2007, the British government awarded a special pension to Keith Pilmoor, a British solider, who said exposure to Agent Orange at Canada’s Base Gagetown in 1966 left him sick for decades.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) in the United States compensates U.S. service members who may have been exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War for health conditions including chloracne, Hodgkin’s disease, multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, respiratory cancers (lung, bronchus, larynx and trachea), soft-tissue sarcoma, type 2 diabetes and prostate cancer.

Peter Stoffer, Veterans Affairs critic for Canada’s New Democratic Party (social democrats), called the compensation package “political perjury”.

“It is unconscionable that you can treat veterans and civilians in this manner,” Stoffer told IPS. “Spraying took place in the 50s, 60s and 70s, not just in 1966-67.”

Canadian Agent Orange survivors have been in close contact with their Vietnamese counterparts.

In a 2006 interview in Vietnam, Le Duc, manager of the Ho Chi Minh City Agent Orange Association, told IPS, “I call on the Canadian people to work with the Vietnamese people to take on the American chemical companies.”

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