Part I in a series. For Part II visit here.
ONE of the most significant chemical warfare experiments in Canada was the 1966-67 testing of Agent Orange, a dioxin-containing defoliant made by U.S. and German chemical monopolies such as Monsanto, Dow Chemical and Bayer. It was sprayed on trees at CFB Gagetown, New Brunswick, in preparation for its lethal use in Viet Nam.  The government now admits to testing in 1966-67, however the Agent Orange Association of Canada Inc. has obtained two different DND documents that show evidence of other spray periods of Agent Orange and/or 27 other dioxins sprayed at the CFB Gagetown excluding 1966 and 1967. These documents indicate active spray programs from 1956 to 1984.
Now a Maine newspaper, the Portland Press Herald, reports that two state senators, Susan Collins and Angus King, have proposed legislation that would require the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to investigate whether some American veteran’s health problems are linked to the U.S. chemical warfare tests in Gagetown. The U.S. has completely denied any responsibility, even though the U.S. military carried out spraying in 1966 and 1967 at the base.
The reality of the tests of this weapon of mass destruction carried out on Canadian soil in preparation for their use in Viet Nam is conveniently overlooked amidst the warmongering, double-standard hysteria around the U.S. allegations in August that Syria used chemical weapons such as sarin and mustard gas against its own people. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper publicly stated that he will agree with whatever Obama decides to do in retaliation, including a military strike, while piously attacking Syria as immoral. Harper failed to mention anything about the Canadian government’s own history of stockpiling and testing sarin, mustard gas and many other chemical weapons on its own people at locations such as Suffield, Alberta; Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Wainwright, Alberta; the Chemical Warfare Laboratory in Ottawa; and CFB Gagetown, New Brunswick. Chemical warfare testing continues to date.
In regard to Gagetown, Agent Purple, a lesser known but three times more toxic chemical, was also tested there. Planes sprayed herbicides containing dioxin around Gagetown from 1956 to 1967. The tests were kept completely secret; after planes took off from the Gagetown airstrip, nearby communities had no idea what chemicals were being sprayed. The testing was also done without the consent of the Canadian and U.S. military personnel and knowledge of the consequences.
During the aggression against Viet Nam, the U.S. military massively sprayed Agent Orange, Agent Purple and other weapons of mass destruction on the Vietnamese people with devastating results, in what was called Operation Hades. From August 10, 1961 to 1971, approximately 19 million gallons of herbicides were sprayed over the southern region of Vietnam. Much of it was contaminated with dioxin, a deadly chemical. Dioxin causes various forms of cancers, reproductive illnesses, immune deficiencies, endocrine deficiencies, nervous system damage, and physical and developmental disabilities. It is estimated 500,000 Vietnamese people died as a result of spraying. As of 2003, 650,000 people were also suffering chronic conditions, especially cancers, caused by these chemicals. In the United States, thousands of veterans, their children, and Vietnamese-Americans, have been sickened, disabled or died from the effects of Agent Orange/dioxin.
Vietnamese of least three generations born since the war are now suffering from disabilities due to their parents’ exposure to Agent Orange or from direct exposure in the environment. Dioxin residues in the soil, sediment, and food continue to poison many people in 28 “hot spots” in southern Vietnam.
Over 3.2 million litres and kilograms of chemical defoliants were reportedly sprayed at Gagetown during that time. That number would make the concentration per acre stronger than American sprayings in Vietnam.
However, at the time of the Gagetown spraying, the federal government even denied that the toxic chemicals were harmful.
The federal government has since acknowledged that Agent Orange defoliant was used in the 1960s at CFB Gagetown, but has only acknowledged the harm caused by Agent Orange to military personnel when it was sprayed on Gagetown by the U.. military in the years 1966 and 1967.
Experts like cancer and leukemia specialist Richard van de Jagt of the University of Ottawa have long made a connection between Agent Orange and many health problems such as cancer but the government denies that any citizens in the area were affected. Canadian expert Dr. Wayne Dwernychuk, an environmental consultant who spent several years testing dioxin levels in the countryside of Viet Nam, asserts that there is still dioxin in the Gagetown soil.
On August 21, 2007, the federal government denied a class action lawsuit which 2,000 people had signed on to in 2005, asking for compensation for health problems due to the chemical spraying. Hundreds of veterans have applied for disability pensions based on their exposure to Agent Orange testing at the base but a large number have been denied and only a handful have been awarded.  In September, 2007 the Department of Veterans Affairs switched course, announcing a one-time lump-sum payment of $20,000 to each person who qualifies for compensation for health problems they say were caused by use of defoliants at Gagetown. However, the conditions of the package include only veterans who worked at CFB Gagetown between 1966 and 1967.
Even though the U.S. military spraying in 1966-67 at Gagetown has been the focus of concern, the use of Agent Orange mixtures occurred for as least a decade (as reported in DND documents); they also likely occurred throughout the late 1950s and as standard foliage control practices around the base referred to as the “Secondary Growth Control Program,” which managed vegetation re-growth in base training areas and ranges.
Furthermore, agricultural products such as pickles, relishes, sauces and syrups made from vegetables harvested from sprayed areas were sold across Canada.
On February 24, 2011 an Ontario MPP, Gilles Bisson, said he had been told by transportation officials in an e-mail that Agent Orange was sprayed along Ontario highways until the 1980s. A CBC news report cited testimony of transportation and hydro workers who sprayed rural highways and power lines in Northern Ontario. On March 2, 2011, a former worker at CN Rail, then a federal crown corporation, stated that he routinely handled Agent Orange during the 1970s to control weeds along rail tracks. The worker, Dave Collins, suffers from terminal cancer, as has numerous other co-workers who have passed away.
CALLS FOR AN INDEPENDENT STUDY
U.S. veterans who trained at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown have also long tried to get the U.S. federal government to acknowledge that their health problems, including cancer and Parkinson’s disease, could be linked to chemical exposure without their consent. This explains the legislative initiative by the two senators from Maine, the Portland Press Herald affirms.
“Some who served in 1966 or 1967 have been compensated by either the Canadian or U.S. governments, but the number is small. An undetermined number of veterans from the state of Maine have sought compensation or medical help with some of the illnesses they claim stem from their training at Gagetown.” According to a March, 2013 Press Herald article, “the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, or VA, has denied more than 100 claims from Maine.”
The U.S. veterans and the two Maine senators also dispute the scientific validity of the 2007 Canadian study, which was subsequently recycled in a weasel study conducted by the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention study and released in March, 2012, at Collins’ request, “that concluded that the herbicides sprayed at Gagetown posed no public health threat.” King and Collins, however, “contend that the study relied exclusively on previous Canadian studies and included no new research or interviews with veterans who trained at the base.
“Now, they want an independent study, which would examine links between veterans who trained at Gagetown and diseases they have developed that may be associated with exposure to Agent Orange.
“In addition to ordering the study, the bill would direct the Department of Veterans Affairs to create a registry of all veterans who trained at Gagetown.
“The registry would give veterans a mechanism to make claims to the VA and help to establish how widespread the exposure might be. But proving that health problems were caused by exposure is difficult.
“The CDC agreed with a 2007 Canadian government study that determined that herbicides sprayed at the base posed no health threat to veterans. (sic)
“Since then, Gagetown has spawned a class-action lawsuit in Canada, congressional inquiries in the United States and conspiracy theories accusing military officials of a cover-up.”
‘WE HAVE BEEN WAITING AND WAITING’
The Portland Press Herald adds that “Over a span of seven days in 1966 and 1967, the U.S. military used helicopters to spray several barrels of Agent Orange on 166 plots at Gagetown to test the defoliant before using it in the jungles of Vietnam.
“Canada offered sick veterans and civilians who worked at the base a $20,000 lump-sum settlement.
“The VA has gone on record as saying there were no Maine National Guard troops training at Gagetown during the Agent Orange testing periods.
“‘If they are going to look into this problem, then that’s fine. They need to do something because we have been waiting and waiting,’ said Carroll Jandreau of Fort Kent, a former member of the Maine Army National Guard who trained at Gagetown for two weeks a year over a period of six years in the 1960s.
“‘They told us not to drink the water when we were there, and all the leaves on the trees were either dried up or dead. The tree limbs looked like they were covered with a white powder,” he said.
“Jandreau, 62, had his left kidney removed in 2004 after he was diagnosed with renal cancer. He suffers from pulmonary hypertension, which has affected his breathing, and he has been on 24-hour oxygen care.
“When Jandreau filed a claim with the VA seeking health care benefits for the conditions he contends were brought on by training at Gagetown, he was told that he did not qualify.
“His identical twin brother, Darrill, trained at the Canadian base during the same period but does not suffer from any severe medical issues. Jandreau said he supports the legislation proposed by Collins and King but doesn’t trust the government or the military to do what is right for veterans.
“’I feel they are waiting for all of us to pass away so they don’t have to do anything about it,’ he said.”
‘THEY USED US AS GUINEA PIGS’
Maine Army National Guard veteran Chuck Antworth of Hermon is 49 and suffers from kidney failure – he is about to begin dialysis. He also is being treated for diabetes, and struggles with prostate and thyroid problems.
“They need to keep going. I’d like to see some justice done,” Antworth told the Press Herald after being told about the legislation that Collins and King have proposed.
“Antworth trained at Gagetown for two weeks each year from 1981 to 1987. He believes that his health problems stem from his time there. He filed a claim 18 months ago and said the VA has not responded.
He said it looked like a forest fire had swept through the base.
“Antworth, who was a radio operator, has vivid memories of Gagetown. He said it looked like a forest fire had swept through the base.
“He said he feels empty after learning of all the military personnel who trained at Gagetown and the medical problems they have developed.
“’They used us as guinea pigs. I’d rather go into combat and die, rather than have to go through this slow and difficult process,’ he said.
“Antworth said he has no regrets about serving his country, but he does regret how the government has responded to his and others’ claims.
“‘They turned their backs on us,’ he said.”
While the U.S. government has begun to fund environmental cleanup in Vietnam, it has refused to recognize its full responsibility to heal the wounds of war and provide assistance to Vietnamese, Vietnamese-American, and U.S. victims for the serious health and environmental devastation caused by Agent Orange.
There has been some compensation for U.S. veteran victims of Agent Orange, but not nearly enough. In spite of President Richard Nixon’s 1973 promise of $3.25 billion in reconstruction aid to Vietnam “without any preconditions,” the Vietnamese and Vietnamese-American victims of the disgraceful chemical warfare the United States conducted in Vietnam have not seen one penny of compensation.
Fifty-two years is long enough. It is high time to compensate the victims for this shameful chapter in American and Canadian history.
1 CFB Gagetown, located in Oromocto in southwestern New Brunswick and near the New Brunswick / Maine USA border, major transport lines and the all-season port of Saint John, is the second largest military base in Canada after CFB Suffield and one of the largest in the world. Relatively remote and heavily forested, it measures approximately 60 km (37 mi) in length and 40 km (25 mi) in width for a total area of 1,129 km2 (436 sq mi). The first instances of spraying using 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T (Agent Orange and Agent Purple) to clear brush are in 1956. Opened that year and built according to U.S. and NATO requirements, Gagetown’s purpose was to provide a suitably expansive area to allow the U.S. and Canadian forces to undertake large-scale armoured warfare exercises to prepare for war in other people’s lands, at that time Europe, the first casualty of which was New Brunswickans. As many as 3,000 people were arbitrarily expropriated and 20 communities levelled by the federal government around 1952 to clear the area for the vast base, which was justified by cold war hysteria manufactured around the Korean War. They were deemed expendable conscripts in the war against the Soviet Union – justified under the hoax of combating communism and upholding the cause of democracy and peace.
It is regularly used by U.S. and British regular and special forces, and brigade and division-sized armoured, infantry, and artillery units. The base is garrisoned by 4,500 military and employs 1,500 civilians; it is used for heavy artillery, infantry and urban warfare training. Motorized army regiments based there were requested by the Pentagon in 2003 to spearhead the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq and Royal Canadian Regiment troops were deployed from Gagetown as part of the 2004 Anglo-France-Canadian military occupation of Haiti. British armour is shipped to Gagetown through the nearby Port of Saint John.
On the strategic significance of CFB Gagetown, see Tony Seed, “‘Family Entertainment’?,” Shunpiking Online, August 1, 2003. See also Wikipedia and the History Time-Line by the Agent Orange Association available at: http://www.agentorangecanada.com/history.php
2 Information from George Allen, “Canada’s Dirty Little Chemical Weapons Secrets,” TML Weekly Information Project, September 7, 2013 – No. 35 and Prof. Marjorie Cohn, “Compensate victims of U.S. chemical warfare,” August 10, 2011. For an update on CFB Suffield and the extent of foreign military operations in Canada, see Tony Seed, “CFB Suffield: Britain to train thousands of troops in Canada,” November 14, 2013
— Tony Seed
For your information
[News item, February 13, 2012] “Relatives of a woman who died of a cancer linked to Agent Orange exposure in the 1960s say Ottawa is denying them compensation because she was diagnosed with the lethal disease 12 days after a federal deadline. Keith Haynes lost his wife, Audrey, on Jan. 31, just a month after the Department of Veterans Affairs issued its final ruling that she would not be eligible for the $20,000 ex gratia payment. The 54-year-old customer service worker was diagnosed with stage 4 non small cell lung cancer on July 12 after she collapsed at work and was rushed to hospital in Halifax. Keith Haynes says her cancer was listed on a U.S. medical chart of illnesses the Canadian government recognizes as being linked to the spraying of Agent Orange at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown in the 1960s. But when she applied for the ex gratia payment before her death, Veterans Affairs indicated she didn’t qualify because she was diagnosed 12 days after the federally imposed deadline of June 30, 2011, and didn’t get her application in until weeks later ….”